After eight years of work, Kirsty Bennett (nee Wadsworth)'s dream was finally sitting in front of her. Two brand new, illustrated copies of the children's book she had written looked up at her from the table.
One was in Māori and the other in English. Bringing the Promise of Puanga to publication had been a long journey but it was worth the effort to provide the first story of the herald for the Māori New Year for the West Coast to life.
Because the Matariki star cluster is hard to see on the West Coast of New Zealand, some places are completely blocked by mountain ranges, a star called Puanga is the indication the Māori New Year is nearing.
"Puanga is celebrated in the Whanganui River valley because mountains block the view toward Matariki in the north east but the valley opens up enough to more easily show Puanga," explained Ian Cooper, secretary of the Horowhenua Astronomical Society.
Though celebrated along the West Coast, rather surprisingly there are no children's stories about this star, whereas each year new books are released about Matariki. With this in mind, Manu Bennett, who was to become Kirsty's husband, approached young aspiring writer Kirsty about writing a story about the star Puanga.
Manu, an educator on Puanga at the time, wanted a story to hook people into his workshops.
"I asked Kirsty to put together three stories to add more depth but they didn't sell, so I took a step back and allowed her to do her own thing and it worked. She wanted to tell her own story," Manu said.
Initially, when they took Kirsty's first story to different publishers, no one was interested, but when it was Kirsty's own story written in her own way, not the one made to fit Manu's agenda, they had success.
Kirsty wrote the Promise of Puanga from her imagination.
"I would love for this to become a modern legend that can be passed down the generations."
She said that she wanted it to be a story with a sense of friendship and one that empowered girls to solve their problems, a coming of age story of sorts.
The story is about two girls, Hana and Puanga, who are inseparable. In their town the winters are harsh and there is no signal of winter. Because of this, Puanga reveals that she is a star, come to earth to experience life as girl.
She explains that she could be the signal of winter if the Guardian of the Wind places her higher in the sky. Hana is very sad but Puanga reminds her that they will still see each other. The wind guardian places Puanga in the sky and Hunga tells the village that Puanga is their sign of winter.
Kirsty's publication journey began with an invitation to the Duffy Day Out, hosted by Scholastic, visiting its warehouse in Auckland to look at rows and rows of books.
Scholastic is the distributor for The Duffy Books in Homes, a foundation that provides books for disadvantaged children. Duffy also works in schools, including the school Kirsty where teaches, and where she had been involved in the programme.
During her visit in Auckland, Kirsty got chatting with Lynette Evans, a publishing manager for Scholastic, about the lack of stories about Puanga. Lynette asked Kirsty to send her story to her. Upon reading it, Lynette said that it was "a very fresh take and a story that hadn't been told". With this in mind, the book was quickly set up for publishing.
On May 1, the Promise of Puanga was released. It can now be found in all good bookstores and is part of Scholastic's teacher essentials kit. It is used in homes with the family and for education purposes at schools and libraries.
The book is the first of its kind and the first book Kirsty has published.