At the conclusion of the Friends of Randell Cottage AGM on Wednesday 25 May, President Leslie Brown welcomed Rose Lu, the current writer-in-residence at the Cottage, and directed the conversation with some probing questions.
Her project while at the Cottage is her debut novel with NZ Chinese characters in an intergenerational situation set in a past era.
Rose shared her various challenges in starting her major creative writing journey on this topic. In response, writers and members of the Friends’ audience, including Dame Fiona Kidman and Maggie Rainey-Smith, offered encouragement and support, describing their own experiences and endorsing Rose’s decisions based on her ‘trial and error’ approach in the early stages of writing, while aiming to write 20,000 words a month.
Dame Fiona reassured her that it was good not to feel that you had to meet a certain target or plan. She considered that to do research first was useful, leaving the creative side freer when the writing part started.
Rose’s reading of her rock-climbing/bouldering piece was highly amusing and expressed relevant things in a novel way, containing also the concept of developing simple friendship and elevating this activity to an extreme sport now followed by many.
This was seen as altogether a refreshing conversation with an inspiring young and talented writer who views the creation of ‘identity’ as a key ingredient of her trade.
Tramper, software engineer, essayist, and now novelist Rose Lu is to be the 2022 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writing Fellow.
Lu will be using her six months at Randell Cottage in Wellington’s historic Thorndon village to write her first novel.
Currently untitled, 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.
A graduate of the Master of Creative Writing workshop at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters, Lu’s first book was the 2019 essay collection All Who Live On Islands, winner of the IIML’s 2018 creative non-fiction writing prize. She will take up her placement in the twentieth year of residencies at Randell Cottage and will join Trustees and Friends in celebrating this milestone.
Of her project, she 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.”
Trustee and selection panel convener Sian Robyns says the Trust received many very good applications in a variety of genres, all deserving to see the light of day.
“We got it down to a shortlist of four. We considered, we debated, we went back and forth, and it was very close. Rose’s project stood out for its perspective and her choice to represent diasporic Asians to each other rather than to the mainstream; her use of tramping, an iconic aspect of New Zealand culture as a means of thinking about risk-taking; and for a compelling and controlled writing sample.”
Lu says she is honoured to be the 2022 resident and is looking forward to living and working in Randell Cottage.
“I was surprised and delighted to find out that I had received the Randell Cottage residency. I was out on a walk at the time, which seems fitting given the nature of my project. Covid has made it a strange couple of years, but the silver lining has been that I’ve spent a lot more time in the outdoors in Aotearoa, and this has been the inspiration for my novel that I like to glibly describe as “Brokeback Mountain but in the Tararua Ranges”.
“I’m really looking forward to being resident in Randell Cottage and walking up Te Ahumairangi every day.”
The Randell Cottage Writers Trust was established in 2001. The restored Category II historic building, gifted to the Trust by the Randell-Price family, hosts two writers a year: one from New Zealand and the other from France. In 2021, it was home to poet and essayist Lynn Davidson. The 2021 French writer, Caroline Laurent, has had her residency delayed by Covid-19 border restrictions. At this stage, it looks as if she may be able to arrive in Wellington for the second half of 2022.