Meet a Member: Jane Berney

After receiving a glowing recommendation email from fellow New Zealand based 26er Paul White, Jane Berney was the clear choice for this month’s Meet a Member slot. Jane shares what it’s like being part of 26 in the southern hemisphere, and what she’s working on now.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

I am from the country that until last Wednesday, was the only nation in the world to achieve 100 days without community transmission of COVID. But who are we to define ourselves by a virus? We seem to be the destination of choice for people seeking to escape the clutches of pandemics and politicians. I’ve lived in England, Canada and Australia, but I was born here, and I’m so proud to call New Zealand home.

Until my health upturned my life last year, I lectured in Ad Creativity, Brand Story and Social marketing, consulted in communication, and ran Wild Things creative workshops. This year I’m teaching less and my writing has been given a little more space to breathe.

Where did your love of words come from?

From reading and from disappearing. As a child, I extracted myself from the everyday with my imaginings and I think that I had an alternative universe during my early teens (no ethersphere to escape to in those days). Or is that what they call day dreaming in class?

Bookshelves; I always judge a house by how many books I can see on the shelves, although audio books throw a spanner into this work.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

It all began when I bought the copy of John Simmons’ We me them & it in a university bookshop. I applied much of his good sense to the paper that I was teaching at the time. I began stalking him about a year later, which led me to the life altering experience of Dark Angels in Spain (2016), and then to conjuring John and Jamie out to the Land of the Long White Cloud (2018) to inspire and cajole some of our NZ writers.

In these frugal times, my 26 subscription is up there with Chardonnay and chocolate. And kibbled maize for my chooks.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

I think the first was Litterature (Throwaway Lines), then a Christmas project, then 26 Twits, 26 Postcodes, Memory Maps, Armistice, 26 Trees, 26 Wild, 26 weeks, and Dear 26. (is there a theme or an obsession becoming apparent here?)

I’ve also been accepted as writer and fragment writer on the Fine Cell Work project. I think that you could say that I’m involved. Or easily distracted by 26 projects.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

No audio or visual distraction, no technical sound or music, though birds are acceptable so long as it’s not my geese having fisticuffs. During lockdown I have been working at our dining table rather than in the office, and it feels a little naughty/truant like, but it gifts me restorative views out of windows that probably could do with a bit of spit and polish. I used to only write by hand into notebooks, but of late have been typing onto the computer. Not sure if that’s a step forward or a step back.

What are you working on at the moment?

Editing and writing for Dear 26; the first NZ based 26 project, with (fellow editor/colleague) Paul White (who dobbed me into this Meet a Member exercise) and Jayne Workman (perhaps she could be next in line?). We’re reading the literary character letters now and managed a Zoom meeting between writers and editors in Mumbai, Belfast, Dublin, San Francisco, London, Seattle and Auckland. We wouldn’t have done that before the C word. Now I think we will do it more often.

I’m also working at maintaining interest and engagement of students with two online classes a week, as we are in Level 3 here in Auckland which means our universities and schools are closed.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

The Armistice project ‘White Lie’ as it picked up on a thread of a childhood memory and took me on a sleuthing expedition through my family and the land. I was hunting down snippets of stories that had been shared across generations, and sadly, never written down. While I wouldn’t say that it’s my ‘best work’, it’s the one that’s left the deepest imprint on me.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I wish I knew. It just arrives; sometimes when I’m pushing a wheelbarrow around the paddocks, or wandering up to check the letterbox. Or stirring my coffee.  When I’m otherwise distracted and there’s space for the wisps to find their way.

I’m inspired also through reading work by other 26ers. Watching how animals interact with one another.

Listening to the untarnished conversations of people under the age of 12. 

– Jane Berney, interviewed by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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