Helen Innes

Helen's creations are set in the bush & include the weird & wonderful world of 'warblish' - birdsong vocalisations often found in folklore and birding guides.

PhD awarded 2021

Helen is a writer of fiction and non-fiction 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 University, 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 | Kapohau (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: 'For my critical component I wrote a comprehensive guide to "warblish" – the interpretation of birdsong as language. New Zealand examples include the morepork/ruru asking for “more pork”, and the grey warbler/riroriro declaring, "riro riro" which means "gone, gone". Warblish appears in many cultures and languages around the world but is often not explicitly named as a phenomenon or grouped together with other examples. There are only a smattering of references to this topic in academia, on the internet, and in some books. I found 1500 examples in over 60 languages and discussed what these contribute to society.

'My creative component consisted of a short story, novel, and children's book. The short story Into the woods is being published by Piwaiwaka Press in 2021. The children's book Sparrows say, 'Cheer up! Cheer up!' showcases how warblish can be used in a story. The novel And the birds fled to the bush is set in a New Zealand suburb which used the destruction of infrastructure in a recent earthquake as an opportunity to create a new utopian society. However, when a researcher conducting bird counts in the newly created sanctuary and his local guides fall foul of the Community Board the utopian experiment starts to look more sinister.'

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