Lovegrove Crescent has no beginning, and no end. It’s like a miniature race track, a lopsided circle of tarmac connected to Otara’s main drag by a short lane; an umbilical cord, diverting and circulating traffic from the main arterial route. It’s an inverted foetus, suspended inside the body of Otara.
Crowning the head of the foetus, between the busy mechanic and the empty factory — now an occasional church — are three imposing state institutions: Work and Income, Child Youth and Family and Manukau Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Creative Arts. Even within the preborn body of the crescent, this triumvirate of welfare stands ready for those who breathe and walk the earth. Need a job? An education? A social worker? You’ll find one at Lovegrove Crescent.
But by the time this is in your hands, M.I.T. will have moved on from this intra-uterine metaphor to newer, and newly restructured, premises, leaving our empty, decaying shell to the vagaries of South Auckland’s commercial real estate market, and a family of possum who’ve moved into the roof space.
Today, that’s still in the future. For now, go back a few weeks. Walk up the concrete stairs, through the badly designed entrance, turning left at the staff room, past the toilets, and into the narrow, windowless corridor. Room Z130 has sad yellow walls, higgledy piggledy furniture and temperamental lighting.
Z130 is the writers’ room, and this is our group. Eight of us on a good day, with four regulars, three usuals and me. We are Writers at Work. And all that we do is in your hands.
We were tasked with exploring the collaborative skills of professional writing. So our first decision was simple: we’d write a book together. Next, we formed ourselves into our own editorial board. I facilitated, but otherwise, everyone had an equal say. It had to be consensus, or nothing. Well, I never actually said it. But that was the plan. Next step was to figure out what kind of a book.
Some of us liked fiction. Others stuck to the facts. So we couldn’t define ourselves on those terms. It all came down to just one thing: the place we live. Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland.
Sometimes it threatened to take the form of a tourist guide. We wanted something meatier. Saracen said ‘we should be shocking people, jolting them awake with our honesty’. It was hard to disagree with that. But Anna was keen for us to leave room for poetics, or even nostalgia. Can we do both? Sure, we can do both. Let’s be real, but let’s also make it welcoming.
We knew we favoured a young audience: those who can no longer be satisfied to wonder what’s round the corner, but who respond at once to the urge to check it out first hand. And that’s how we wrote: first hand. We wanted to introduce you to our Auckland, an Auckland that maybe not everyone knows about — or to write the familiar features of Auckland with a new, personal interpretation.
So, we get drunk in the park, and that doesn’t end well. We hang out in apocalyptic masquerades, and feel the adrenaline rush of big crowds in big rooms. There is war, recalled through a dream of alcohol and decrepitude. Historical changes play out in time-lapse from the vantage point of a prominent hill. There are faded holidays at the beach, a father bonds with his young son under low level flight paths, and drag queens paint the K Rd strip red.
The locations are precise: you’ll find yourself on this spot, in this place, at this time. These locations cultivate their own unique ecosystems: our characters couldn’t survive anywhere else, nor would their actions make any sense there. We love the universal appeal which these specifics enable. You might even find yourself in these pages. We know we did.
Lovegrove Crescent’s our home. Like all homes, it has no beginning, and no end. But we’re leaving it now, and we’re taking you with us. So, Auckland, Tamaki Makaurau, you city of lovers, welcome, welcome, welcome to your unknown places.
This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are: