Monday, 20 October 2014

Booklovers Bed and Breakfast in Wellington

Oh the delights of talking about books over breakfast with someone who cares as passionately about the written word as you do yourself!

I’m in booklovers paradise, staying in Jane Tolerton’s Booklovers B&B on Mount Victoria overlooking Wellington.  Even better, I’m in the Katherine Mansfield room.


There are books everywhere, and big snuggly armchairs to read them in.

The bookcase in  my bedroom.

Outside, wonderful views of the city on one side and the wild bush and birdsong of Mt Victoria park on the other.  A bell-bird has been singing outside my window all afternoon.

Wellington city centre

Mt Victoria
Jane Tolerton, who runs the B&B, is herself a writer (published by Penguin) and is currently working on a book about the role of New Zealand women in World War I, which sounds fascinating. Many of them came over to Europe as doctors (New Zealand had a large number of trained women doctors in 1913), nurses, to work in munitions, to join the armed forces or help in any way they could. It was seen as a great opportunity for women tired of their stultifying domestic lives.  They included the old and the young, members of both the wealthy and the working classes, willing to do almost anything to get out of New Zealand.  One woman sold her house to go to Europe, another was quoted in the NZ press as saying ‘Maybe we can’t nurse but we can cook’.  I’m really looking forward to reading the book.


Jane wrote another book on World War I, ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’, recording hours of conversations with male New Zealand veterans, telling their own stories of the trenches. These first hand accounts from survivors are now in an archive in Wellington, available to anyone who wants to listen to their experiences.

Katherine Mansfield's brother Leslie who died at the beginning of WWI
Over the breakfast table we talked about Katherine Mansfield, who lost her brother - killed in 1915 demonstrating a hand grenade. Katherine herself broke all taboos by travelling to the front line in France to be with her lover - the French author Francis Carco.  And Jane talked about Ettie Rout, the New Zealand contemporary of Katherine, who went to France where she pioneered ‘safer sex’, inspecting brothels and equipping NZ servicemen with a ‘safe sex kit’ in an attempt to reduce the incidence of VD among them.  She was a war hero in France, but considered scandalous in New Zealand.   Jane wrote Ettie’s life story in 1992.


Then, Jane very kindly invited me to dinner, and I met three  powerful New Zealand women working in television and the arts - Ginette MacDonald, Jane Wrightson, and film-maker Gaylene Preston - all with their own Wikipedia pages and cvs glittering with awards.  It was a very lively evening - having a group of strong, gifted women round the table generated a considerable amount of energy and I went to bed absolutely fizzing!


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