What's in a name? A new title for Blood Cousins
I have struggled to find the right title for Blood Cousins since I completed the manuscript. Recently, it’s become something of an obsession. When I started the novel, Blood Cousins seemed an appropriate title, but it became less so as the story progressed.
Gang Girl is a memorable and eye-catching title. Blood Cousins needs an equally attention-grabbing title. The use of another iteration could work. I considered Gazza and the Gang. Aaron could be nicknamed Gazza as a child when he starred in his school football team. Or maybe Gekko and the Gang. Aaron could have acquired the nickname Gekko from his meteoric rise to the top of the power industry.
Today, I have finally cracked it. I have settled on Goliath and the Gang. This title is attention-grabbing and reflects the heart of the story. And it affords an exciting tagline: ‘Aaron has two sworn enemies … Goliath and the Gang’.
The Road to Madhapur in IndieReader's Best Reviewed Books of the Month
The Road to Madhapur features in IndieReader’s prestigious best-reviewed books in March 2023.
Here’s what they said:
‘THE ROAD TO MADHAPUR by David Whittet is a wistful, beautiful if heartbreaking coming-of-age story where the character’s lives are beset by strife and hardship but through their tribulations come to realize who they truly are and find their life’s purpose through the service of those in need.’
View IndieReader’s full list of the best reviewed books in March here.
The Second Book in the Gang Girl Series Completed in Thailand
I completed the second book in the Gang Girl series on a recent visit to Thailand. With the working title Blood Cousins, the novel continues Alicia's struggle to escape her gang upbringing and build a better life for her son.
On my return home, I sent the manuscript to my faithful beta readers, who provided invaluable feedback on Gang Girl. While I am delighted with their constructive advice and enthusiasm for the project, I wanted to know how those who had not read Gang Girl would respond to the story. Would they understand it? Had I provided sufficient backstory for the book to work as a stand-alone novel?
To answer this question, I also gave the manuscript to several reviewers who had yet to read the first novel. Comparing their response to that of my regular readers has proved fascinating. While those familiar with the first book were primarily concerned with justice for Alicia, my new reviewers got even more from the story. With a fresh perspective, they concentrated on Aaron's story, a young man destined to reach the top and determined the gang would not destroy his life like they had his mother's. This is especially heartening, as I intended to write a companion novel rather than a sequel.
I am delighted with the feedback from all my reviewers. This will enable me to fine-tune the manuscript as I work with my editorial team.
The Road to Madhapur at the IndieReader Discovery Awards
This is what Indie Reader had to say about The Road to Madhapur:
‘THE ROAD TO MADHAPUR by David Whittet features a captivating, well-paced narrative following two main characters: Theo Malone, a doctor from New Zealand with a broken spirit sent to India on volunteer work, and Elisha, an Australian teenager who lost her mother in a tragic incident while on a family trip to India. The cultural setting of Madhapur, beautifully evoked with breathtaking imagery and remarkable attention to detail, serves as the perfect backdrop where Theo and Elisha’s paths collide and they find love, meaning and purpose.’
IndieReader Discovery Awards: The Road to Madhapur
KickArts Radio Interview on The Road to Madhapur
I chat to Stephen Dallow and Emma Bishop about The Road to Madhapur on the KickArts radio show on Planet FM 104.6.
Listen to the interview here:
Placement is everything!
The Road to Madhapur remains high profile in bookshops, this week strategically positioned between James Paterson and J.D.Robb in Paper Plus at Oamaru. Fantastic to be in such distinguished company!
The Road to Madhapur Book Launch
We had a highly successful book launch for The Road to Madhapur at the Business Hive in Oamaru on Tuesday.
Sandwiched between John Grisham and James Patterson
I am delighted to see my book The Road to Madhapur sandwiched between John Grisham and James Patterson at Paper Plus in Oamaru!
Chek out the latest media on The Road to Madhapur
With the official book launch just ten days away, media interest in The Road to Madhapur has taken off. Following the Radio New Zealand broadcast, I gave a far-reaching Q&A interview with NZ Booklovers:
David Whittet talks about The Road to Madhapur.
NZ Booklovers have also reviewed The Road to Madhapur:
The Road to Madhapur by David Whittet
Flaxroots have posted an in-depth review:
Author’s experience makes a believable novel
And if you haven't already, check out my article on achieving our life goals as we grow older.
It’s Never too late to follow your dreams - David Whittet - Grownups
The Road to Madhapur Book Trailer
Check out this dramatic book trailer and experience The Road to Madhapur in sixty glorious seconds!
Join us for The Road to Madhapur Book Launch
Join us for The Road to Madhapur book launch at The Business Hive in Oamaru on Tuesday 29 November at 7pm. I will be signing books and reading from The Road to Madhapur.
All welcome. Register you interest here.
The Road to Madhapur on Radio New Zealand
I talked about The Road to Madhapur and my author journey on Radio New Zealand’s Standing Room Only show this afternoon.
Listen to the interview here:
Listen to the interview here:
The Road to Madhapur Giveaway at Grown Ups
Grown Ups, the social magazine that connects New Zealand’s 50+ community are giving away two signed copies of The Road to Madhapur. If you’re fifty or over, sign up here! The Road to Madhapur Giveaway
While visiting the Grown Ups site, check out my article on following your dreams. It’s Never to Late to Follow your Dreams
The Road to Madhapur Cover Reveal
Over the past month, I have worked with the extraordinarily talented Holly Dunn on the cover design for The Road to Madhapur. The process has proved a fantastic journey of discovery. From Holly's initial concept art to the finished product, each stage brought fresh vitality and a true reflection of the spirit of my story.
You're terrific, Holly! I am proud to have your work on my cover.
Gang Girl Teaser Trailer
Watch this short teaser trailer and get the Gang Girl experience in twenty-six glorious seconds!
Gang Girl Audiobook Trailer
Check out this cool trailer for the Gang Girl audiobook, available now on all major audiobook platforms worldwide.
A fresh stock on Gang Girl at Oamaru Paper Plus
For my lovely local readers, there’s a fresh stock of Gang Girl at Paper Plus in Oamaru.
And what an honour to be on the same shelf as my guru, Fiona McIntosh!
Five Star Award for Gang Girl on Indie Reader
Indie Reader describes Gang Girl as 'an extraordinary read':
GANG GIRL is a well written and memorable tale filled with enough drama, conflict, and intrigue to keep readers fully engaged. Intense pacing and clever plot twists and turns work collectively to unravel a complex story that is woven together in a coherent manner with just the right balance of action, description, dialogue and exposition to make this book an extraordinary read.
Read the full review here:
Sound Salad Podcast
To celebrate the launch of the Gang Girl audiobook, I talked to Romy Hooper—the voice of Alicia in the audiobook—about the inspiration behind the book and chatted about my other projects.
Read Romy's show notes below and listen to the podcast:
First episode of the year - woohoo!
I was chuffed to finally speak with David Whittet - the author of recently released Gang Girl, who also happens to be a filmmaker and a family doctor to boot. When David came to Audiobooks NZ to have Gang Girl produced, I was lucky enough to be the narrator for his protagonist Alicia’s side of the story. It’s as good a listen as it is a read! Check it out on davidwhittet.com or AudiobooksNZ.co.nz
Storytelling has been prevalent in David’s family since childhood, with fond memories of TV serials, and a particularly impactful trip to the local cinema to see Lawrence of Arabia. Recognising that stories like Oliver Twist had the power to change the poor law in the UK, or The Citadel inspiring the National Health Service, he was convinced he wanted to be part of creating equally moving and powerful stories.
Having worked in rural communities here and in India, David has a rich tapestry of experience to draw from when creating his characters, and choosing which of their stories to tell.
Meeting patients and their families in these environments has generated somewhat of an artistic activist, with one of his earlier films ‘Hikoi’ being made in response to a Hone Harawera interview about the importance of awareness around child poverty. David wanted to comment on this and the lack of support for social workers within the context of the hikoi to parliament in 2015.
Set in NZ’s West Coast, Gang Girl has been a number of years in the making and centres around an immigrant family who have commandeered the charming wee town of Roaring Creek Falls. The main big guy brothers don’t get along, there’s a trillion layers and family secrets riddled throughout, and the kids (as we meet them at the beginning of the book) just want to get the hell away from it all. Named after the Crane twins from London, the rivalry wreaks violent havoc on most of their lives - and those of the neighbouring civilians. Inspired by a story told to David by a notorious local gang leader, and the attempts of his daughter to get away, Alicia’s world was born, and is extended in 2 sequels ‘Blood Cousins’ and ‘Gang Blood’...watch this space.
Other titles in the pipeline are ‘The Road to Madhapur’ about a Kiwi doctor disillusioned with life and his travels to Madhapur, inspired by David’s time spent doing rescue work in India, and ‘Threepence on the Carpet’ about an unsuccessful musician in the 60s returning from London to a bizarre inheritance. Needless to say, with these all on the go and his work as a general practitioner, David is one busy Oamaruvian. He actively supports local projects and content, so if you’re in the South get in touch with him via the contact form on his website.
The Gang Girl Audiobook is here!
I'm beyond excited to see Gang Girl come to life in this fantastic new audiobook. Romy Hooper owns the voice of Alicia, and I have already asked her to reprise her role in Blood Cousins, the next book in the series. Romy described the book as a 'gut-punch story about a kick-arse woman'. Both Romy and co-narrator Paul Harrop add a definite 'punch' to their performances—so much so that I rediscovered my story with this recording.
Sincere thanks to both Romy and Paul for their brilliant performances. I am also eternally grateful to Theo Gibson and the team at Audiobooks NZ for their expertise and sharing this journey with me.
Listen to the first chapter here.
The Gang Girl audiobook is available on all major audio platforms.
Gang Girl on the AM Show on TV3
Check out Focus Magazine's review of Gang Girl
Dee Collins reviews Gang Girl in Focus Magazine's Latest Books to Read - New releases in different genres you'll enjoy.
Tune in to TV3 tomorrow morning!
I will be talking about Gang Girl and the newly released audiobook on the AM Show on TV3 tomorrow morning.
More Gut Punch in the Gang Girl Audiobook Pre-Masters
I have discovered my book anew while listening to the pre-masters for the Gang Girl audiobook. Romy Hooper brings even more gut punch to Alicia’s story as she captures the heart and soul of this ‘kick-arse woman’. While Romy possesses Alicia, Paul Harrop gets under the skin of her childhood friend turned nemesis, Mickey.
Romy and Paul are consummate artists, and their engagement with my story is legendary. I can’t wait to bring you this gripping audiobook.
'Gang viewpoints inform Gritty Writing' - Oamaru Mail Feature
'When Dr David Whittet is not writing prescriptions, he is writing scripts and making films.' That's what Ruby Heyward wrote in today's Oamaru Mail.
Words from the Bubble Interview
This interview with Rachel Doré for the Words from the Bubble radio show was a marathon and a full mental workout!
KickArts Radio Interview on Planet FM 104.6
My interview on the KickArts show went out tonight on Planet FM 104.6. Listen to the journey that inspired me to write Gang Girl.
A gut punch tale about a kick arse woman!
‘A gut punch tale about a kick arse woman.’ That’s how Romy Hooper, the narrator of my audiobook, described Gang Girl. Every writer dreams of finding a voice talent as deeply engaged in their story as Romy.
Romy totally owns the voice of Alicia, the kick-arse hero of my book! Equally, Paul Harrop inhabits the voice of Mickey, the damaged and conflicted boy groomed to be the next gang leader.
With two further novels in the Gang Girl series in development, I hope Romy and Paul will reprise their roles for future audiobooks. I promise even more gut-punching tales as Alicia and Mickey’s story continues.
My sincere thanks to Theo Gibson at AudiobooksNZ for his expertise in producing the audiobook. Theo and the team are now hard at work mixing and proofing the recordings. Keep watching for the release date.
If you can’t wait for the audiobook, you can grab the print version here!
Read Romy Hooper’s post here: https://www.facebook.com/574296966/posts/10160188239861967/?d=n
NZ Booklovers review Gang Girl
NZBooklovers describe Gang Girl as a 'visceral read' and 'thought-provoking'.
Read their full review here: https://www.nzbooklovers.co.nz/post/gang-girl-by-david-whittet
Q&A with NZBookovers
I've just finished a Q&A with NZBooklovers. The interview reminded me of some colourful anecdotes while researching the novel. You can read the full article here: NZBooklovers Q&A with David Whittet
Preorder your copy of Gang Girl!
I am delighted to announce that Gang Girl finally launches on 30 November 2021. This project has proved an extraordinary journey over the past decade, and I am eternally grateful to my loyal supporters for their patience.
A book launch amid a pandemic is a challenge. Nevertheless, we are planning several events to celebrate publication, including a local function in Oamaru. We hope to have more media exposure in the New Year. Keep watching this blog for more news!
In the meantime, you can order an advance copy of the book today at David's Bookshop, personally signed for you by the author!
Keep those Pencils Sharpened - Threepence on the Carpet is here!
Keep those pencils sharpened! Before the rewrite of Gang Girl, I had begun work on my next major novel, Threepence on the Carpet. Now, the excitement of starting Blood Cousins, the second novel in the Gang Girl series, threatens to delay Threepence on the Carpet further.
I first drafted Threepence on the Carpet in January 2018, and I started work on the manuscript, full of enthusiasm. Then came the inspiration for The Road to Madhapur. Guided by advice from early reviewers that medical dramas were in high demand, The Road to Madhapur took precedence.
Threepence on the Carpet is the story of an aspiring Kiwi musician on his big overseas experience in London. Stuck in a dead-end job in a bank, he dreams of making it as a rock star. Caught in the swinging sixties with a new age hippie girlfriend, he writes protest songs for the ban the bomb movement.
Both Threepence on the Carpet and Blood Cousins are bursting to get out of my head and into print! I need to hone my multitasking skills and write them back to back!
Sharpen the Pencils - The Gang Girl story continues!
Sharpen the pencils! The rewrite of Gang Girl proved an enormous challenge and brought me face to face with a new cast of characters and a new setting. With Alicia and Mickey, Ronnie and Reggie all so firmly in my mind, I couldn’t resist the urge to start working on the second book in the series.
While Blood Cousins continues Alicia and Mickey’s story, the story begins with Aaron, Alicia’s son, now a successful CEO in the power industry.
I’m beyond excited to see the story take shape and share these iconic characters’ journey in another explosive adventure.
Meet Alicia: The New Face of Gang Girl
Times change, and of necessity, so too has my story. When Gang Girl finally launches next month, the book will be different from its previous iteration, with an immigrant gang on the West Coast of the South Island.
What remains is the spirit and resilience of New Zealand’s rural people. And despite the new setting, the heart of the story is unchanged. Alicia is a strong woman, determined to break free from the gang and take charge of her own destiny.
Linger Means Longer
My brilliant manuscript assessor, Caroline Baron, invariably urges me to 'linger' and 'go deeper' at critical points in the story. I have just finished a complete rewrite of The Road to Madhapur following Caroline's assessment. Linger definitely does mean longer. Before Caroline's review, the manuscript stood at 110,000 words. Now it's up to 140,000 words!
Caroline forever challenges me, and her enthusiasm for my work and inspiration has made me a better writer. Going deeper has undoubtedly made The Road to Madhapur more compelling. I just have to figure out how to get the word count down!
Gang Girl Book Launch Postponed
I regret to announce that the launch of Gang Girl has been postponed. The book will relaunch in a few months time with a new setting on the West Coast of the South Island and a new cast of characters. And a new book cover.
Unfortunately, this means losing the stunning artwork I commissioned from the extraordinarily talented Renata Curtis. So in the meantime, let's celebrate Renata's brilliant artwork. The original will always hold a place in my heart as well as a place on my wall.
It all started at the Rere Falls
During the fifteen years I worked as a rural doctor at Te Karaka in the Gisborne Region of New Zealand, I spent many happy weekends with my family picnicking at the nearby Rere Falls. My children loved to venture behind the cascading curtain of water and glide down the giant rockslide on a boogie board.
As I watched my children play, my mind began to wander. What if someone wanted to exploit the unique, magical properties of the water at Rere? Turn the iconic waterfalls into a water bottling factory? What if the Gang got involved?
Gang Girl was born.
Amiri & Aroha - Ten Years On
It’s hard to believe ten years have passed since the cameras first rolled on Amiri & Aroha. A decade on and rebranded as Gang Girl, this iconic New Zealand story refuses to go away.
Back in 2010, the project didn’t have the most auspicious start. We’d assembled an ensemble cast of up and coming talent from various casting agencies, all of whom agreed to work for the experience instead of payment. We were about to start shooting when an industrial dispute regarding actors’ working conditions on The Hobbit hit the headlines. Under pressure from their agents, one by one the lead members of our cast dropped out.
Local radio station Turanga FM saved the day running on casting calls, and we discovered the extraordinary depth of acting talent in Gisborne. Walter ‘The Wiz’ Walsh became our casting director and the rest, as they say, is history.
To celebrate ten years of this remarkable journey, here are a collection of production stills. For our loyal fans, watch out for a book trailer made up of footage from the film trilogy and the release of a special director’s cut of the films to coincide with the launch of Gang Girl.
Researching Gang Girl
Researching Gang Girl proved an adventure in itself. I shall never forget the day I fronted up to a notorious gangster’s house hoping for an interview during my fifteen years as a rural doctor in the Gisborne region.
My heartbeat was even louder than my banging on the door. Eventually, a nine-year-old boy gingerly put his head around the doorframe.
‘Is your father at home?’ I asked.
‘I’ll go and ask him,’ the boy answered.
A loud voice boomed in the background. ‘Is it the cops?’
‘No,’ the boy replied. ‘It’s the doctor.’
‘The doctor? We didn’t call the doctor. Nobody’s sick. Are you sure it’s not the cops?’
‘Positive. It’s the same dude that stitched my hand.’ He shot me an evil look. ‘And it bloody hurt.’
The gangster eventually emerged, his bold, full facial tattoo radiating an immediate presence. He told me how he was forced to have the tā moko at a ceremony as a teenager. The tattoo was his gang patch. He described the pain then the bone chisel pierced his flesh. I had my opening scene.
Aroha’s Journey continues in Gang Blood
I am overwhelmed at the fantastic response to my post on rebranding Amiri & Aroha as Gang Girl. Aroha’s struggle to escape from the Gang certainly resonates with so many of you.
Gang Girl is a work of fiction, but the story is solidly grounded in real life. Like Beth in Once Were Warriors, Aroha faces brutality and repression day in and day out. But Aroha is a strong woman who refuses to let the Gang crush her spirit.
While Gang Girl is in its final draft, Aroha’s struggle is far from over. I am working on two companion novels, Gang Blood and Young Blood. The birth of her son Arapeta throws Aroha into further conflict with the Gang. But a new breed of gangster is emerging. Sickened by the tyranny of the old guard, the young generation is determined to incite change. Can they take on the leaders and create a more just Gang?
For fans of the film trilogy, I can promise you the novel is heading in a new and thrilling direction. The ending will be radically different. I’m as excited as you are for the next chapter of Aroha’s story.
Amiri & Aroha Rebranded as Gang Girl
Back in September 2018, I attended a masterclass in commercial fiction with bestselling Australian author Fiona McIntosh. Since then, I’ve spent every available moment working on a complete rewrite of Amiri & Aroha, which I have now retitled Gang Girl.
I learnt so much at the masterclass. Fiona was quick to point out the immense potential of my dramatic opening scene. On reaching adolescence, Gang kids are given a full facial tattoo in a barbaric ceremony to pledge their allegiance to the mob. Workshopping the first chapter with Fiona proved a revelation. Fiona showed me how to tighten the scene and ramp up the tension. ‘Don’t be afraid to be brutal,’ she told me. ‘Make your readers feel the pain the kids endure when they’re chiselled.’ The result—a gripping opening chapter that Fiona told me was one of the most compelling she’d seen for some time.
The masterclass taught me to be bold. In reworking the story, I have contrasted Aroha’s innocence with the harsh reality of Once Were Warriors. At the heart of Gang Girl, we have a strong woman determined to take charge of her own destiny. The Gang stole her childhood. She won’t let them claim the rest of her life.
At Fiona McIntosh’s inaugural masterclass convention last October, I had the opportunity to pitch to two leading publishers. Both were enthusiastic about the project and I have used their feedback to further refine the manuscript.
I believe Aroha’s story will resonate with a wide readership. I hope to bring you more exciting news soon!
Michael Robotham at Fiona McIntosh’s Masterclass Convention
How fantastic to to meet best selling Australian author Michael Robotham at Fiona McIntosh's inauguarl mastercall conveentrtained us with the How fantastic to meet best selling Australian author Michael Robotham at Fiona McIntosh’s inaugural masterclass convention.
In his opening keynote, Michael enthralled us with anecdotes from his extraordinary career. He began as a reporter and sub-editor for national newspapers in the UK. He went on to be a ghostwriter for the likes of Lulu and spice girl Geri Halliwell.
Michael’s career catapulted when the opening chapters of his first novel, The Suspect, sparked an international bidding war at the London Book Fair. The rest is history and made everyone in the audience extremely jealous!
Michael’s talk was as captivating as his books and got the conference, in South Australia’s beautiful Clare Valley, off to a brilliant start.
Joy in a Leper Colony
Writing about the real-life events that took place during my time working in India brings back vivid memories. I will never forget the smiles on the children’s faces. They had nothing but their cheerfulness and unrestrained optimism convinced me of the indomitability of the human spirit.
A leper colony plays a pivotal role in The Road to Madhapur. A place of overwhelming sorrow, despair and heartbreak. Yet beyond the suffering, I found hope and joy. Fulfilment and peace. That leprosy mission was among the happiest places I have seen in my life. I hope I can get that exhilaration across in my writing.
The Road to Madhapur
Sincere thanks to everyone who responded to my previous post with such imaginative suggestions for the title of my new novel.
After much soul-searching, I have finally chosen a name for the project that reflects the thrust of the story. In the early chapters we meet a disaffected New Zealand doctor and an Australian missionary's daughter, both headed for the remote township of Madhapur in the Odisha state of India. Despite wholly different backgrounds and expectations, we sense from the outset that their worlds will collide. Caught up in the turbulent world of Indian politics and a community in crisis, tragedy propels their lives on an inescapable trajectory.
The real-life incidents depicted in The Road to Madhapur had a profound effect on me. With the first draft of the book now in the hands of my early reviewers, I am delighted that they are finding these life-changing events equally touching.
The Good Karma Well
For the second time in my life, I have been pipped at the post. I recently started work on a new novel about a disillusioned young doctor who goes to work in India. After a Bollywood style romance with a missionary’s daughter ends in tragedy, he dedicates himself to building a well for the impoverished community. While a work of fiction and not autobiographical, the novel draws on my own experiences working in India and the story incorporates many real-life events.
I thought I had struck gold when I came up with the title The Good Karma Well for my book. Until I turned on the television and saw a trailer for a programme called The Good Karma Hospital.
Beaten to it again! Back in the 1980’s, I wrote a screenplay about two brothers, one of whom was autistic. This was to be my magnum opus as a filmmaker. Taking a break from preproduction, a friend urged me to see Rain Man in the cinema. The similarities with my story were heartbreaking. Nobody would believe that developed my script before seeing Rain Man. I put the project on the shelf and found it hard to get enthusiastic about another project for some time.
Although The Good Karma Hospital features a young doctor finding herself in an under-resourced and overworked hospital in India, my story is entirely different in concept and content. I need a new title to distinguish my book from the television series. I have given the project the working title of Namaste while I search for something more striking. The Namaste Well doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Any suggestions for an arresting title will be gratefully received!
Fiona McIntosh and The Tea Gardens
On a recent visit to Melbourne for a medical conference, I had the pleasure of meeting best-selling Australian author Fiona McIntosh. Coincidentally I just finished reading her latest novel The Tea Gardens on my flight across the Tasman.
The Tea Gardens has particular significance for me. Like the novel's heroine, Isla Fenwick, as a young doctor I worked in India in a region of overwhelming need.
Fiona's evocative descriptions brought back that heady mixture of awe and panic as the sights, sounds and smell of India flood the senses. Even more revealing, the novel captures that strange combination of professional competence and emotional naivety that so many medical graduates experience on entering the outside world.
We meet Isla as she faces a personal dilemma on her return from India. In her own words, she recalls her defining rite of passage. Her journey begins in the grey streets of London in 1933 where her widowed father engineers a meeting with an old flame, the aptly named Jovian Manderville. But Isla made a promise to strike back at the tropical disease that took her mother's life.
We live and breathe Isla's journey to Calcutta and share her joy and despair as she sets up a midwifery clinic. Her attempt to save a girl whose pregnancy violates the caste system ends in tragedy and endangers the life of a brilliant but maverick colleague, Professor Saxon Vickery. Facing personal and professional ruin, Isla follows Vickery to the foothills of the Himalayas, where she finds love, forgiveness and guilt in a resolution that questions all that she holds dear.
Thankfully, my time in India was much less dramatic than Dr Fenwick's but proved none the less life-changing.
Fiona regaled a delighted audience at the Altona Library with tales of her trip to India to research The Tea Gardens. Her anecdotes ranged from the ingenious to the outrageous, seducing a member to gain entry to a gentleman's club in Calcutta. Fiona told us that she does not write about anywhere that she has not experienced first hand. It shows in her work. When you finish The Tea Gardens you too have travelled from the grime of Britain to the squalor of Calcutta and the ethereal beauty of the Himalayas.
I have to admit to a tinge of jealousy for Fiona's lifestyle. I'll have to set my next story further afield.
What does Hunapo have for breakfast?
"Authors shouldn't write dialogue; they should let their characters speak for themselves."
Giving characters their own distinctive voice is the most profound lesson I have learnt from working with industry professionals. An interesting exercise at a table read of the Hīkoi screenplay was to remove the character headings from the actors' copies of the script and to see if it remains apparent to them when they are speaking.
Fascinating characters are essential for any work of fiction. I believe the success of Amiri & Aroha on the international film festival circuit is due to the audience's involvement with the characters. A competition judge told me he shed tears when the gang thwarted Aroha's childhood friendship with her cousin Hunapo.
Writing the novel has afforded the opportunity to develop these complex characters further. Understanding how they talk and react to adverse situations allows them to speak for themselves, adding tremendous depth to the story.
My old mentor, the late great David Lean, gave me this advice: "You must know what your characters eat for breakfast. It's not that you're going to show them having breakfast, but if you are to portray them accurately, you need to know them in that much detail."
During the shooting of Amiri & Aroha, I can recall some lively discussions between takes on what the protagonists would have for their breakfast. We all agreed that Amiri would be an eggs benedict man. We decided Aroha was more a muesli and toast girl, and there was no doubt that Hunapo would have eggs and lashings of bacon with black pudding, washed down with a swig of yesterday's beer.
Proofing Amiri & Aroha
Mathew Wikotu as the young Hunapo.
Alongside working on Hikoi, I've spent the last few weeks proofreading Amiri & Aroha. It's been a labour of love on a project that has been such a vital part of my life over the past decade.
The strength of a story depends on the depth of its characters. Correcting and enhancing the manuscript has afforded me a unique opportunity to reflect on the character arcs in the novel.
Amiri & Aroha depicts a woman’s lifelong struggle to escape the misery of her gang roots, a journey defined by greed, corruption and the redeeming nature of love. A diverse cast of characters shape Aroha's rite of passage: her father Tautaru, a loathsome gang leader; her downtrodden mother Ngaio; Kōkā, a mysterious matakite; and Amiri, the hotshot businessman she believes will bring her freedom.
Of all the leading protagonists in Amiri & Aroha, Hunapo is perhaps the most complex, and judging from the response of my early reviewers, he is also one of the most engaging.
Hunapo is Aroha's cousin and her only childhood friend. It's hard to resist the mischievous rascal at the beginning of the story. But life is unkind to Hunapo. Chosen as the puppet leader of the gang and forced into an abortive arranged marriage, he lashes out at those closest to him and betrays Aroha. Seeking solace with alcohol and debauchery, Hunapo degenerates into a drunken lothario but ultimately finds redemption as a latter-day Robin Hood, risking his life to give back the protection money extorted by the gang.
One of the joys of independent filmmaking is the discovery of raw talent. I was fortunate to find two brilliant actors to play Hunapo in the films.
As the young Hunapo, Mathew Wikotu's soulful expression captured the dilemma of a lost kid in a hostile world, his childhood stolen by a bitter family feud.
Shayne Biddle, fresh from his role in the critically acclaimed New Zealand film The Strength of Water, took on the challenge of the adult Hunapo. Shayne's remarkable screen presence further defined this tragically flawed but genuinely appealing hero.
I remain hopeful that following the publication of the novel, we can entice a studio to pick up the story for a fully funded feature film. I would be delighted to have both Mathew and Shayne in the cast.
Shayne Biddle as Hunapo
Amiri & Aroha - A New Zealand Story
A couple of years ago, when Amiri's Child won an Award of Excellence at the Accolade Global Film Festival, a Hollywood producer asked to buy the rights for Amiri & Aroha. There was even talk of a mini-series, to be marketed as "the next Sopranos."
In so many ways, the offer was a dream come true. The sum on the table was significant and the deal hard to resist. What's not to like about a fully funded production of the story, with guaranteed distribution and a possible spin-off. So why did I hesitate?
Amiri and Aroha is a quintessential New Zealand story. In selling the rights, I would have lost control. It became apparent that the sorry would become Americanised, the Māori culture at the heart of my story would be replaced by American street gangs. After much soul-searching, I turned the offer down.
With two leading international publishers now interested in Amiri & Aroha, I am convinced that I made the right choice. The project began as a Māori take on Romeo and Juliet, and while the story is universal, it is firmly grounded in New Zealand life. The East Cape and the magnificent Rere Falls are as essential as the characters in the drama. I cannot imagine this story taking place anywhere else.
I only hope that we can find a New Zealand producer who is equally captivated by the story so that we can make the definitive film of Amiri & Aroha.
Books aren't written, they're rewritten!
“Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it.” - Michael Crichton.
Although I am far beyond the seventh rewrite of Amiri & Aroha, Michael Crichton's perceptive words seem particularly appropriate. After seemingly endless years of work, the novel is almost ready for publication.
The experience has made me think about the difference between editing books and films. The filmmaker has an arsenal of tools at their disposal: the inflexion of the actor, the juxtaposition of contrasting images, and perhaps most evocative of all, the musical score. The writer has only the power of the written word to create atmosphere and tell their story.
Editing the novel of Amiri & Aroha has been profoundly different from cutting the film. Today's audiences demand fast moving drama, often forcing filmmakers to shorten and compress their work to deliver an ever more intense experience. In many ways, writing the book has been the opposite. My early reviewers consistently challenged me to provide more detail and background, to fill in the gaps in the story that were inherent in the film, which is, of its nature, and episodic medium.
There are similarities in technique. Where the filmmaker cuts rapidly to increase tension, the writer uses short, staccato sentences to achieve the same effect.
The novel will provide the definitive rendition of the Amiri & Aroha saga. At 500 pages and 180,000 words, the book is a genuine epic, but at its core remains a heartrending and gripping drama. It is my dream that a New Zealand production company will pick up the story, and we will see the definitive film version of Amiri & Aroha!
Interview in the New Zealand Rural GP Network News
Movies and medicine have been my life. Friends and journalists often ask me which is the closest to my heart. I invariably answer that I am equally passionate about both cinema and general practice. The common thread is an abiding interest in people’s stories. I discussed this in this in an interview with Rob Olsen in the current issue of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network News.
Read the interview in the current issue of the New Zealand Rural General Practice Network News
Tekapo Promotional Shoot
As the Amiri & Aroha novel approaches publication, I have been engaged in some promotional shoots at significant real life locations which feature in the story.
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo must surely be the most beautiful church in New Zealand, and it plays a significant role in the developing drama.
Look out for some more pictures from our road trip to outstanding Amiri & Aroha locations.
Revisions and rewrites
Amiri & Aroha is truly a project that refuses to end. My recent post was premature. With a major rewrite complete and book editing underway, I thought I was putting the finishing touches on the novel.
On reflection, there are still critical areas that could be improved. The three opening chapters have proved particularly challenging as they differ significantly from the films and cover a considerable amount of new material that we were unable to shoot in the original pilot film.
The most rewarding aspect is that with each successive revision, the book becomes stronger and closer to being ready for publication. I am again indebted to my mentor, Joyce Cocchi for her advice and suggestions on making these crucial first chapters as compelling as possible.
With the prospect of a new and fully funded film series ahead, I feel confident that Amiri & Aroha will be keeping me occupied for a long time into the future!
An Adventure that stubbornly refuses to end
Tonight I have put the finishing touches to the Amiri & Aroha novel and it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on a project that has taken over my life for the past decade. When I first developed the concept for a one-off independent short film, little did I think I would still be working on it over ten years later, let alone continuing to find new and exciting plot twists!
The success of the original film on the international film festival circuit, which started with a win at the Best Shorts competition, began an amazing journey that stubbornly refuses to come to an end. With so much added depth and complexity, the novel has enough intrigue for another trilogy at the very least!
I again wish to acknowledge the contribution of everyone who has shared this journey with me. I am eternally grateful to the cast and crew of the film trilogy, whose faith in the project helped to turn my dreams into reality.
I extend my most sincere thanks to my mentors, Joyce Cocchi, Warren Philp and Nicky Sinclair, who have read and reread the novel through countless drafts and rewrites and provided me with expert feedback. I am especially thankful to Joyce who has been an unfailing source of advice and inspiration.
An extraordinary journey draws to a conclusion
Another stage of an extraordinary journey is almost at an end. After months of intensive work, writing and re-writing, the novel of Amiri & Aroha is virtually complete. It is almost time to hand the project over to a book editor as the road to publication begins!
Thank you again to everyone who has supported me throughout this amazing voyage of discovery. Your enthusiasm has been a tremendous inspiration. I would like to add a special word of thanks to everyone who has been in touch asking about the DVD release. It is immensely satisfying to all of us who worked on the films that so many of you want to get hold of your own copies of the trilogy. Regretfully, I have to ask you to be patient just a little longer. Negotiations are continuing with potential distribution partners and they have requested that we delay the DVD/Blu-ray release until after distribution is secured. We promise you it will be worth the wait! Watch out for a major release to coincide with publication of the novel!
In the meantime, Amiri has its own stylish new website at www.amiriandaroha.com. Why not check it out? There's a lot to enjoy, including cool new photo galleries with some hitherto unpublished behind the scenes pictures.
With my work on the novel nearly finished, I am heading back to the cutting room to work on the book trailer. Some of the images accompanying my recent posts show a selection of the graphics I have produced specially for the trailer, with a definite literary feel and will draw the story out of the page. A trailer is a specialised short film and at its best, a work of art in its own right.
It’s great to be in the editing suite again, creating movies. Keep watching this blog for an awesome trailer in the very near future!
The Further Adventures of Amiri & Aroha
Writing the Amiri & Aroha novel has been a wonderful experience. I have taken the characters created in the films to new levels and travelled with them on new adventures and experiences. Yet the journey has not been entirely without its downside. Working on the book has been a constant and painful reminder of the constraints of micro budget independent film making. Throughout my work on the novel, I have kept imagining what a wonderful film could be made with the depth and characterisation I have added in the book.
After discussing these thoughts with one of our distribution partners, I found myself crafting a new screenplay, incorporating all the new material and profundity from the novel. I am currently talking to film funding agencies about the possibility of shooting this new script with a full unit.
In a previous post, I suggested that the Amiri & Aroha story is just reaching its most exciting phase. I am now taking that thought one stage further.
2015 will be the year of Amiri & Aroha!
Amiri & Aroha: A Remarkable Journey
Creating the Amiri & Aroha trilogy has been a remarkable journey. I have met so many wonderful people along the way and forged such tremendous friendships, bonds that will last a lifetime.
Over the past few months, I have been privileged to make that journey for a second time, as I craft the novel based on the film trilogy.
Writing the novel has been a tremendous voyage of discovery. I have lived and breathed the story anew. I have shared in the characters’ joys and grieved with them in their sadness.
The book affords me the opportunity to tell the story as I had originally envisaged it, without the restrictions inherent in the making of a micro budget independent film.
Despite those enormous constraints, financial and otherwise, which were imposed on us during the making of the trilogy, the films continue to garner awards and engage film festival audiences throughout the world.
I extend my sincerest thanks to all those who have been in touch to ask when you will be able to see the trilogy. Rest assured I have been working hard behind the scenes to secure distribution, both for broadcast and a theatrical release. I have been working on some enhancements to the films, following feedback from film festival judges, our distribution partners and, of course, our wonderful World Premiere audience. I am grateful to you all for your unfailing support.
In so many ways, the Amiri and Aroha story is reaching its most exciting phase. Keep watching this blog!
Medicine and Literature
In my last post, I commented on how well family medicine and film making have worked together for me. Perhaps more universally acknowledged is the link between literature and medicine, with many physicians having made their name as writers.
That illustrious list includes A J Cronin, who was a significant influence in my desire to become a doctor. I was particularly inspired by his novel The Citadel, the story of a mining company doctor's struggle to balance scientific integrity with social obligation. This book was directly responsible for the change to a health care system which was available for all, with the inception of Britain’s National Health Service.
Getting down to work on the novel of Amiri & Aroha is now a top priority for me. I have mapped out the structure in my head, including a number of intriguing story lines that I was unable encompass in the films. I must organize some protected time to develop these ideas and write the novel!