Saturday, 1 July 2017

A book launch

On Tuesday 20 June, John and I attended a book launch at Vic Books – the bookshop on the Kelburn Campus of Victoria University. The book to be launched was entitled “You Do Not Travel in China at the Full Moon: Agnes Moncrieff’s Letters From China 1930–1945”, edited by Barbara Francis, and published by Victoria University Press. 

The cover of the book (source: Victoria University Press)

This wonderful book is a collection of letters by a New Zealand woman, who was posted to China by the YWCA during the turbulent years of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The title refers to the fact that whenever there was a full moon, there would always be Japanese air raids.

The editor, Barbara Francis, who knew Nessie well, spent a decade reading, transcribing and researching her friend’s letters which had been lodged with the Alexander Turnbull Library

Six years ago, I was introduced to Barbara by a mutual acquaintance, when she was looking for someone to help with the copy-editing and formatting of the manuscript, in preparation to having the letters formally published.

I was immediately fascinated by this project, as it dealt with China in the mid-1940s, which was a time when my father was passionately interested in China. In fact, he was posted to China as a Netherlands diplomat in 1948 (along with my mother and one-year-old me). However we spent only a couple of years there, before being evacuated ahead of the arrival of the Communists.

It was a real privilege for me to be involved in a small way in Barbara’s long journey towards publication. John got involved too, when some of Nessie’s photos and documents had to be converted to a suitable format. So attending the launch of her book, was pretty special for both of us.

Waiting for the launch (photo by John)

The book was launched by Michael Powles, former NZ Ambassador to China and currently President of the NZ-China Friendship Society. The publisher, Fergus Barrowman, looks on proudly (photo by John)

With Barbara Francis – getting my copy of the book signed (photo by John)

The following Saturday, there was a very interesting interview with Barbara on Kim Hill's radio programme. Well worth a listen.

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On a separate note, I had not been to the new premises of Vic Books, and I was quite gobsmacked about the changes at Victoria University. After the book launch, we had a little wander around the new spaces.

Of course, big changes were to be expected since I was a young student there half a century ago (really? is it really that long?). But even when I went back there for a course in the mid-1990s, the space between the Easterfield and Rankine-Brown (library) Buildings, was still just a windswept uninviting open space. And all this new development has happened since John retired from working at the university in 2009.

Now the quad has been covered in, a new floor built, the library extended to join Easterfield, and there is a café attached to the bookshop. There are pleasant seating areas, and great study desks – all with power for the students’ laptops, and presumably they have wi-fi throughout. I was seriously impressed.

Library space between Easterfield and Rankine-Brown (photo by John)

View over Wellington from Victoria University (photo by John)

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