A goodbye book from the heart
Chch woman's book on dealing with griefJAMES CROOT
Christchurch's Melanie Mason never expected her life to imitate her art, but, as she tells James Croot, she hopes the finished product helps others dealing with grief.
It all started with Melanie Mason's huge collection of photographs.
A keen snapper, she'd categorised many of those taken while travelling the world with her family in an unusual way - by colour rather than chronologically or by country.
''I'm not a technical photographer, but I think I've got a good eye and can frame a photo well. I love being able to capture something that might not otherwise have been noticed - whether that's a texture, a series of shapes, a moment or colour. So I thought sorting them that way made them seem so rich and juicy.''
However, she found herself returning to one album in particular, again and again.
''The white album always made me feel peaceful, but I wasn't sure what I could do with it. Then one day about four or five years ago, the idea came to me in a flash that they could be married to poetry and quotes as part of a book to support people's grieving process.''
Mason admits she didn't have a lot of sad experiences to draw on prior to starting work on what would become Goodbye - For Times of Sadness and Loss.
''But then, interestingly, life began to imitate art and my own life went through a series of challenges and changes and the creation of this book ended up supporting my grieving process. It became very personal,'' she says.
''What I think I didn't understand until I went through it myself was that we grieve over loss of any kind, not just death. Life is all about change and as we grow older we constantly have to adjust to change and let go of things - jobs, relationships, children moving on, friends moving away. There is an adjustment needed, a process of letting go. However, we often don't look at it that way, we just rush into the next thing.''
Mason is at pains to point out Goodbye isn't a ''fix it'' book.
''It's a book of comfort. It can invoke all sorts of things depending on your experience of grief. I wouldn't rush to give it to someone who has just had something terrible happen. However, I think it is a lovely gift to give someone six to 12 months after to let them know they're still in your thoughts.''
Finding suitable quotes, poetry or music lyrics to accompany her photos was both a delightful and painstaking business, Mason admits.
''I've always collected quotes and I had a big database of my favourite ones. However, getting permission to use them is tough when you have nowhere to start from and you have to do the hard yards yourself online to work out who really owns the rights. Song lyrics were particularly difficult, requiring money and international contracts, but for me the unexpected gift was that a lot of the poets didn't charge and responded to me in person - so I now have a connection with them.''
She says that has been a theme throughout the whole process of creating Goodbye.
''I would work on mixing quotes with images while travelling overseas and strangers would often drift past my table and get involved in the process, contributing their own favourite quote,'' she says.
''I remember once I left it all behind in a restaurant in the Caribbean. When I came back to collect it an hour later it was all spread across the bar and there were three or four people rifling through all the papers. And they said 'Oh, we just love it'. The woman who owned the restaurant shared a personal story about grief and how great the book might be for that process.''
One thing Mason was determined to do independently though was publish the book herself.
''I set up my own boutique publishing house. I know in the old days, if you self-published a book you were seen as a leper - it was either the ultimate in vanity or no one else wanted to touch it. But this was something I wanted to have creative control over.''
As well as attracting the interest of Whitcoulls and Paper Plus, Mason has been selling the book in various locations around Christchurch, including florists and galleries. She says the response to the book so far has been incredible with the first limited print run already sold out and an increased second run in production.
Goodbye has also been selected to be part of New Zealand's presence at next month's Frankfurt Book Fair, something which greatly excites Mason.
''The dream is it gets picked up there by a European or American publisher."
Regardless of whether that happens, Mason already has an idea for a second book. 'It's going to be called The Thank You Book and it's going to be colour,' she says categorically.
For more information about Goodbye and where it can be bought go to thecreatrix.co.nz.
- The Press
Do you consider Leigh Martin's piece Untitled to be art?Related story: Art lies in the eye of the beholder