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: 'I am writing a comprehensive guide to "warblish" – the interpretation of birdsong as language. New Zealand examples include the ruru/morepork 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 three academic articles on the topic and a smattering of references on the internet and in some books. I am writing the first book dedicated to finding examples from multiple languages and cultures, including New Zealand. Please look at my website (below) and contact me if you know of any examples.

'My creative component is a novel set in a New Zealand suburb which has used the destruction of infrastructure in a recent earthquake as an opportunity to create a new utopian society. However, when a researcher doing bird counts in the newly created sanctuary and his local guides fall foul of the Community Board during the annual Cat Herding Festival the utopian experiment starts to look more sinister.'

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