A survivor's tale - Moviemakers eye Judith's story

By Lindy Laird


A book that has been launched in New Zealand but not yet in the United States or Canada - about shipwreck, loss of life and survival off the Northland coast - is attracting American moviemakers' attention.
Despite rumours to the contrary, author Hester Rumberg and her good friend who is the subject of the book's tale of great trauma and injustice, Whangarei resident Judith Sleavin, have not appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Dr Rumberg wrote Ten Degrees of Reckoning: A Family's Sailing Adventure Turns to Tragedy in the Pacific about the deaths at sea of three members of the Sleavin family in 1995 and the survival of their wife and mother.
It is the first time the full story has been written of how the family's yacht Melinda Lee was sunk by a Korean freighter, 35km off Cape Brett, and the terrible aftermath.
First-time author Dr Rumberg is in Northland with Mrs Sleavin for the local launch of the book which readers have told her is so remarkable, courageous and inspirational it could make a great movie.
Dr Rumberg said there were whispers of early interest from movie companies but she would not allow the book to be "Hollywood-ised". Interest had also come via the independent filmmakers' organisation, Sundance.
"It may happen down the line [but] it isn't something we're thinking about at this stage. We're concentrating on the book and have yet to get Ten Degrees of Reckoning launched in the US and Canada," Dr Rumberg said.
That launch was originally planned to be first but would now happen on Dr Rumberg's return from New Zealand and then Australia next month.
She and Mrs Sleavin have appeared on New Zealand radio, television and in print articles, during a process which has been tiring and at times overwhelming for Mrs Sleavin, Dr Rumberg said.
Dr Rumberg has taken a year off her work as a specialist fascial and cranial radiologist to promote the book.
"I feel I owe Judy that, to take some of the burden off her of carrying this book.

She entrusted her story to me - it's not her job to go out and tell it again. It's her story but it's my book, and it is my job to promote it."
As for the Oprah Winfrey rumour: "We would like her to read the book and perhaps she might then want to talk to us. That would be okay. But we don't want her to come to us because we've been 'sold' to her, part of a promotional pitch," Dr Rumberg said.
Today Dr Rumberg and Mrs Sleavin attended a commemoration and memorial-laying ceremony at the invitation of Te Rawhiti Marae, Cape Brett. The marae is near the remote beach from where Mrs Sleavin was eventually rescued by local people during her ordeal.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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