“I was shocked at first,” says Tracey who applied for the Level 5 writing programme the day before applications closed. “I wondered how I was going to react...was I going to be all ‘nana-ry’...but he’s blown me away and I’m so proud of him.”
Marli was in the final stages of a six-month radio broadcasting course in Wellington when he received the news. “I think she might have been accepted a day or two after me.”
The 20 year old had no idea how he was going to get to Nelson for the programme when he first enrolled, so felt a sense of relief. “I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done otherwise,” he says. “It worked out really well.”
The pair share a bond, not just by blood, but by friendship. When Marli joined a band as a 13-year-old it was Tracey who took the black metal vocalist to all his gigs. When Tracey has a ‘stressy’ moment, Marli’s presence reminds her to stay calm and honour her strength. Yet, the two are worlds apart when it comes to their individual writing style.
Marli is a huge fan of horror stories. As a child he dressed up as a vampire and was obsessed with monsters and gore. “I was the child where the teachers would say ‘right draw anything’ and while others would draw a flower I’d draw a monster eating somebody. I’ve always been that way.”
He describes his writing as dark. He draws his inspiration from a variety of sources including true crime stories recounted by the police and paramedics. His imagination is macabre yet he tempers that with a healthy dose of realism.
“I write about violent things and have a blast while I’m doing it, but I’m not trying to say this is a good thing go and do that. It’s more this is a terrible thing that this character is going through.”
“He’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery,” says Tracey. “He looks very black metal and writes dark stuff but he’s not at all the stereotypical Black Metaller, whatever that is.”
Tracey on the other hand is more introspective by nature. She often kept diaries as a teenager which, she says, ‘were full of angst’. Her life history and Māori ancestry have been important themes in her work of late.
Though she started out life as a bright, curious young wahine who entered high school one year earlier than her peers, Tracey says it all went downhill from there. Her principal suspended her at thirteen. She left another high school at fifteen. Fell pregnant at eighteen.
“I actually turned into what was expected of me," she says. "I got homemade tattoos. I started smoking. I turned into a ‘dumb Māori’ if I was to be honest.”
Journaling provided meaning and solace during these times and a writing habit grew from there, but it wasn’t until recently that Tracey began to take her passion for writing seriously.
These days it is poetry that lights her fire. But she is reluctant to pin down her writing; she feels it will continue to evolve as she evolves.
Each admits that, at first, they struggled to share what they wrote with the class and tutors. Tracey resisted her ‘Māori older woman’ voice. Marli the ‘gorehound’ didn’t want to give the wrong impression.
Fortunately, both have felt supported to explore their individual styles throughout the year and both have enormous respect for their tutors who have encouraged them to embrace who they are.
“Granted they don’t pull you right out of your element because of course you could have no idea what to do,” says Marli. “They say go with your usual style, just try and do a few things you wouldn’t normally. You can stop if it doesn’t work but you never know what you’re really good at until you try.”
Tracey agrees. “They had no problems pushing me out of my comfort zone but I felt really safe doing it.”
“They teach you to get better but let you choose what you’re getting better at,” says Marli.
With graduation day upon them, the Andersen writers are looking to the future.
“I’m looking forward now, not back,” says Tracey who co-owns not one but three successful businesses with her sisters.
“I am excited to get my first ever academic record. I’ve set up a really nice writing station for myself, somewhere I like to go, and I’m excited about what might be ahead. It’s been divine timing and a divine time in my life.”
“It will be good having the qualification,” says Marli who is keen to combine his love of writing with audio and perhaps create a podcast or YouTube channel.
“Granted I’ll miss going there, it’s been fun. I always said, even before I started this, I said, to get a small cult following...you know I’m happy...very happy...even if it’s an obscure book that sits on some nerdy collector’s shelf.”