It may have been over two years ago, but for many Edgecumbe residents, the flood of April 6th, 2017 is very very fresh and raw.
I joined a team with two other local writers to engage the community in recording the stories from the evacuation, clean-up and rebuild. Our intent was to give the residents a voice, a creative outlet, and a chance to be heard and preserve their stories. It turned into a celebration of all the amazing actions that came out of the event – the incredible stories of survival, hope, love and support that came from the whole country.
Creating the book was a huge project. Once we got started,we promoted prizes to those who were willing to come and talk to us, and we sat with locals during several sessions to record their stories. This was an incredibly heartbreaking process. Many residents had lost so much in the flood, and when they cried, we cried with them. In addition to all of that stress, many Edgecumbe residents had been really kicked to the curb by the councils, insurance companies, and builders. It was really horrible to hear.
Once that stage was completed, more residents shared their stories by writing and submitting themselves, so these were edited up along with our interviews.
I then approached the major news outlets in New Zealand, seeking permission to reproduce all of their content post-flood. After the 1987 Earthquake, local Adrian Muller had created a book of all the newspaper clippings, and I spent hours as a child poring over it. This was one of my intents with our project – to collate the articles and photos, just without scissors and glue! I was incredibly grateful when they all approved of our project and gave me permission – it saved us a lot of time, and really contributed towards bulking up the book with quality content. In addition, it meant we didn’t have to interview the residents who had already shared their stories with media, because we could just include what had already been printed.
Then the huge work began. Collating all of the content, matching up photos, putting it into some sort of cohesive order, all while ensuring we were crediting the right people, AND making sure we were respectful of people’s stories, was a massive task. Getting it all together took us weeks, and then we started pulling some really huge days and nights to edit, proof-read and format. I was really proud of the way we ordered the book, which encompassed the drama from the first few hours and days, giving way to the frustrations and heartbreak of the clean-up, covered the two years of the rebuild, and ended with gratitude. As it started to come together, the book looked fantastic too. We did all of the design, writing, formatting and editing ourselves.
Then we started hitting hiccups. The printing was going to cost significantly more than we first quoted and budgeted for. Then, the final manuscript was a huge 500 pages, more than twice the updated printing cost. Plus, we needed the money to pay for the printing, before we could sell the books. We used PledgeMe to open preorders, and applied for some grants. We were really grateful to receive a total of four grants for our project which ensured we could keep the price accessible for residents, covered all the incidental costs, and allowed us to pay the printer in advance so we could access a small discount.
Anyway, I was not impressed when I had to cut the pages down. I really struggled with this, because I felt that ALL of the content was part of the story, it was all valuable! The team stepped up to take this task away from my sentimental keyboard fingers but we did a fair bit of reshuffling and reformatting to keep as much as possible.
During all of this, we were learning how PledgeMe works, and dealing with heaps of messages and tracking payments for those that weren’t willing to engage in PledgeMe. We engaged in a full media-covered book release. Our project was covered by NewsHub TV3 news, mentioned in Stuff.co.nz, the front page of our local newspapers, in interviews on the radio. It was a massive week, but we had done it – officially released the book on the 2nd anniversary of the flood.
Once the book was finally sent to the printers (at an acceptable 250 pages), we had to update everyone on the estimated due date of the books. The printer we chose were amazing. They went over and above, answered my endless questions, and delivered a very high quality book.
When the boxes were delivered to my doorstep, I squealed. I was delighted that we had finally reached the stage of having a physical book, and the book itself was beautiful. We had done it!
Our team then set out to get as many delivered as we could the following two days, and posted the rest. More hiccups in getting some of them out, not helped at all by a change in rural postie which caused more than 12 books becoming lost in the post. The books were quickly sold out.
A final grant enabled us to quickly reengage the printers and a reprint was done. We donated copies to our local libraries and schools. I gave a presentation to a local organisation on the book process. Again, the reprint sold out. We sent copies all over New Zealand, to Australia, and to ex-pats in America. It was a massive success.
The whole process was far bigger than I ever imagined, but I learnt so much about working with different organisations and people as well as some personal growth ;-). It was such a joy to meet so many people in our community, and to bring closure to two years of post-flood rebuild for our town. I really loved working with our team – we grew immensely from our first brainstorming meeting. I was humbled by all the help and support we received.
The feedback we got from residents when they got their book was rewarding. I’m really proud to have been part of the team that gave this gift to the town of Edgecumbe.