I knew the second I woke up what was happening.
Richard on the other hand took a few seconds to figure it out, even with me screaming at him, ‘It’s an earthquake, the kids, the kids, get the kids.” (He refuses to admit his confusion now, so don’t bother going there.)
The house fell into a fissure as we were coming down the stairs. The upper story settled on the lower one so that no doors would open. All we wanted was out of there.
Our beautiful eighty-year old home on the Avon River was one of only a handful of houses destroyed.
The date was September 4th, 2010.
The city seemed to get off lightly, considering the size of the earthquake, but we did not.
On February 22nd, 2011, I was writing.
The earthquake had been a major annoyance in my life. My youngest child had been traumatized by our earthquake experience.
Months of working carefully with her while experiencing endless aftershocks had taken a toll on me as both a woman and a writer. This was supposed to be my year to push for publication. It was a disappointment. But as February dawned, the kids went back to school, little Maddee gained the confidence to return to preschool, and we settled in a rented house that was very much like the house we owned, it seemed my time had come again. I pushed for every writing moment I could get.
At 12:51 in the afternoon, the earth once again turned on the residents of Christchurch New Zealand.
This earthquake, of lesser magnitude, was shallower and closer to the city. I’ve read that the shaking intensity of that earthquake was one of the most violent ever recorded. I can believe that. The house didn’t fall, it blew apart.
This was not some early morning quake like the last. This time my children were at various locations around the city. My little Maddee had only begun to recover. The only part of my person alive at that moment was the mother. I had to find my children. Surely every woman who is also a mother, would feel the same.
In the hours and days following, other parts of my person returned. I wanted reach out to everyone I knew, both in the city and out of it, but especially those struggling here in Christchurch.
Soon, I wanted to write, but not my stories, I wanted to write the earthquake. To write it in a way that I could remember it forever, and so others could understand the experience.
So, I wrote. I think what I did was called writing. It’s all on my blog, but I think it is just an outpouring, emotional, over-wrought, without direction and worst of all without editing.
The most surprising thing about the whole experience is not that I wrote it, rather that others needed to read it as much as I needed to write it. The response to that blog has been amazing. People in and out of Christchurch have written publically and privately to thank me for my view of the earthquake.
Now I’m back to writing my stories, mostly editing as the stress of post-earthquake life makes fresh ideas difficult for me. I update my earthquake blog only when some stress I arises that I want to document. But I’ve come out of the experience a better woman and writer. I understand and embrace even more the emotional side of being a woman, as we are so often the ones who reach out to others during times of pain.
As a writer, I now understand more deeply that just as I have a need to write, others have a need to read. By writing we touch people who need to walk in someone else’s story for a moment, whether that story is a journey through an earthquake or a portal to a world of fantasy.
Barbara Mayo-Neville lives in another rented house in a stable area of Christchurch, New Zealand. When she’s not on the phone trying to get their insurance to pay for their house and contents, she’s writing.
The Sea Pillow is a fantasy story for children about a boy who becomes a pirate. The Battle of Sheol is a fantasy for young YA readers about a boy and a girl who are whisked into the land of Adamah. Barbara also write women’s books under another name.
Follow Barbara @beegirl60 on Twitter and you’ll know when a publisher finally gets wise enough to accept her manuscripts.