To say Valerie Millington is passionate about Ōhaupō and writing is an understatement. So when the Ōhaupō School 150th Jubilee Committee decided to write a book and asked for volunteers, she couldn't resist.
Valerie tutors specialty subjects at the school, including writing, and was a member of the committee that organised the 2019 event.
She had already written Winds of Change: a history of the European settlement of Ohaupo, published by the 125th Reunion Committee in 1996, so thought she could follow that format and do another edition.
Despite already working on a book, the biography of her mother Ellen, she found herself volunteering.
This month Winds of Time: Ōhaupō - Then and Now was given a low-key launch. And while Winds of Change was about 200 pages, Winds of Time came in at nearly 400 pages and was almost entirely written, designed and eventually printed during the past two years of a global pandemic, lockdowns, business closures and increased dependency on technology.
Interestingly, Valerie had to call on some of her old-school journalistic skills to get the job completed – but that is closer to the end of this story.
Like Winds of Change, Winds of Time was published by the current Jubilee Committee, and they and Valerie consider it their gift to the community.
Valerie gave her considerable skills and time to the project for free, and the committee is selling the book at cost with the aim of simply recouping the investment.
When she started work on the project, Valerie sketched out a framework, and realised it was going to be bigger than originally thought.
Her rationale was simple: she wanted Winds of Time to be everything to all who read it.
One of her first decisions was to honour Apakura, the people who were originally from this district.
Then she undertook the most extensive research possible to find the stories that shaped Ōhapuō into the village of today.
"That meant reading a lot of books for a snippet of information here and there," she says.
"Ōhaupō was a place amongst a network of developing villages and towns, so I would gather the snippets and fit them into a timeline and a story."
Valerie also wanted to bring the story of the village as up to date as possible.
That meant not only writing about early settlers, and the farms, businesses, clubs, education and social developments, but also about the new residents, the recent arrivals, including new immigrants, and what they bring to Ōhaupō.
As it turned out, lockdowns were a blessing for the author.
"People would ask if I was lonely," she says.
"I wasn't. I didn't feel alone because I was living the lives, in my head, of hundreds of people I was writing about."
Valerie says she would have complete stories in her mind, and lockdown gave her the chance to knuckle down, without interruption, and get them written.
She would attend to her remote learning responsibilities and other aspects of living, then settle in for a writing session, often until the early hours.
"I don't think I've been to bed before 1am for two years," she says.
"I worked on the book seven days per week and haven't taken a holiday since I started."
What she was discovering was how rich and diverse Ōhaupō's history was, and she wanted to make sure she left nothing out.
And she wanted to make the stories come alive, to the point where she wrote a timeline history of Ōhaupō School, but each story was as if in the present.
"I wanted school students to read about what was happening at the time and feel like they were there, living it."
Another challenge during a pandemic was getting photography.
"People weren't working, so I couldn't just phone someone to photograph something I needed for the book," she says.
Valerie searched her own images, worked a bit harder on her own photography skills and put the call out and was rewarded with people donating images they already had or, in some cases, competent or professional photographers took what she needed and gave them to the project.
"I'm very happy with the result, the range of images and the quality," she says.
She also wanted to make sure people reading the book could use it as a reference and find what they wanted – so an index was always her plan.
"I tried to include as many names as possible in the stories, and it was important to me that they could be easily referenced," she says.
"What I didn't know was how big the job was."
But she achieved her goal, with a bit of help, and the book has an extensive seven-page index.
She also went back through the manuscript after a discussion with Professor Tom Roa about the correct use of the macron in te reo Māori.
"I asked him if I should use the macron, and he agreed I should," says Valerie.
"Initially, I said that was going to be too hard, but Tom was right.
"I had to get advice about the usage for different iwi and then go back through the 400 pages and make the appropriate changes.
Valerie was liaising with the designers and printers and was nearing the end of the project when that business closed due to the pandemic.
Valerie then had to get all her material back and find new printers.
This time they worked with Print House in Hamilton, and Kihikihi woman Nicola Douch-Smith volunteered her services to design the book.
The change in printer meant a change in computer programme to something Valerie didn't have and wasn't familiar with, so she couldn't make electronic changes.
That was when her time as a journalist came to the fore.
She would print out the copy, mark it up with old-fashioned hand subbing script, photograph it and send it back for correction.
"I had to explain the system to the printers, but we got there in the end."
There was no fanfare launch as the school year drew to a close, but word got out through social media and 300 copies were sold in the first week.
"I was inundated with orders and couldn't keep up with packing and delivery, so the committee hired someone to run the first flush."
The school operated a click-and-collect drive-through pickup system to keep everyone safe and the books flew out the gate.
Others have been posted, including to Kiwi expatriates. Many are being purchased as Christmas gifts.
Valerie is more than pleased with the response, with readers highly complimentary of the work, some complaining they can read only a small bit at a time because they can't see through the tears.
She says it really does feel like we have given a gift to the community.
Her promise fulfilled, Valerie can now turn her attention back to her mother.
"She was an amazing woman and I want to do her justice," she says.
Ellen was blinded as a school student by a science experiment that went wrong, but went on to be a leader, an inspiration and an honoured contributor to her community and beyond.
Her story brought Valerie to Ōhaupō – now Valerie wants to share it with the world.
• Winds of Time: Ōhaupō - Then and Now is available now by contacting the author by email (email@example.com) , or can be ordered through the school (ph 07 823 6736) in the new academic year beginning February.