This blog has taken me a year to write. It has been a hellish year for everyone, and it gave me little space to be able to sit down and process the loss I suffered right at the beginning of it.
But now is the time.
A year ago, one of my best friends, the talented and beautiful Liz Corbett (writing as Elizabeth Jane Corbett) died suddenly. She was overseas on one of her writing retreats in Wales, the country that had won her heart many years ago and was at the centre of most of her writing. She’d been ill with a bad cold before she left for her trip, but the last time I saw her at our pre-Christmas writing meeting in December 2019, she was starting to feel better and was looking forward to her trip, full of plans to catch up with family and friends and to finish off her new novel about Owain Glyndwr’s wife, Margaret Hanmer – a truly exquisite and brilliantly researched story that was leading her from a Masters to a PhD and that we knew was incredibly special and important.
She never got to finish that novel.
Liz spent that last Christmas with her son and his family in England before taking part in a conference on women in history and then travelling to her favourite place to write in Wales, Stiwdio Maelor, to finish her heart project, her Margaret Hanmer novel. A year ago today, she was chatting and laughing with her friend who runs the stiwdio when she collapsed. Her cold had refreshed and she’d had a nasty cough and a chest infection, but that had been getting better. There was no reason to think there was something else at play for why she couldn’t shrug off her illness. But it unfortunately helped to hide another problem, because in that moment of collapse, her heart failed. In a few heartbreaking moments, she was gone.
I won’t go into any more detail here, because Liz’s last moments should not be what we who loved and treasured her concentrate on when we think of her, but I only mention it in that for someone who had such a big heart, who gave of herself to so many people, who was always there with a smile, a laugh, a shoulder to cry on and wise words to help you through, could have been gone so suddenly, so shockingly like that. It certainly took all of us many days to even truly believe it was true when we found out. But it was true and it broke my heart.
It broke my heart because Liz had so much to give. It broke my heart because she and her family had already endured such tragedy and didn’t deserve more. It broke my heart because Liz was coming into herself with her writing and was finally seeing just how talented and incredible she really was. It broke my heart because she would never finish her beautiful heart project, the book she had spent so much of her last year on. It broke my heart because I would never get to see my friend again, would never get to cheer her on and have her cheer me on. It broke my heart because I would never work on her beautiful words with her again or have her work with me on mine. It broke my heart because others would never get to see what I knew so clearly from the first moment I met her at the Balwyn Writer’s Group where we met – that she was an incredible, wonderful, talented woman who the world needed to know.
Welcoming, generous, thoughtful, she challenged me to do better right from that first meeting where we bonded over reading and critiquing our work in a group of people who just didn’t have the drive we both did. We wanted to be published and could see the passion for bettering our writing and getting there right from that first meeting. And we drew together like-minded writers to form our own little writing group and became such amazing friends through all the highs and lows.
It was that immediate bond of fellowship that had us soon catching up outside of those monthly meetings, had us sharing what we learned at workshops and chatting about our books on writing, It had us brainstorming and workshopping together and cheering each other on at each of our contest successes and when a publisher requested a submission from a pitch. And commiserating when the inevitable blows came and we felt like all was lost.
Nobody was more excited for me than Liz was when I got my first contract – she even held a book launch for me at her place when she discovered I wasn’t going to have one. See, so very generous.
And nobody was more excited than me when she got her first contract for her beautiful and lyrically written The Tides Between (that I had the privilege of reading from at her funeral). We had worked so hard together with the other members of our new writing group, Christine Bell and Lora Inak (both published) with her to make that novel what she wanted it to be. I had the privilege of doing a final manuscript assessment of it for her that she avowed helped to get her over the line – I’m sure she could have got there herself, she was just that talented, but I always appreciated the way she had of making her success about all of us and not just her.
We have bonded over chatting about family, life, thoughts, writing, books, holidays, workshops, brainstorming, the ups and downs of trying to get published and being published and so much more. She was going to have me assess her new book after she finished it on that last trip and it is an eternal sadness that I will never get the chance to read her beautiful story in its entirety. But more than that, I will be forever saddened by the fact I will never hear her voice, her laugh, see her latest red boots or cardigan or scarf – she loved wearing red, something else that we shared in common.
Her passing was swallowed up in the disaster of the Australian bush fires and then consumed by the pandemic, but I couldn’t let another day pass, another year pass, without writing something about her, about how special she was, about how her passing is a loss to not only those who knew and loved her, but to the writing community and book-loving world. She has had an award named after her by the Historical Novel Association she’d been a part of and volunteered for, which is fitting, and I wish she was alive to see the first recipient receive the award this year – although she would have laughed self-consciously and said it was silly that it was named in her memory.
She was a talent who had many stories in her that needed telling and now those stories are forever silenced. Except in my mind, in my heart, in my thoughts and memories, Liz and her stories will always live loud and proud and shine with the beauty that was essentially her.
I miss you Liz and I hope that you are in the heaven you believed in and you can feel the love that is still aimed at you by all of those who love you and remember your smile, your generosity of spirit and the stories that were an essential part of your soul.
Vale my dear friend. May you live in our hearts and minds forever.