Author: James George
Publication date: 2003
Country/culture: New Zealand/Maori
For this year’s Book Diaries, in a departure from my usual focus, instead of being inspired in a random fashion, I’m looking for inspiration that I can take to my writing. (See my general blog to find out why I’m doing this.)
Three strangers – a tattooed man, a former prostitute and a grounded pilot – meet on Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach. Whether they are trying to find their way home or are not quite sure where home is, they gradually connect with each other, and come to understand their lives a little better. The unexpected arrival of a young woman and her daughter causes shockwaves that will affect each of them forever.
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What did I find out?
When the characters meet for the first time, they are so different that it’s difficult for us to see how they can come to trust each other. They all have secrets that they are unwilling to share, and it is only gradually that their walls are broken down and they can connect with each other.
As I was reading, watching this process of trust opening up before my eyes, it struck me how fragile relationships can be: one wrong move, one misjudged statement, and a budding attachment can be shattered in an instant. I found myself becoming extraordinarily protective of the characters and their new-formed friendships – and so when Leonie and her daughter appeared on the scene, I became nervous about what this might mean for my three ‘friends’.
This emotional connection with fictional characters is nothing new, but I was reminded of how powerful it can be, and how strong the writing must be to bring it about. Hummingbird is a beautifully drawn portrait of growing tenderness and attachment, and once again I am in awe at the power of story to evoke deep human feelings.
What do I now see differently?
A central theme of this novel, as mentioned above, is that of individuals opening up to each other; essentially, asking for help. The main characters have been self-sufficient all their lives, relying on themselves and taking responsibility for their actions, even (perhaps) when they didn’t need to; and they now find themselves at a crossroads, where a different way of life appears to open up before them. A new horizon, both literally and figuratively.
Kataraina feels starved of love, unable to give or receive it; Jordan has lost love and believes it will never return; Kingi is on a journey to reunite with a love from 50 years ago. All three take the brave step of reaching out to the others, putting their emotions, their insecurities, their deepest desires on the line – and are rewarded with love. Leonie’s arrival, although it initially feels like an intrusion to this newly close community, gives them the final push towards actively choosing a life of love (and its inherent sacrifice), rather than simply continuing on the easy route of solo endeavour.
I can relate very closely to this. I have always tried to be as independent as possible, going my own way and assuming that I can’t rely on anyone to help me out. But maybe Hummingbird is a lesson that this is, ultimately, unsustainable, and that I need to start asking for support a little more. Perhaps if I give people the chance to help, they will.
How will this inspire my writing?
Several unexpected friendships develop in this book, and this reminded me of a few characters in my own novel, most notably a ‘bromance’ between one of my werewolves and a zombie. Yes, I know this is a million miles away from the beaches of New Zealand, but the theme is similar: the coming together of two very different individuals who have more in common than at first meets the eye.
In my novel, the werewolf and zombie are both struggling to come to terms with the realities of their situation, and this common ground enables them to bond. I have not yet written these scenes, so my challenge will be to take a lesson from Hummingbird and ensure that, when I do, they are clearly and insightfully drawn, and – hopefully – capable of making my readers just as protective of my characters as I have been of George’s.
A musical interlude
The overall story in this song, at first glance, has nothing to do with the narrative of Hummingbird. However, certain lines have a huge resonance with it. I won’t spend time explaining this in detail; I’ll simply urge you to read the book for yourself and then see whether you agree that Free Fallin’ is an appropriate metaphor for the experiences of the three main characters.