Madeleine Chapman talks with Eleanor Black about leaving her writing job to paint a garage
People were shocked when you announced on Twitter that you were leaving The Spinoff. So why did you leave?
I was at The Spinoff for just over four years. I went in as an intern and [thought] I would do some boring admin work and eventually be able to write; and then eventually be a staff writer. This sounded like a 10-year plan [but] all the things I had dreamed of doing over the course of a couple of decades I had done in four years and I didn't really know what to do with myself. I wanted to see my name on the front of a book. When I got to write a book [Steven Adams: My Life, My Fight], funnily enough my name wasn't on the cover but I had only been working as a writer for six months when I signed that contract. Now I have another book coming out and, when I finished the second book, I thought, "Do I just keep doing this in a four-year cycle for the rest of my life?" I loved the work so much I realised if I didn't take a break now it was very possible I would happily stay where I was for another 10 or 15 years. Given how much happened in the past four years, I thought I should open myself up to doing whole new things in the next four.
What do you want to do?
People kind of laughed when I said I was going to paint my parents' garage - and actually they are behind schedule, so I'm going to have to help build it as well - but I didn't want to be a writer when I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher. I studied education and I did renovation work. I have painted a lot of houses and have done a lot of building assisting, so this is not new for me. I enjoy doing it because you don't have to think about it too much, you just put on some music and off you go. I want to reset and not have to think about anything until I can organically figure out what next. I will still be writing things. I wrote for the School Journal last year and I quite enjoyed the process. Politics is a newly fascinating area for me - there is a lot of writing that goes on in the background for MPs and that sort of thing. People might think I have retired at 25 from being a writer but really there are so many ways of using writing skills in a completely different way from journalism or book writing.
Would you miss having a byline?
Not at all. The thought of writing fairly mundane by-the-numbers work that is important but has nothing to do with you as a person or your opinions or your stance on a particular issue is quite appealing to me. The Spinoff is a place where people have a voice, which I love; I would have had a very different trajectory if I had worked somewhere else. While it can be intense to put your name on things that don't age well or are a bit ill-advised, it does force you to be accountable for everything you write and I think it made me a better writer. You write and think your job is finished but it's not, because you get feedback and respond to the feedback and you continue the discussion, which sometimes is great and other times I kinda go, "I said everything I wanted."
Have people been giving you unsolicited career advice?
People got in touch after I posted on Twitter saying, "Hope everything's okay, hope you are well," which I am - I am very excited to be back in Porirua and paint houses. But when you have been a full-time writer - and then some - for four years and you say you are going to go home and do housework, essentially, it does sound like you are going through something. Last week I shaved all my hair off to a zero, which has not at all helped [allay] people's concern that I am having some sort of breakdown. I wouldn't have done this a year ago, but I feel confident in my own skill set and my standing in the writing community to be able to leave and come back if I want to, rather than worrying that everyone will forget I existed and I will never get another writing job again.
* Madeleine Chapman's book, Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader (Nero, $40) is out on March 30.