How a Kiwi novel published under a Creative Commons license is paving a new path for aspiring writers in New Zealand
A new novel by a young Kiwi author has been published under a Creative Commons license – only the second novel in New Zealand history to be published this way, and the first such licensed novel to be available in digital as well as print formats.
Fishing for Māui is the second novel from 33-year old Wellington-based author Isa Pearl Ritchie, who also works as a Policy Advisor in the New Zealand public service.
Described as a story of “food, whānau, and mental illness”, the novel tells the stories of five main characters – Valerie, Michael, Elena, Evie and 8-year old Rosa – and draws on Ritchie’s experience of supporting a family member with mental health issues as well as her own passion for food, wellbeing and social justice. It also has roots in her Master’s degree in Sociology, which focused on nutrition, and her PhD on food sovereignty in Aotearoa.
“I’ve had a strong focus on health and wellbeing throughout my life and research because I struggled with my own health as a young person with chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. Food had a significant part to play in that journey,” says Ritchie.
“There has been a strong and growing interest in mental health in New Zealand and the wider world in recent times, so I wrote Fishing for Māui to provide another window into the mental health crisis and the experiences and struggles that are often unseen.”
Fishing for Māui has been independently published and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC 4.0). In another first for a New Zealand novel, this allows for material in the novel to be shared, copied and redistributed in any medium or format, and also be adapted, remixed, transformed, and built upon, as long as the creator of the original work is attributed.
So, in a world where thousands of novelists are striving to be the next J.K. Rowling – or even just make a living from their writing – why publish a novel with a CC licence?
“The concept of ‘the commons’ is really important to me. The role of the commons is often taken for granted because of the prevalence of individualism. The rise of the internet has created a massive wealth of accessible information, and a culture shift so people expect information to be available. This is of course where the Creative Commons movement came from – rethinking the concept of intellectual property (IP) and the role of the ‘commons’ in the information age,” says Ritchie.
“The publishing industry has been especially resistant to this idea, as the concept of IP is entrenched in the industry because it is fundamental to its profits. Personally, however, I have an ethical and philosophical issue with the idea of owning information. There is an argument to be made that the concept of property ownership is flawed, so the idea of someone ‘owning’ information is even more of a stretch.
“There is so much to be gained from sharing information, understandings and wisdom, and from allowing other people to build upon it – this is how our current knowledge systems, our art, our human cultural legacies evolved, and yet they are inhibited by this legal construction which is profit-driven rather than well-being-driven.
“I do appreciate that there are also reasons for information not to be shared – for example, sacred cultural knowledge and knowledge that is dangerous, and information that protects people’s safety – and I’m not opposed to those things, however copyright has not been designed with these values in mind.
“The fact is that nothing we create is ever completely ‘new’ – we always draw ideas and inspiration from other sources, so it seems bizarre to me that if you are putting ideas into words and then putting them in a particular order, they become ‘yours’.
“It also seems atrocious that copyright law essentially criminalises most of the population – even our parents and grandparents who spent years recording movies onto VHS tapes. Law that criminalises most people who are just going about their lives is not good law.”
Ritchie says her views on this came partly from her studies in social science, and partly her own thinking, which has been influenced by having grown up in the Waikato as a Pākehā child in a bicultural family, where Māori was her first written language.
“The idea that you should be able to copyright words and culture is a very Western cultural idea. Māori conceptions tend to be very different from Pākehā conceptions of property and ownership. I do not profess to be an expert on te ao Māori but my own understandings have been shaped by values like kaitiakitanga and whakapapa – values of shared responsibility and interconnectedness – which are at odds with the more commodified contemporary Western worldview. This difference in worldview has come up as a key issue in the Wai 262 Treaty claim on intellectual cultural and indigenous taonga that has been ongoing since the early 1990s.
“Another problem with our systems of property, including intellectual property, is that wealth distribution always seems to move resources upwards. From a sociological perspective this has detrimental effects on those who are starved of the resources required to live well.
“One of the issues of this system is that we have not yet come up with good ways for artists to be adequately compensated for their creative work. We need to come up with a more equitable and sustainable system, so I hope this novel will help to grow the conversation around that.”
So, what does Ritchie hope the novel will become through its CC licensing?
“If people want to take what I’ve written and adapt it in their own ways, that would be very interesting to see – I imagine it would be great for school plays! Mostly though, I’m hoping the novel’s themes of food, whānau and mental health will resonate with readers, that it will help to facilitate conversations about the kinds of mental health issues that aren’t often talked about, and that whoever finds it and reads it will simply enjoy it.”
That hope is already being realised, with the novel receiving acclaim from within New Zealand literary circles. One reviewer called it “an accomplished story of a family in crisis,” saying “Ritchie’s great skill is her ability to conjure the inner lives of her characters. Fishing for Māui is a compassionate meditation on what it means to be well.”
Fishing for Māui is available from bookstores and libraries New Zealand-wide, online from major retailers including Book Depository, and as an eBook on all main platforms including Amazon, Smashwords, and MeBooks.