recent reading, ongoing thinking


I haven’t been writing about my writing much lately because a) I’m not sure it’s that interesting to anyone but me and b) I try to save all my energy for the actual writing project but anyhoo…a small update…

This year for me feels like a year of withdrawal, processing and deep thought.  I decided to focus inward on the current writing project. It’s a bit scary because I am writing prose rather than poetry, so I’m kind of in unchartered territory for me. (I am also feeling sad that poetry has left me for while, but I have been doing this for long enough to know that it will return. Lately when I try to write a poem, I feel like I keep writing versions of poems I’ve written before. When you are boring yourself, chances are no one else is going to be that excited either!) I have no idea of the ‘market’ for this meandering, tangential stuff I’m writing but I try to flush out those kind of concerns and focus on getting on with it! Over the winter, I had the Massey Residency and that was a wonderfully immersive and productive few months. Things have been a bit more hotch-potch since then as freelance work and Life have to be negotiated, but I plod on!

I noticed a theme in my reading recently – lots of books with ‘Wild’ in the title! I am reading and writing about nature/bioregionalism/ecology/contemporary spirituality….so I guess ‘wildness’ is a thread through all of these things.

The Wild Places, by Robert McFarlane

Wild, by Jay Griffiths (This book remains my favourite book IN THE WORLD EVER.) 

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg

Coincidence? Or maybe it’s just that I would read anything with WILD in the title? Ha ha.

Robert McFarlane’s book led me to…

Waterlog, by Roger Deakin – a remarkable account of Deakin’s desire to swim in as many wild waterways as he could across the UK. (Roger Deakin was an incredible person who seemed to live almost in an alternate universe where he was part-tree himself. What an amazing man.)

In fact, this is the trajectory so much of contemporary nature writing takes – a person leaves the urban environment and takes off to the waterways or the wilds, the forests, the mountains and then experiences the edges of their pathetic humanity and learns a pile of stuff about themselves. It’s compelling stuff! Escape, edge-dwelling, deep nature….


As inspiring and firing as these books are, though, I cannot write this kind of book. I am a mother of two children, tethered by family to a small suburban piece of land in a medium-sized, unsensational city. So my challenge is how to extrapolate a compelling narrative from my own situation.

To my rescue (to some extent) comes bioregionalism, Urban Resilience movements and Transition Towns giving me a steadfast political framework to staying put in the urban environment and making the best of it, or making it better more to the point.

I am on the hunt for any books which address the URBAN ‘wilds’, or ‘domestic’ nature narratives, so please do suggest some if you know of any.

One I read and thoroughly loved recently was ‘Feeding Orchids to The Slugs’, a book about a woman becoming a Zen Retreat cook.

I’d love to know if there are more New Zealand books in this vein. I read THIS ONE by Harvey McQueen recently, it was charming, but a little too restrained for my taste.

How do you write a compelling nature-based narrative when you live in suburbia and can’t stray very far? This question is at the heart of my project.

So far, I’m finding it’s all about ATTENTION, rather than literal travel. That the ‘wild’ is as much within as without. I cringe a bit writing that, but what the hell, it’s what I’m experiencing as true.

‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’ -Mary Oliver


I would gratefully receive any book suggestions around any of the above stuff. I feel like I need to devour another few hundred books to get to the bottom of my thinking around this stuff, and it all feeds the creative fire!

(If you got to the bottom of this, you are a trooper and I thank you over a million times for your attention.)



9 thoughts on “recent reading, ongoing thinking

  1. Loved this post. When I got to the bottom, I thought you were writing, “If you get to the bottom of this, let me know” …as in tell me what the solution is!


  2. I love those Robert Macfarlane books – nice to hear of someone else reading him! It’s fascinating material, makes me actually interested in Britain and British heritage (unusual for me), plus he can really write. But, given your comments about being a mother of two and ‘tethered by family’ – I have always noticed how Macfarlane apparently has a wife and kids, but they never appear in the books, and he’s always off on these wild sojourns on his own or in the company of other blokes! Ha. Bet there’s a similar tale to be told of a few of those wandering male NZ writers, too.

    Have you read the American Buddhist writer Barbara Gates? She comes to mind as someone who’s written about urban life and the wildness within. Lots about human relationships, too.


  3. Keep plodding on – you are an accomplished, entertaining and novel writer! You already have an audience. You will have readers.

    Recommendations? Quite an academic work but perhaps might give some hardcore substance to your thoughts on nature and identity – his references might be a good jumping point, too. Nigel Clark, ‘Cultural Studies for Shaky Isles’, in, Cultural Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand: identity, space and place, eds C Bell and S Matthewman, OUP, Melbourne 2004.

    I can also recommend Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud – her non-fiction account of moving to a very remote part of the USA and living isolated in nature. Sometimes a bit like a whining Grand Designs but with eagles and mountains and trees and lots of weather.


    1. Thanks so much, Shelley – great suggestions!

      ‘A whining grand designs’ – ha ha, that cracked me up. I love Grand Designs and I like Annie Proulx so sounds like a compelling combination.


  4. I think I am on a similar reading trajectory to you re the nature based stuff. I love roger deakin though i cant get into macfarlane i can’t quite work out why. not enough humour maybe? i heartily recommend Rachel Peden if you’ve not already read her, old but timeless and though not urban there is something about her noticings and attention to small things of nature that are quite universal.
    Wild by jay griffiths? I shall request that from the library forthwith. Thanks x


  5. Thanks, Max – I had not heard of Rachel Peden and will look her up. Sounds great! Macfarlane is a bit more earnest than some of the other writers, you’re right. Thanks so much for taking the time to reccommend an author to me. 🙂 Helen


  6. so interesting!! i too am oddly being drawn to the nature of my city, always have been though, but its different somehow now. That makes no sense AT ALL and i am just enjoying reading what you write as it’s interesting to me right now!
    hows that for eloquent!
    🙂 will have a think on books- i know someone who writes here about what he calls ” psychogeography” taking walks in this city, but it might be a bit off your mark…though he does explore the wild areas…shawn micallef…


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