Interview with J. C. Sturm: 7
RP: Yes, I've also had that with my work sometimes.
JCS: Yes, so you know what I'm talking about.
RP: And also the whole thing of, if you're not using te reo Māori as your main language of communication then oh we don't really want to see that, it's not what real Māoris are. And that whole idea of what's real and what isn't and whose more Māori than the other and that kind of game playing.
JCS: I have to be very careful here because I wouldn't want to be judgemental about some Māori writers. And I wouldn't want to turn up my nose about content of some of their books, you know. But that's just how it is for me and I think that's how it always will be you see.
There's one of my stories in The House of the Talking Cat called First Native and Pink Pig. If you want to know how I feel about racial relations in New Zealand then you've got it there. I don't need to go on and write a whole book of the stuff.
Being Māori as an artist, whether you're painting a sun or writing like I am, being Māori it's more a way of feeling, it's a way of attitude, rather than of content.
RP: Yes, so it doesn't have to be an overt content. It's within your own individual framework and then you're part of a wider culture.
JCS: The Glass House is an example. So I'm talking about aroha, only I use an Auden quote, why not?
RP: I think that might be a surprise to some people, to see the short story format come in. And the first, it's quite a long short story. I almost expected it to go into a small novel in length.
JCS: I've never been interested in writing a novel or a novelette or whatever it's called. I've set myself to do something in a particular story, OK?
RP: Yeah, they're quite different. But you know, you evoke characters strongly and also you've got a very kind of incisive style of writing where you get to the guts of what's going on for each of the people. And you've got the humour that comes in as well I think. It's quite a tough sort of humour, but it's there in all of your stories.
JCS: What I would really like to do if there was time…. I discovered science fiction years ago. Believe me chum, some of the short stories in science fiction are very, very good indeed. I learned a lot and I thought, I'd like to write like this, but I never got round to it of course.
And then later on I thought there are other writers that I thought, oh yes, I'd like to write like that. But in the long run what you have to do is, you have to find your own stance. I'm trying to avoid the word style. I don't like that so much. But you've got to find your own voice.
RP: That's right. Having said that I wondered in terms of New Zealand writers, are there writers, obviously JKB, but others who have had an impact on the way you write?
JCS: Oh yes. But because I was retarded in a literary sense because I'd had to concentrate on these science projects which really wasn't my thing. How old was I before I heard of someone called Katherine Mansfield? I'm ashamed to tell you I was in my twenties. And when I read ‘At the Bay$rsquo; oh, goodness me, it was another world, you know, wonderful stuff.
Then I remember also reading, just after Dopey and I got married, a short story by Frank Sargeson. ItŐs in the book called That Summer. And the story is called ‘An Affair of the Heart’, and it just about broke my heart. I thought this man is wonderful. So what have we got? We've got Mansfield, we've got Sargeson and then the third person I discovered, guess who?
RP: I was going to stay Stead.
JCS: No you won't guess. The Lagoon. (Janet Frame's 1951 debut collection of short stories) I thought, to write like any of these, to even stand in their shadow, that's good enough for me. So those are the three influences.
RP: Thank you for that. I'm going to start to wrap up. I know you've been very generous with your time and I know that you're in recovery mode from a recent illness and not feeling particularly well.
However, I still wanted to end by asking, and perhaps the science fiction idea is part of it, what's next for J. C. Sturm in terms of her writing?
JCS: Well I feel I'm tempting the gods to say this, but I've already got another book in my mind. But as you've just mentioned, first things first. And as I am now, it would be a very strange book that I'd be writing. I'd have to call it Medications not Dedications. How about that?
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