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Becky Manawatu talks us through her process and hitting the spot

With the classic leanings of Once Were Warriors, mixed with a little fun and games of a Taika Waititi film, Aue is set to be destined for big things.

Author Becky Mauawatu has had a stellar year. With the release of her debut novel Aue (Scribe), the author has hit the ground running, delivering a powerful, raw, and transcendently beautifully written story of family, and the journey that we undertake that contributes to who we become as adults.

Aue is in part a personal essay based on Becky’s sister who married a member of the New Zealand-based organized street gang, The Mongrel Mob, which has caused a bit of a stir over its depiction of violence in Māori communities. But to give in entirely to this premise would be unjust because at its heart, whilst Aue is a confronting story, it is also deeply compelling. The truth lies in the fact that violence exists everywhere, regardless of country, gang, or no gang, and that shouldn’t be swept dismissively under the rug.  

The novel at times feels too real and is woven throughout with intense moments that feel impossible to have been written unless they were experienced firsthand. Not one to step away from delving into complex relationships, Becky ingeniously pulls apart the very fabric of family and breaks it down to its bare bones. It’s at times greatly intense, as much as it is funny, at its core it is pure at heart, tender, and filled with hope, which is the overriding essence of Aue

Aue (the Maori word for a howling cry) is told with great feeling and generosity, her storytelling washes over you, and embraces you in the warmest of Maori hugs. 

 

becku aue novel nz
Credit: TimeoutNZ

Happy: Hey Becky, what did you get up to today? 

Becky: Today we are at my husband’s aunty’s home in Ōtautahi. His grandmother lives here in this house and she is very sick. Almost all the family is here to see her. There is about 50 to 80 people here at any one time.  

I’m writing in the lounge on my phone surrounded by my husband’s cousins and aunties and uncles. I feel very blessed to be part of this family. We haven’t seen quite a few members of the family for a while but it’s very relaxed here. 

I’m sitting on the floor. The toddlers bob past, People are talking around me and it’s comforting. I like hearing people laugh. Someone’s always laughing at something. We are eating our meals almost all together. 

This morning my mother in law made us bacon, eggs and hash browns and for lunch Aunty Parn  made a beautiful mussel chowder. 

Tonight will be bits of leftovers and maybe a bbq. I didn’t think my husband’s grandmother would recognise me, because she’s quite unwell but I went in to say hello and she smiled and said, ‘ Oh, I read your book. It was very good.’ That was very special because so much of the book is based on the land she whakapapa’s to and has lived on all her life.  I told her I was writing a new book and she nodded, smiling still, which was very cool.

Happy: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?

Becky: We live in a small seaside town. I love the rainforested mountains. It’s a rainy place and I like that. The surf is good, nice for beginners, people who just want to have fun but there’s good strong surf for the pros too. I enjoy my te Reo Māori class Wednesday nights.

Sometimes I’d like to live where I could connect to my whakapapa (Māori heritage) more but we have very good friends and they are our whānau too.

Happy: Describe your average work day? 

Becky: Read in the morning. Write after breakfast when kids have gone to school. Work for four hours maybe. Take the dog for a walk. But this changes easily and from day to day. Sometimes I’ll have more creative energy in the evening.

Happy: What about your ultimate day?

Becky: Probably a day in Kaikōura or Rakiura. Waking up after a really solid sleep. Phone off. I have some time to get really immersed in a very good book. Family together. A walk over the peninsula or to the bay and some diving. Feed of kaimoana. A game of cards together. A beer together, maybe. Another good sleep. 

Aue novel
Credit: Scribe

Happy: Study or Self-taught?

Becky: I enjoyed a year at Nelson Marlborough institute of technology studying writing for creative industries. I don’t have a degree. I think every writer  is a combination of study and self taught, eh? 

Happy: What is your favorite part of writing? 

Becky: When you hit the spot where the story starts getting away on you, when you lose some control, is my favourite. I guess that’s about early to midway. In the beginning the beautiful thing is your options are really open, you haven’t made many choices you are bound to.

But for me I feel like to start with, I’m too much in control (or trying to be) of the story and I’m self-conscious, once the characters are alive on the page they start to take the reins a bit, you get to share the load with them.

They’ll hopefully lead you somewhere unexpected if you’ve brought them to life enough. I do enjoy editing- it’s a very creative process. You have the cake, now you get to ice it. My friend Bec said that to me, and I was like yea! That’s what it is!

Happy: Tell us about your creative community.

Becky: I have one writing friend who I am in very regular contact with. We share our work and talk about our struggles with our work. This is a very precious relationship and I didn’t have anything like that when I wroteAuē .

My creative community is larger now, and it’s very beautiful to be part of a writing community of tangata Māori. I get to spend time with very strong talented Māori writers when I travel to festivals, for example. There’s a real buzz.

Happy: Which book are you currently reading?

Becky: I am currently rereading an unpublished manuscript. It’s a beautiful story about two cousins travelling together to their marae. I’m hoping to give some helpful feedback. I’m also reading Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley.

Happy: What did you read or watch growing up that fuelled your passion for storytelling?

Becky: My Girl was a very formative book for me. It was the first book which made me cry and it was the first time I understood the true power of good well-formed characters. This book was a  novelisation of the movie, I hadn’t seen the movie – but the book, as I recall was beautifully written. Sheryl Jordan’s Winter of Fire was my favourite when I began high school. 

Happy: What did you read or watch last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective? 

Becky: Girl, woman, other by Bernadine Evaristo and Paradise by Toni Morrison. 

Happy: What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?

Becky: Sleeping, being with family, being near the sea, sleeping, playing cards, watching tv, listening to music, sleeping, walking my dog, cooking with nice ingredients- that’s such a privilege to have all the bits you need to cook something special , oh and sleeping lol

Happy: If you had a first date book list, what would it be? 

Becky: These are top of my list/faves:

Struggle without end, Ranginui Walker

Atonement, Ian McEwan

The house of the talking cat, JC Sturm

Baby No-eyes, Patricia Grace

Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson

Five Strings, Apirana Taylor 

Beloved, Toni Morrison

The bone people, Keri Hulme

God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

A fine balance, Rohinton Mistry 

The north water, Ian McGuire

The imaginary lives of James Poneke, Tina Makereti

The new animals, Pip Adam

Wake, Elizabeth Knox

Owls do cry, Janet Frame

Elena Knows, Claudia Piñeiro

Wounds of passion, bell hooks

Aue is out now via Scribe