REPRESENTING HER STORY
Reading books about mythology at a young age inspired East Coast-born Regina de Wolf-Ngarimu to travel the world and pursue writing as a hobby. She goes by the pen-name R De Wolf. Matai O’Connor met her to learn more about her life and why she loves to write . . .
Regina remembers always reading every book about the Romans, Greek, Maori and Norse mythology there was at Manutahi Primary School in Ruatoria.
“I was enamoured with the Greek mythology I think that was my inspiration to go have a look at the world,” she said.
Regina, 54, said the first story she wrote was a “dramatic” play when she was 8 years old for a school Christmas concert in Ruatoria. “It was a drama that's for sure.”
She thanks her teachers at Manutahi for being great teachers who inspired her to create.
When she was 10 her whanau moved to the Bay of Plenty. Her first story was published in the Beacon newspaper when she was 11. Then at Trident High school she was a sub-editor of the school newspaper Pari karangaranga. “When I left school I started writing lyrics with my brother's band. I had an ulterior motive, I wasn't great at playing anything, so making up my own songs meant I would know how to play them.” Then Regina went off travelling.
It was 1986, Regina was 19 years old and decided to go visit Australia for three months. She says it was a little adventure, where she met other backpackers and lived on the Gold Coast for awhile.
“There was a whole lot of Kiwi bashing going on at the time, it was hard to get a job there so I moved to Sydney,” she said.
But in 1987 she came back to New Zealand for her 21st, and stayed here until her older sister Kerry had her first daughter.
She had already decided to leave again. Regina planned to go to Mexico but the day before she arrived in Los Angeles she heard news of an earthquake that happened in Mexico so she changed plans and went to London instead.
“I had an around-the-world ticket which I used to get me over to there. After two weeks of waiting for the rainy weather to change I realised I couldn't wait any longer so I bought a Eurail pass and started travelling in Europe.”
Regina met loads of cool people and she ended up with 14 others hanging out in the Greek Islands after they had a tiki tour around Europe.
After roaming around Europe she settled and started to work in London for three years.
While travelling, Regina chronicled her adventures in journals. “It was just a hobby.”
But she always knew she wanted to be a writer.
“I ended up working on and off for the Youth Hostel Association. Almost by accident, I ended up in another job in sales and marketing in Sydney. I enjoyed working in business there. I did a lot of writing in that job — contracts, training manuals, communications, submissions — a lot of really different stuff but still writing,” she said.
Regina and her husband Ieme decided to come home to the East Coast to look after her mum Lydia, at the end of 2014.
They do not have any children, but between them they enjoy 17 nieces and nephews and more than 30 mokpuna.
“We are spare aunty and uncle, nanny and papa. Being closer to whanau is one of the benefits of moving home.”
It has been six-and-a-half years since they came back to New Zealand and one thing Regina realised was, “heck ,I'm in my 50s, I think I'm kind of a grown-up now. I think I should hurry up and do the writing I always wanted to do.”
So R de Wolf sat down and wrote a book. She uses the pen name R de Wolf because, “I don't want to use Ngarimu as there is so much mana associated with uncle. With R de Wolf, you don't know I'm a Ngarimu until after meeting me or researching me. Also it is gender neutral and easy to say or remember.”
She had a concept in mind to do with the journey of discovering Aotearoa New Zealand and what it means for people going forward. This was inspired by her own experiences.
“Whenever I would tell people I'm a Kiwi, they would be surprised as they expect a European-looking person, but I would tell them I'm Maori and they would ask me all about how we got to New Zealand and stuff like that,” she said.
R de Wolf mapped out a six-part series beginning with a story called Guardians of the Ancestors. It was published in December last year.
But before that she wrote a short story which was published as part of the Kaituhi Rawhiti - A Celebration of East Coast Writers anthology. The collection contained poems, prose and short stories by local writers.
R de Wolf's story is Crushed Violet, set on the East Coast before World War 2. Regina is planning to write a full- length novel about this story.
“I'm passionate about women's issues,” she says. “I've been the only woman in a board room.”
“No matter where you are, women are doing amazing things but often it's an uphill battle for gender equality, respect, safety and all those kinds of issues. Through the six- part series I am wrapping in some of those thought-provoking issues to get people to consider how we might approach things differently.
“I hope with the characters I create, people might feel a little bit empowered to stand up and believe in themselves. That was the birth of this series,” she said.
The second book is finished and will be published soon. She has also finished her third book, a futuristic dystopian novel.
“There is quite a lot of me, and how I look at the world, in these books. There is a lot of thinking about the environment. decision-making and how our youth are sometimes without a voice or feel let down.”
R de Wolf makes sure to research Te Ao Maori concepts that she is wanting to include in her stories as she did not grow up on the Coast or speaking Maori.
“Dad used to get the strap at school. In those days you were not allowed to korero Maori at school. It is lovely that it's so different today.”
One piece of research she did was about Maori justice, korero tawhito. She read the weighty Ministry of Justice report,“He hinetora ki te ao Maori — A glimpse into the Maori world: Maori perspectives on justice” which was published in 2001. She found it to be a fabulous reconnector of all things Maori. “A lot of reading for one chapter but totally worth it.”
One of the reasons she writes books is because when she was flat out at work, she wanted something to help her switch off and escape into someone else's world.
All the books are set in New Zealand and the Pacific islands.
“Life is the inspiration. When you travel you meet different interesting people, observe conflict, and civilisations that have come and gone. I have underlying themes of love, hope, loss, pain, care for our environment and good vs evil, which just about everyone can relate to.
“I thought my books would be more for women, but surprisingly a lot of men have been reading Gaurdians of the Ancestors and enjoy the book.
“I have men in the stories who are often very spiritual. Throughout the Pacific there are strong, sensitive male characters with a lot of mana. It's a nod to the men who support women in their drive for being whoever they want to be. Sometimes that can be drowned out by macho bravado which is often symptomatic of losing touch with spiritual elements, and security of cultural identity. It's cool to capture male readers too,” Regina said.
Regina found out about a weekly writers' workshop at Tairawhiti Tech Trust at the Kaiti Hub. She went along and met Polly and Barney Crawford, Katrina Reedy and Molly Pardoe. Regina was amazed by the skill level and stories the writers group told. Regina would ask them, “well, when are you going to your launch the book? What are you going to do for it? They always say ‘just stop it' and giggle, but they are fascinating, talented people with amazing stories. They have no idea how good they are,” she said.
“I want to hang out with them because they are all so inspiring. There is so much you can learn from them. I have even learnt more kupu maori (maori words) that I can use, as well as tikanga and history. It's so nice learning, filling gaps where my own knowledge is limited.
Regina also took part in the Tairawhiti Startup Weekend organised by Taiki E!, as one of the mentors.
“I loved that weekend! It was such a privilege to be involved with so many inspiring, positive people. Lots of young people too, putting themselves out there — magic.”
She also set up a table at Nati Fest in May to share what she was doing with writing and encouraging people to figure out their own writing journey. Whether it's capturing whanau memories, poetry, non-fiction or fiction, music lyris, an outlet for wellbeing, or making practical documents, writing has a lot to offer.
Regina encourages people to write. “Just do it. Write down your family history, or any sort of stories you don't want to lose. I'm all about sharing stories, just have a look at my R de Wolf facebook page or Youtube channel.
“If you want to represent your story in your own words, you need to tell it.”
• You can purchase Regina's books at rdewolf.com