On the heels of her novel about women battling dire circumstances, Carterton writer Gaye Sutton is inviting Wairarapa people to share their own survival stories.

Sutton, a storytelling performer and counsellor, is the inaugural Masterton Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio at Mount Bruce -- completing a three-week writer's residence sponsored by Masterton District Council.

At the studio, Sutton is working on her second book, a collection of stories she has performed on stage, or in therapy groups.

Her debut novel, But for the Grace, which explores domestic violence, was published last year.


As part of her fellowship, Sutton has organised "BYO Story", a free open mic event in which people can share fictionalised or real stories of struggle and triumph.

As the theme for World Storytelling Day is Strong Women, stories with inspirational female figures are welcome.

"I thought, 'wouldn't it be great if women came together and told stories?'," Sutton said.

"There are plenty of strong male stories throughout history, and women's stories are starting to come out of the woodwork.

"A strong woman story can be anything -- fighting back tears on your son's first day or surviving breast cancer."

Sutton discovered storytelling while working in Wellington with a group of women who had fled abusive homes.

"At the time, I thought there needed to be more stories about women who left if their husbands weren't suitable."

She discovered the legend of Hine-pukohu-rangi, or the Woman of the Mist, who left her lover, the god Uenuku, after he betrayed her.

She was invited by a friend to attend a storytelling workshop, where she was able to a story about a challenging time in her own life, inspired by Hine-pukohu-rangi.

Sutton often uses storytelling as part of her counselling practice, helping clients reframe their life stories in a positive way by relating to the protagonists of myths, legends and epic adventures.

"It's about being the hero in your story," Sutton said.

"Often, people feel more like Clark Kent, the bumbling victim.

"But then, he steps into a phonebox and becomes Superman."

At present, Sutton is writing the stories she has carried in [her] head for years", many containing strong women -- like Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest and Quanyin, goddess of mercy in Buddhism.

A favourite is the tale of Gurda, the Hindu goddess who defeated demonic forces en masse, which Sutton used to inspire a group of women battling addiction.

"They really took on the image of the goddess, and used that image to help each other.

"People get in touch with a higher self -- similar to [Alcoholics Anonymous], but without the male higher power."

At the open mic night, Sutton will be sharing the strong woman story of Emily Dixon-Adams, a pioneering farmer who walked over the Rimutaka Hill to Wairarapa at age 14.

BYO Story will be held on Sunday, March 20, at the Education Centre, 340 Queen St, Masterton, beginning at 7pm. Book at place by calling 06 377 2956.