Helen Innes

Helen’s novel is set in the local bush & includes the weird & wonderful world of warblish - birdsong vocalisations or mnemonics in folklore and birding guides.

Commenced 2016

Helen is a fiction writer and poet who usually lives in a house in Naenae, sometimes on a boat in Seaview, and hardly ever but with great enthusiasm in a yurt in Wainuiomata. She studied linguistics and psychology at Victoria, then taught English as a second language for 20 years in Ireland, England, Japan, China, and New Zealand. She has travelled through 30 countries, mostly by train, and is good at studying a new language in the carriage before crossing the border, and forgetting it completely on the journey out. She's interested in cross cultural communication and dialects; especially subtle differences between speakers of the same language.

She completed a novel ('Tatami Burns') for her MA at the IIML in 2012. She has published in Fishhead (2010), Turbine (2012), and Plate in the Mirror - Poetry Anthology (2016). She was runner up in the Eat your Words Café Poetry Competition (2010), and twice runner up in the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Awards (2008 & 2009).

Helen writes: 'The creative component of my thesis is a novel set in New Zealand suburbia in the near future. In it I will portray the dialects of local and foreign born New Zealanders, foreigners, and perhaps a few birds. I will bring my love of prose poetry, dialogue, and general subversion into my work. My writing focuses on a particular suburban community; its people, stories, varieties of language, landscape, flora and fauna. There are a few dairy cows wandering about the pages too.

'I will use socio-linguistics methodology in my critical component. I'm interested in how an author communicates with the reader, and how they portray dialects, accents, unclear speech, miscommunication, and even bird calls. I will experiment with different ways of representing standard English and local varieties of English on the page, and then test how these are perceived by readers. This will then influence how I represent speech in my novel. I will also test the covert prestige of a interrogative present in only a local variety of English.

My main displacement activity currently concerns researching the onomatopoeic and mnemonic representations of birdsong in literature and birding guides; reading about bird dialects; listening to the birds outside my office and trying to write down what they say.'

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