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Hashtag quaran-zine

When our country went into a strict lockdown last year I, like many people, had grand plans of productivity. I thought I’d finally get making art again and I just… couldn’t. It felt pointless, when the world had been turned upside down, to keep making things like I did when life was normal.

And then came #quaranzine. It was an online celebration of zines, and I had a couple of ideas forming into a zine concept:

1. A children’s diary workbook to record their experience of lockdown.

2. Our staff newsletter, sharing tidbits from different members of staff.

The original six, made in the early weeks of lockdown in Aotearoa.

I combined the two, creating a newsletter-style perzine, and made the first one on a Facebook live video as part of the “Quaranzinefest”. It reflected what I love so much about making zines – a low pressure art form that’s personal and expressive. There’s now seven, made at different “alert levels” (that’s our traffic light system for how strict the lockdown is). I want the last one to be at Level Zero, though right now I don’t know if we’ll ever get there!

I’m hopping on a plane soon, so perhaps there’ll be another issue up my sleeve before then.

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I’m back!

I’m sitting at my dining table with a fire at my back and a cup of tea by my side. Bell’s Kenya Bold, loose leaf, strong, milky. There’s a weekend’s worth of dishes to be washed, but they can wait. The sunrise was a stunner earlier this morning but now the light has a hazy, lazy feeling to it.

It is hard to know exactly how to start writing this post; where exactly to begin. So, let’s start at the beginning (you might need a cup of tea, too, goodness knows I can ramble on for ages).

Writing a book, being an author, had been a secret little dream of mine since childhood. I thought that one day, when I was old and wise, I would try my hand at it. That is, until I met my now-husband. He encouraged me to give it a go, and with his support and a growing circle of writer friends, I started.

At that time, I was reading a lot of middle grade fantasy (that’s fiction for 9-12 year olds, not average-Joe quality writing). So, it made sense to write in this genre, too. I wrote the book that I’d have wanted to read as a child, and then I wrote another.

The first book, The Caretaker of Imagination, was a huge learning process. I wrote, re-wrote, read, edited, took on feedback, edited some more, formatted, proofread, published. The second book, Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, pretty much wrote itself. There was depression, and there was anxiety, but writing gave me something to focus on, and a way to express myself.

By the time book three was due, I’d dug myself into a dark little hole. Self-publishing had cost me more than I’d anticipated, and eBook sales were much less than I’d hoped. I was okay with the hard work – I enjoyed it! – but I was being rocked about by other people’s ideas, and putting a lot of undue pressure on myself. My work ethic was driven by a need to prove myself worthy, which didn’t help much either.

After book three, I ventured into non-fiction. Painting. Illustration. I discovered the world of zines (interestingly, zines are the one thing that I have never lost interest in since I started). I hopped from one thing to another, in the vain hope that one of them would fill my need to feel ‘good enough’.

In retrospect, I had entered the world of writing with eyes wide open, ready to soak up all the opportunities available, but with a thirst to prove myself. While this certainly has its advantages, it also meant that I did not have a firm idea of what I wanted my path to look like. I did well enough (you can see some of my achievements here) but had a deep fear of being found out as unworthy, and allowed myself to be rocked by criticisms. Eventually, I lost the drive and confidence to achieve.

It all culminated when I moved south. Auckland had been my home for 29 years, and I had this naïve idea that I could move to the other end of the country and keep going the way I was. I didn’t account for all the changes, nor did I account for being on my own for such a long time (my husband moved down more than a year after I did). Despite the communication technologies of this day and age, and the wealth of lovely people around me, I felt like I had no one to talk to.

I pushed stubbornly on for a while, until it all became too hard to continue. My accountant helped me wrap things up and I got rid of as much stock as I could. I felt utterly relieved, and got on with being a ‘normal person’. I made art just for me, I discovered photography and re-discovered music, and I loved every second of it.

As time went on, the niggle of failure grew. I’d worked so hard, gotten so far… and then I had given up. The feelings of Imposter Syndrome, and my own deep-set belief that I’d never be good enough, knew it was their time to shine. I found myself spending days in bed, hours crying, because I felt like a failure. Worse, I felt like I had always been destined to be a failure. How could I ever have expected anything different?

I finally confided these feelings to my husband. Saying them out loud was the beginning of working through them. I started plotting some stories again. I made a new zine. I blogged. Slowly, slowly, I clawed up and out of the hole I was hiding in – three steps forward, two steps back.

I realised that I couldn’t escape the fact that I have to create, and I have to share; I have to express myself. It’s been a long journey to accepting that my work has value – I’m not out there saving lives, or giving up my life for others, but perhaps people can see the world with fresh eyes by seeing it through my lens. I reached out to my accountant, who helped me get things going again, and I opened up my Etsy shop, starting with just my zines and some photos.

So now, I am working on a creative non-fiction book, a memoir about me and my garden. I’ll illustrate it, and probably publish it as a chapbook/zine. The leatherback turtle picture book, which I started in 2018, is back on the agenda again, and I have another fantasy story up my sleeve that I am very excited about. And, of course, there are the zines. I’m working on a ukulele-themed edition of my perzine Hubris, and after that it’ll become a larger zine (apparently I really like talking about myself). I have some photography zines planned, too.

Years ago I said to my husband that painting felt like the creative version of coming home. It felt good and I was skilled enough at it to feel comfortable using it as a tool of self-expression. One day, I said, I would love writing to feel like that.

Well, it appears that day arrived. It slipped past me, and I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened, but writing is now a place of comfort. Like painting, it will continue to challenge me and I will continue to learn – I am nothing if not a life-long learner – but I can say without doubt, that I am a writer.