What She Said

Internets, my first Worldcon was largely a blast and I met many lovely and talented people and caught up with many more whom I knew already and basically I have many things to say about that.

But on Saturday morning an earthquake ripped through Christchurch and crushed the city centre, and it’s been on my mind ever since.

On Saturday morning I had a reading from Guardian of the Dead, which is set in Christchurch and Napier. Normally I read a bit where Ellie goes a-wandering in the misty bush at night, where she is magically attacked by a Strange Lady, smothered in geckoes, and finally hauls off and punches the Mysterious Cute Boy for being so damn secretive.

On Saturday, I read a much quieter part set in the central city, around the Arts Centre, Cathedral Square, and the bus centre.

My panel on Sunday afternoon was called “The (Haunted) Streets of Our Town: YA Urban Fantasy”. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get through the panel without mentioning Christchurch, and I sort of wanted to establish my thoughts early to ward off the possibility of embarrassingly emotional outbursts.

Delightful moderator and my bud Foz Meadows and Seanan McGuire – sorry, CAMPBELL WINNER Seanan McGuire – graciously let me read a thing about Christchurch beforehand. I scribbled it longhand in the Green Room, and then left the draft behind, so, from memory, this is more or less what I said:

I’m Karen Healey, a New Zealander living in Melbourne, and I wanted to talk to you very briefly about Christchurch, first city of my heart.

Christchurch has been described as “something like London… in the fifties.” It’s flat and white and very, very English for a New Zealand city – it’s set on the Canterbury Plains, and the River Avon runs through it, politely avoiding the Christchurch Cathedral.

In summer, Christchurch shines under the brown-baked hills. In spring, the cherry trees explode into bloom, and it earns its other nickname of the garden city. In autumn, the trees imported from Europe shamefacedly lose their leaves, while the sturdy native plants retain their shades of green and brown, and look slightly scornful. In winter, the mists rise from the old swampland the city was built on and cling to the bricks of the old buildings in the middle of town.

It’s winter in Christchurch now. The mists are presumably still there, but many of the buildings are gone. The streets down which I raced to catch a bus to the university – or staggered down after a night that had been just a few hours too long – those streets are filled with rubble.

Christchurch is the first city I lived in. It is the city in which I grew into adulthood, discovering myself, and my self in the city. So when I wrote my first young adult urban fantasy, and wanted to give it a substantial setting to support the supernatural narrative, I chose to set it in Christchurch, the most real place to me. Cities change, and I knew my book would be outdated eventually, but it was released this April, and I didn’t expect it to be a historical document quite so soon.

There are other cities of my heart now – Fuchu, Hiroshima, Tucson, Melbourne – but Christchurch was the first. You’ve probably heard that through great good luck, no one was killed, and only a few serious injuries occurred during the quake. And so I feel easier in my grief for the city.

When people die, we often accord them a moment of silence, but it would be massively inappropriate to do that now. Christchurch is damaged, but not dead, and the residents would probably be appalled if I suggested any such thing.

Instead, I would like us all to take a moment to stop, consider, and celebrate the cities of our hearts.

Thank you very much.

Then Seanan gave me a My Little Pony, instantly securing her place in my heart.

Internets, I still owe you that story about my osteopath’s duck. Even in sorrow, we must not forget the value of stories about ducks.