The First Asian AB – Renee Liang’s New Play Comes To Auckland And Wellington

Renee Liang is a poet, playwright, short story writer, and librettist. You can find out more about her work on her excellent blog and in my interview with her almost exactly a year ago.

Renee’s latest venture is very timely indeed: a play called “The First Asian AB”, which has Auckland and Wellington seasons coming up. Here are all the details from Renee’s announcement:

Introducing The First Asian AB, a hilarious new comedy from Kiwi-Chinese writer Renee Liang…

What would you do to represent?

Willy’s a homestay Asian student. Mook’s Samoan and he’s been here for ages. They’re best mates at Timaru Boys High. But when Willy decides his dream is to try out for the All Blacks, mateship — and everything else — is up for grabs.

A warm feel-good comedy with serious undertones, The First Asian AB examines the question ‘what makes someone Kiwi?’ Is it rugby, racing and beer – or being true to oneself and one’s friends?

At breakneck pace, Benjamin Teh (The Bone Feeder, Odd Socks) and Paul Fagamalo (Rent, Where We Once Belonged) capture multiple characters – a Samoan aiga, a bored class of thirteen year olds, two entire rugby teams playing each other, and one sassy girl called George.

Directed by Edward Peni (Samoa Mo Samoa, The West Auckland Cardigan Appreciation Society) with live music by Andrew Correa, and dramaturgy by Oscar Kightley, The First Asian AB debuts as part of the Real NZ Festival (the ‘arty’ side of the Rugby World Cup!).

Where You Can See the First Asian AB

Basement Studio, Auckland, 6pm, 13-18 Sep 2011,
Tickets, (09) 361 1000
Q+A after the show on the 14th

BATS Theatre, Wellington, 6pm, 22 Sep-1 Oct 2011,
Tickets, (04) 802 4175
Q+A after the show on the 23rd

Tickets $18 full, $13 concession (seniors/students), $15 groups 6+

Renee adds:

For rugby diehard fans: where else could you pay 2% of the cost of a RWC opening ticket and watch 3 rugby matches in 90 minutes?? The show contains plenty of rugby hero moments!!

For people who couldn’t care less about the RWC: this is not really a play about rugby, but about the immigrant experience. (Shhhhh.)

Poetry Day Post

Today is New Zealand Poetry Day. As a Tuesday Poet, I should have put up a post on this theme on Tuesday, but I, er, didn’t. (Never explain, never apologise – or wait, isn’t that Rupert Murdoch’s credo?)

Anyway, I thought I’d use the occasion to direct your attention to the excellent work of those who did. Renee Liang did double duty by both posting a wonderfully phrased poem about Christchurch on her blog, and editing the week’s post on the hub Tuesday Poem blog, with poems from the three finalists for the 2011 NZ Post National Book Awards. If if you look in the sidebar to the right, you’ll find Poetry Day posts from lots of the Tuesday Poets, with poems and news of poetry events.

I’m embarrassed to say that it’s a long time since I have written a poem – what writing time I have had lately has been going into writing short stories – but I’ve had quite a bit to do with poetry nevertheless.

First, I’ve selected the poems by Australian and New Zealand poets for inclusion in Eye To The Telescope 2, and should be able to deliver the introduction, poems, and bios for this to the Science Fiction Poetry Association by my self-imposed deadline of 25 July.

Second, planning is proceeding apace for the book tour at the end of October which will launch my collection Men Briefly Explained and Keith Westwater’s collection Tongues of Ash, both published by Interactive Press. Once we have all the details settled, we’ll start to spread the word about the details of the tour – but, right now, we have venues confirmed in four centres.

In the meantime, enjoy Poetry Day!

Tuesday Poem: Love In A Nutshell, by Renee Liang

This follows my interview with Renee Liang last week.

Love in a nutshell

For Roseanne and Stephen

I wanted to tell you how love grows from a tiny seed
sown at random
like drifting seed pods in summer
you catch and wish upon

how the clash of swords in a gym
sometimes sounds like sudden laughter
and why taking the hit
is better than ducking

I wanted to say
why losing car keys on a black sand beach at midnight
is no problem
if you have each other

and of the warmth of the moon
embraced by punga trees
and the sound of stars when they breathe
in your ear

I wanted to feel again
that moment of the first kiss
the dry softness of lips, the uncertain eyes
the wet palms

and I wanted to remember
lying in bed afterwards
with my finger on the replay button

I wanted to tell you how love tastes like chocolate brownies
how it is made up of two thirds chocolate and one third cream
and how extra sugar is unnecessary
but you put it in anyway

I wanted to ask you
how you found out how to hold hands
when he is so tall and you are so small
but then I realized you grew
to fit each other

I wanted to show you
how to hurl stones as far as you can
on a beach
running after each other

and how to do it again and again until your breath
aches in your chest
and how you can make your belly hurt
from laughing with friends around board games

I wanted to find a scientific reason
why pillows are softer with two heads lying on them
but a search of the medical literature
brings no answer

I wanted to tell you
of the protective embrace of parents
and of how they guide you to the edge
when you are ready to take your first flight

and of how they watch
with fear and love in their eyes
as you step off
and find your wings

I wanted to tell you
of the feel of wind in your hair
and the chime of the wood pigeon
in your own place

and of how four bare feet entwined
can discover another country

I wanted to tell you –

but you already know.

Tim says: “Love in a nutshell” comes from Renee’s third chapbook, Banana. It’s full of good poems, but this one is my favourite. It’s great stuff.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems at the Tuesday Poem blog.

An Interview With Renee Liang

Renee Liang likes to call herself a ‘writer’ as the best description for her disparate activities, which so far include poetry, plays, fiction and non fiction, blogs (for The Big Idea and The Tuesday Poets), librettos and recently, screenplays. She has been part of the Auckland poetry community for a number of years, serving from 2005-9 as a Poetry Live MC. She also organises other arts initiatives focussing on community building and collaborations.

Renee, what impresses me most about your writing – in addition to its quality – is its range. You’re a poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and most recently, I gather, a librettist, in the sense that poems from your chapbook Banana have been set to music. How do you organise your life to be able to fit all these things in?

I’m still in a phase of exploration! I’m in love with words and fascinated by stories, and find it very difficult to switch my writing brain ‘off’ (probably a familiar feeling to most writers). I’m always sniffing around, absorbing whatever stories I find and wondering how to best to express them.

I naturally like to experiment with a wide range of writing genres. I think of them as ‘tools’ – much like differently shaped sculptural tools, each genre will bring out a different aspect of story, and each story will have its ideal tool. For example, poetry is perfect to express a concentrated feeling or a single concept, but to explore a longer narrative showing how a character fights with her emotions, I might choose theatre. I’ve found that learning skills in one genre often helps me improve in other genres too.

It’s not that unusual among NZ writers to explore multiple genres over the course of a writing career (or even to change art forms entirely) and the community is small, so it’s easy for poets to meet composers and playwrights to meet filmmakers. People seem willing to share their experiences and secrets and teachers, mentors and collaborators are all very accessible. I’m a huge fan of ‘learning by doing’ and am not too shy about approaching people whose work I admire, so that helps a lot.

And as for how I fit it in timewise… well we all make time for the important things! I find my work as a part-time doctor and researcher fits in well with my urge to write stories. I don’t watch TV if I can help it and unfortunately I don’t have much time for music these days, as I prefer to work in silence, with a clear head. Unfortunately I have an increasing addiction to the Internet so I’ll have to deal with that one somehow.

If some dictator said “You must devote yourself to only one of these forms of writing”, which would it be – or is that an impossible demand to meet?

Pretty much impossible – as I’d want to be free to choose the ‘form’ that I think serves the story best. But poetry is my first love, I find it calms me, and it’s the thing I do most easily.

Banana, which I very much enjoyed, was your third poetry chapbook. Do you plan to keep publishing your poetry in chapbooks, or do you intend to publish collections as well?

I’d love to publish a collection! In fact I put together a manuscript for a poetry collection a few years ago and showed it to someone whose opinion mattered to me and he said (as kindly as he could) that I needed to do quite a bit more work. So while I sharpen my skills, chapbooks are a fun and rewarding way to ‘test’ my work without risking too much!

The next one due out soon is “Toward the Cyclone” – it’s a cycle of sonnets inspired by a study tour to Fiji with a group of other young Pacific leaders, where we met lots of locals, toured industries and villages, and talked with senior leaders.

In the title poem of Banana, you directly address the use of that term as an insult to mean “Yellow on the outside/white on the inside” – and you’ve called your blog Chinglish. Does your being a Chinese New Zealander mean that you are forced to confront these issues of racism and identity whether you want to or not, or did you make a deliberate decision to address them in your writing?

There’s too little time to invest in stories that you don’t care about, and identity is something I find important. Also, I believe that writing grounded in personal reality has power. Being a Chinese New Zealander means that I wear at least one of my identities on my face. Quite often in my daily life I am reminded that I am ‘different’ and it does mean some confrontation – for me if not for my often blithely unaware antagonist! And conflict is good drama, and audiences suck up emotion (and can also tell when it’s not real). So for all those reasons, I’ve found that writing about identity is worthwhile.

Once I started doing that, I found that people identified with my characters – and not just other Chinese Kiwis, but lots of others. It’s a case of the personal becoming universal I guess. Human experience has a lot more similarity than we like to think.

On your blog, you say that one of your top priorities in 2010 will be working on the third draft of your novel. Do you expect this to be the final draft, and what process of revision do you use?

Well, you never know whether it’s your last draft until you are nearly done! That being said, each of my ‘drafts’ so far has contained a significant reworking, often a major structural change or revision of character. I’m still learning what process of revision and rewriting works best for me. I find I tend to micromanage, which affects my progress – so at the moment I am trying to step back and get the larger arcs and themes right before I go for the detail. I’m very lucky to have a wonderful mentor, Siobhan Harvey, who is doing a combination of gentle coaxing and kicking me into action, and gives very valuable feedback.

You are heavily involved in the Auckland arts scene, not least as MC of Poetry Live. In many areas, Auckland seems big enough to be largely self-contained: events unfold there without much reference to the rest of the country. Is this my Wellingtonian viewpoint showing through, or is there some truth in this?

We Aucklanders like to think (and Wellingtonians will be unsurprised at this) that we have the most lively arts scene in the country. This is partly due to size which is in turn partly due to economic reasons – for example, there are lots of actors in Auckland because the TV and film industry is centred here, and so it’s very easy to find people to make new theatre work. But there are also lots of poets, and filmmakers, and musicians… and we are always organising things and meeting each other and talking and hatching new work.

As an example, Poetry Live is an amazing incubator of work, not just poetry, but for music, visual arts, theatre, film, and cross genre. On any night of the week in Auckland it’s possible to find interesting performances or events, and quite a lot of it is free or koha, so it’s a particularly vibrant time to be around. We’re lucky to have great access to venues too – city council and local businesses take the time to build a good relationship with artists, in line with the idea of a ‘creative city’ which Auckland aspires to be.

As for whether we are self contained: Auckland is a bit of a train station. A lot of visiting artists come through from south of the Bombays or overseas, and quite often they perform – for example when I was at Poetry Live we tried to include out-of-town guest poets in our lineup whenever we heard they were in town. Similarly many Aucklanders like going to other centres to show off their work. I usually seek out local poets to meet wherever I travel.

You’ve said that you enjoy working collaboratively, and you did a great job of putting this into practice when you brought your play Lantern to Wellington and got local poets to write poems on paper lanterns which were hung in Bats Theatre’s Pit Bar during the run of the play. Why is working collaboratively important to you?

I find in a good collaboration the whole is much more than the sum of its parts – when you put together two people from different artistic backgrounds but with the same passion and commitment, the project just fires! It’s also good because now there’s more than one ‘driver’ and you can push each other through the rough patches, and also keep one another to deadline (very important in my case).

I also love the way that collaboration opens up whole new avenues of artistic exploration – I gain access to skills I might never acquire for myself, or get pushed into exploring something I might never have done on my own. Generosity and respect are important in a collaboration – the contribution doesn’t have to be equal (although it’s great when it is), but both artists should end up with something they are proud of.

Which authors, playwrights and poets have had the most influence on your writing, or are among your personal favourites?

I’m always discovering new heroes, so my answer to this question is likely to change depending on what I’m reading! That being said, I really look up to Hone Tuwhare as a poet. He seemed to have a knack for finding the emotional heart of things in a playful, unpretentious way – a real joy with words. I’m also a great fan of Chekhov’s plays – they are good, old fashioned, meaty plays, back when playwrights didn’t have to pander to the short attention span of audiences and there was time to really explore the subtleties of character. Of course I’m secretly proud that he was also a writer-physician.

Do you have a plan for how your writing career will unfold? If so, and if it isn’t a secret, where do you see yourself and your writing in five years’ time?

I guess I have the same ambitions as most writers – I’d like to write something which changes the way people think and which lingers in the mind long after. I don’t have a five year plan for achieving this though! I figure that if I listen to my own passions, I’m more likely to write something that I like, and what I find compelling others might also find compelling.

I have no idea what ‘form’ my masterpiece will take either – it could be any genre, or maybe a hybrid! The distinctions between art forms are getting less and less these days. If I’m enjoying myself and feeling stimulated, then I see that as a good sign.

Go You Good Things: Several Congratulations and a Writing Workshop


Congratulations are in order: plenty of them. If I’ve forgotten someone who deserves congratulations, please let us all know in the comments!

So, congratulations to:

A Workshop

In association with ConScription, the 2009 New Zealand Science Fiction Workshop, comes …

The Writers’ Workshop of Unusual Length

featuring Julie E. Czerneda with Nalini Singh

Auckland, New Zealand, 27 to 29 May 2009, 8.30am to 5.00pm every day

This three-day workshop is about writing in general, not just SF&F — the lessons contained therein apply to all genres. There are a limited number of seats, so get in fast.

“My approach to working with other writers is simple: how can I help them with the creative process? I don’t critique what they’ve done. I don’t feel it’s useful to the writer once I’m gone, unless I happen to be that writer’s editor. What is useful is encouraging self confidence and providing tools to create more and better work. The activities I run make them write in ways most will never have imagined: out loud, with strangers, and quickly. I guarantee they’ll have fun. So will I. They’ll come away with new ideas and knowledge. They’ll realize they can make changes and choices, and know how to talk about their work with others. I want writers to leave my workshops invigorated, enthused, and ready to succeed no matter what they want to write or what they’d like to accomplish with their writing. The creative process should be a joy (as well as work) and those with the courage to attempt it nourished as much as possible.” —Julie Czerneda

“This workshop is structured and designed to take the participant from idea generation right through to sale of story. I have the outline in my hot little hand and am convinced that the three days will be well worth the investment for anyone who takes their writing seriously.” —Kevin G. Maclean

Bring pen and paper, or a laptop.

The Tutors

Julie E. Czerneda is the author of more than ten science fiction novels, and is the editor of several young adult science fiction anthologies. She has run many writers’ workshops for adult and teenage writers, and is currently a consultant for the Canadian Government on Science Fiction in Education. For more information about Julie and her works, go to

Nalini Singh is the author of over ten romance and paranormal novels, and several novellas and short stories. She has given many talks on the process of writing, and has appeared at many romance writers’ conferences. For more information about Nalini and her works, go to

The Essential Details

When: 3 days, Wednesday – Friday, 27 – 29 May, 8.30 am–5.00 pm

Where: Hotel Grand Chancellor, Corner Kirkbride & Ascot Roads, Mangere

Cost: $150.00 pp for the course (parking onsite $5 per day, payable to the hotel). Lunch not included

Bring: pen & paper or laptop

Places: Limited to 24 participants

Go to: for the registration form .


There’s only a limited number of seats, so if you’re interested in attending, please register as soon as possible. If the workshop is overbooked, you’ll be placed on a waiting list in order of registration, and contacted if a seat opens up. You can register for the workshop by the same form as for the convention: for either alone, or for both together. For details, please see the registration page. Payment is expected along with the registration. It will be returned in full if you cancel by 30 April.