My New Zealand

MistressoftheInk – a friend in the Blogverse posted about being Filipino. I realized just how much I didn’t know – from Spanish Colonial government to the sheer number of islands and its impact on culture and language. When I mentioned I was from New Zealand, she suggested I write a similar post about my country and culture. So here it is.

Disclaimer: I am one person with a pretty biased lens. I’m a white, middle-class woman, with a Chinese first-generation New Zealand husband.

1. This is New Zealand


I’ve been to two out of our three islands (the big ones). I think our culture changes on a gradient from the cold south to the somewhat more tropical north. I’m not enough of an anthropologist to say exactly what the differences are, though I suspect it could have something to do with the south being much more white?

When my husband moved to Christchurch from Auckland as a kid, he had a very strong northern accent that he quickly dropped in order to fit in.

2. This is our national flag


Still… yep. We had a vote about it recently, you see, and we spent an awful lot of money coming up with new designs, because our previous Prime Minister wanted to leave his mark by being the one who finally got our flag changed to something that better fit our country’s brand. It was a media frenzy. Most of us clearly didn’t think we needed a new flag – or at least we couldn’t stand the options they gave us, so we just voted to keep the old one.

So yeah, still the Union Jack in the corner (’cause we’re still Commonwealth aye). And the southern cross on the right (like Australia, but with two less stars).

3. One of our greatest national heroes is Sir Edmund Hillary


We are very proud of him for being one of the first climbers to reach the top of Mt Everest (as far as we know). It’s a symbol of our Kiwi ingenuity, and courage, and determination and stuff. He’s on our five dollar note.

We like sports-people a lot, actually. We’ve knighted several ex-rugby players and a few Olympians. Although now that I come to think of it, knights used to be dudes who rode around in armor trying to kill each other, so that’s kind of appropriate.

As a feminist with a bent toward the political, however, I humbly offer a few of my favourite New Zealanders:


Kate Sheppard was one of the most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in England, but lived in Christchurch for much of her adult life. Her hard work and determination led to New Zealand granting full suffrage for women in 1893 – considerably before the UK and the USA (who didn’t do so until after WWI).

She replaced the Queen to be the face of our ten dollar note in 1993.

This leads me to my second favorite New Zealander:


Helen Clarke was the first woman to be voted in as Prime Minister. She was the first Prime Minister I remember, growing up, and although I had no idea about politics, I really liked that a girl could lead our country. I still have a lot of respect for her (and not much of a clue about her politics).

Helen Clarke is not on any of our currency, but she was the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme until last year – when she was in the running for the Secretary-Generalship.

And finally a new-comer:


Our current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the worlds youngest female head of government at 37. She’s also unmarried, pregnant and so incredibly positive and genuine that you wonder how she can be a politician. As a public-sector employee myself, I’m feeling a glimmer of hope that we might be able to shift some of those entrenched inequalities, as well as providing world leadership on stuff like Climate Change.

We’ll see.

4. New Zealand is beautiful


The infamous church everyone tries to photograph in Tekapo.

It really is. Except for all the places that freedom campers are allowed to roam free, leaving all kinds of gross things in their wake. Our local councils are getting strict (be warned).

We like to sell ourselves on our clean, green, brand. This is not entirely accurate. There is considerable tension between environmental interests and economic (especially agricultural, mining and forestry) ones. I’m not really fluent in details, so I’ll leave it at that.

5. We eat… food…

When I try to think of stereotypical New Zealand cuisine, I think of pavlova, lamb steak, sausages on the barbecue… mussels…

I don’t eat these things very often, because my husband is our family chef, and he’s Chinese. Our food looks more like this:


Mmmm! Garlic shoots!

But I think that’s a really important point. Aside from the Māori (who got here ages ago), our population is a huge melting pot of recent immigrants. The things we might think of as stereotypical ‘New Zealand’ cultural icons, like pavlovas and sausages, are pretty western. I will be really interested to see what kinds of things we think of as iconically New Zealand in a hundred years or so, once we’ve had a lot more time to simmer together.

6. We are a melting pot.

I know I just said this, but I’m gonna say it again. Us westerners are pretty individualist. We built a lot of the systems the rest of our population are trying to live inside, but we also signed a Treaty (of Waitangi) with a collectivist culture and that bit of paper is about all we’ve got by way of a meaningful founding document. As we try to come to terms with the darker side of our colonial backstory, and make good on promises we’ve largely been ignoring since the ink dried back in 1840, we are having to come to terms with the fact that the very structure of our individualist system has been hurting our indigenous people.

Joining a Chinese family has opened my eyes to what it means to be inside a collectivist world-view, and it’s not always a comfortable place to be. I can be rude without realizing, or miss opportunities to show hospitality, because I never learned the unspoken rules. Still, I’m learning and I’m grateful for the patience of those around me. I hope, similarly, that our country can find a way to balance these different perspectives and come to a mature understanding of who we are together.

7. Little can be big

No country is perfect, but I’m really proud of who we are in the world. We’re capable of standing up to bullies and of coming up with crazy ideas that might-just-work. My New Zealand is one where I feel safe, and free, and brave. I know we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re on the right road at least, and that gives me cause to hope. The future is in our hands, after all. Let’s make it a good one.

Publishing eBooks with Smashwords

I love Smashwords. It’s free, they give you step-by-step guides for how to do things and they distribute my stuff to most of the other retailers so I can manage my eBooks from a single interface.

Their meat-grinder (the way they turn your eBook into all the different formats various retailers require) is a bit clunky. I’ve learned so much over the last couple of weeks of mass uploading children’s’ anthologies, and I thought I’d share five of my favourites:

  1. Do not use the words ‘Prologue’, ‘Chapter’, ‘Part’, or ‘Epilogue’ in any of your headings unless you really want a page break.
    It turns out children writing 2000 word stories really like breaking their work into parts and chapters, which makes a total mess of the eBook, so this year I am outlawing all of these words in their section headings.
  2. The auto-generated table of contents doesn’t work.
    Apparently the meat-grinder will only accept manual TOCs, built with hyperlinks and bookmarks. This process makes up about half of my total formatting time, but there you have it.
  3. Word your bookmarks carefully
    Any special characters will break your bookmarks (e.g. * ( ‘ etc). Also, the bookmark won’t work if it is too long. Some children like very long titles, and I’ve had to chop a lot of them down to four or five words at the most.
  4. Be careful with pictures!
    Make sure you make them ‘non-wrapping’, or they will mess with your formatting.
  5. There is no obvious way to include additional authors in the eBook metadata, so I’ve been including a list of authors and their stories in the long description. (This is still an open question for me – is there a better way of tagging the authors included in anthologies?)

If your interested in reading the children’s’ anthologies, they’re available free here at Smashwords (or at your favourite eBook retailer).

Inside the Minds of Children

Have you ever wondered how kids see the world? Teaching creative writing to children over the last five years has been an eye-opening experience. Kids are observant, funny, deep and sometimes breathtakingly honest. From stories about bullying and popularity to tales of survival in post-apocalyptic wastelands, from the concentration camps of world war two to the pain of supporting a friend through mental illness, these young writers are tackling big themes with courage and compassion.

Now, for the first time, their stories are available for free through Smashwords (or your favourite eBook distributor). I’ve got a complete list of the anthologies and their authors here.

Happy reading!

Life Happens


My last post was in August, 2015. By January, 2016, I was a Mummy. I had high hopes of being an author and a mummy, but it was not to be so.

Now that she’s two, I’m starting to feel inspired (and sufficiently well-rested) to dive back into the world of authorhood.

Wish me luck!

Oh, and if you want to follow my fun-filled adventures in comic form, check out Mind Bits (publishing weekly on WordPress, Facebook and Tumblr).

Seven Continents Challenge – Antarctica


Book two in my Seven Continents Challenge complete! Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica, by Jesse Blackadder, admittedly spent most of its time in Norway and at sea, but I loved the opportunity to explore the world of 1930’s Norwegian exploration (and whaling) through the eyes of three unusual Norwegian women caught up in the race to be the first woman to set foot on Antarctica.

One of the women, Ingrid Christensen (the wife of Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen) ended up with a whole coast of Antarctica named after her – but would you believe there’s hardly any information about her available online? And yes, I was trying to spoil the ending by finding out who the winner was — I failed, so I just had finish reading the book.

Another of the women, Lillimor Rachlew, was a Norwegian living in London high society who met Amelia Earhart right near the beginning, used female contraceptive and was desperate to be the first woman to do something (anything really)! Through her storyline I discovered that there was a wealthy American woman named Louise Arner Boyd who had already spend much time and money exploring the North Pole region by this period of history.

The final competitor was Mathilde Wegger, mother of two who had lost her husband a year before and was thoroughly, clinically depressed. She didn’t even want to be on the expedition, but her husbands parents had given her an ultimatum – go to Antarctica or go to an asylum. I think they hoped she’d die so they could keep the kids.

What I learned from this? Antarctic waters are cold, full of icebergs and incredibly dangerous. Women in the 1930’s were just as determined to explore and discover new things as their male counterparts, but it was significantly harder for them to do so. In fact, in 1937, over 1300 women applied to join the British Antarctic Expedition, but none were accepted. Also, whaling is horrible… and really sad… and, well, I guess you can’t really condemn whaling without condemning all forms of farming for meat on those ethical grounds, but there is also the totally unsustainable thing – which was a theme running underneath this story of exploration. Definitely makes you think.

And the book itself? Interesting, though it took me a while to finish. I didn’t like the main characters all that much, except perhaps Mathilde, who started out depressed and found her strength over the course of the voyage – she was kinda cool. I also kept wondering, with such strong characterization, if these women shared anything at all in common with their real life counterparts – I suppose it’s impossible to know.

I did appreciate that Blackadder ended the book with a discussion of her research and the facts as she could ascertain them (much different in places to her portrayal in the novel). I certainly feel I’ve earned an interesting glimpse into a moment in time that I can build on with further reading and research.

And now, onto book three of my challenge – Asia!

Seven Continents Challenge – Africa

I did it! First book in the seven continents book challenge complete. I read “An Affair with Africa” by Alzada Carlisle Kistner. It’s the memoirs of a woman who longs for adventure and finds it travelling Africa on multiple expeditions during the 1960’s and early 1970’s – alongside her husband, a world expert on the beetles who live in ant and termite colonies. I chose this book because it traversed so much of Africa during a time of political upheaval. I liked that the author was a woman defying gender-norms (to a certain extent) by leaving her baby at home with grandparents to go adventuring – though this is not necessarily a decision I would make for myself…

Travelling across Africa with Alzada, I marveled at the way her American nationality and white skin acted as free passes to so many things. She and her husband survived the beginning of the Congo civil war, just by putting an American flag on the window of their jeep. They frequently explored the outback with a handful of black servants or ‘helpers’ loaned to them by friends or sponsors (like the diamond company in Angola). While occasionally surprised or even shocked by the treatment of black people by their white ‘masters’, this couple (and their two daughters) mostly chose to accept the way things were in order to keep the peace and get on with their very important scientific research. They seemed nearly oblivious, at times, to the nature of the political situation surrounding them, and disinclined to enter into any sort of moralizing. I wondered if this was partially a product of the times they were living in? During the 1960’s there was still segregation & discrimination in parts of the USA, and it seemed that, as scientists, they were somehow separate / above needing to engage with the politics in any personal way.

I’m not sure how I feel about this book, having come to the end. It was an interesting account of a family and a time, and I certainly learned quite a lot about the ants, termites, large mammals and scenery of different parts of Africa. I even got a really interesting glimpse into the White African experience in the last years before most of those colonies collapsed. The author expressed sadness for the fate of such beautiful countries, lost to civil war (and incidentally no longer accessible for specimen collection), but I’m not convinced she felt much empathy for the experiences of those who had to live there. Her ‘affair’ with Africa was with the land, the beautiful animals and the (mostly white) friends she made. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, the next book I read about Africa needs to be by an African. I read and loved “We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo – so if anyone can recommend another book along those lines, I’ll add it to my list!!

Only six more continents to go. I will have to extend my deadline as it takes me longer to read grown-up books than I thought it would.

Read Around the World

World Map

At the library, we’re all about promoting diversity, and that comes in so many different flavors. I’ve realized that until now, I’ve mostly been reading Sci Fi / Fantasy and Young Adult Novels – so I’m going to commit to doing something a bit different. Over the next month, I will read a book set in each of the following continents:

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Australia
  • Antarctica

Fear not… I’ll be taking on other kinds of diversity in upcoming months. Here goes nothing!

Birthday Presents

I’m really bad at birthday presents. I always have been. I remember an old school friend of mine used to give all of us $20 and a card for our birthdays. A few other friends used to tease him, but I was jealous. If only I could be that impervious to criticism, that willing to pick a standard present and never have to think about it again!

I’ve tried, over the years, to come up with cool, super appropriate presents that my dear friends will always treasure, but every time, I’ve felt like a failure. Perhaps my standards for success are too high, but there’s another problem and it goes much deeper.

I don’t like consumerism. I resent the whole system of birthday presents. I hate the obligation to come up with just the right ‘thing’ to add to the clutter of other random things that they feel obliged to keep, but don’t really want and hardly ever use.

I know. I’ve got exactly those kinds of things lying around my house.

So I’ve decided that from this day forward, I am going to join the ranks of radical non-present givers. I won’t buy you a present, I won’t donate money to random countries in your honor or give you a twenty dollar bill.

In celebration of the anniversary of your birth, I promise to:
Think of you with love
Give you my time
Attempt to bake / cook yummy food in your honor
Potentially draw you a picture (or write you a poem, or anything else fun and creative that fits in this box)

And when it rolls around to the anniversary of my birth (June 24th, in case you were wondering), please respect my wishes. Don’t add clutter to my home. Don’t spend money on ‘things’ I don’t need. Give me a hug. Tell me you love me, and maybe, make me something nice to eat.

That is all.


Unorthodox – a Fantasy Short

Unorthodox was written in response to the competition: Fantastical love – Love between two mythical creatures (non humanoid – Dragon Unicorn, etc) or love between a human and a mythical being (humanoid – Elf, dwarf, fairy etc).

I won first place =)

* * *


by Beaulah Pragg

“You alright hun?” Mum rubs my arm. I shrug, staring at my untouched fish pie.

“Leave her be, Maggie,” Papa says.

I gaze past Mum to her prized strawberry plant, sitting by the open balcony door—the only part of our home that sees any sun. Sheets flutter on the line strung between our balcony and the Tors’ house across the road. The breeze brings a whiff of sewage. I crinkle my nose.

“Shut the door, would you?” Papa says, mirroring my expression.

“It’s far too hot,” Mum protests.

“I’ll do it.” I jump to my feet, seeing Adrek Tor watering his mother’s coriander on their balcony. My friends at school say he’s an outsider. They laugh at his black hair, sticking out like wires and the shadow of a beard that never stays gone. He shaves every morning and will sneak off at lunch to do it again. He can’t help it. He’s a dwarf.

“Genny’s in love,” my brother sings from the dinner table.

“Shut up, Billy,” I slam the door. It shakes the whole house.

“Genevieve,” Papa growls. His eyes hold back a tempest.

“Sorry, Papa.” I duck my head and sit down without another word. Sweat beads on my forehead. I wipe it away, wishing I could murder the fly buzzing around the kitchen. This fish pie looks less and less appetizing.

“Are you finished?” Mum asks.

“I’m not hungry.”

“I’ll eat it.” Billy reaches forward.

“You’ve already had two portions.” Mum takes my plate over to the bench. She scrapes the food into a wooden bowl and covers it with a fresh cloth. “There are families downstairs who could use a little extra.”

“How come those greedy dwarves get to eat our leftovers when I’m still hungry?”

“Billy!” Mum stares at him, her mouth partially agape.

“It’s a valid question,” Papa mutters. “I might have felt sorry for them fifteen years ago when a dragon took their mountain hall. But they’ve overstayed their welcome. I’m not the only one who wishes they’d move on.”

“Surely not all dwarves—” I blurt.

“Got no time for their kind.” Papa scowls. “Turning our city into a disease-ridden slum.”

“What can you expect after the way we’ve treated them?” Mum shoots back.

“The way we’ve treated them?” Papa stands up. “They barely speak a word of our language. They don’t even try to learn our ways. They’re miserly with their gold, but expect us to be generous—”

“Have a heart, Angus,” Mum says. “They’ve lost everything. How would you feel if our positions were reversed?”

“I’d be a hell of a lot more grateful.” Papa walks out of the room.

“Yeah!” Billy wriggles out of his seat and stomps down the hall. I’d be laughing if I wasn’t on the verge of tears.

Mum sighs. “I’ll do the dishes, love. Why don’t you get started on your homework.”

My bedroom is opposite Billy’s on the street side. In winter I tie my shutters closed and stuff the gaps with rags, but right now I’d give anything to escape the heat. I throw them open and hold my breath against the stench.

We’re on the mid tier of Lochnell City’s north-eastern quarter. People surge along the street below, pushing past each other while vendors shout to be heard. A top-tier walkway bridges the street above my window. If I stand on the sill and stretch, I can touch the wrought iron underwork.

Knock, knock.

I grab the notebook from my bag and try to look like I’m working.

Mum pokes her head in. “You okay?”

I nod.

She sets a plate with one strawberry on my dresser. “Didn’t want you to miss out.”

I keep my eyes down.

“I’m sorry about your father.” She walks over and sits beside me. “That new town hall contract meant everything to him. We could have moved up a tier.”

“But a dwarf construction team won it.”

Mum rubs my shoulder. “There was no way your father could outbid them. Dwarves are better and cheaper. If things keep going the way they are, he’ll have to find a new job.”

“It isn’t fair.” I flop back and stare at the ceiling. “We won’t let them work in anything except construction and mining. They get just as frustrated as Papa.”

“I know, sweetheart. It’s a difficult situation for everyone.”

“I wish people would talk to each other, instead of getting angry.”

“Life isn’t so simple.” Mum gives me a strained smile. “Don’t stay up too late. You’ve got school in the morning.”

Once she’s gone, I change into a black shift with brown woolen leggings and arrange a few blankets under my covers to make it look like I’m sleeping. The light outside has turned orange. I shove my notebook and pencils in my satchel and strap it over my shoulder, then perch on my window sill and wait.

Night brings a new surge of life to the street below. Men and women hawk their wares, or themselves. The lights go off in the Tor’s house. Time stretches on. A cat leaps onto the kebab seller’s awning, then onto Mrs. Potts’ window box. She paws at the shutters until the old woman lets her in.


My gaze snaps up to the window opposite mine. Adrek waves me over. I take a deep breath, then climb out onto the wrought iron underwork. When I was younger, I used to love the thrill of sneaking out. Now I’m a lot heavier and the thought of falling turns my stomach.

“Nearly there,” Adrek whispers.

I dared him to visit me once, but he’s more scared of heights than I am. He also pointed out that Papa would kill him. Adrek assures me his parents wouldn’t go as ballistic. I still don’t want to find out.

I’m hanging from the underwork. My toes barely touch Adrek’s window sill. I push back, then let go as I swing forward. I fly through his window, feet first, and land in an unladylike sprawl.

Adrek’s seen this enough times to keep a straight face, but I know he’s laughing inside. I roll off my satchel and groan. “We’re insane.”

“Without a doubt.” He offers me his hand. I take it and spring to my feet.

Normally, he’d let go. We’d take our usual spots across from each other and get to work on our homework. I’d gaze dreamily at his chocolate brown eyes and chiseled cheekbones. He’d brush my fingers when offering me one of his mother’s homemade rock cakes. . .

This time, he keeps holding my hand. My heart thuds too loudly.

“Your parents were arguing again,” he murmurs.

My cheeks flush. “It’s not like them. Papa’s been stressed.”

“Because of the contract?”


“I’m sorry,” he murmurs.

“It isn’t your fault.”

Adrek sighs and drops my hand. “We have to stop doing this.”


He shoves his hands in his pockets and walks over to the desk. I follow, swallowing the sudden ache in my throat. “Don’t you like me anymore?”

“It’s not that.” He still won’t look at me.

“Then what?”

He’s quiet for a long time. I reach out to touch his shoulder. He let’s out another heavy sigh. “My parents know you’ve been coming here at night.”


He turns. “Blonde hair on the carpet. You molt like a cat.” His lip twitches—almost a smile—but then his shoulders slump again. “Your father will probably take us to court if he finds out. We’ll be thrown out of Lochnell. This city hates dwarves enough, without the scandal we’ll cause.”

“But we never. . . we’re only studying.”

“Don’t you ever wish it was more?” His expression changes. My stomach flip-flops. A familiar hunger gnaws at the edges of my self control. “You know I do.”

“I love you, Genevieve.” He takes my hands. “I want to be with you, but I don’t want to lie to my parents. I don’t want to lead this double life, pretending not to know you at school; cowering every time I see your father.”

My brow shoots up. “You want to walk out with me? In public?”

“Are you brave enough?” He searches my face, his eyes begging me to say yes.

Images of my father’s face fill my mind, expressions of anger, betrayal, hurt. I sit heavily on the edge of Adrek’s bed. “I’m scared.”

I stare at my hands. Could I really do it? Could I bear to see everyone I love turn their backs? Is what we have worth that sacrifice?

The bed sinks further as Adrek sits down beside me. “You don’t have to answer right now. I’ll wait, forever, if I have to. I won’t stop loving you, not until you beg me to. Maybe not even then.”

He’s never mentioned love before. He’s never talked this much in one go. Usually I’m the one who won’t shut up. Now I nod, trying to find the words in the whirling mess he’s made of my heart.

I slip my hand into his and squeeze it. “Later, then?”


The world is a blur. I barely remember climbing back, or changing into my nightgown, or hauling the spare blankets back to the cupboard. Soon, it’s morning and mum’s shaking me awake.

“You’ll be late for school!” She rummages around in my cupboard. My uniform flies through the air and lands on my face, followed closely by my shoes.

“Ooph,” I grunt.

“Why are all these blankets in your wardrobe?” she asks.

“I was nesting.” I roll out of bed with a groan.

Mum laughs. “Strange child. Now don’t dawdle. Breakfast is getting cold. Don’t forget to pack your homework.”



I meant to finish it with Adrek last night. Obviously that didn’t happen.

I gulp down a glass of milk and a cold fried egg. Billy’s already finished and waiting by the door.

“Hurry up,” he whines. “I hate being late.”

We race along the dim, winding corridor that runs the length of our building. There’s a bridge over to the library roof garden and from there, another to Westbridge, our second-tier school. We arrive just as the first bell chimes.

Adrek sits on his own during lunch. It’s always like that, but today I feel like crying. This school has hundreds of kids, but not one of them is brave enough to be his friend—not in public, anyway.

“I don’t get why he bothers.” Lily’s rebraiding her copper curls. “He’ll go work in mining or construction when he graduates, so what’s the point in all this study?”

“He wants to be a lawyer.” My eyes don’t leave him for a moment. He sits straight-backed, pretending he doesn’t hear what everyone’s saying about him.

“A lawyer?” She laughs. “That’s the stupidest thing—”

“Shut up, Lily.”

She’s thrown for a moment, then her shock turns to a sneer. “Anyone would think you were in love with him, the way you jump to his defense all the time.”

I don’t even think. Grabbing my tray, I stalk over to Adrek’s table, leaving her gaping in my wake.

“You decided then?” Adrek gives me a warm smile.

We’re surrounded by whispers. I know they’re all staring. I still have one chance to back out. I can say something cruel, pretend it was all a joke. I can walk away. I’ll break Adrek’s heart and hate myself for the rest of eternity, but I’ll be safe.

“We’re crazy,” I whisper, then kiss him.

There’s a moment of utter silence, as if time itself has stopped. All I can feel is the warmth of his lips; the scratch of his beard against my skin; the touch of his hand on my cheek. Then the room explodes into yells and whistles and excited chatter.

I feel dizzy.

No one will shut up. Our teachers try every trick in the book to control their classes. Adrek and I sit side by side, ignoring everyone. Fortunately, my history teacher is too distracted to check our homework.

After school, I drop Billy at home.

“Where are you going?” Mum calls.

“She kissed a dwarf at school,” Billy says.


“I’m going over to the Tor’s,” I say. “I want to ask permission to date their son.”

“What? But. . . what about your father.”

“I’ll be home in an hour or two.”

It’s strange, knocking on Adrek’s front door. His mother opens it and invites me inside. She’s short, barely taller than my shoulder. I bow to her as dwarven custom dictates and she returns the gesture. I take my shoes off before following her into their living room.

Adrek’s already here, sitting cross-legged at the low table. I join him on the reed mat. He pours me tea while his mother fusses in the kitchen. Soon she returns with a few bread rolls and a bowl of berries. I gape at her, knowing how much these must have cost.

“This is too much, Mrs Tor. I don’t deserve. . .”

“You are a brave girl.” She pushes the bowl toward me. “Both brave, but you need more than courage. Won’t be easy. Here. Eat.”

I glance at Adrek. He nods.

I pick a blueberry and pop it with my tongue. The flavour rushes through my senses, every moment divine.

When Adrek’s father arrives home, I formally ask their blessing to begin this courtship. It’s a dwarven custom that dates back thousands of years. His parents are surprised that I know even this much of their language. I’m glad I don’t have to say more, because I’ve used up all my tricks.

Fortunately they both agree to support us in the trials ahead. All that’s left is for me to return home and face my father.

“You sure you don’t want me to come?” Adrek asks for a third time as I pull my shoes on at the door.

“This is one dragon I have to face on my own.”

Adrek winces.

“Sorry,” I murmur. “Bad choice of words.”

He gives me a kiss goodbye. My heart soars, for about a minute, before plummeting in a death spiral the closer I get to home. “Papa’s going to kill me.”

He and Mum are sitting at the table when I walk in. Billy’s nowhere to be seen. I guess they sent him to his room.

“Genevieve?” Papa says. “Sit down.”

I swallow and take the seat closest to Mum. Papa looks tired, and old. His skin is a sickly grey colour.

“Well?” he asks.

“I love him, Papa,” I whisper.

“You’re sixteen years old! How could you possibly know that?”

“You and Mum were eighteen when you married.” I keep my eyes down. He doesn’t say anything at all. He’s just shaking his head.

Mum puts her hand on mine. “We’re just a little puzzled, sweetheart. This is all so sudden.”

“Not for me. Adrek and I have been friends for years. We just. . . we hid it from everyone. We were scared.”

“How. . .” Papa begins.

Mum’s eyes widen. “The blankets. Your shutters. . . You’ve been sneaking out!”

“What’s this?” Papa growls.

“Nothing ever happened,” I say quickly. “We studied, and talked. Adrek’s a gentleman.”

“He’s a dwarf!”

“He’s my friend.” I stand up too. “He was a baby when his parents came to Lochnell. He’s grown up here his whole life. It’s his home too.”

Papa gapes at me, unaccustomed to me talking back. I hold his gaze, needing him to say it’s okay. I don’t know how I’ll survive if he turns away.

“Angus, honey,” Mum says. “Sit down.”

He slumps into his seat. “I need a drink.”

“I’m doing this, Papa,” I say quietly, “I’ll move out if I have to, but I hope you’ll give us a chance.”

He says nothing.

“Give him time, sweetheart,’ Mum says. “This is a lot to take in.”

Back in my room, I toss and turn. Papa’s blank expression plays on my mind. I’ve never done anything like this before. What if he hates me? Maybe he’ll throw me out. What if I’ve ruined my life?

There’s a soft knock. I sit up with a start. “Come in?”

It’s Mum.

“Can I sit?”

“Okay.” I pull my feet back.

She takes the spot at the end of my bed. “I’m worried about you, Gen. Do you know anything about their culture? What loving this boy will mean?”

“I know enough,” I say. “Adrek’s taught me some of their ways. We still have a lot to learn from each other. Dwarves aren’t going anywhere, Mum. Someone has to take the first step.”

“It’s not me you have to convince.”

I sigh. “Papa’s still mad?”

“It affects all of us, honey. He’s going to take a while to adjust.”

“Do you think he’ll ever forgive me?”

“In time.” She rubs my shoulder. “You’re his angel. I don’t think he could stay mad forever.”

My throat closes over.

“Just promise me something?” Mum says.

I nod.

“No more surprises.”

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I lean into mum’s embrace.

“We still love you, sweetheart. We’ll get through this, somehow.”

“Adrek’s worth it, Mum. He’s amazing. You’ll like him when you get to know him.”

Mum laughs. “I’m sure we will, but one thing at a time, okay?”

“Thank you for understanding.”

“Sweet dreams, my love.” Mum kisses my hair, easing the door shut on her way out. I bury my head in my pillow. Tears come in torrents, a strange release after months of angst and uncertainty. In the end, I feel calm. I know the road will be long and I’ll get bruised along the way, but there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon and a family at my back. Together, we can survive anything.

Love and Climate Change

My friend linked me to an article on capitalism, the environment and socialism and asked me for my opinion. I spent such a long time answering her that I thought I might as well make it a blog post.

Here’s my opinion, as it currently stands:

The article sets out clearly what has gone wrong in the world and how Cory believes it is a function of capitalism and class, but his suggestions of what to do about it seem a bit foggy. I get hints of revolution (like in Russia and China?) with heavy dependence on the working class as hope for the future. This relies on a transformation in consciousness for the working class, perhaps via a bolder stance by unions and greater networks between activist groups?

The thing that concerns me is the previous examples of socialism which seem to have resulted in oppression and misery of a different sort. Russia, China and other once-communist societies are not currently leading the world in environmental responsibility.
I guess this leads me to the question of what went wrong for them and how a society might avoid making the same mistakes?

The other problem I have with Cory’s argument is more fundamental. I don’t believe the working class is unenlightened or that the ‘ruling class’ is evil. I agree that the goal must be harmony with the environment. I’m concerned, however, that to pursue harmony inside a dialogue where anyone is discounted or vilified, could perpetuate cycles of misunderstanding, conflict and confusion.

People are primarily motivated by two emotions, fear and love. All the logic in the world won’t budge a fearful person to leap over a perceived ledge, unless you can prove that it’s safe, that something else is worse, or that it’s the only way to fulfill their need to be loved.

How does that relate? Well fear causes mental blindness. I strongly doubt the National Party, for example, is rubbing their hands with glee as they sign bills allowing further unsustainable power generation. They’re not envisioning the destruction of New Zealand and shrugging, saying, “Oh well, I’ll be rich now, screw my grandkids.” My best guess is that they’re looking at the financial crisis we’re in and saying ‘well shit, gotta do something about that. What are our options?’

The environmental aspects are too hard to solve, in their minds. They avoid thinking about things that are fear-inducing and, since most of New Zealand seems to be ignoring the problem and putting it in the too-hard basket too, they figure someone else can worry about it later when it gets to be a ‘real problem’.

Of course this is going to lead to destructive outcomes, but not because they’re evil. Because they feel helpless, confused, scared and totally unprepared to tackle what seems like an impossible problem. Maybe also because they’re pretty sure that prioritizing the environment at the cost of the entire capitalist model is something that won’t get them re-elected.

If you think about it, changing an entire model like that has rarely, if ever, been done without significant chaos, resistance and bloodshed.

I believe the only way to create lasting change, peacefully, is to demand it as a nation via the democratic process. It’s been done for things like gay marriage and our anti-nuclear stance, and it can be done for the environment – with the right dialogue and grassroots inclusive attitude. That means every group, from teens, through students, working people, families, investors, business people, the elderly etc, need to agree not only that change is important, but that it is achievable.

The achievable part is the most vital in my opinion. There’s been more than enough films, famous actors and UN conventions to convince most people that climate change and environmental stuff is ‘important’. What there hasn’t been nearly enough of is inspiring visions of what the alternatives could be.

When you imagine the future, what do you see? For many of us, it’s the ice covered cities in Day After Tomorrow, or the never ending oceans of Waterworld, or the jungle cities of most zombie post-apocalyptic films. This future seems inevitable. If doom is coming, why not practice? We write stories to reassure ourselves that despite the complete destruction of our planet and our civilization, some scrap of humanity remains and we might personally survive to see it.

For people who find this end-of-the-world image too terrifying to contemplate, the response seems to be simply closing your mind to the horror and telling yourself it’s not real… that life will go on exactly as it has all this time (hence the insistence that climate change is a conspiracy and there’s no proof). People don’t ‘choose’ to believe these things, they simply must, because otherwise they’d break.

This is the problem I have wrestled with in the last few months. There are no easy answers. I’m only starting to understand the problem, but one thing I know for sure. It’s a human problem. I think it’s the human problem. It’s not just about environment or oppression or war, but these are the symptoms.

I believe we are, each of us, the problem and the solution.

Cory is right when he speaks of the need for a leap in consciousness, but it is not only the working class who need to make this leap… it’s everyone. Every time we choose to put another person in a box; to assume we know them and their motivations; to class them as ‘evil’ and fight against them; we are being part of the problem. Every time we push our point of view without genuinely listening, we are sustaining the cycles that keep us isolated and powerless.

I’m not a Christian, but I think the advice “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” is pretty much the leap in consciousness we require if we want to find a solution.

When you can stand in a place where you believe everyone is genuinely doing their best with the resources and world view they have, you can begin to ask questions like, what would inspire these people to take action? What has inspired people in the past? How could we make it easy for them to choose a different path?

One part of the answer is awareness, another is having the courage to gather solutions and present them in stories that redefine what is possible for humanity. Make hope the prevailing energy of our conversations. Inspire people to take action because they believe it will make a difference. Let people at every level of society be welcome.


Harmony with the planet starts with the courage to love each other. It’s something we are all responsible for. Every time you choose to smile, to forgive, to extend a helping hand, to listen… you are being part of the solution.

Well, that’s what I believe.

What do you think?