5 Quick Questions with Helen Lehndorf

Helen Lehndorf will be teaching the Friday night session at the upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat. Helen Lehndorf’s book, The Comforter, made the New Zealand Listener’s ‘Best 100 Books of 2012′ list. Her second book, Write to the Centre, is a nonfiction book about the practice of keeping a journal. She writes poetry and non-fiction, and has been published in Sport, Landfall, JAAM, and many other publications and anthologies. Recently, she cocreated an original multimedia work The 4410 to the 4412 for the Papaoiea Festival of the Arts with fellow Manawatū writers Maroly Krasner and Charlie Pearson.  

What attracted you to writing?

When I was 7 I had a wonderful teacher called Mr Cunningham. He told me I had a great vocabulary and would write a book one day. For whatever reason, I believed him. Many writers have a personal story about one ‘wonderful teacher’. Let’s hear it for the wonderful teachers…their influence ripples far beyond what they will ever know.

Does moving our bodies help our writing?

I hesitate to make a claim for anyone else’s experience, but embodiment practices help me connect to my senses, which enhances my attention, which is essential for my ability to achieve well-observed writing.

If writing was a piece of gardening equipment – what would it be?

The compost heap.

What are you working on now?

Short non-fiction observations devoid of imagery/metaphor and stripped back to the bones of exposition. By playing with the running order, I’m trying to get them to ‘talk’ to each other or suggest associations that occurred organically from the randomness of the process. I have around 30,000 words worth of them but given only about one in twenty is ‘successful’, I need to keep going to stack up enough to be a ‘thing’ so … I will keep going.

What should people expect from your sessions at the retreat?

This year I’m running the Friday night writing session which is a great opportunity for me to try something new. Last year I asked retreatants to interview each other with a set of highly personal questions, the likes of which you wouldn’t usually ask a total stranger. That was enormous fun. I’m still devising next year’s session but it will have something to do with tangible objects and a slow reveal.

Keen to join Helen? Register now for the 2021 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat