Notes from the field

Coromandel Writers Group

What’s in a name? For the Coromandel Writers Group, it is everything. This group of highly motivated local writers covers all topics having to do with the Coromandel.

Deborah Hide-Bayne

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Not least the seasonality of this place that they call home. What is meant by seasonality? Well, that’s the question. How do writers explore this topic? Are there two or four seasons, or six, or more? Does it even matter? What makes local seasons? Is anything changing about seasons? Or is society changing? Is society even to blame? These are some of the many questions the Coromandel Writers Group delves into month by month.

How did it happen that the Coromandel Writers Group became a key institution working with the CALENDARS project? How could it be any different, it was through the group’s writing in the local newspaper that I first became aware of the huge potential that this group has.One of the first things that the group made clear when we first met was “we’ll need a shepherd, someone to guide us through the topics”. I was excited about this opportunity. And so, we meet every four weeks at a Café in Coromandel town. Usually I introduce a topic (e.g., colonial aspects of seasonality, how seasons make us feel, climate and environmental change) and then the group members write on this topic over the course of the month. At the following meeting everyone gets a chance to present her/his writing. Writings are produced in a range of formats (including poetry) and there are few restrictive rules.

The creativity behind the writing is fascinating. It’s a unique result of bringing ten people from different backgrounds and varying levels of experience together and presenting them with a topic. The outcome is deep, meaningful, insightful, honest, real, and uniquely local. The key passions connecting the members of this group is their connection with the Coromandel, the joy of words and their meaning as well as the beauty of writing. And they do a truly remarkable job. It has become a real pleasure and honor working with this group and I find myself looking forward to our monthly meetings and hearing and reading the creative results. Here is an example by Deborah Hide-Bayne, one of the group writers:

"The beginning of April is autumnal in Coromandel. Everything in the garden is looking a bit leggy now–I probably didn’t water it enough in the summer dry, but with more rain the plants and vegetables are going hard out for a final flourish. Cannas, hibiscus, dahlias are flowering, and although it’s too cold now for the aubergines and peppers, it’s still warm enough for there to be figs, persimmons, feijoas and quinces, and my husband and I are busy in the kitchen. That’s our project this month–to find as many ways as we can to preserve the garden’s bounty. Growing your own has the advantage of giving you good seasonal markers, but the disadvantage is that each fruit or vegetable comes in a glut–too much all together, and I always feel a bit guilty if I don’t use every little bit.

What can you do with 50 quinces? You may not even know what a quince looks like. It feels like a cross between a pear and an apple; bright yellow and irregular in shape but hard as nails. It also has a unique perfume, tart flavour and a delicious grainy soft texture when cooked. So far, I’ve made quince paste, quince jam, stuffed Mediterranean quinces with pomegranate and quince and apple pie, but there is still a pile of quinces languishing on the barbeque on the terrace. They look balefully at me every morning, reminding me that I have more work to do.

As an immigrant from the UK, even after 20 odd years and despite the fruit in the garden, sometimes I need to count forward six months to let me get a real sense of where I am in the year. May, June, July, August, September, October... ok. It’s not quite like October in the UK though–far too warm for a start; I’m wearing shorts, t-shirt and jandals still, not a scarf and a fleece with a chill wind slicing through me.I associate autumn with rich golden colours and smoky scents mixed with gently rotting vegetation. The bush doesn’t change colour, so the hillside looks more or less the same all year round here. It’s damp though with cooler mornings and evenings and there are mushrooms–we’re eating field mushrooms and oyster mushrooms and the other day we saw a fantastic crop of shaggy ink caps growing in someone’s lawn. But I feel I’m not the only one who’s confused–the plants in the garden area bit too–my plum tree is losing its leaves and blossoming at the same time and there is a fresh flush of blooms on my standard rose. It’s warm enough to encourage them to grow, but the daylight tells them a different story. It’s my birthday soon, but it has moved from late Spring to late Autumn which is a bizarre feeling. Cut loose from my traditions, I must find and establish new ones to cherish"