In the beginning: Poetry, stories, diary entries, at night with a torch, secretly. Diaries stuffed within the inner sprung mattress. Writing in code. Her words encrypted in the letters of the Greek alphabet. The secret life of a teenager under siege. The fear of being misunderstood. Or teased. Or judged.
After school, she worked as a lab technician. Left New Zealand, travelling, working, exploring. Australia, France, Switzerland. The gypsy life. Wandering from the north to south of the continent of Africa. Danielle, French travelling companion. Hitchhiking. Barges, trains, buses, trucks, cars, on foot, on a donkey. Adventure. Fresh impressions and danger. Speaking in French if they wanted to discuss their situation, as English was more likely to be understood there. More coded commentary. Her journal writing was sparse, with understated notes, key words, and the edited mention of things that might be seen as inflammatory politically should her writing fall into the wrong hands. But frequent letters back home captured the sounds and the colours and the people that surrounded her. Selection of detail.Years later, trying to settle down in Wellington, she met a man who was in town working as a software engineer as he took time off from working as a mountain guide in the Mt Cook National Park. He had climbed Mt Cook seven times and he lured her with life and death stories of adventure in the elements at their most harsh. He told her of the earthquake he experienced when on a climbing expedition in Peru, in which over 60,000 people were killed in a mudslide. He wooed her with his cello. She entertained him with stories of tribal drums in the night, searching for Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert, visiting Masai tribespeople living in dung huts, brushes with witch doctors and exorcism ceremonies.
They married. Two children, Clem and Xanthe. The years hop-scotching over themselves. Went to Seattle to live for 28 months. No green card, couldn’t work, didn’t know anyone. Children only just at school. Time to write. Articles and short stories. Sent stories home. Radio New Zealand. Yes!On the way back home, the family travelled for a couple of months in Thailand and India and Nepal, trekking for three weeks with packs on their backs in the Himalayas with the children.
They arrived back in New Zealand in time to hear Judith’s first story broadcast by Radio New Zealand, read by Elizabeth McCrae. Judith carried on writing short stories, in this and that notebook, on this and that computer. Her husband suggested she gather her stories together. There was a competition for a collection of short stories – the 1988 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Centenary Award – so this was the incentive. She won. In 1991, Hodder and Stoughton published most of the winning collection of stories, with more added. Visiting Ghosts was short-listed for the New Zealand Book Awards.