In­no­cence has gone

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

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.

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