Paddy Richardson on place-setting: getting it right

Paddy Richardson, the 2019 CNZ Randell Cottage Writing Fellow, says she loves research but there is no substitute for actually treading the same ground as the characters she’s writing about. Her Randell project, The Green of the Spring, focuses on the experiences of Otto Bader, a German internee on Matiu Somes Island during WWI. The great value of the Randell residency was the opportunity it gave her to get to know Wellington and to visit and stay on the island.

“Place-setting – getting that right – has always been extremely important to me as a writer. Being on Matiu Somes Island enabled me to fully experience the island – the landscape, the sea, the wildlife and the weather – which made these men’s experiences so much more real to me,” she says.

This extract from Paddy’s Randell project The Green of the Spring is a wonderful demonstration of how that lived experience, that empathy, can be transferred to the page:


And there is the city, Wellington, rising in the distance, tantalising us with her buildings and her busy-ness, reminding us of the freedom we once had, and of that world in which we are now unwelcome. The island, though, Pansy.  Although on some days we are tormented by the most driving of winds, the island is beautiful, with the roll and glisten of the harbour and the hills about us, the mornings so still and the sky shot pink. It is the island I turn to when I need comfort. I walk across the cliffs and up to the highest points of the island. I watch the seals basking and diving, watch the sea-birds which appear to experience such joy and ebullience in their gliding across these wide skies; I am certain they fly for the sheer pleasure of it, nobody could persuade me different.  And I swim. Pansy, swimming in the ocean with that first rush of chill which turns to warmth as your body becomes accustomed to the temperature, the rise and dip of the waves and, above all, that feeling of being alone in all that vastness, well it is marvellous.  The city seems so close that I feel almost I could make it over there. I wonder what Wellington would make of a drenched and naked German arriving on her shores.

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Michalia Arathimos selected as 2020 Randell Cottage Writer in Residence

Michalia Arathimos

Melbourne-based but Wellington-born, writer, reviewer and editor Michalia Arathimos will be returning to her home city next year as the 2020 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writing Fellow. Arathimos will be using her time at the Randell Cottage to work on her second novel, Cartographia, which she describes as an exploration of place, migration and identity, through the eyes of a woman of Greek descent.

Arathimos has published work in many places, including The Lifted BrowOverland MagazineLandfallSport and Headland. She was twice short-listed for Australia’s Overland VU Short Story Prize and won 2016’s New Zealand Sunday Times Short Story Prize. Her first novel Aukati was published in 2017 by Wellington’s Mākaro Press. Arathimos holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Victoria University’s IIML and is currently fiction reviewer for the Melbourne-based Overland Magazine.

Selection panel convener Stephen Stratford says “It was a mast year for applications for this valuable fellowship – in quality and quantity – but Michalia’s application stood out and was the panel’s unanimous choice. Her writing sample sang and the residential aspect of the fellowship will clearly be of benefit to a project which draws from Michalia’s own experience growing up in Wellington’s Greek community.”

Arathimos says she is delighted to be the 2020 resident and is looking forward to her six months in the capital.

“Wellington, with its hills and fault lines and glittering sea, is like a perfect espresso cup of culture and energy. It’s also home to a lot of quiet minorities, like the Greek community I come from, who carry stories that might be less well known than others. I can’t wait to return.”

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Paddy Richardson interviewed by RNZ National

Photo credit: Caroline Davies

With just a couple of weeks of her residency left to run, Paddy Richardson took time out to chat with RNZ National’s Lynn Freeman of Standing Room Only.

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Three Days on Somes Island

2019 New Zealand writer in residence Paddy Richardson has been using her time in the capital to visit Matiu Somes Island, the major setting of her novel in progress, The Green of the Spring.

She’s made several day trips but in November, along with her husband Jim Mackay, stayed for three nights, and says the Randell Cottage residency, “has been invaluable in the opportunities for research and visiting the island.”

Paddy’s writing achieves an extraordinary sense of time and place. Her book Swimming in the Dark transports the reader to Central Otago, with resonances from post-war Germany under the Stasi. Cross Fingers is a crime story that takes us inside the world of the 1981 Springbok Tour protesters. And her latest novel Through the Lonesome Dark set in the West Coast town of Blackball, brings small-town relationships to vivid life, just as it recreates the horrors of trench warfare and the fears of miners drilling under Arras in WW1 France.

Now we wait to – through Paddy’s imagination and research – the harsh internment camp established in the same era on Somes Island in the isolation of Wellington Harbour, through the eyes of Otto Bader, a young mining activist of German heritage. The new book is close to being finished and should be published in 2020.

Paddy says the water was rough and cold for the journey across to Somes. She was especially struck by the wind: “It was incredibly powerful – and the sound of it. It reminded me that there was a rule that the men were not able to remain inside their barracks during the day – imagine being constantly out in those conditions. The prisoners built their own shelter huts as a result. And the men had to carry their water up from the jetty every day – gallons of it – buckets carried on a yoke across their shoulders. Imagine battling against the wind carrying that kind of burden.”

On returning to her base at Randell Cottage, only a short distance from the harbourside, Paddy reflected on the nearness of Somes to Wellington: “It must have been a constant torment, the city was close and yet they were so isolated.”

Paddy has shared a tantalising extract from The Green of the Spring in which Otto makes his own journey to the island:

When we had come up on deck, I’d been able to see Somes in the distance as a rising shape near to the horizon but now we were approaching it I could make out a long shore with craggy, low rocks to one side and a high rounded rise at the centre. It appeared smaller than I had envisaged, though I imagined it would spread further on the other side of the island that we could not see. Apart from a small group of figures I could make out on the wharf, there seemed no sign of life. I’d heard there were over a hundred men incarcerated there, as well as the overseeing military. I wondered how all who lived there could be accommodated in such a small place. The pleasure I had initially taken in the enclosure of sea, harbour and hills changed to a mild sense of panic. A hundred or so men sealed off on a small island? How would we pass our time?

Paddy enjoys the freedom of a swim off Somes Island.



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Open Day 2019 was a brilliant success!

On a gloriously sunny day, under the auspices of Wellington Heritage Week, the three Thorndon Arts Residencies – the Lilburn Residence, the Rita Angus Cottage and the Randell Cottage – opened their doors to well over a hundred visitors who enjoyed readings from Randell writers (and writers we consider friends!), music and art.

(Photos: Tim Gruar – unless otherwise stated)

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Thorndon Open Day: art, literature and music

Combined Open Days at the Randell Cottage, the Lilburn Residency and the Rita Angus Residency – the homes of New Zealand writers, composers, and artists.

Cottage with garden in frontJoin us on Saturday, 2 November for an afternoon celebrating art, music and literature at three Thorndon arts residencies. The Randell Cottage’s doors, along with those of the Lilburn and Angus residences will be open to the public from 1–4pm. Visitors will be treated to readings from New Zealand writers as well as music and the opportunity to spend some time sketching in Rita Angus’s garden.

The three residences are in easy walking distance of each other. There will be birthday cake on offer to celebrate what would have been Douglas Lilburn’s 104th birthday. A simple map will be available to show the route.

The Randell Cottage, a Category II historic place built in 1867 as the family home of William and Sarah Randell and their ten children, is now a writer’s residence for New Zealand and French writers. The current resident is Paddy Richardson who will be joining us to read from her novel-in-progress, ‘The Green of Spring’.

The Lilburn Residence (Category I), where the composer Douglas Lilburn lived and worked, will be open for visitors to explore, with music in the cottage and the garden.

The garden at the Rita Angus Cottage (Category I) will be open to visitors, who are encouraged to stay and sketch the abundant array of flowers and plant life that surround the 1877 cottage where New Zealand artist Rita Angus lived between 1955 and 1970, providing her with much inspiration and subject matter. Thorndon Trustees and volunteer gardeners will be on hand, with drawing material and reproductions of some of Rita’s representations of her Thorndon garden.

• The Randell Cottage (14 St Mary’s Street);
• The Lilburn Residence (22 Ascot Street);
• The former residence of Rita Angus (194A Sydney Street West)

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Applications Invited For Randell Cottage Writers Residency

Applications are now open for the 2020 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writers Fellowship. The fellowship comprises a stipend, currently set at $22,000, and six months’ rent-free accommodation in one of Wellington’s oldest colonial buildings.

The Trust is particularly interested in hearing from mid-career and Māori and Pasifika writers.

Built in Thorndon in 1867, the Cottage has been painstakingly restored and is close to the National Library, the Turnbull Library, and National Archive. It’s provided a peaceful inner-city base for writers from a range of genres: novelists, poets, biographers…

The first New Zealand resident was Peter Wells, in 2002. He’s been followed by Tim Corballis, Michael Harlow, Renée, Beryl Fletcher, Whiti Hereaka, Jennifer Compton, Kirsty Gunn, Pat White, Peter Walker, Vivienne Plumb, Denis Welch, Tina Makereti, Witi Ihimaera, Owen Marshall, Stephanie Johnson, Stephen Daisley, James Norcliffe and Paddy Richardson.

The Randell Cottage Creative NZ Writer in Residence is selected by a Trust-appointed committee to work on an approved project from July to December each year. The deadline for applications is Friday, 1 November 2019. The successful applicant will be announced in December.

Note: The 2020 fellowship is advertised subject to confirmation of funding from CNZ’s Arts Grants programme. Those decisions are expected in early to mid-November

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Dame Fiona Kidman awarded Acorn Foundation Prize for Fiction

Randell Cottage writers were strongly represented in the 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards: three of our ‘family’ –Tina Makereti, Vincent O’Sullivan and Fiona Kidman – had novels included in the long list for the Acorn Foundation Prize for Fiction. Weeks passed, the judges deliberated, three were whittled down to two, and on the night, it was Dame Fiona Kidman who took the crown. This Mortal Boy (Penguin Random House) is a re-examination of the life and execution of the young Irish migrant Paddy Black. Congratulations Fiona!

Fiona Kidman Ockhams 2019

Dame Fiona is pictured here with Harriet Allan of Penguin Random House (centre) and Margo McCool from the Acorn Foundation.

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An evening with Karin Serres

The evening of 27 March may well have been a dark and stormy night but the atmosphere inside the National was warm and welcoming, as current resident Karin Serres gave her audience an insight into her creative process, her information gathering (and magpie tendencies) and her journey from theatre to literature.

Karin’s next event in Wellington will be at the Alliance Française on 9 May. Details to follow.

Photos: Tim Gruar for the Randell Cottage Writers Trust.

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An Evening with Karin Serres

A scenographer by training, the Randell Cottage’s 2019 French resident is Karin Serres whose work traverses many genres – novels, picture books, plays, for stage and radio, and translation.

Join us for an evening of conversation, readings and reflection on the new perspectives that come from writing away from home on Wednesday 27 March at the National Library.



Wednesday, 27 March
5:30pm – 7:30pm
Programme Rooms, Ground Floor
National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets


The evening is a joint project of the Friends of the Randell Cottage, The Randell Cottage Writers Trust and the National Library, with the support of the Embassy of France in New Zealand.

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