Verity Johnson

by | May 11, 2017 | Columns | 0 comments

Meets a lot of liars, fakes and wannabes in her job.

Because I meet a lot of people, the chance of meeting idiots is much higher. It makes it very easy to lose faith in humanity. I’ve just finished a job where every day someone emailed in to tell us that the solution to any problem was to ‘shoot the f*****s between the eyes’.

Thankfully, you also meet some people who completely restore that dwindling faith. People who you look up to as role models, and who are excellent humans.

My first ever leader-crush was a journalist called Graham Adams. You may not have heard of him, but he’s been in the game forever, flitting between high quality publications like North & South and Metro. He writes prolifically and on thoroughly unexpected topics, from being an ugly woman to why Auckland needs to stop calling itself a ‘global city’.

He took me under his Hawaiian shirt-clad wing while I was an tennage intern at Metro. And if I can make a claim to any sort of talent, it’s because he brought it out of me.

He’s my role model because he has always collected and nurtured up-and-comers. He is a somewhat grumpy, somewhat balding,
literary mother hen. He simply believes in helping good writers get better. And seeing people who promote talented newbies, without selfish insecurity or jealousy, is both rare and beautiful. I also admire his fearless writing ethos; he taught us that we should write unexpected stories that tell the truth unashamedly. He was also not afraid to tell us when we were writing predictable crap.

But what I admire most about him is that he has never tried to be famous. He has never been interested in panel appearances, interview opportunities or becoming the new AA Gill. He reckons that would be as relevant and helpful as tinea. He doesn’t use Facebook, or have a burning desire to be Insta-famous for his gym selfies and homemade spirulinas. Instead, he focuses on creating work he is proud of.

This leaves him free to be creatively brilliant. People who create work because they want people to like them are always going to be stunted by the fact they have to get public approval. But people who make art for the sake of art, can create masterpieces. So by ignoring the pursuit of fame, they can focus on making the good sh*t.

Graham, and other writers like him who I met before I ever thought about being a journalist, have completely redefined the way I look at my career. Before I met him, I had no idea what I wanted to do. But by being around him, and others like him I learned how powerful the single-minded pursuit of honest writing is. And more importantly, how the chase for recognition stops you making anything worthwhile.

So I took on these values and tried to become a writer who focuses on making impressive work that is honest and unexpected. And to care about that, not about becoming famous. I carry this into every piece of work I do — whether it be writing, or TV, speaking or radio work.

Graham might only be a role model to about a dozen people. Maybe more… I wouldn’t really be surprised if he had a fan club who collected his used tissues. But to me, and other young and eager writers, he and his values have fundamentally shaped the way we work. He’s proof that you don’t have to be famous to be a role model. In fact it’s probably better if you aren’t.

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I’ve never had a beach holiday. I’ve heard about them, I’ve read about them, I’ve dreamed about them, but I’ve never had the proper Kiwi, beach-and-bleachedhair summer holiday where everything is covered in salt and sunscreen.

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