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Channel Feature: Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport

More than words

The commonality that the written word brings to our lives was brought sharply into focus last month when North Shore adults and children shared in the sadness felt by the nation at the death of one of our most beloved writers.

Lives touched by the late Margaret Mahy are many and varied, and the collective sadness felt at her passing shines a light on the power of literature in our culture. An importance recognised and promoted by New Zealand’s only centre dedicated to nurturing writers, based here on the North Shore.

The Michael King Writers’ Centre in Devonport is helping to plot the course of New Zealand literature, by nurturing talent and providing opportunities for creativity to flourish. News of the death of a literary icon highlights the importance of cultivating such literary forces.
 “Margaret Mahy was such a fantastic writer and person; she was so generous in getting out and giving her time to people, particularly spending a lot of time in schools. It’s amazing what that kind of experience can do to people. It can bring literature and the world of words alive for people. And they don’t forget that,” points out Centre Manager Karren Beanland.
She remembers vividly such an experience when minds were enlightened by the visiting writer at her school in Wellington. “It was a very powerful experience, which I’ve never forgotten.”
“The reason I think this is such a great project up here at the Centre is that this was what Michael King was about. He was about bringing stories to life for people.”
“He was somebody who started to tell New Zealand stories, and it’s the stories about our own country that help us to understand ourselves and appreciate our place in the world.”
“It’s enormously valuable to see a writer and hear them read, and, when they talk about an experience that you can relate to in some way, it’s a very validating experience.”
For Devonport-devotee Karren, who lives in Stanley Bay, the Centre marries together her passions for literature, Devonport and its history. The Centre’s beautiful heritage villa was built in 1898 as the Signalman’s House for the families of those who hoisted signals onto the summit’s flagstaff to pass on information to the harbour master about incoming vessels.
A long-held love of the written word led Karren to work as a journalist, before moving into business communications. She is pleased to have been enjoying one of the best views of the city from Mount Victoria for the past five years, having previously had the opposite view from her communcations role with Ports of Auckland.
The Centre plays host to four writers’ residencies each year, with a book club, open days, Matariki events, and writing programmes, ensuring the heritage building is well-used. A new library of works is currently being developed, in collaboration with North Shore Libraries, to be used as a reference collection.
Young writers on the North Shore are also being nurtured through a programme of workshops for budding authors in Years 11-13. Those taking part have the chance to see their work in print as part of a forthcoming publication entitled ‘Signals’.
“We are about supporting New Zealand writers, and promoting and developing high quality New Zealand writing,” Karren summarised. The great Mahy would surely be enamoured that this delightful centre continues as a cultural catalyst, enabling New Zealand’s emerging literary talent to shine.

by Heather Vermeer