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Interview: Ataria Sharman talks about Hine and the Tohunga Portal

Ataria Sharman talks to NZ Booklovers about Hine and the Tohunga Portal.

Tell us a little about your novel.

It’s about two tamariki Māori. They are walking home from school one day and the younger brother Hōhepa is kidnapped by an evil sorcerer called Kae. He’s taken into another world, a pre-colonial Aotearoa inhabited by atua Māori, native animals, Kea tribes and patupaiarehe, the fairy people. Only his big sister Hine can save him.

What inspired you to write this book? What were your main influences?

I started writing this book while completing my Master's thesis in Māori studies. It was a time when I was learning more about the atua wāhine and I realised they were the kinds of stories I wished I had access to when I was a kid. I wrote Hine and the Tohunga Portal to immerse young readers in a world inspired by Māori concepts, narratives and characters.

What research was involved (if any)?

While completing my Master’s I got to spend a year reading the writings of other wāhine Māori and talking to them in person about their experiences. I think this helped a lot in giving me the confidence to bring some of these characters to life. During my postgraduate Māori Studies more generally, we learnt a lot about decolonising methodologies. I think that helped me to decolonise my own thinking and storytelling before writing this book.

What was your routine or process when writing this book? Do you have a typical writing day?

I wrote Hine and the Tohunga Portal to enter it into the Te Papa Tupu writing programme run by the Māori Literature Trust. But being a bit of a procrastinator, I left it until I got a reminder email a month out from the close of the competition… and I hadn’t put one word on the page. So over 30 days, I got up early every morning to write (I write better creatively in the hour or so just after waking up) before heading off to university. When I eventually submitted the draft manuscript it was at 30,000 words (around halfway).

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Well because this song is so central to the beginning of the book (hint: it’s why Hōhepa gets taken) I guess I’d definitely have to have ‘He Hōnore’ in there! I’d really love to have an original song too, my dream would be for Maisey Rika and Rob Ruha to create something as Iove their music (‘Waiaroha’ is one of my faves).

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to voice or play the lead characters?

Temuera Morrison as Kae the Sorcerer would be badass I reckon and Rachel House would be an amazing Mahuika. Taika Waititi would be a cool Tinirau he’d have to go to the gym though as Tinirau the book character is buff (:P). With Hine and Hōhepa, I’d prefer them to be unknowns, tamariki who match the āhua of the characters.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Actually probably re-reading it when I first got my printed author copy. The rest of the process is just damn hard work (but rewarding!)

What was most challenging aspect?

Getting over storyline and continuity issues during editing. It’s that moment when the editor goes ‘Hmmm that doesn’t really work,’ and you’re like f*** it doesn’t and I have no idea how to fix that without having to rewrite a lot of the story. It’s kind of stressful, but the editors I worked with were really helpful in coming up with ingenious solutions. I was so thankful for that.

Do you have any plans to write another story featuring Hine and Hōhepa?

I would like it to be a trilogy (at least) so that tamariki can grow up with the series as I did with Harry Potter.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Falling into Rarohenga by Steph Matuku. I cracked up out loud multiple times while reading it’s so funny. It’s also similar to Hine and the Tohunga Portal in that it is inspired by Māori narratives.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Get through the physical book launch, digital book launch and Verb Festival (I’ve got a micro-residency and I’m in a few events), while also holding down the fort as Editor at The Pantograph Punch. It’s going to be a wild ride but I’m here for it!

If it means more people will hear about Hine and the Tohunga Portal – I’ll do it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience writing this book?

If anyone purchases the book and posts it on social media they can use the hashtag #hineandthetohungaportal so I can see it and maybe repost on my own channels. Also, I’m keen to hear people’s thoughts on it too so DM me on Instagram @atariasharman.


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