Writing as the Earth Breaks Open

November 20, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More

Barbara Mayo Neville, New Zealand writer

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.

Fireplace damaged by Earthquake

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.

Earthquake Damage Christchurch NZ

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.

The Sea Pillow

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 Battle of Sheol

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.

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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, New Zealand Women Writers

Comments (5)

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  1. I too am an Earthquakian living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Our house is still standing … though now it is as cracked as me!!! That is another result of quakes and endless aftershocks…I am more warped than ever!!

    This was great to read!

  2. m.m. fahren says:

    Have been following, Barbara, as you know, and it is a privilege for me to have been there with you, so distant and so close. During Katrina’s aftermath, this was not an option. It was very isolating and that was the anguish. We worldwide who have experienced anything that is traumatic and isolating commiserate with a voice expressing that voyage.
    Your writing here is poignant, exact, and immediately accessible. We like it. A lot.

  3. Barbara says:

    Thank you for your comment, Nancy. Writing has always been my passion, I think it is one of the gifts God used to see me through the earthquake experience.

  4. Nancy, What a lovely comment on Barbara’s post. Her point about how much others have a need to read struck me too. I should know that knowing how deeply grateful I’ve felt for a number of books. We don’t hear enough of that in the crowded world of writers seeking readers.

    Acknowledging how you value writers, I loved what you wrote about the way an author can make “the world feel more whole, and myself more whole along with it.”

    We experienced a quake on the East coast of the United States this year, and that was unnerving enough, I can’t imagine having two quakes in less than a year, and having the ground open up, and home walls cracking.

    Very appreciative of Barbara taking time out of rebuilding her world in New Zealand to share a window into it with us.
    — Anora

  5. Nancy Wait says:

    Dear Barbara,

    Thank you so much for this heart-felt post – my heart goes out to you and your family getting through such traumatic experiences.
    I am so glad you raised the point of how good it is to be aware that just as much as we need to write, others have a need to read. How many times it has happened that I will be reading and remarking to myself how the author expressed a feeling or emotion in just such a way that made the world feel more whole, and myself more whole along with it.
    Lately I’m writing and saying to myself, even if no one reads it, I’m putting it out into the ether… and that is important too. Expressing our truth.
    I wish you success in your publishing efforts!
    From me in Brooklyn, NY to you in New Zealand, on opposite sides of the world – your words have brought us together – and that’s another thing to acknowledge and celebrate!
    I will look for you on Twitter ~

    All the best ~

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