Covid-19

the Ockhams! the Reprint!

Congratulations to the winners, and to all my fellow finalists at last night’s Ockham Awards virtual ceremony. I wonder about the fun we missed, not celebrating together??? But we shared a unique experience doing it virtually and I hope you all had a very good time in your bubbles!

And Bravo Ockhams for promoting your authors so well throughout the lockdown and last night. It’s good for us and for other NZ writers. We all need this support!

This morning I was happy to see that my new books are at last arriving, so will be available at VUP and bookstores very soon. Onwards to Level 2!

on temporary VUP loading bay

Ockhams Out Loud

A new thing to come out of lockdown is Ockhams Out Loud.

The plan was that finalists were to read from our work at the awards ceremony in Auckland on 12 May. COVID-19 put paid to that but the Ockham organisers thought creatively. They recorded our readings from our bubbles for  their special  YouTube channel. We met in our categories online to prepare for this. (Thank you James Leonard for technical advice.) I hope one day we’ll meet in person.

Deciding on which passage to read was quite an interesting exercise. I settled in the end for one explaining Shirley’s decision to keep her own name when she married in 1944 and the battle she had to get people to accept it. With more than two minutes I would have added that not even her father or her beloved grandmother respected her wish. But while they addressed their letters to Mrs W B Sutch, Shirley was more successful with the maternity staff in Sydney where gave birth to their daughter, only they insisted on calling her Mrs Smith – and her husband, Mr Smith!

Reflections on Anzac Day

It is Anzac Day 2020. New Zealand, like most of the world, is under lockdown because of COVID-19. In our street, as throughout the country, we ‘stood at dawn’ in our ‘bubbles’. The coronavirus pandemic and Anzac Day have brought us together.

There’s been talk on both sides of the Tasman about the Anzac spirit during COVID-19. That in part refers to unity and self-sacrifice, but also comradeship and down-to-earth common sense. These qualities serve us well in the current pandemic. With her characteristic clarity and compassion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set the rules: ‘Stay home. Save lives. Be kind.’

We are told to practise physical distancing while staying socially connected. I share a bubble with my husband Taki and our dog Lani. We are supported by neighbours that now include people in the street we didn’t previously know, connected as a WhatsApp group. My yoga and Pilates classes have gone online via Zoom, as has my Saturday lunch group. Orpheus Choir rehearsals are now virtual on YouTube – not like singing together but they bring us together in our happy place. Friends, family, children and grandchildren connect via Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp from their bubbles around the world. Some still write emails or use the phone. We are instantly connected.

Ironically, this very welcome interaction reduces the solitude that is a normal part of a writer’s life. Also I have been preoccupied by what’s going on in the world. There’s so much to follow. As I walk in the hills or along the Hutt River with Lani, I listen to podcasts and interviews, or contemplate the state of the world. Normally I would think about what I’m currently writing, but these are extraordinary times.

Then again, the times and people I write about were also extraordinary. My current subject is Brigadier Reginald Miles, distinguished hero of World War I, Commander of the Royal Artillery in World War II until he was captured. His escape is one of the great prisoner of war escapes of all time, and his death in mysterious circumstances months later one of the most disturbing.

As a biographer, I look to the past for different perspectives on our own lives. Today I’m with Reg Miles on the Western Front in World War I, working with his letters that have survived over 100 years. Wounded in Gallipoli and again in France, he wrote about his experiences as much as censorship allowed. When his letters eventually reached New Zealand after months at sea, they were passed around and re-read many times. His family learns about his marriage, his wife and child in Ireland, and the birth of their second child in London. They will all three get influenza during the pandemic in 1918. Reg will have been away five years before he returns to New Zealand, leaving behind many of his companions who died in the field.

Here in 2020, New Zealanders are winning the war against COVID-19 simply by staying home. It’s not over yet but it feels like we’ve dodged a bullet.

e-book & reprint

This week VUP released a digital version of Shirley Smith: An Examined Life on MeBooks

Also, after COVID-19 delayed things, the book has now been reprinted. With ‘non-essential’ imports moving once again, the new books are expected to be in bookstalls soon, hopefully in time for their reopening for online and phone orders.

Dean Parker, 1947–2020

I’m shocked and deeply saddened by Dean’s death this week. I feel the loss of losing a new friend as much as a colleague. It was my great pleasure to come to know Dean as he worked on his play, Shirley and Bill. He rewrote it after the recent playreading at Circa, taking into account many comments and suggestions from those who saw it, wanting to get it right. He looked forward to what he hoped would be a full production at Circa Theatre in the future.

Dean commented that he was incredibly lucky that the reading occurred before the Covid-19 lockdown. Lucky also that Circa’s production of his play Wonderful was in those weeks before the theatre closed its doors. I saw Wonderful, and it was just that, the best theatre experience I can remember in a long time.

Tremendously gifted, Dean was also modest, generous and great fun. A huge loss to his friends and family, and to all New Zealanders.

photo by Philip Merry