Chris Tse and Emily Writes are thick as thieves. One look at them, and you see a pair of talented friends who are committed to their literary pursuits, separately and together.
What makes the pair stand out isn’t just their talent, but the fact that they are so dedicated to supporting one another and being cheerleaders, for literature, Wellington and the others dreams.
I first met Emily at the Gala in 2017 for the New Zealand Film Festival, already a big fan-girl. I had already met Chris at the Wellington on a Plate event I attended at Hippopotamus in 2016 (who was super nice, and impeccably dressed), and seeing them together, it was beyond my level of coolness not to ask Chris to ask Emily for me whether it was okay if we had a photo together. I was SO chuffed when she said yes. Even more exciting, I found myself working in parallel to Emily on an assignment for a client, and so I plucked up my courage to ask her and Chris to reflect on their friendship, work and the changing face of publishing and media in New Zealand.
Who are Chris Tse and Emily Writes?
Chris is a poet and rising literary star. He has been featured on The Spinoff, blogs for Wellington on a Plate, and has had two books published by Auckland University Press: ‘He’s so MASC’ and ‘How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes.’ Both have been featured at literary festivals around the country and in Australia.
Where did they grow up?
Chris was born in Lower Hutt. “When I grew up, and before I was born, my whole family worked in food. My parents ran a restaurant, several takeaways and a Chinese grocery store” he explains. “I was always around food as a kid.” His grandmother and his grandfather looked after Chris a lot while his parents ran the restaurant when he was little, leaving him to ‘play’ in the fruit shop.
Emily was born on the Gold Coast, before moving back to New Zealand, growing up in Sydney as a girl. “Eventually I got to Auckland, and I’ve been in Auckland or Tauranga or Wellington ever since. But Wellington is definitely my home” Emily says. She went to lots of different schools including a year and a half at Wellington High School (“We had King Kapisi and Hera Lindsay Bird” Emily notes).Growing up, her Dad did lots of sports stuff. “I grew up in newsrooms with sporting journalists, that’s probably where I got the colourful language I have today!”
How did Chris and Emily begin their careers as writers?
“I always wanted to be a journalist like my Dad. He wrote a book about the All Blacks when I was young. He dedicated it to me and my siblings and I was obsessed with that dedication which probably shows what a narcissist I am!” Emily laughs. Since she was 16, Emily worked in newsrooms. “I worked at the Dominion Post for a little while, and the Sunday Star Times in the weekends, community papers in Auckland for a couple of years” Emily explains. “While I worked as a journalist for a long time, I found it hard. I didn’t do well keeping the distance between myself and other people’s stories. When Pike River happened, everyone wanted to go – but I didn’t. That’s when I knew it wasn’t for me.”
When the New Zealand Press Association was closed (where Emily was working), she became a communications advisor, moving from journalism to the public sector. “I married at 25, the same month I was made redundant. We put the redundancy pay on the booze bill, and then I became pregnant like a cliche on our wedding night - despite years of trying to get pregnant prior. It started a new chapter in my life.”
When Chris left high school, with a passion for writing and flare for creativity, he decided to study English literature and film at University. “I did flirt with the idea of doing journalism for a while, but I decided that I didn’t have the gusto for that” says Chris. After completing his degree, he stumbled into a job working in publishing with LexisNexis. “I’ve spent most of my working life in publishing, but recently I made a sideways step into communications,” explains Chris. His day job is now for the Office of the Auditor-General.
Emily and Chris met at work, and a friendship bloomed. “It was a slow burn” Chris notes. “Work wise, we didn’t have much to do with each other at first, but then we bonded at the work Christmas party. In my first week there, Emily was having a discussion with another colleague about Miley Cyrus and Wrecking Ball, and I so badly wanted to jump in but I didn’t want to be that new guy being too eager to impress!”
The friendship grew and their shared literary pursuits have brought them closer as mates. “I’m so proud of Chris for his book ‘How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes’” Emily enthuses. “The best thing now is that I remember when we went to the Wellington Writers Festival and I was saying to Chris that I just wanted to write a book. He really believed in me and told me not to give up. The next week, Penguin called me offering a book deal. It was crazy. He’s my work-wife. We go to literary festivals together and I’m desperate for us to become a double act” Emily laughs.
A Digital Age
The pair also have not been un-touched by the new movement of literature into the digital space. Poetry is now on Instagram, Tumblr and blogs, a world away from the traditional book only model. “The access to poetry from all around the world is so much easier” says Chris. “Because I can discover all these different poets, as a reader, who I wouldn’t have found out about unless it was for the internet. As a writer, I can find like-minded poets who also want to talk about similar issues.”
Emily interrupts fondly. “Chris’s was the first poetry I ever read. And now I like poetry” she enthuses. “But it’s not just his writing that I love. I love everything about him. It is so good to have a friend in this weird writing world. I can share with Chris all of the ridiculous things that happen, like “Oh my god, I’m going to be on the Anika Moa show.” It’s so important to have strong friendships with people in the same industry. Chris believes in me and that helps me so much when I’m navigating new territory” Emily says. “To me, the friendships I have are my buffer from all the parts of me which belong to someone else.”
“You surround yourself with people who understand what it is like, and who you get feedback from” says Chris. “My writer friends help me, and are proud of my achievements.”
Both Emily and Chris are proud to call their books ‘confessional’. “Some people are so down on that word, but it is important and hard to be that way. The biggest thing I find hard is that I don’t have as much time to think on things before they go up. Now I have a weekly column on the Spinoff which I have to deliver. I need to get used to the idea that if you’re a writer today you’re constantly churning out stuff.” Emily accepts it is her role to be sharing what is on her mind, and that it is her opinions that bring people to the work. However, she also finds it challenging when people react in a negative way. “It’s funny when people say to me ‘You write just to get clicks’, and my response it ‘Literally my job, dude!’
They’ve just taken part in their first literary event together at Featherson Booktown, as part of a True Stories Told Live session chaired by John Campbell. The adventures continue. “I love living in Wellington because it’s such a collaborative city” says Chris. “People just pitch in to create cool stuff.”
Emily agrees “It’s hard to explain how much I love Wellington” Emily explains. “For those of us who have had a shaky idea of what home is a city can mean a lot to you. Wellington has taken that place for me. I like that it is family friendly. I even like the weather.” “I like the wind” chimes in Chris “When you feel a place physically”. “I used to dislike that you’d run into people all the time but now I enjoy it. This city is where I fell in love with my husband, fell in love with my dearest friend, had my gorgeous kids, I’ve fallen in love with the city.”