Zana Bell grew up in Zimbabwe before immigrating to New Zealand where she lives with her family. She loves research and writing gives her licence to really immerse herself in that love.
Her latest novel is Fool’s Gold, set in New Zealand in the 1860s, available now through Choc Lit.
Christchurch was one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and historical cities and it is where I set my new historical, Fools Gold. Christchurch – also known as the garden city – had lovely old buildings, the most famous of which was the Anglican cathedral which stood in the heart of the city’s large square. It was a popular wedding destination for Japanese couples who could then have photographs taken in the beautiful public gardens.
All this would change forever at on 22 February 2011 when, at 12.51pm the city was rocked by a massive earthquake. 185 people died, thousands were injured and much of the lovely old city centre was destroyed.
I talked about that day to Lilias, a Christchurch resident, who was giving a lecture at the university when the earthquake struck. She told me at the beginning of the interview that she didn’t like talking about her feelings during it all. I know you readers will be able to fill in how you’d feel at such a time.
“The room started shaking and the lights went out. There was screaming and I ducked under a table. The lecture theatre had suddenly become a concrete prison but I couldn’t leave because one of my students was in a wheelchair. Lots of students obviously rushed for the doors because when the shaking finally stopped and I came out, the room was half empty. Fortunately, the student in the wheelchair was luckily okay, despite some debris which had fallen on her.
We all made our way outside and as I looked down the street, I saw to my horror that the cathedral was partially demolished. Yet we still didn’t know the extent of the damage. There was another big jolt and I told the students to go home – there weren’t going to be any more lectures that day. In fact, there weren’t any for weeks afterwards. Fortunately, I had my phone with me and tried texting my family. There were no replies, so I texted again. We all did. It was quite funny because you’d send the same text fifty times so when they did start downloading, the recipient got fifty texts. No wonder the phone lines jammed.
The rational part of my brain was telling me my kids would be fine. We’d had a huge earthquake four months earlier and no-one in Christchurch had died. Still, I wanted to get home as quickly as possible but wasn’t allowed to go into the building to collect my bag, wallet and car keys. Turned out the latter didn’t matter as my car was parked in a red zone and it would be four weeks until I could reclaim it.
I made my way over to where my sister-in-law was working and shortly afterwards her husband arrived, blood on his shirt. He said he’d seen one man dead in a car but had been helping rescue people trapped in the CTV building which had collapsed. We later learned that 115 died there. He had his car so we tried to drive home.
It’s only a few kilometres to our houses but it took hours. There were still rolling aftershocks. Buildings were tumbled all around us. The roads were buckled and bent and there was flooding everywhere caused by liquefaction. We drove down one road and fell into a hole that had suddenly appeared. Most of the streets were already jammed. I’d driven these same roads for years, going to work and coming home every day with no problems but now we were all trying to leave at once, I realised just how many commuters there are.
When we finally got home, I saw how lucky we’d been. The damage to our house was minimal. Then my husband and kids returned one by one with their own tales to tell.
Though the city was devastated, one positive was the strong community feeling that arose. We’ve never been closer to our neighbours and even strangers would stop on the streets to check up on each other, chat, and commiserate.
Christchurch is now a city without a centre. Thousands of the old buildings have been demolished. Many people have left. Yet, many more people have come into the city to help with the rebuild and there are many different accents to be heard – especially Irish ones. There have been great initiatives like the transitional cardboard cathedral and the shopping mall constructed out of containers. Life continues and this is the new normal.”
A big thanks to Lilias for sharing her experiences with us! If you are interested in seeing images of Christchurch, you can look at the following links:
To find out where you can get your copy of Fool’s Gold, as an ebook or in print, head over to Choc Lit.