30 Dec 2019 The Truth Hurts.

A Year in the life of an author…

As 2019 races to its close, I look back over the year that was. A few of the personal highs and lows. I –

1. Released a new book. The third in the Scarlet trilogy, Scarlet Redemption. It was a long time coming and it felt amazing to finally finish it and send it out into the world. Its probably the most personal novel I’ve written yet and many tears and some serious heartache went in to certain sections. I could not have written this book even a few years ago and I’m so very thankful I’ve made it to a point in my own survivor journey where I feel safe enough and strong enough to tell a story like this.

2. Wrote some new stories, added them to my short story collection and it was published by the fabulous One Tree House Press. AFAKASI WOMAN released in November with glorious cover art by Samoan artist Nikki Mariner. Im excited that its been named to the list of New Zealand’s 10 Best Fiction Books for 2019.

3. Researched a lot, agonized over words heaps before deciding to give no fks, and then wrote and delivered the annual NZ Book Council lecture. It’s me at my fiapoto finest and I’m immensely proud of it. Faafetai lava to Read NZ for the opportunity to offer a critique of the white castle of literature. The lecture has been named to the list of 10 Memorable Moments in Aotearoa Literature 2019.

4. Toured 16 schools with 3 amazing author/illustrators on a Storylines Festival tour of Auckland. It was a wild week of author talks as we each visited three schools a day and then I got to do one more in Wellington while I was with Read NZ. It was a precious opportunity to meet with young readers, especially those Pasifika youth who I wrote Telesā for. Thank you to all the schools for making me welcome and faafetai tele lava to Storylines for the invitation.

5. Honored to receive the Waitangi Day Literary Honor awarded by the NZ Society of Authors which spoke of my ‘resilience and vision’ and defended the importance of my writing. My acceptance remarks – As a brown woman who writes, oftentimes from the margins and smashing gates as I do so, I have seen the transformative power wrought by stories written by us, about us, and for us, as our communities the world over revel in books they can see themselves in, that they can embrace as their own. This literary honour is testament of that power, and emphasises the ever present need for more of us – to write, publish, and have the support we need to take our stories to an international audience. The road is not always fun and fanciful, and an award like this is a much appreciated encouragement to keep forging ahead. Writing is resistance. It doesn’t matter if we are writing fiery island romance, crime thrillers, or the next Man Booker prizewinner – we are changemakers and can choose to either disrupt or uphold the status quo. To all my sister storytellers out there, weaving words in between the chaos of jobs, children, faalavelave, (and the possible frowning censure of your aiga!)…loto tele! My hope for all of us, is that we will have the fortitude to write though storms and fire, without approval or Likes, and stride like Nafanua the war goddess, with courage through every battleground.

6. Was invited to write the Foreword for the book of an author whose work was a huge impact on me as a teenager. Tessa Duder’s classic ALEX was republished in 2019 and I was thrilled to be asked if I could recommend it for a new generation. It seemed a surreal thing to be connected in even a small way with a book that I read many times over. And yes, when I met author Tessa, I wated to fall down on the ground #wow.

7. Did a bunch of media including TV, radio and in-print newspaper interviews. And didnt throw up or pass out. I count that as a career win because I have anxiety and that can make publicity work a real hit-and-miss challenge. I really dont like to leave my hermit cave. Its where I feel safe. So any time I get it done, I’m hi-fiving myself!

On the career front, I fielded another offer from a producer to option TELESĀ for film, and after lots of discussion, we turned it down. There will be a movie one day, but it has to be the right team and the right conditions.

This year was one of personal transformation. Because I…

8. Learned how to swim. Which was terrifying just putting my face in the water. I started lessons in the Amanaki Hotel pool and graduated to the scary sea. I still get panic attacks sometimes when I swim in open ocean but I faced my fear and put in the work to learn a new skill. Sometimes I blow my own damn mind! Thank you to my patient teacher Darren.

9. Learned how to ride a bike on the road in spite of Samoa dogs that chase after you and some wild drivers who dont accept that cyclists belong on the same road as them.

10. Did 7 triathlons. So I guess that makes me an actual TRIATHLETE woohoo! I came last place in all of them but it still feels amazing every time I finish a race.

11. Went from being a slug sloth who rarely left the house, to being an “athlete” who trains 5 days a week, running, biking and swimming. In November I also started weight training to help build strength for triathlon. Its been great to be more active and it means that Darren and I share a sport.

12. We had our older children, university graduates, home with us again, working and doing some great things in their jobs. I’m so very proud of them and its been a joy to have them home as adults, to savor their friendship and often fun and funny company. It truly is the time of harvest as parents, to see your children as grownups, to appreciate their talents and skills, and to see them take on the world. Our third child completed her Foundation year and has been awarded a full scholarship to university in NZ to study Chemical and Biological Engineering. She’s worked incredibly hard to get here and while Im awfully sad to see her go, Im excited for her to be taking this next step!

This year wasn’t all great though. There was struggle and some dark times.

13. Our younger son left home and its been difficult for all of us. He went first to his birth parents, then to friends. He’s now under the care of some extended family members. You try your best as parents, you make mistakes, you learn and you keep trying. And because every child is different, what worked for one doesnt work for another so you have to figure it out all over again! An adopted child can bring certain challenges and unless you have walked in our shoes, you cant understand what thats like. If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning then you may know a bit about some of those challenges. As a mother, it hurts to know that your child might be better off not being with you, that part of being a parent is letting go. Im still working on it!

14. My mental health took a hit mid-year. A combination of family problems, our son and everything else. Things were very dark for a while and I wanted to end it all. Im glad I reached out and got the help I needed. Its funny because I was the most fit and healthy that I’ve ever been in my life, with amazing career successs, but still I was drowning. Its an important reminder for me (and everyone) that from the outside a person’s life can look wonderful but underneath it all, depression, anxiety and PTSD are very real. Here’s where I also shout about how badly we need to shake off the stigma, shame and silence about mental illness. Especially for our Pasifika people and communities. It’s literally killing us. When someone has cancer, we rally around and support them. But too often when someone is struggling with mental health, we condemn them or mock them. We tell them to “snap out of it”, or “toughen up” or “I got over that just fine. Why cant you?” Or we prefer they just shut up about it. If you’re struggling, I hope you can find light in knowing you’re not alone, that its not a sin or a weakness to admit that you need help, and that there are many people and places who can help you with the support and compasion you need. (If youre in NZ, Le Va is a great organisation to start with. Check them on Facebook and their website.)

15. Part of my prioritising my mental health meant that the end half of 2019 then became a year of saying NO. Which took courage, strength and an awareness of my worth. Because its not until you know yourself and value yourself enough, that you can say – no that doesnt fit my career path, no I dont need that in my life, no thats not worth the energy and stress it will require of me. This year I said no to a lot of speaking invitations, no to toxic relationships, no to harmful “friendships”, no to some destructive habits and addictions. And in saying NO to these things, I was actually saying YES to a better happier me. It was scary to say no sometimes. To put an end to certain relationships and turn down certain career opportunities, and it made some people angry/sad with me. But its what I needed to do to be well. My hope for anyone else who may need this reminder, is that you know its okay to say no and its okay to ask for help.

Looking forward to the new year and new decade, I am thankful. For all that I am and all that I have been blessed with. For making it thru, for not checking out. For the love and support of beloved family and friends.

If I had to choose one truth this year has taught me? They say the habits you create to survive will no longer serve you when its time to thrive. Thats when you need to get out of survival mode. New habits, new life. Stop trying to shrink yourself to fit into places you’ve outgrown.
I’m working on it!

To all my readers, thank you for embracing my stories, sharing them and shouting about them. I’m not sure what the next year will bring, but I do know there will be a new book (or two), a screenplay, and some more fiapoto words.

For now lets all celebrate surviving and slaying 2019. We made it 😉.

Bring on 2020!

Cover photo by Dominion Newspaper Wellington NZ.

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