A family mystery involving a secret marriage during the rise of Nazi Germany is being investigated by Vivienne Plumb, recipient of the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency for 2017/18.
The award-winning playwright, poet and writer is to complete a book that explores the hidden past of her late mother, Isabel Hurley – a seemingly ordinary New Zealand woman who was witness to some of the most extraordinary events of world history.
Vivienne says of the opportunity, “It is a great privilege to have been awarded the residency. It will enable me to devote time and energy to my writing, while living in one of the great literature cities of the world. A German friend once said to me: ‘If you wish to write you must go to Berlin’.”
In 1935, 23-year-old Isabel travelled by herself from hometown Wellington to Europe, where she worked in London, holidayed in Spain only days before the Spanish Civil War began, witnessed New Zealand runner Jack Lovelock win the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and lived and worked in Germany during the period that brought the Third Reich to power. Vivienne discovered some of this only after her mother’s passing. And there was more.
“My mother lived and worked in Nürnberg from 1936, later marrying a (first) husband, a marriage she kept concealed her entire life. So, was she a bigamist? And what were her politics? Who exactly was this man she married? Through my research I have unearthed some extremely potent facts.”
While clearly a personal story for Vivienne, this creative non-fiction work (a genre of non-fiction that uses literary techniques) will also be an historical story centred around one of the pivotal turning points of last century, World War II. At the same time, Vivienne describes it as having a truly New Zealand flavour: “Isabel travelled by herself during the 1930s, showing a real Kiwi spirit of pluck and adventure.”
For Vivienne, spending time in Germany is crucial to completing the book about her mother. During her residency she will conduct further research and embrace the language and culture.
“Learning a language and living in a different culture were essential aspects of my mother’s story, or Geschichte, and in a strange stroke of synchronicity, the residency comes after recently completing an eight-week Goethe Institut German immersion language course – I began learning German to aid me in my research and also because the language is always the door into understanding any culture.”
Vivienne will travel to Berlin in January 2018 with her residency culminating in September.
“Berlin is a monster of a city, heaving with art, theatre, literature, and politics. I feel overwhelmed and overjoyed to be given this writing residency in Berlin. I can only say: Ich bin gobsmacke (I am gobsmacked). Es ist mega-schön.”
About the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writer’s Residency
The Berlin Writer’s Residency is offered biennially for an established New Zealand writer to work on an approved project in Berlin, Germany, for up to eleven months. The residency offers a stipend of $40,000 and the use of the Creative New Zealand apartment in the heart of Berlin.
Paul Diamond, the original resident for 2017/18, has had to defer his residency to 2019/20 due to personal circumstances. Creative New Zealand will therefore not call for applications for 2019/20.
Previous recipients include Hinemoana Baker, Sarah Quigley, Tina Shaw, Kapka Kassabova, Philip Temple, Tim Corballis, Lloyd Jones, Sir James McNeish, Kate Camp and Ian Wedde.
The residency alternates with the biennial Creative New Zealand Berlin Visual Arts Residency.
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Senior Communications & Advocacy Adviser
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