On February 22, 2011 a cataclysmic 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. It was the second major earthquake in the area in less than six months. The earthquake tore apart the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The ground liquefied. 181 people died. Hundreds more were injured. Buildings were levelled, others damaged to such an extent that demolition was the only solution.
Cassie Hart, a writer from New Plymouth, Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island, watched the annihilation on the news, chatting to a Christchurch friend online while the city was devastated, offering her support, trying to get through to people on the phone. “It was nerve wracking, and as I watched the clips on TV, heartbreaking as well. I was desperate to find something that I could do,” Hart said.
The initial idea of the fund raising, Tales For Canterbury anthology came to Cassie Hart during those first hours of destruction.
Tales for Canterbury – Inception to Print
“…I watched rescue crews, people helping their neighbours. Across the country and further afield people opened up their homes to strangers. None of those were an option for me – but what I did have were my words.” ~ From Tales for Canterbury, Introduction by Cassie Hart.
Hart consulted with fellow New Zealand writer, Anna Caro who had the previous year co-edited the short story anthology, A Foreign Country. By the end of the day, Hart and Caro had contacted several authors who all enthusiastically agreed to join the project.
Only three months later, the result was Tales for Canterbury, a cross genre anthology of thirty four tales, all revolving around the theme of Survival, Hope and Future.
“We wanted to have a loose theme for several reasons: to help writers figure out what to send in to us, but also with this one in particular it echoes the stages people seem to go through after a disaster. Initially, you just have to survive, then comes the glimmers of hope and a new vision for the future.”
Contributors from New Zealand and all over the world offered their stories to the project, including fantasy author superstar, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s wife, musician Amanda Palmer, was in New Zealand when the earthquake struck. “It was just a couple days after the quake that he replied and said that he would donate a story – of course, we were over the moon!” Hart said.
Other contributors include Australian fantasy and science fiction author, Sean Williams; New Zealand historical fantasy author, Juliet Marillier; and US fantasy author, Jay Lake as well as numerous other authors from New Zealand and abroad some of whom are being published for the first time in Tales for Canterbury.
Tales for Canterbury – Catharsis, Impact and Reception
There is a sense of catharsis in many of the stories, particularly those by New Zealand authors who were directly affected by the earthquake. “There was a real sense of loss for many in New Zealand, even for those who weren’t living in Christchurch at the time,” Hart said.
Despite the strong emotional connection to the Canterbury disaster, the anthology retains a broad, international appeal with many of the tales able to be set anywhere. Some, such as ‘Sign of the Tui’ by Tim Jones, and ‘My Dad, The Tuatara’ by A.J Fitzwater, are firmly rooted in New Zealand.
Cassie Hart’s own story ‘Almost Perfect’ is a touching love story of survival. “It’s one of my very few non speculative stories,” she said. “I was challenging myself to write something that didn’t have dark and yuck bits in it, though it has plenty of emotional impact, I think.”
Tales for Canterbury has had a favourable reception with readers and critics. Sales from both the ebook and print versions of Tales for Canterbury have raised between $2,500 and $3,000 for the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. The print version is currently in its second run. It is published by Random Static Press.
Post-Earthquake New Zealand
“Six months on there is still a lot of work that needs doing, and many families who are struggling. I think it’s going to be a long time before there is a sense of normalcy—even now, there are aftershocks happening on a regular basis, some of which are reasonably strong. Things seem to have settled down emotional/mentally, but I can’t fathom what it must be like to live in a city where you almost expect the ground to start shaking at any given moment. They are courageous folk, down that way, and I admire them a lot. Doing their best to get on with life and rebuild the city.” ~ Cassie Hart
by Kate Krake
© 2011, Kate Krake