Memoirs full of life, laughter

If life had been different, perhaps she might have liked to have been a journalist. Photo by...
If life had been different, perhaps she might have liked to have been a journalist. Photo by Marjorie Cook.
If Fiona Rowley harbours a regret, it is that she did not start writing diaries sooner.

The Lake Hawea mother-of-six and farmer's wife recently self-published Fiona Elizabeth Rowley: Her Book and tomorrow launches a second, expanded edition.

The book is based on taped conversations with friend Devon Hotop, memories, and screeds of documents and photographs she has squirrelled away through the years.

A keen writer since the age of 19, Mrs Rowley (92) only started "proper diaries" in the 1960s, when she began travelling overseas.

"I always tell people to put everything down, even if they don't do anything with it," Mrs Rowley said in an interview with the Otago Daily Times.

She said her book came about because of the "dogged determination" of Mrs Hotop, who participated in many taped interviews dealing chronologically with Mrs Rowley's life.

Mrs Hotop balked at typing it up and suggested Mrs Rowley might like to write a book instead.

Mrs Rowley said she agreed without hesitation but admitted she needed continual prodding from her friend.

"She's caught me at some pretty moody times. She would say 'Come on!' And then at the 11th hour, Prue Wallis came on board as well," Mrs Rowley recalled.

Despite wishing she had started writing a diary earlier, Mrs Rowley despaired at the wealth of material already at her disposal; after all, she had kept everything.

Mrs Wallis, who helped design the book, rescued her.

"I was delighted when Prue vanished with armloads of photographs and documents. I was so relieved and thought, `Now I can throw the rest of them out'," Mrs Rowley said.

Mrs Rowley believes in the importance of an inquiring mind.

"Questions: they bring people alive. I think people love talking about themselves. You might not hear a word out of them for years and then they explode ... But there are an awful lot of people who don't listen, even in my own family. They are too busy thinking ahead to what they might say next," she said.

Mrs Rowley reflected that if life had been different, she might have liked to have been a journalist - but for having to report on Iraq and Iran.

She agreed she needn't have been a war correspondent, but she had other reservations, too.

"You would probably have had to interview some pretty tiresome people. But I think that must add a lot to your maturity," she said.

Mrs Rowley's book covers diverse subjects, including the lives and careers of her mother, Glasgow-born Annette Pearse, the first female director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and her English father, Leonard Pearse, who served in Britain's navy in World War 1 and again in New Zealand's navy during World War 2.

The couple immigrated to Central Otago in 1923 when their daughter was 5 years old.

The history of the Kingan and Rowley families, who earlier this year celebrated 100 years of farming on Lake Hawea Station, is also covered in great detail.

As an only child, Mrs Rowley said she could not believe her luck to acquire a "whole herd of people" on marriage to Jim, one of Jessie (nee Kingan) and John Rowley's seven children.

One of the key things Mrs Rowley and her friends wanted to preserve in her memoirs was her turn of phrase.

For that reason, they resisted over-editing. Mrs Rowley is thrilled with the result.

"I have loved the process, even though the laptop was beyond my control at times," she said.

She got her first laptop about five years ago and upgraded about two years ago. It is referred to as often as, if not more than her frequently mentioned children.

The book also contains ample evidence of her hearty enthusiasm for life, huge sense of humour and enduring love for Jim, who died in 1998.

"I was lucky to have a darling of a husband ... He was longing to reach the millennium and was pipped at the post," she said.

One thing Mrs Rowley has never regretted is laughing at herself, other people, and all the silly things that happen.

"Laughing is the answer. I am sure it is the answer. I've done an awful lot of laughing. I can lie in bed at night giggling over things I read in the paper," she said.

• Mrs Rowley's public book launch is at the Lake Hawea Community Centre tomorrow from 4pm to 6pm.


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