Rose Lu, our NZ writer-in-residence, joined in a warm and open conversation with Randell Cottage Trustee Francis Cooke, at the National Library on 23 September 2022, hosted by the Friends of the Randell Cottage Writers Trust.
Robyn Skrzyńska, Secretary of the Friends, reports that Rose read from the first essay in her collection All Who Live On Islands, which reflected the multiple themes of her writing: place is significant as she had spent her early years adjusting to the changes she encountered in her many primary schools; her rock climbing passion she described has being ‘obsessive’ and ‘immersive’; language and her use of English interspersed with Chinese languages, including her parents’ Chongming dialect with Moon, one of her main characters in the writing project she is undertaking at the Cottage, being fluent in Mandarin and English.
The project follows the story of Moon, a second-generation Chinese-New Zealander, and Hsiao-Han, who migrated to Aotearoa New Zealand in her mid-twenties. Rose says: “I want this book to be divorced from the expectation that POC are thinking about their race in relation to a Pākehā majority, by having the primary dialogue be between Chinese and Taiwanese characters. I also want to challenge mainstream notions of representation. We all have complicated relationships to home, family and language, and I want to write a story set across different times and generations to explore that.”
Francis observed that a recent wave of young NZ Chinese writers were ‘writing their reality into NZ literature’, such as Nina Mingya Powles, Chris Tse, Sharon Lam, Vanessa Mei Crofskey and Rosabel Tan. Rose agreed and discussed her current participation in a seminar of twenty-four American and New Zealand writers, all of whom whakapapa to Asia, and her observations of the difference between the experiences of the American and New Zealand writers.
Francis asked Rose about her passion for writing about food, and she explained how closely it was related for her to culture, family, and home. She was always delighted when readers reached out to her via social media. She believed her family had been very generous with the information about them that she has put in her writing. Her mother, usually a very private person, said that the fact that Rose had published all the family secrets was her ‘gift to Rose’.
Francis commented that she wrote honestly about sex and sexuality, to which Rose said that the challenge for her was the representation of an Asian woman in literature and that the issue of race in a dating situation is a minefield.
In answer to a question from the audience about her experience at Randell Cottage, Rose enthused over the peace and quiet, the sound of birds, as well as the proximity by train and bus to the city and beyond.