Clearing up a Couple of Points

One of the things we got to do in New Zealand (on the way to visit another branch of the family) was to climb up Rangikapiti pa, which is just outside the village of Mangonui. This excursion has prompted me to make a couple of clarifications about my book.

The early New Zealand scenes in Come on Shore are set in a village that was known in olden days by a two-part name, of which Mangonui was the second half. At some point they dropped the Mangonui part, and for a long time now the place has been known simply by the first half of the name. In an excess of caution, I “disguised” the name by using only the dropped part. Also, in an effort to protect the privacy of Seven’s family, I changed their names when they appeared in the story (this is all explained in the author’s note).

It turns out, however, that some of the people whose names I changed thought this was a bad idea; perhaps because, among other things, I managed accidentally to use the name of a living person for a character who dies in the course of the book. And just to confuse matters even further, there’s another town not far away that actually is called Mangonui.

Anyway these photos are taken in the Mangonui that you would find on a map today. It’s an extremely charming place, well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Here is a shot of the main drag:


Here’s me sitting on the dock across the street:

Mangonui dock

and here is what I am looking at:

Te Aurere
This was an extremely interesting discovery — looks like a modern replica of a voyaging canoe, of which many have now been built all over Polynesia. We asked a guy sitting in a car if he knew whose boat it was and he said he thought it came from Whangarei. Looks like something we’ll have to investigate….

We also spent a happy hour or so up on Rangikapiti pa, which is a terraced hill at the entrance to the harbor with an unbelievable view. One of Abraham’s panoramas might almost do it justice….

Mangonui panorama

Pa are fortified villages which, in the old days, were built on prominent hilltops and headlands where you could get a really clear view of the surrounding countryside and not be taken by surprise by your enemies. The upper parts were terraced and fortified with ditches and palisades and even fighting stages; there are terrific descriptions of them in Cook’s journals (see also Elsdon Best). These days — except for the ones that have been reconstructed for tourists — they are just terraced hills, but even so they are pretty astonishing — the sense of power you have up on top, the commanding views, the magnitude of the terracing. Dani thought it was fantastic and spent the next few days nagging us about going back. Eventually we took him to One Tree Hill in Auckland, which is also pretty impressive.

Here is an artist’s rendering of what this pa might have looked like in the old days, just to give you some idea.

Rangikapiti pa drawing

And here we are coming down off it to give you a sense of scale:

rangikapiti pa

And Then There Was That

Business about the Coffee

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Editor of Harvard Review and author of "Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia" and "Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All."

12 thoughts on “Clearing up a Couple of Points”

  1. Speaking of Pa and local history, if ever you are in Taranaki a mus is the TaWhiti Museim– It has to be the one of the best, not only in New Zealand but the world as far as I am concerned. The dioramas, especially, are incredible, and this museum is not in a large city; not even in a small town, but outside of the small farming community of Normanby. Is in an old dairy factory, and is the product of one man.

  2. This all looks so familiar and I am loving every minute of your blog!
    It’s terrific!!!!
    Happy travels!
    Jenny & Lawrence

  3. Abraham’s photo is phenomenal. And all the historical background is most interesting and helpful. I want to voyage on that wonderful voyaging canoe (in my imagination).

  4. Abraham’s panoramic photo is phenomenal. I am going on an imaginary journey in that terrific voyaging canoe. Thanks for the interesting background info. Coffee is a very good thing as long as it’s low acid. (that comment applies to the next post) 🙂

  5. Cannot believe that the One Tree Hill still exists! What an adventure? I’m sure your are enjoying your home away from home expecially for Fitu and for the boys to view where Fitu holds as great treasures in his heart! Enjoying your blogs and continue to enjoy your journey!

    Ofa Atu,

  6. I wrote an outline for a novel in which a major character was named after a friend of mine, until it became clear to me that the main character was going to brutally rape her and leave her for dead. She’s now called Jane Doe until I can figure out a new name.

  7. Great blog, and I thought Come On Shore was an excellent book for many reasons. Drusilla Modjeska’s review led me to it; I think it was the first time I had read such an engaged, creative review–did you see it?
    When reading the Author’s Note and your surmising that perhaps readers would find your distinct treatment of people who became characters overly fine, I wondered why those people (or, in the case of the deceased, their family members), hadn’t been informed of your concerns and strategy to address them, and consulted as to whether the strategy seemed appropriate. (If this happened, it wasn’t mentioned in the foreword.) Interesting to read now that some people didn’t agree with the method. Do you think you will update later editions of the book to reflect their wishes?

    1. It’s an interesting question. I think I was quite naive. I felt that I had written a good-hearted book, that I had never said anything mean or negative not only because I wouldn’t want to do that but because I had such warm feelings about everyone in the book. They’re my family and I think they’re great, though of course I was also trying to be honest — it wasn’t meant to be a puff piece. I mean what would be the point of that? So I wasn’t expecting any pushback — I didn’t know what anyone would push back against! But you can never tell how people are going to take things…As far as asking them goes, this is very difficult issue for writers, because if you start asking for permission to say what you think….well, what are you going to do when someone says “No”? I probably should have asked various members of my husband’s family whether people wanted their names disguised or not, but it just never occurred to me that they wouldn’t (they were, by the way, not at all united in their response, some were fine with the strategy and others were not). In terms of the author’s note: the idea that readers might find the distinction “overly fine” was really aimed in a different direction — at people who might think such an excess of caution was just ridiculously PC. There are very different audiences for a book like this in the US, the UK, Australia, and NZ respectively, and you can see that very clearly in the way the book was reviewed. I thought the best reviews on the whole came from Australia, where they issues were all understood but it wasn’t too close to home. Anyway, thanks for the comment, and apologies for the longwinded reply.

      1. Oh wow, thanks for such a considered response! Just a clarification–I don’t know how anything in the book could have been interpreted as mean or negative either! I thought your portrayal of people–your turning real-life people into characters constrained by narrative, etc.–was both affectionate and respectful, which I think can be a difficult combination to pull off. And I agree about the dangers of asking permission to say what you think as a writer, but was just curious about the deciding to change names, given that after what appeared like much thought having gone into it, some people weren’t fussed anyway. That’s intriguing about the audiences and how the differences are reflected in the reviews. Cheers

  8. P.S. For example, Modjeska mentions your description of the way Seven has of telling stories, of starting from the centre and moving out. She describes this as what happens in your book, in its stories spanning centuries and the Pacific–very apt, I thought, and certainly poetic and intriguing enough to make me want to read the thing!

  9. I always try to look at worse case scenerios. For example, if your book had been about Israel, instead of just criticism you would have had calls from the Isreal Lobbly demanding you be fired and helicopter gunships huvering over your house, locked and loaded.

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