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Writing from the heart

CLAIRE ALLISON
Last updated 08:54 27/06/2012
karalyn joyce reid
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ

AUTHOR'S VIEW: Pleasant Point writer Karalyn Joyce writes poems, children's books and short stories.

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She describes herself as a small town girl, but Pleasant Point's Karalyn Joyce's writing is known nationwide.

She speaks to features editor Claire Allison about her work.

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Karalyn Joyce jokes that she's famous in Pleasant Point – or more specifically, in the township's Hillview Pl, where she lives.

But the reality is that the Pleasant Point writer has been published in national magazines, literary publications and anthologies, and she is the author of three children's books.

Locally, her name crops up as a judge of poetry competitions, for holding poetry and writing workshops for adults and children, but also for the roles she has held recently as a journalist for The Radio Network and as the promotions officer for the Timaru Retail Association.

She's about to hang up those two hats, and take up a fulltime secretarial position, the kind of work she was in before taking time off to have children. For the first time in many years, Karalyn – Karalyn Reid since marrying Steve in November last year – will have just one paid job, and with a daily commute to her new role, is looking forward to being able to turn her mind to creative writing while she's on the road.

She's also hoping the move away from journalism will have a positive effect on her skills.

"Because in journalism you concentrate so hard on non-fiction, it's very hard to be doing your own writing at the same time. By getting back to a secretarial role, I think I'll be able to balance my own writing again."

Karalyn's poetry writing began for somewhat pragmatic reasons.

"Probably I started writing poetry because I didn't have much time to write stories any more. I started off with short story writing, and getting published in that field, but it takes hours to sit down and write a short story and I just didn't have hours.

"I guess poetry is sort of easier, and it's easier to get something out in a poem. Short stories are a lot more complicated, you have to be a lot more clever."

Her writing career began when she was bringing up two small children.

"I was reading some of the women's magazines and thought, I could write a better story than some of the five-minute fictions. That's where I first started getting published, and then I thought, if I could get that type of writing (light romance) published, I should learn to write a little bit better."

She launched into Owen Marshall's writing courses, beginning with a summer school at Methven, and then a six-month course at Aoraki Polytechnic. She has since gained an Advanced Diploma in Fine Arts (Writing) from Whitiara Polytechnic.

Looking back on the first short stories, she says she cringes now. But, her writing career has since evolved, to include more literary short stories, writing children's books – The Adventures of Somerset Bear, and the two Kiwi the Engine books for the Pleasant Point Railway – editing spiritual anthologies, and a rural anthology for Rural Women New Zealand.

She says editing anthologies taps into other skills and gives other writers the chance to be published.

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"You've got to think about your reader and what they will want to read, and to give them a mixture of different things. The poetry and prose in those books is all really honest, it's from real life, and I think that's why the readers of the anthologies find them so touching."

The idea of a spiritual anthology came to Karalyn as she drove down State Highway 1. She put it to Pleasant Point's Presbyterian Church and received their support. The most recent was published shortly after the Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes, and was dedicated to relief efforts. Hundreds of copies were sent to Christchurch.

"There were a lot of people out there sort of struggling to feel good about things."

It's the kind of work Karalyn enjoy, doing something that has a purpose.

"I'm keen to get into another project, but it's got to have a depth to it. Rather than just publish a book for the sake of it, knowing it's actually doing some good. I think that's where I'm coming from."

There's nothing in the pipeline at the moment, but Karalyn has had an idea percolating for a while.

"I've been thinking about doing an inspirational cancer one. I think there's a need for some real life hope stories from people who have been touched by cancer. But I don't know who I'd work with for that one."

Over the years she has shared her skills with children and adults, judging competitions and holding workshops.

Working with children has always been fun.

"Children are incredibly free with their words, which is absolutely great. I love working with kids, they're very inspiring."

In the past, she ran the Write Away Club, a correspondence club for children. With the help of other writers she held weekend Harry Potter-themed camps, which offered children a weekend of writing and themed activities.

"You couldn't do it now. We had no police checks, no consent forms, all that sort of thing."

There are no plans to leave Pleasant Point for a bigger centre.

"I guess I have always been a small town girl. Out here, I'm on the community board, I'm doing some civil defence work and some voluntary work. I brought up my two daughters here.

"I feel like I am now giving something back to Pleasant Point; during the time when my kids were growing up, I was taking from it."

Future writing plans aren't set in stone.

There may be more Kiwi the Engine books to write, and Karalyn says one day she'd like to publish an anthology of her own work; all her poems and some of her short stories.

"That will be a bit scary. It will be honest and it will be quite painful, because you write about your own life and your own experiences.

"So if I do, it will be the story of what I have been through – children, divorce, love and life experiences."

She tells people if they are writing a poem, they need to step back from it and write it for the reader, so they can take something from it as well.

"The nicest thing I have ever had said to me, was a poem in the Listener about 10, 15 years ago. The Listener forwarded me a letter from a woman saying she and her husband loved it, because it used real words, and most poetry they couldn't understand, because it was too complicated and used words they didn't know.

"I got a phone call out of the blue a while ago, from that same person, she wanted to read it at her husband's funeral.

"For them to do that was really lovely. They had the poem pinned on their fridge for years.

"I think it's finding that you have really touched somebody. That's when you are really a poet, when you can do that."

- The Timaru Herald

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