There are some moments in life when time stands still, and you hardly dare to breathe. The moment lingers and passes, almost too quickly. Those were some of the feelings I experienced just two weeks ago. The occasion, on 7 January, was the unveiling of the memorial plaque to Chrisjan, Alexis and the other nine victims of the hot air balloon tragedy. It is hard to believe four years have passed since then.
Now, on this day, unspoken memories silently linked parents, siblings, family members, friends, service personnel, Somerset Road residents and people from the local community who gathered for the ceremony. Even the blustery wind seemed to quieten down as the service began. Every contribution was moving and meaningful, beginning with a karanga.
The words of the reading 'They are gone', followed by Andy Eldred's poem 'What is life' and his song 'Carrying you, carrying me' acknowledged the sadness of loss yet spoke of hope, love and grace, all of which give strength and resilience to face the future.
Before unveiling the memorial, the mayor, John Booth, briefly addressed those gathered, expressing caring, community support for the families and all those so deeply affected by the tragedy. He expressed hope that this would now be a place of reflection, and a help in the healing process.
The names of the victims were read and a minute silence was observed. As if sensing the sobering and poignant nature of the occasion, a small flock of birds, I think maybe they were pigeons, suddenly flew from nowhere and disappeared into the heavens. Strains of a waiata softly permeated the air at the same time as the wind again intensified. Flowers brought by families were laid. People mingled, talked and moved forward to read the inscribed names.
From where I stood, I could see Wallowing Heights just along the road. That was the property where Chrisjan and Alexis jumped from the balloon basket. A couple of years ago their parents planted a tree there in their memory and as I walked back towards the car, its golden leaves seemed almost iridescent in the sunlight.
It was such a privilege to attend the unveiling and to connect with some of the people I had spoken to previously. It will make a fitting end to the book and I have come home to complete the task. Watch this space.
With Andy Eldred's permission, I am sharing the poem he read at the service.
Poem: What is life?
by Rev Andy Eldred
Is life a journey or a dream or a thought?
Is life joy and laughter, is it things we have bought?
Is life adventure, and the chances we take?
Is life a career and the things that we make?
Is life a risk, a dangerous dare?
Is life being angry and a time of despair?
Is life simply seconds and hours and days?
Is life the childlike games that we play?
Is life watching sunsets on romantic dates?
Is life watching children discover their fates?
Is life a sensation and meals that we share?
Is life all we love and all those who care?
Is life doing things that we dream we can do?
Is life flying high in a hot air balloon?
Is life a time of suffering, a time of grief and pain?
Is life little children dancing in the summer rain?
Is life standing in a sacred place remembering all that’s past?
Is life holding precious moments that we know can never last?
Is life just a moment, a moment that is blessed?
To those who have truly lived life, the answer to all is yes!
Below are a few photos of the memorial plaque. Reflection made it difficult to take a close-up photo but I did my best.
Fireworks? Not quite time yet for me to celebrate. However, since I last made a blog entry, there has been lots happening.
My best achievement is having finished working through my editor's suggested changes to Chrisjan's story. Andrew Killick from Castle Publishing has now read the manuscript too, and is excited about being part of the team to make this book a reality. He has made some suggestions for blending Alexis' story into the narrative, so November is my month to focus on making that happen.
I continue to work at honing my writing skills through reading books penned by superb masters of the craft.
To kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper is a timeless treasure of magnificence, told through the eyes of a child. Each character and each scene is revealed in simple yet superlative detail. I finished the story feeling as if I too had lived in Maycomb, and knew each person in the neighbourhood.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” (Lee Harper)
How true those words are, and I am looking forward to reading more about Atticus, Jem and Scout in the sequel - Go set a Watchman.
Meanwhile I have been reading
The High Voltage Hedgehog by Rob Harley.
What an amazing collection of inspirational stories from around the world..https://www.manna.co.nz/.../high-voltage-hedgehog-and-other-lessons-in...
Rob is such an experienced journalist who intuitively knows just what questions to ask. He interviews ordinary people who make a difference in the world doing extraordinary things.
It was the same with Chrisjan and Alexis - they too made such an amazing difference for the people in their world. You can read all about it when the book is published. I will keep you updated. Until then, you might like to ponder these words:
"I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something I can do."
(Edward Everett Hale)
I will just ...
September is supposed to be spring but winter seems reluctant to leave. A couple of mornings ago there was a light sprinkle of fresh snow on the hills and this morning a good frost greeted us. However, the sun is making a comeback and the predicted temperature for today is 15 degrees. Fantastic! We certainly appreciate the warmth. Our home office is so much brighter when the sun shines and I spend a lot of hours here. The downside of working at home is that there can be so many distractions fuelled by my worst enemy words 'I will just ... ' I am learning that those words set red warning lights flashing, because if I say 'I will just do this' it so often leads on to something else and then something else and half an hour later I still have not sat down at the computer. I know I am not alone because other writers have similar struggles. The good news is that I am becoming more focussed as my goal comes into view.
Progress toward the goal
In August I sent the draft manuscript of Chrisjan's story to copy editor Sue Beguely, of Triplecoil Script, in Auckland. I am indebted to Sue for her professional editing. No detail escapes her eye. I have learnt so much from the many track changes she has suggested. Grammar or punctuation errors are easy to accept but thinking through wording and formatting changes takes a little longer. Because I have used a lot of direct quotes, Sue has suggested blending some of them into the narrative to help the flow of the story. So it is still a work in progress but I am excited to have reached this stage. I have also had a long chat to Andrew Killick of Castle Publishing and his expertise has helped me to plan for publication. I am still aiming to have the book finished by the end of the year but it will be after Christmas before it is ready for release.
Every writer needs to read
As well as writing I have given myself time to read a little romance and a little history wrapped into one story.
Seven Seasons of Wrath is a revision of an earlier title The Price of Freedom. Based on fact and careful research, the story follows the life of George White who was wrongfully arrested for theft in England, and sentenced to a term of seven years transportation to 'parts beyond the seas.' This gripping tale is not for the faint-hearted. The injustices of the penal system in the nineteenth century were appalling and inhumane, yet throughout the book the strength of the human spirit rises triumphant. George was a man of character who just happens to be my great grandfather. The author of the book is Douglas Coop, a cousin of my late father. The romance in the story made a pleasant contrast and one day I would love to visit the church in Tasmania where George and my great grandmother were married. There may be more than one hundred and fifty years separating his story and the story I am writing, but the structure of the narrative intrigued me, and gave me ideas for a format that may be useful in the story of Chrisjan and Alexis. If you are interested in reading the book it is available on Amazon.
This week I couldn't resist the 25% discount offered by our local book shop and have bought my own copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The movie was good but the book is superb. I borrowed it from our local library and read it last year, but I really wanted to have my own copy to read again. A successful writer knows how to show not tell and Markus is a master of the art.
Something I am continually realising is
When you write you learn something about yourself.
Here's another little gem which epitomises my passion
You cannot open a book without learning something.
As I write and as I read I find I am on an intriguing voyage of discovery. By the next time I blog I hope I have travelled a long way further.
Goodness, it is June already. Where did those months go? I have continued editing, but it has been a bit more difficult than I expected and seems to be taking an interminably long time. I cannot simply write and decide when to publish. Because this book involves other people at every stage, the process is more complex. Those who have shared their memories are having the opportunity to check the excerpt relevant to them. It is important to me that I have interpreted their stories accurately so that the final copy is a true reflection of Chrisjan and Alexis and the people they were. It is also crucial to respect their families, to allow them time to read and have input into the narrative. Most of us have little understanding of the depth of grief through which they have journeyed. It has been difficult and drawn out over three long years - the public inquest was held only earlier this year. I am hoping I can complete the editing of Chrisjan's story by the end of this month.
Meanwhile, we have been on holiday - my husband Laurence and I explored the Coromandel - it was amazing. We live in a beautiful country. While away, I read the novel Contagious Hope by Debbie Roome. http://www.debbieroome.com/gpage3.html
Debbie was born and raised in Zimbabwe and emigrated to NZ in 2006. She writes with insight and there were a number of things that confirmed the stories I have been told by Chrisjan's family which in turn made me feel very connected. It is worth a read if you want to understand a little of the background of South Africa and the people who live there.
Just to finish, let me share a couple of quotes I found on Pinterest.
We lose ourselves in books; we find ourselves there too.
Keep reading. It's one of the most marvellous adventures that anyone can have.
Welcome to my first blog. I am not sure what this will look like but I will give it a go. I can hardly believe that I have achieved this at all. Setting up my own website has been a mega challenge. With the support of family [who are much more techo-aware than I am] I have made it. I love being creative but this has been a different sort of a challenge. Life is made up of challenges after all.
Sometimes I find it a challenge to just keep writing. I need inspiration, because writing is very much a solitary occupation, but I like connecting with people too. One of the things that connects me with other writers, is to read. To write well, you need to read well. But sometimes I get diverted by life - things to do, places to be, pressure to conform. Today, after lunch, I took time out to finish reading 'Under the Huang Jiao Tree' by Jane Carswell. I feel inspired by this amazing lady who taught in China for a year. She has written with unusual honesty, clarity and depth about her experiences which taught her a lot about herself. I like her uncluttered, distinct style of writing. One of my tutor's once said that writing is like being a sculptor of marble - and even a sculptor lets some of the marble fall to the floor. Letting the marble fall to the floor means edit, edit, edit. It is the most essential but most difficult part of good writing. It can also be compared to an athlete pushing the pain barrier - your precious work needs to be trimmed, shaped and pulled into sharp focus. You can lose a lot of sweat, choosing what to include and what to leave out, but it must be done. Next task for me is to do some editing on Chrisjan's story. I'll let you know how I get on.