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Award-Winning Author Inspired by Aoraki Course

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Award-winning author of fiction, Sue Francis.

Award-winning author of fiction Sue Francis of Waihao Downs, near Waimate, knows how to inspire readers and judges with her literary craft and compelling stories.

But the national winner of last month’s Sunday Star Times short story award also knows how to be inspired and is quick to lay some of the credit for her success squarely at the feet of Aoraki Polytechnic’s Dunedin campus tutor, poet and novelist Diane Brown.

For an author whose fiction writing can flow from simple farm-life inspirations such as frolicking lambs and mountain vistas, or even a chance conversation, one might think that Ms Francis, a trained newspaper journalist and former Aoraki Polytechnic tutor, was born with a natural literary Midas touch that required little honing.

But “a very nice collection of rejection slips” kept reality in focus. Getting published was a tough ask, she decided.

“You keep trying and trying and the thought was there that if I could not achieve the publication level I needed, then I might need to move into a new field,” the farmer said.

“But then I discovered Diane and her course entitled Creative Writing for Publication (Level 6), which was on offer from Aoraki’s Dunedin campus, and I found new values – in myself and my writing.”

Ms Francis said the year-long course – meaning a trip to Dunedin every Wednesday – and the sharing of writing and critiquing experiences provided a culture of camaraderie and achievement sharing, “a bit like a group of journos or farmers getting together at the pub.”

“I felt valued by others and, in turn, I put more value in my work,” she said.

The course and its nine other participants allowed her to discover “the real thing”.

“We found we were serious about writing and were not just playing at it.

“My success would have been harder to achieve without this course,” Ms Francis said.

Last month’s award-winning short story entitled The Concentrators was set in Temuka and told a tale of two young women in the small town and a mysterious stranger from New York. It traced an unlikely friendship between the two young women who met every Friday night over a game of tennis.

Judges chose the piece from 1400 other entries and it earned Ms Francis $5000 in cash and $500 worth of books from publisher Random House.

A former tutor at Aoraki Polytechnic in the media communications programme and working closely with journalism students under former programme manager Dale McCord, Ms Francis learned “Dale’s art of taking a reader gently by the hand and leading them through a story clearly and unambiguously”.

“It was fantastic working with students, you know, the energy of the youngies.

“I was sorry to leave, but [husband] Cliff and I decided that when the farm paid, I would leave employment and concentrate on farming and my passion for fiction writing and novels.”

She said that happened in 2006. Success quickly followed.

“I got stuck into farming and writing and that year I won the Press Summer Fiction Award, with The Quince Café which has also just been published in a collection of works by New Zealand writers. (Best New Zealand Fiction, Vol 6, published by Random House.)

“That was really exciting for me.”

She said fiction writing was a wonderful medium.

“You are actually able to create a world and then add people to it and have things happening and be directing rather than participating.

“I’m reluctant to use the word God. Perhaps I feel more like a puppeteer.”

A firm believer in tertiary training, Ms Francis earlier achieved a qualification in creative writing from Massey University, which she completed extramurally.

Even that held a poetic irony – her lecturer finished second to her in the recent short story contest.


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