Wanaka au­thor runs writ­ing work­shop

A pa­tient gatherer of sto­ries, Grzelewski lets the land speak

Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS - By MAR­JORIE COOK

When Derek Grzelewski talks about writ­ing, it is with the zen­like aware­ness of some­one in tune with the se­crets of moun­tains and rivers.

Grzelewski’s base is be­side the Clutha River at Al­bert Town and from here, he cir­cles out into the wilder­ness, find­ing hid­den gems in places and peo­ple and slowly, gen­tly pol­ish­ing them into sto­ries worth telling.

‘‘You can­not learn it all at a writ­ing school,’’ he said, when we met for a cof­fee last week to dis­cuss his latest book, The Small­est Con­ti­nent, to be launched at the NZ Moun­tain Film Fes­ti­val in Wanaka in July.

His method of de­lib­er­ate, mind­ful pa­tience in gath­er­ing sto­ries could be de­scribed in the book’s In­vo­ca­tion but he is ac­tu­ally writ­ing of a climb­ing ex­pe­di­tion: ‘‘We climb down steadily and de­lib­er­ately, aware of our fa­tigue which can cloud judge­ment, ex­ac­er­bate dan­ger. Aware too that we are car­ry­ing within us some­thing im­mea­sur­ably pre­cious, some­thing worth bring­ing back’’.

The Pol­ish-born fly-fish­ing guide has qui­etly oc­cu­pied his own niche in Wanaka’s gal­axy of ad­ven­tur­ers for two decades. Maya, a shaggy Airedale, is his al­most con­stant com­pan­ion.

He has been a pro­lific con­trib­u­tor to the New Zealand Ge­o­graphic and The Small­est Con­ti­nent, his fourth book, is a col­lec­tion of 13 of his favourite

Derek Grzelewski. pre­vi­ously pub­lished sto­ries.

Grzelewski’s 2014 film fes­ti­val work­shop was fully sub­scribed by at least 30 bud­ding writ­ers and he is ex­pect­ing a sim­i­lar num­ber this time, ‘‘but even if one keen per­son turns up it’ll be still worth do­ing the work­shop for him/her’’.

He will be en­cour­ag­ing writ­ers to ‘‘get into the land’’ and start writ­ing.

‘‘There’s all kinds of things you can sign up to. But re­ally, in the end, just show me your work. I wanted to learn from [the late] Michael Crich­ton [ The Great Train Rob­bery, Juras­sic Park, Ris­ing Sun] but I don’t think he ever was avail­able.’’

Grzelewski likens craft­ing a story to rid­ing a good, sin­gle track bike trail.

‘‘That has all sorts of twists and turns. It is re­ally well built so it en­gages you and you don’t have time to think too much. You are think­ing about your rid­ing.’’

He also likens story-telling to run­ning over rocks in bare feet. You need to move quickly, lightly.

‘‘We need to do that be­cause we are so vis­ual, and with ev­ery­thing be­ing film-ori­ented now. So when we are writ­ing, we are chang­ing an­gles, chang­ing lenses. It re­ally is like mak­ing a film,’’ he said.

Here it is another way: ‘‘Let the land speak. Why, how doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. You could get lost in ex­plain­ing, when all that re­ally mat­ters is that the sand is be­tween your feet and it feels good. In writ­ing, it is about be­ing in ‘‘the zone’’. Ath­letes get that too. You can be in the zone knit­ting. It doesn’t mat­ter what you do.’’

Grzelewski says a ‘‘good editor is gold’’. He has been blessed to have ed­i­tors re­cep­tive to his style.

What he doesn’t want – and work­shop at­ten­dees won’t get from him – is ‘‘some­one who just says ‘‘That’s lovely’’ and ‘‘I re­ally like your work’’.’’

He has had his share of sto­ries re­turned with sen­tences reshuf­fled like a pack of cards. He’s learned to let go.

‘‘Ed­i­tors have a fil­ter. They are not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter than you. I write a story. That is where I have the most fun. What hap­pens to it af­ter­wards, it is not mine.’’ he said.

The Small­est Con­ti­nent is him­self. A tech­ni­cal editor has trawled through it, check­ing for gram­mar and spell­ing and things like that. But it is how he wrote it.

Grzelewski’s books rep­re­sent free­dom from profit-driven cor­po­rate as­sign­ments and the pres­sure of ‘‘bang­ing things off’’ at ever in­creas­ing speeds of pro­duc­tion.

‘‘You can only go so fast, no mat­ter how fit you get,’’ he said.

At the end of our hour, Grzelewski rec­om­mends some read­ing: Desert Soli­taire by Ed­ward Abbey.

‘‘It is a clas­sic of noth­ing re­ally hap­pens but he tells a good story about it. He shows us the land­scape ac­tu­ally speaks and you can’t put it down.’’

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