By Vivienne Ball and Anna Mahoney
Part One: Voices
Engulfed by the crowd gathering outside the Far North District Council building, Alex Walker breathed in the excited buzz of greetings in te Reo and English. All around him, people young and old, city and country folk, hugged, kissed, exchanged hongi, shook hands. He could distinguish different interest groups by their signs and banners. One group carried a big green-and-white banner. It’s about Significant Natural Areas, stupid, it said. Another proclaimed, My Land, My Rules. He was electrified, not least by the day itself which, at a little before eleven o’clock, was like Goldilocks’ porridge; not too hot, not too cold, just right. The warm sun streaming through fluffy clouds felt like a blessing.
Alex had joined the hikoi two days earlier, as it swung past his home in Ahipara, at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach. Now he spotted his mates near the front of the crowd, waving banners emblazoned with slogans like Hunting for Hunters and Hunters Against SNAs. They couldn’t have been anything else, he thought, in their boots, shorts and checked shirts, same as his own.
“Hey bro, how cool’s this?” Tim dropped his sign and charged over to simultaneously slap Alex on the back and shake his hand, finishing with a fist bump. “Hemi and me drove over from Kawakawa at sparrow fart. Awesome turnout, eh?”
When first approached by Tim, Alex had been reluctant to commit. He’d always thought protests were rubbish and only idiots would join them. His wife, Rachel, who was in a coastal care group, was dead against it. “Seriously? You reckon open slather on private land is going to help us survive? It’s past time we protected nature wherever it clings on.” She had a point, but so did Tim. Alex realised his views had shifted. “Listen, love, it’s not that simple. My mates care heaps about our land. They live off it and they want their mokopuna to do the same. But these significant natural areas aren’t being done right and someone’s got to make the council see sense.” He’d got a kiss when he left so everything must be sweet again.
Any lingering reservations had been banished by the camaraderie of the road and his mates’ reception. He was all in now, he told the boys, although still a bit embarrassed to be part of a protest. “Yeah, you’re right. Us hunters need to make a stand, or the damned DOC’ll be dropping their 1080 bombs everywhere and we’ll all be on the dole.”
“And there’ll be nothing to put on the table when all the deer and pigs and goats are dead,” said Tim, with a rueful head shake. Alex knew the so-called pests were the difference between full bellies and near-starvation for many in the north. They all agreed that hunting and trapping on both public and private land were the best conservation option and had come here to make their voices heard.
Further back, and safely in the middle of the crowd, Eva Shaw felt the anxiety she’d been fighting all morning well up again. She shouldn’t have come. The previous day, while shopping for the family dinner, she’d walked the aisles debating the pros and cons of SNAs. She had been all for them but then, over the roast pork, her son’s fiancée, Aroha, had set her back on her heels.
“Whakarongo, wāhine! What if it was your whenua, the last living pieces left by the pākehā? The rivers, the mountains, the forests?” She wiped angry tears with an impatient hand. “Wouldn’t you say enough is enough?” How fierce she was, Eva had thought. A bit scary, even. The daughter of a local kaumātua, Aroha Te Pahi had the bearing of a young woman who listened to the wisdom of her elders. A future leader, for sure.
“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” Eva had said. “I grew up here, too. I love this place and everything in it.” She had been deeply affected by Aroha’s passion. “I can see there’s more than one side to the issue,” she said. Until then, Eva had been convinced that her work with children was enough. Now she wondered. She’d be 50 next year and what did she really have to show for it? She’d always been aware of the big social and community issues, but in an abstract way. Maybe this fight over SNAs was her chance to do some serious good.
Thinking about why she’d joined the protest settled Eva’s nerves. She was with her family and felt part of the wider community. At playcentre she wore bright colours because the children liked them. Now, her pink-and-purple tie-dyed pants and pink t-shirt matched her buoyant mood. When Aroha hugged her, and whispered “Ka pai”, she knew this was her happy day.
Kylie Batt and her father, Greg, had joined up with the hīkoi at Rawene. Greg had been grumbling ever since. “My feet are killing me. Why on earth did I let you talk me into this?” Kylie secretly wished he hadn’t come. Then she could have been up the front, loud and proud, maybe even carrying a flag. But then, Mum wouldn’t have let her come. Frustration shaved her tongue to a vicious point. “Serves you right, Dad, she’d said. “I told you to get some proper walking boots.”
They’d been doing a forests project at school when Mihi said there was a hīkoi against the SNAs and she was going with her mum. Later, Kylie pumped her for more. “My koro’s coming across from Panguru,” said Mihi. “He says it’s about stopping the government stealing any more land from us.”
When she was younger Kylie hadn’t let up until her parents said she could join Forest & Bird. She’d always believed the forests needed saving, no matter whose land they were on. Now she wondered. “So, if you have some of these special areas on your farm you might not be able to do anything with them?”
“Āe. My whānau are going ballistic on it.”
“That sucks. Is it okay for anyone to go?”
“Reckon you’ll be allowed?”
Kylie hadn’t been sure then, but vowed she’d die trying. “Dad’s not into it but he likes the grades I get for projects. I’ll work on him.” It’d been easier than she’d imagined, and even if he had been a big pain in the bum on the march, Kylie was still glad they’d come.
By the time he’d trudged five kilometres, Greg knew he should have got the boots, like Kylie said. Money was tight, though, since the virus started keeping everyone at home. The gas station in Ōpononi had been a good deal ten years ago. Lately, he’d wondered if they should flick it for what they could get and move closer to the city. Kylie said she’d kill herself if they did, but that was teens for you.
They’d had a real ding-dong over this bloody march. He didn’t get it. All this argy bargy about rights and land grabs. They were all New Zealanders after all. His daughter had rolled her eyes. “How can you even say that Dad? If only you’d stop listening to those dickheads on Newstalk ZB and their borderline racism.”
“I’m not going, and neither are you. End of story.”
“Try and stop me.”
Time to call in the back up, Greg had decided. “Coll, can you please tell her it’s not happening?” Instead of taking his side, his wife had thrown him under the bus. “Can’t see how it’d hurt you. Might even learn something.” A man had no chance in a house full of women, he’d griped, as he stuffed his pack with a change of clothes and scroggin. He had hoped to be up to it. Driving down in the ute would have been more his style. Now here they were in Kaikohe and still speaking. Fingers crossed the truce would last.
John Wentworth had driven up from Auckland that morning to make sure the tin pot council did the right thing. He made his way through the crowd, patting himself on the back for getting so many hardline conservationists along to counter the whinging landowners’ claims. They’d had decades to change their bad habits and now it was time to put the pressure on. Done right, SNAs would extinguish the effluent spills, phosphates, and over-cropping.
Now, in his seventies, John was retired from academia. He’d written several books about the environment and his nature poetry featured regularly in green publications. He might live in the big city, but Northland was his second home, and his mission now was to keep the district council honest.
He’d tell anyone who’d listen to his fears for the future. “We don’t have much time left. No one seems to care or want to undo the harm we’ve caused with our drive to develop, develop, develop.” John wasn’t one for introspection. It never occurred to him that he might be a bore.
District Councillor Gerry Grant looked out of his office window at the rabble. What a joke they were. All fighting with each other while nothing changed. There was that idiot townie Wentworth, sticking his nose in, as usual. These bloody SNAs were going to cause months of so-called consultation, costing an arm and a leg, and for what? Bits of rubbish bush gone to gorse and ragwort. Significant, my arse.
Apart from his enduring hatred of greenies, Gerry had an extra incentive for making this whole SNA business go away. He’d had his eye on a nice piece of land on the town’s eastern boundary for a while. It had a stand of totara in the middle and a stream ran through it to feed a wetland. He’d make a tidy profit by draining the swamp, chopping down the trees and building houses there, but not if it was earmarked for protection.
Just then, the democracy services officer interrupted his reverie. “Someone here to see you,” she said. The woman had strict instructions not to let anyone through without an appointment. Must be iwi or Forest & Bird, Gerry guessed.
“Kia ora Councillor. All ready for the stoush?” A grin split his visitor’s face in two, as if he’d just been given a massive bag of kina.
“Oh, it’s just you, Koro. What’s the word? How many coming?”
“The hundreds that left Te Rerenga Wairua have become thousands.” He laughed out loud, bouncing on his toes. “Heaps of greenies coming too, I hear. You’ve got a scrap on your hands now, ehoa”
It should have been a doddle, he told his Cossie Club mates afterwards. “By the time rent-a-crowd arrived we’d voted the whole SNA business to kingdom come.” Gerry slammed his palm down on the bar. “If it hadn’t been for the damned tree huggers and their weirdo travelling show the whole circus would have been over right then.”
Part Two: Reaction
It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon and a lake of people stretched from the bottom of the council steps and out through the surrounding streets. The hubbub was a deafening mix of shouted greetings, protest songs, boom box beats and barking dogs. Then, as if by magic, the voices stilled, and a haunting karanga rang out. Then a loud-hailer exhorted the crowd. “Come together, raise your voices, make them listen.” A group dressed like old hippies began to sing. “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day.. ay… ayya…ay.”
People spilled out of the shops, some cheering, others yelling abuse at what they labelled timewasters.
“You should be at school,” called a shopkeeper, wagging her finger at a gaggle of scruffy youths.
“Yeah, nah,” a boy shot back. “This is way better than dumb algebra.”
The loud hailer whipped up the crowd with slogans and sound bites that assumed they were all there for the same reason. John Wentworth noticed a group that was obviously targeting him. “You greenies don’t get it,” their leader jeered. “This is our land you want to lock up.” The disparity of agendas gathered here was clear as Pūpū Springs.
As he shuffled forward with the crowd, Alex spied the all-too-familiar figure up front. He began to sweat and had to clench his hands to stop their trembling. It was always the same when he was unlucky enough to bump into John Wentworth. Alex would show up at a hut with a deer or pig on his back and there would be John taking up more than his share of space with notebooks and cameras all over the table. The man was so up himself and could never resist having a dig. “Lucky for you DOC can’t get its act together enough to wipe those pests out.” Alex had tried, but the man was way too radical for common sense. It always ended with Alex giving him his pedigree. “If it was up to you lot there’d be no one allowed in the bush except you tree-huggers and propellor-heads.” John always got the last word. “Sounds pretty good to me,” he’d say, with a self-satisfied smirk. Alex was sure John knew how much he wanted to punch his teeth out of his smart mouth.
Now, Alex watched John casually insert himself into the front line, waving, shaking hands and chatting with the confidence of a born leader. Was there anyone the man didn’t know? They all seemed pleased to see him. Maybe he, Alex, was the only one here who reckoned John was a real wanker.
Just then, Alex felt the mood of the crowd shift, sending a quiver of unease down his spine. He’d come here to make a point, not cause trouble. If only they could make everyone else see the important part hunting and trapping played in conservation and people’s lives. Out there in the bush he was his true self. Here, in this company, he was less certain, more doubting of his motives.
With each passing minute the volume went up a notch, its tone turning ominously volatile. At the top of the steps leading to the council building was a lectern. The Mayor stood beside it and on the other side was Councillor Grant. A couple of steps below, John Wentworth thrust his placard high with both hands, almost in the politicians’ faces. The Far North Must Be Saved, it read. Outrage galvanised his whole body like an electric charge. His life’s work had led up to this. SNAs were the future.
The megaphone demanded silence. The Mayor stepped up to the microphone and surveyed the crowd. It had been an excellent meeting, he thought. Easy enough for the pragmatists to get their way. He imagined the strong impression he must make, with the full force of the Council building behind him. “I’m sure many of you will be pleased to hear that Council has voted unanimously to halt the SNA process,” he said, sweeping his gaze across the upturned faces, smiling his satisfaction.
Murmurs of “ka pai’, “good job” and “that’ll show them” went through the crowd like a Mexican wave. Warm embraces set tears flowing. Not so from the environmentalists’ camp, from whence rang cries of “shame” and “sellout”.
John Wentworth leapt up the steps, ripped the microphone from the Mayor’s hand and bellowed into it. “As an environmentalist, and a poet, I am appalled by this farcical result. I know many of you here stand with me on this. All my study into the environment and the arts tells me that we’re destroying our country and our own spirit with it. We may be losing the battle elsewhere, but the Far North must be saved.” He drew a scroll of paper from the pocket of his Kathmandu jacket and unrolled it with a flourish, proclaiming: “This is for the land and those who truly love it.” He began to read, waving his sign, stabbing it at the crowd, the Mayor and Councillor in time with the poem’s rhythm.
We came with fire,
We came with guns,
We came with money –
We came to rob the people and the land of their heritage.
The Far North must be saved.
For too long we have been killing the life,
The Kauri calls out from the swamp,
The native birds are in anger at the loss of their habitat,
The climate is having its revenge –
On those who have hurt this land
The Far North must be saved.
And now it’s time!
Time to reclaim the land –
Time to save the trees, the bush,
The safe haven for our native fauna;
Time to fight –
Time is running out.
The Far North must be saved.
As Wentworth let loose his final stanza he found Gerry Grant standing in front of him, fists raised, preparing to land a punch. John ducked, dropped his poem on the steps and took a swipe at the Mayor, narrowly missing his mark. The Mayor and Gerry Grant squared off against John, who lifted his sign with both hands and broke it over the Mayor’s head, then landed a kick in his ribs, screaming, “These are the lengths I’m prepared to go to in defence of this land.”
The hunters, who had moved in with the noble intention of calming things down, now entered the fray. Alex delivered a swift kick to Wentworth’s groin, bellowing his pent-up ire. “You’ve been asking for that ever since I first clapped eyes on you.” The crowd erupted. Police, who had been patrolling the edges, closed ranks. Two of them cuffed John and Alex, who were still trading insults, and marched them away to the lock-up van.
Afterwards, none of them could remember with any clarity who had done what to whom. It was as if they’d been wound up like mechanical soldiers and then released by the announcement to march into battle. One minute the crowd was singing for joy or venting its outrage, the next there was the thud of fists on flesh, people going down, screams and groans, blood spilling across the ground.
“Head for the back,” Aroha yelled, grabbing Eva by the arm and pushing bodies out of the way to clear a path. Eva’s throat closed in panic as she gasped for breath, clutching her bright scarf with her quivering free hand. “There’ll be others in trouble,” said Aroha, settling Eva on a sheltered bench seat, with a promise to return. Then she plunged back into the heaving mass at the bottom of the steps.
“Dad, what are you doing? Stop, please.” Kylie’s delight at the hikoi’s victory had turned to terror as the two guys next to them began to trade insults. Then her father was pulling them apart and getting his face pummeled in return. “Help, someone stop them.” She realised the futility of her pleas as scrimmages erupted all around her.
“Run, darling, before you get hurt.” Dad was on his knees, nose dripping, one eye a slit between grossly swollen purple lids. “I can’t leave you like this,” said Kylie through hiccupping sobs. Just then a policeman pushed her father to the ground, cuffed his hands behind his back, pulled him to his feet and marched him off. Suddenly it was as if all sensation had been sucked from Kylie and a grey fog descended on her.
“Come on hun, you can’t be hanging round this lot.” A pair of warm brown eyes under a black beanie swam in and out of Kylie’s focus. “S’okay hun, I’ve got this,” said the soothing voice. Kylie felt herself enclosed in a firm embrace and half-carried away from the melee. Then she was at a table where someone put a steaming cup in front of her. Another lady, whose eye-watering pink outfit belied her obvious terror, stared wordlessly into her own cup.
“But my Dad…”
“Drink your tea, then we’ll call your mum. She’ll know what to do.”
Gerry Grant had meanwhile slipped away, leaving Wentworth and the Mayor to whoever wanted to have a go at them. In his opinion both the plonkers needed a good seeing to. Just as he headed towards the safety of his office, he came face to face with a trio of dreadlocked furies.
“Grunt, you fat fart. Not a set of balls among the lot of you council time servers. Feel the sting of Gaia’s wrath.” Fire ran up his nose. His eyes screwed themselves shut. He coughed until his lungs were fit to burst. “Pepper spray, you crazy bitches?” He screamed, hands clutching at the air, finding skin, closing around it. There was a piercing shriek, claws raked his face, blows rained on his head, then everything went black.
He came to with a jolt, handcuffed inside what could only be a police van. “Kia ora, bro. Been up to no good, by the looks.” Was that really Koro cracking up from the opposite bench seat? “Picking on defenceless wāhine,” said the harpy in the corner. Seeing bloody John Wentworth and some good keen man in a Swanndri sitting there Gerry groaned and closed his still-streaming eyes. It was going to be a very long night.
Part Three: Judgement
It had been a year since their arrest. Now, in the Whangārei courtroom, they waited to be sentenced, casting surreptitious glances at their co-defendants.
Greg spotted the guy he’d rolled around with in the dirt, while his daughter looked on in horror. He’d been getting hell from Colleen ever since and feared Kylie might never forgive him, although they’d both come along today. “Want to see you get what you deserve,” his daughter had muttered darkly.
At the back of the room Alex slumped, arms on thighs, head hanging. Rachel was in his ear again. Not that he blamed her, but he felt bad enough without the bitterness that had crept into her tone since the stupid bloody protest. Her being right only made it worse. He’d seen Wentworth as soon as he walked into the room. Gone over to apologise but the man had brushed him off like an annoying fly and gone back to greasing up the sharp-looking woman who must be his solicitor. A deep wave of despair rolled over Alex. He’d had to get legal aid and his court solicitor wasn’t even here yet. Getting convicted would stuff up their lives big time.
Gerry was confident his QC would get him off with a slap on the wrist. Might even do him good at the next elections. The locals liked a hard man who’d take no crap from the greenies. Just then a high-pitched giggle erupted from the far corner. Gerry wondered if Koro ever took anything seriously, but then he’d be used to courtrooms and the like.
Just then a quartet of women burst loudly through the door and settled like a flock of brightly-plumed birds across the aisle from Alex. One leaned across to poke him in the arm. “Cheer up, mate. They’re not going to throw the book at you for exercising your civil rights.” Alex recognised Jo, who’d pepper sprayed Gerry Grant. “You remember Ginger and Bex, eh? And this is my Mum, Ruth. She’s come along in the hope of seeing Grunt get his fat arse judicially kicked.”
“All rise,” the registrar called. The judge strode in, sat down, and began to read, pausing now and then to question the prosecutor. Finally, she acknowledged the defendants with a look that could have cut steel. “This court has more than enough work dealing with serious and life-threatening criminal activity. It won’t tolerate the distraction of a bunch of petty agitators.” She breathed fire. “Shame on you for wasting our time and resources.” Down came the gavel, six times in all. “Discharged without conviction. Get out of my sight.”
The six and their support crews scrambled through the exit. “Aroha,” Kylie said, flinging her arms around one of the women waiting there. “Dad, this is the lady I told you about, who saved me after you abandoned me.”
“I don’t know how to thank you.” Greg let tears of remorse and relief overflow as he cupped Aroha’s hands in his own trembling fingers.
“Tāku hiahia. My pleasure.” She gestured to the other woman who’d been quietly taking everything in. “This is Eva. The two of us wonder if you all might be keen to take this thing to a whole new level.”
Jo chimed in. “What did you have in mind?”
“Nothing heavy. Just a kōrero at the café down the road for starters. See how it goes.
“You must be joking.” John Wentworth looked ready to explode. “I fervently hope never to set eyes on any of you again.” Gerry Grant stepped silently away with the speed of an Olympic walker chasing gold.
“Oink, oink, run little piggy,” Jo, Ginger and Bex shouted after him. “Now we’ve got rid of the riff-raff, let’s get this show on the road.”
Part Four: Action
Thank goodness Aroha made me go to the courthouse, thought Eva as she scanned the eager faces around her. She hadn’t been sure if it was the right thing to do, but the night before the sentencing they’d sat up late, chatting about how this was a golden chance to turn everything around. Aroha had leaned forward to look her straight in the eye. “Let’s go along, show our support and who knows, if the time is right some of them might join us in a new discussion about the future.” Now, with the barista busy churning out flat whites and lattes, the coffee machine bang, bang, banging away in the background, they all crowded around a window table looking out on the busy street, each lost in their own thoughts.
Alex had relaxed once John Wentworth went off in a huff. Immediately after the hikoi he’d felt caught up in the whole affair, in a way that wasn’t him. It was as if he’d been taken over by the power in the event. Now, enough time had passed for him to feel it was for the good. This group of people who sat around him were friends.
Across the table Greg breathed deeply. He still couldn’t quite believe he was a free man. The previous months had passed in a miasma of fear. Conviction would ruin their lives and Kylie and Colleen would hate him forever. He wasn’t someone who bandied words like love around, but tears welled up now as he thought how much they meant to him. He was chuffed that Kylie and Aroha had forged a strong bond. The older woman would be a calming influence on his feisty daughter, who was now waving to get everyone’s attention.
“Aroha and I have been talking about the perilous state of our land and what that means for all of us. We’ve got to do something before it’s too late.”
“Too right,” said Alex, eyes bright with purpose. “Ever since that darned protest I’ve been puzzling over what I can do, as a hunter. The SNAs stirred everyone up, made people act crazy.” He gestured around the table. “But we’re all of one mind on this. Our land is worth putting petty differences aside for.”
Eva chimed in. “I’d like to be part of that.”
“Me too,” said Greg. He was so proud of Kylie. His daughter knew her stuff all right. How had he ever produced such a smart kid?
It was Aroha’s turn to speak, in a voice of passion and authority. “What we need is an action group.”
Fuelled by pots of tea and plates of sandwiches the talk went on for hours. “We’ll need to do a heap more research,” said Kylie. “And a massive kete of consultation,” said Aroha. Laughter rolled up from her belly. “Hope you fellas aren’t in a hurry.”
Alex nodded. He was grinning like a fool and didn’t care. “Good things take time.”
Finally, they agreed to meet in a fortnight to decide a plan for dealing with the SNA issue. “It’ll come up again and we need to be ready,” said Aroha.
They parted with shared strength and hope, in the belief that they could deal with their problems and their community’s future in their own unique way. Their focus would remain within the Far North where their lives and hearts were rooted. And what was done and said in the Far North would stay there.
Neither of us had met, or written collaboratively, before joining forces for this project. Meeting face-to-face, first to get to know a bit about each other and bounce around ideas and process, and then weekly, kept the project on track and stopped the deadline becoming a ‘mare.
We decided at our first meeting to use a shared interest in nature and the environment as the theme. The Far North hikoi was in the news and that gave us the spark we needed to get started.
Once we’d decided to write the story as one, we agreed on six main characters and took half each to develop into rich character profiles. That worked really well and gave us a great framework from which to drive the story forward.
After that we met weekly over coffee to discuss drafts and agree changes. Getting the structure right was a bit of a mission. We liked the idea of using voices to illustrate the complexity of environmental issues and perspectives and wanted to keep that at the forefront. Then the ending…how to resolve the problems our characters had created for themselves? The idea of positive action bringing the different voices together appealed, so we went with it.
The project stretched us in different directions. It’s been fun, too. We’re grateful for the opportunity.
About the Authors
Vivienne Ball lives on the hills above Wellington and is inspired by the sea, the bush and the countryside. She is often seen with a notebook in hand, taking notes for her writing, while out walking in the local regional park or on the nearby beaches.
Her love for words began as a young child growing up on a farm in Mid Canterbury. The nearby Southern Alps still loom large in her mind for their strength and beauty and in her writing Vivienne hopes to bring people to a place of beauty and gentleness to help them through the difficulties modern life throws on their path.
Vivienne has worked as a journalist in radio and print and has edited a national magazine as well as community newsletters. In her recent books of poetry and spiritual writing she has reflected on the joy of nature, and on peace and hope. Her most recent book “God Welcomes Us” can be found at Writers Plot Bookshop; https://writersplot.org.nz/books/genre/poetry/god-welcomes-us-by-vivienne-may-ball/
A recent interview titled “A study in Faith,” with Joan Taylor, Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at Kings College London, can be read online in the July edition of the Methodist Church magazine Touchstone.
“I joined up with Write together to improve my skills in short fiction and I’ve enjoyed working with Anna sharing ideas and developing characters into an interesting collaborative short story. Thank you Anna.”
Anna Mahoney is a former journalist and communicator who wrote her first short story, about an adventurous silver coin, when she was nine, winning the Auckland Savings Bank Thrift Prize.
Anna has always been a people-watcher. This obsession prompted her to start writing creatively in 2016 when she joined a Kāpiti-based writing group. Apart from a memoir in third draft she has a portfolio of short stories and two novels in various stages of progress. She especially enjoys using dialogue to add character in her writing.
Anna recently moved from Ōtaki to Upper Hutt, to wrestle with subdividing a piece of land and building a new house. Writing helped her stay sane as Covid and other acts of God extended the timeline beyond belief. Two tiny dogs needing lots of cuddles helped too.
“I signed up to Write Together because it looked like an entertaining way to get some new skills and meet another writer. I’ve enjoyed it a lot, especially getting to know Viv, who has been incredibly gracious and open to my suggestions (and bossy tendencies).”