Sunday, August 7, 2011

A bit blue

It's been an odd few weeks. Novel-wise I've been a bit in limbo land, I have the publisher feedback for the new manuscript, and know I need to crack on and do revisions, but I've needed to create a bit of space between drafts, that mulling time that requires distance, which is hard with a new pressing deadline, but I think I'm finally there.

Also a dear old writery friend died last week, and although I'd been expecting it, as she had been quietly declining for a while, I still feel like the world has a Joan sized hole in it now. There are some people in your life who, even though you know they are elderly, ill and frail, their indomitable spirit means you just expect them to keep on going and always be there, that the normal rules of mortality don't apply. Joan was one of those. So I'm sharing with you an obituary I wrote for this very special lady for the NZSA weekly newsletter.

Joan de Hamel (1924-2011)

It is with great sadness we pass on news of the death of NZSA Otago/Southland member Joan de Hamel.

'Joan de Hamel was the award-winning writer of many wonderful books for children and teenagers. She was one of the first authors to write books specifically for teens that were set in New Zealand amongst our unique flora and fauna with X Marks the Spot in 1973. Take the Long Path won the Esther Glen Award in 1979 and her children’s picture book, Hemi’s Pet, won the A.W. Reed award in 1985. Her books brought the gift of adventure and of laughter to generations of young New Zealanders.

Joan was born in England and educated at Oxford University. She and her husband, Francis, and their three young sons moved to New Zealand for what was supposed to be a short period of time in 1955. The emigration proved to be rather more permanent, and they added two more sons to their family here. The family lived a while in Christchurch before finally settling in Dunedin. As well as a love of writing, Joan had a passion for the donkeys and angora goats she bred on their Otago Peninsula farmlet by Paradise Rd. Joan was a hugely valued member of the writing community in Dunedin, and was one of the founding members of PEN in the city. She was integral in helping foster the warm and vibrant community we enjoy today. Her contribution was recognised with her being named the NZSA President of Honour from 1999-2000.

Most importantly, Joan was a person who genuinely cared about and supported others, offering advice and help to many writers when needed. She was practical too, opening her home to host writers’ luncheons and supporting events. A number of years ago the Otago Southland branch of the NZSA held a fundraising auction, and where the rest of the members brought along books to auction, Joan fronted up with bags of gorgeous wool from her beloved angoras. Joan was very knowledgeable about literature and a thoughtful reviewer, and until very recently reviewed books for the New Zealand Book Council Booknotes magazine.

Joan will be remembered with great love and affection as a wonderful writer, supporter and friend, and as her family wrote in her death notice, ‘she died peacefully after a long and happy life.’  Joan’s cheerful and adventurous spirit and love of nature shines through in the plaque dedicated to her in the Dunedin Octagon Writer’s Walk which quotes her 1992 novel Hideaway: ‘What more could anyone want than their own land down to the shoreline and the whole Pacific Ocean as a boundary fence.’

6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Vanda - What a lovely obituary. I am so very sorry for your loss, too...

Claire at Latitude said...

I read ‘X Marks the Spot’ as a child in the seventies and remember the excitement of encountering an adventure story set in My-Land, unlike the Willard Prices and the various overseas-based Puffins. I'm not going to spoil things by revealing what was at the spot marked X but I have to say that it indicated this immigrant author was ahead of NZ-born NZers in appreciating this country’s treasures.

Joanne said...

Hi Vanda,

Sorry to hear this. A really, lovely post and obituary.

Bookman Beattie said...

Vanda thanks so much for this super acknowledgement of Joan. I knew her back in the early 80's when we were just starting the Penguin Books NZ publishing programme and visited her and Frances on several occasions out on the peninsular. She was always feisty and friendly and I enjoyed our friendship. R.I.P Joan.

Vanda Symon said...

Thanks, all. Joan was a fabulous lady.

KAT ADL'S said...

This is a wonderful piece of writing..The heart comes through very strongly.I am sorry for the loss of your friend I know how that is.x