Innocence has gone
Winning a writing award on Facebook has not made James Francis a champion of communication technology – in fact, it makes us less creative, he says.
The 54-year-old Tawa man was crowned winner last week of BNZ’s Short Short Story competition, run on social media website Facebook.
His story is set in a Northland school in the 1970s, where a teacher christens his new car ‘‘whoo eh’’ (pronounced ‘‘foo eh’’) in tribute to his students’ reaction to the flash vehicle.
Times were simpler then, Mr Francis says.
‘‘There was sort of an innocence back then. It’s gone now. Kids are too distracted by so many things.’’
Being constantly on cellphones and computers stops kids being creative, he says.
‘‘You wrote things in those days, because you didn’t text or phone.’’
Mr Francis makes his living as a copywriter, but did not consider himself a ‘‘real writer’’ and had to be urged to enter the short short story contest by his sister-in-law.
‘‘If anybody had said, ‘are you a writer?’, I’d have said, ‘emphatically not’.’’
His story was chosen above hundreds of entries by judge Graham Beattie, the former head of Penguin Books New Zealand. The prize was $500.
Aspiring writers should try to write how they talk, Mr Francis says. ‘‘Don’t be too clever.’’ He also believes writing exists to ‘‘Whoo eh’’ is a 1972 Holden Kingswood. The first and only car I ever bought new. It cost $5000 back when $5000 was a third of a senior teacher’s salary. I’d just been appointed senior teacher and the car was a self-indulgent reward.
The name had come from my wife. I’d been telling her about the kids’ reaction when I’d driven the car into the teachers’ carpark.
‘‘Hey sir, whose flash car is that? Did you nick it?’’ entertain people, which comes naturally to Kiwis.
‘‘We like to have a smile, don’t we? We don’t take ourselves too seriously.’’
‘‘Ehoa! Sir doesn’t need to nick it. He just has to teach dumbarses like you and they pay him money.’’ They scramble through the car. ‘‘Lookit this! Stereo radio! Whoo eh!’’
‘‘Sheepskin seat covers! Whoo eh!’’
‘‘Whoo. And it’s got power steering too. Whoo eh! You’ll never turn those pipis into muscles now, sir.’’
Whoo eh. A simple exclamation that in two syllables could convey pride, wonder, amazement or bugger-me disbelief.
Not whoo eh: The Holden at the centre of Mr Francis’ story belonged to his former neighbour, who taught him to drive the car.