Takapuna local Jennie Michel's new novel was launched at an event held at the Takapuna Boating Club in late November. Aidan Bennett caught up with her prior to the launch to discover more about the book and the background to how it came about.
CHANNEL: Your novel ‘Trust’ is about a case of elder abuse taking place on the North Shore. How did you come to write about this?
JENNIE MICHEL: As my nursing career in the UK progressed I was drawn towards client advocacy and making sure their voices were heard in decision making. I got involved in patients’ rights groups and worked in the community in impoverished parts of London. The job I had when working in the community was supposed to be more about health, but in practice became more involved with what social security benefits people were entitled to and issues with housing and schooling.
In the 1970s I qualified as a nurse teacher. I worked in fledgling degree courses for nurses and this different level of study gave me the chance to explore further the role of a nurse as a client advocate as well as the nursing role.
I came to New Zealand and married my Devonport-born husband, who I’d met when he was over on his OE in London. We settled on the North Shore and I continued nurse teaching. Our son was born in 1981 and I was a stay-at-home mum for three years, then got a job at a North Shore private geriatric hospital working on a part-time basis so I could fit in with the needs of our boy. This consolidated my interest in client advocacy and teaching those responsibilities to the nurses caring for the patients in the hospitals.
Whilst working with the private geriatric hospital group who had first employed me, I had the opportunity to work with people with dementia and their families. I became the General Manager group and, supported by the owners of that group, I was driven to support a service for vulnerable older adults leading to roles which drove the Elder Abuse Prevention Service. While in these governance roles I wrote the resource book that underpins the Elder Abuse Prevention Service, now referred to by many Age Concern colleagues as the ‘Blue Book’.
I then took a role as the General Manager of the Auckland branch of the Alzheimer’s Foundation Auckland (now known as Alzheimer’s Auckland). Pursuing my interest in following the issues of peoples’ rights and responsibilities then lead me to spending two years at the Human Rights Commission, which extended my knowledge in this area.
In 2005, I left the Human Rights Commission to join Age Concern North Shore as the co-ordinator of the Elder Abuse prevention Service for vulnerable older people on the North Shore. I remained in this role until my retirement in 2012, when I was elected as a Board member for Age Concern New Zealand. I was a member of the Consumer Advisory Committee for Pharmac for six years and on the Board for Health Link North. I relinquished the role at Age Concern NZ in 2016 and am now a board member of Age Concern North Shore.
When I retired I decided to write, telling the stories highlighting the amazing older people I’ve met in my career. “Trust’, set on the North Shore, is my first novel and I have just completed my second, which is about two people caring for family members with dementia and their experiences.
CHANNEL: What do you love about the North Shore?
JENNIE MICHEL: I love the whole community and how it is made up of a variety of different communities and ethnicities. I live in Takapuna, which to me has a village feeling – a feeling of closeness, similar to where I was brought up in East Anglia in England.
CHANNEL: What is your favourite spot on the North Shore?
JENNIE MICHEL: We live on Takapuna Beach so that is special for me and I visit it most days. I’ve also spent a lot of time walking on the path from Milford Beach towards Takapuna and special spot is what our family calls ‘Gingernut Corner’ where we stopped on our daily walks with our two English springer spaniels, Zinzan and Rufus, to give them a gingernut biscuit treat, have a rest and look towards Rangitoto before we retraced our steps back to the car.
CHANNEL: What is your favourite local eating spot or café?
JENNIE MICHEL: Living in Hurstmere Rd, we are spoilt for choice with the available restaurants and cafés, but we especially enjoy the Sierra Café across the road from our apartment where we go most mornings for a coffee and chat to other locals and the friendly staff.
Jennie Michel's book 'Trust' is available from The Booklover in Milford.