Debbie Roome was born and raised in Africa and now makes her home in New Zealand, where she is a freelance writer and an aspiring novelist. Join interviewer, Lynda Schab, as she talks with Debbie about her childhood, her life now, and her many successes.
LYNDA SCHAB: You were raised in Africa. Start off by telling us what that was like. Give us a glimpse into your childhood.
DEBBIE ROOME: I was born in a small city called Bulawayo in the southwest of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The year of my birth - 1965 - was the same year that Rhodesia declared independence from Britain. In spite of the negative effects of growing up in the midst of a civil war, I have many happy memories of my younger years.
From the age of six I lived in a brand new house in new suburban development. My parents weren't rich but we had a comfortable lifestyle and everything we needed. My school was a few blocks away and I would ride there on my bicycle. My only sibling – Leanne – was four at the time. She had been born with a rare genetic condition called Rubenstein Taybi Syndrome and had physical and mental disabilities.
School finished at 1pm each day and my afternoons were filled with swimming, playing with friends and walking my dog. I've always been a dog lover and adored Samantha, my golden Labrador. There was a small stream near our house and I would spend hours with Samantha, playing in the water and searching for unusual rocks. The weather in Bulawayo was usually hot and dry with mild winters. It didn't rain much, but when it did, I would join my friends in building small dams across drainage ditches.
When I was ten, I went on a week-long Scripture Union camp and got saved. It turned the course of my life round and I have held firmly to my faith since that day.
LYNDA: What was it like living in the midst of a war?
DEBBIE: In the midst of our normal daily activities, there were constant reminders of the war. Each night my parents would watch the T news and inevitably there would be an announcement from the military. The announcer would read out the names of young men, many in their teens, who had been killed in the war. A family in our church lost a son who died when his helicopter was shot down. The war was mostly fought in the bush areas but I remember one day when it came into Bulawayo. All the schools were closed and we could hear gunfire in the distance. I was so scared the soldiers would come into our suburb but we were not harmed.
Road travel was unsafe as guerrillas would conceal themselves in thick undergrowth and launch ambushes on passing vehicles. To protect civilian traffic, the army would escort traffic from city to city. I remember several occasions when we joined one of these convoys to travel to the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa. We had to report to a point on the outskirts of Bulawayo at 6am and several armoured vehicles would be placed between the cars. Each was equipped with automatic brownings and other weaponry. In spite of these precautions, the convoys were attacked fairly frequently.
Air travel was also unsafe as a couple of commercial airline planes were brought down by heat-seeking missiles. As a result, the planes were modified by adapting their exhaust pipes to reduce their heat signature and painting the aircraft with low-radiation paint.
When I was twelve, there was a wave of bombings, destroying shops and commercial property. Consequently, we spent the next few years having our bags searched every single time we entered a store. Security guards would use a long stick to probe through the contents of purses and shopping bags.
Over the war years, the rest of the world imposed sanctions on the country and luxuries were few and far between. Things like toys were largely unavailable and sweets and chocolates were confined to a limited local range which did not taste good. Fish was unheard of and there was only one range of yoghurt available with four or five flavours. Petrol was also in short supply and families were given coupons according to how far they lived from work. Holiday trips meant paperwork and applications for a few extra coupons to buy the necessary fuel.
At the time, all this was normal to me and I adapted to each new change as children are able to do.
When I was fifteen, Robert Mugabe was voted in as the new president and that was the beginning of a whole new era. By the time I was 25, the country had declined greatly and basic foodstuffs such as bread, rice, washing powder and condensed milk were unavailable. Their sporadic appearance caused a riot of people pushing and shoving to try and get a bag or two. With a peace that we were moving in God's will, my husband and I packed up our three children and moved to South Africa. Government restrictions meant we could only take $1000 with us and basic furniture items.
We had to start afresh in South Africa and more of our story there can be read in Raising Derrick. Our last two children were born there and we settled in and owned a beautiful house. However, our time there on the whole was harsh, economically draining and riddled with crime and violence. After fifteen years, we felt the call of God to New Zealand.
LYNDA: How fascinating! What wonderful stories you'll have to tell your grandchildren someday.
So tell us about your life now. Give us a day in the life of Debbie Roome.
DEBBIE: The first thing I do every morning is put my computer on; last thing at night it goes off. In between, there is a lot of activity, chaos, fun and laughter – the result of eight people living in one home. Our five children moved to New Zealand with us and Jason, the eldest gets married next month. We also have a friend from Zimbabwe staying with us. Noel is like close family and lived with us in South Africa, later following us over here.
Doing the laundry carves a chunk out of my day but I refuse to iron for eight people. Our clothing is either non-crease or it goes into the drier to smooth out any crinkles. Cooking is not my favourite either but we get by. In between the dreaded housework I do part-time work as a mystery shopper. I choose when and where I work and visit fast food outlets, restaurants, clothing stores, department stores, jewelers and coffee shops to secretly assess service standards. My best assignments are the domestic flights I do around New Zealand. My work gives me loads of inspiration for my writing and the hours spent flying and sitting in airports are put to good use as my laptop travels with me. I write every day and am never without some project or work in progress to keep me busy – more about that later.
I love our life in New Zealand and although things are not perfect, this country is like a peaceful paradise compared to what we have come from. I love to sit and look out of our upstairs windows. On one side we have the Southern Alps which are still covered in snow, although we are well into spring. On the other side are the Port Hills which overlook the city. I try and take time each day to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. We live next door to a cemetery and I may take the dogs for a walk or if out at work, I may detour past the sea just to soak in the scenery.
LYNDA: It doesn't surprise me that your laptop goes everywhere with you. According to your FaithWriters profile, you recognized your passion for writing at a very early age. Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
DEBBIE: I don't remember the first thing but it was probably something at school. My love of words started with story books. When I was four, my parents started reading me Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. I loved them and when they got too busy to read to me, I started reading them myself, sounding out one word after another. After a year of this, I was an accomplished reader. About the same time, I started filling spiral-bound note books with short stories and would illustrate them myself. I wrote my first 'novel' at age seven. It was also in a notebook and was about the adventures of a brownie named Agerol. I gave it to my teacher to read and was gutted because she never gave it back to me.
I would get totally absorbed in my books at school. I remember one day we were outside, reading under the trees. When I finally pulled my nose out of my book I was all by myself. The class had gone inside and they all laughed at me when I went in.
LYNDA: When did you begin to take your writing more seriously and decide to pursue it professionally?
DEBBIE: I was never encouraged to pursue a career in writing although it's always been hovering in the background. My mother used to send my stories to The Star newspaper in Johannesburg when I was eight years old and several were published on the children's page. She was clearing out some stuff last month and found a clipping of one which she sent to me. I must say it was pretty good and I was paid $1o for it!
During my school years, I walked off with loads of certificates and awards for creative writing and poetry and found great satisfaction in doing so.
My first paid job as an adult was writing a microwave cookery column for a newspaper in Zimbabwe. That ended when we emigrated and I turned more to fiction in the following years. I have had children's stories, adult fiction and articles printed in most major South African publications but it was more a hobby than a career. Most of my time was consumed with running the toy shop that I started from scratch and ran for twelve years.
When we decided to move to New Zealand, God put a tremendous desire in my heart to change my career path and work as a writer. I told no one, yet a woman from our church had a prophetic word for me the week before we left South Africa. She told me that God wanted to use me to write in New Zealand and that He would open many doors for me. He truly has done that.
LYNDA: What led you to FaithWriters?
DEBBIE: In late 2006, I signed up to receive weekly emails from a freelance writing website. A few weeks later, their newsletter featured an article by Scott Lindsay and a link to FaithWriters. The fact that it was Christian attracted me and I signed up immediately. I wrote my first Challenge entry that week and have rarely missed one since then – only if I'm judging. I was in awe of the people in Masters and thought I would never get that far...but I made it a goal and succeeded.
LYNDA: You certainly have! Your name has been in the winner's circle more than a few times. How has FaithWriters helped you in your writing?
DEBBIE: Well, apart from all the support and friendship at FaithWriters, the greatest benefit has been the Writing Challenge and the discipline of writing regularly on a given topic – often on a subject outside of my comfort zone. It has stretched my skill as a writer and has helped me tap into greater depths of creativity than I would ever have thought possible. FaithWriters has also been instrumental in me linking up with other writing groups and has led to some of my work appearing in various publications around the world.
LYNDA: Where, besides FaithWriters, have you been published? Are there any sites or publications to which you regularly submit your work?
DEBBIE: Apart from the South African magazines mentioned earlier, I have had work accepted by Radio New Zealand, The Press (NZ's second largest newspaper) and various other smaller NZ publications. I have a short story in a NZ anthology for adult learners, entitled Caught in the Act and other stories are lined up for publication in anthologies in the USA and UK. My FaithWriter's challenge entries will appear in the next seven FaithWriter's books. I recently completed a contract for writing some devotions for a Daily Whispers of Wisdom book for 2009.
I am also editor of an eight page community newsletter that is financed in part by a community grant. This goes out quarterly and I source the stories, write and edit them, interview lots of interesting people, photograph them and do the graphics and layout. I love doing this and the positive feedback is always encouraging.
Last year, I compiled a 90-page book on the history of our church, which was awarded a trophy as the best self-published book of 2007. This year, I am working on a yearbook for the church that is due to be printed in a couple of week's time. We live right next door to the church and I'm often over there, doing odd jobs or involved at meetings.
As far as the internet is concerned, I have over forty articles on Suite101 which earns me some pocket money each month. I also write a weekly freelance writing column for pixnpens.com (http://www.pixnpens.com) and have found this to be a great way to define what I actually do.
LYNDA: I'm an avid reader of your articles at Pix-n-Pens. You definitely know your stuff!
Speaking of Pix-n-Pens, which offers weekly writing contests, your name seems to pop up in all kinds of online contests (not only as an entrant, but as a winner!). What are some of the contests that you've entered (and/or won) and what is so appealing about them?
DEBBIE: Competitions are an excellent way to hone your skills, especially if they offer free critiques. I belong to four writing groups – two in NZ and two in SA - and regularly enter their monthly competitions. The feedback is very helpful and corrected a lot of my weaknesses in early days. I have learned to never take offence at criticism over my writing – I just accept what it relevant and spit the rest out. Of course the prizes are great as well. I have a whole shelf-load of books that I've won, as well as several trophies, magazine subscriptions and cash. Recent successes include placing first in the open section of the Sunpenny writing contest, receiving the trophy for the best first chapter of a novel from a SA writing group and having five stories place in the top 12 positions out of 270 in a New Zealand writing competition.
LYNDA: Congratulations, Debbie, on such wonderful accomplishments! Winning never gets old, does it?
So what are some of your interests outside of writing?
DEBBIE: I love traveling. I have been to several countries in Africa, parts of Europe and Asia as well as England and Dubai. I went to the FaithWriters conference in Australia this year and spent five days exploring Sydney and surrounds. My husband works for a tour company and I get free travel on their buses so have traveled extensively around NZ as well. I would love to visit America and hope to do so within the next couple of years.
Photography is another of my great passions. I have over 16,000 photos on my computer which my family tells me is excessive! My camera goes with me everywhere as I've learned that many great shots are unexpected and spontaneous. My camera has got me into trouble from time to time but I still haul it out at every opportunity.
Music is also a very important part of my life. I took piano lessons up to grade 4 and then learned to play by ear. I also play guitar and bass guitar and am involved in our church's worship team.
I mentioned earlier that I'm a dog lover. When we left South Africa, we had to leave three dogs and a cat behind. One of the dogs was a Jack Russell called Pete and we adored each other. It broke my heart to say goodbye to him and his photograph still brings tears to my eyes. After six weeks of dogless torture in NZ, I bought a Jack Russell puppy and named him Nelson after Nelson Mandela. He now has a partner called Sparkles and together they bring great joy to my life.
LYNDA: Tell us more about your family.
DEBBIE: When I was a child, my entire extended family lived in Zimbabwe. Now they are scattered across South Africa, England and Australia. We are the only ones in NZ and really miss family on special occasions and Christmas.
My parents still live in South Africa along with my sister, Leanne. They are coming over for Jason's wedding in November – the first time we will have seen them in three years.
I am married to Kevin and we have five amazing children. Jason, 21, is studying to be an architect. Kirstin, 20, is doing a degree in social work. Timothy, 18, is in his first year of training as a diesel mechanic. Daniel,16, and Chantelle, 13, are still at high school.
LYNDA: Finally, where do you see yourself five years from now? Any huge writing aspirations or are you content to stay where you are in your career?
DEBBIE: I am planning on writing a novel next year. I enjoy all types of writing but Christian fiction is my favourite and I believe God can use my gift to reach out to people. He gave me a scripture earlier this year: Job 42:12 "The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first." I went through a stage where I resented all the change and upheaval in my life and I asked God why I couldn't have been born in NZ. I have since realised that everything I've experienced can be turned to good. I have had several speaking engagements where I've shared my life story and I've written extensively about Zimbabwe for the newspapers. We gave up a great deal by moving to NZ but have gained immeasurably more in return. The opportunities for writing here are far greater than back in Africa and I'm going to keep working at it.
In five year's time, I'd like to see a couple of published novels behind me and a future filled with writing, travel and opportunities to share what God has done in my life.
LYNDA: Debbie, with all you've accomplished so far, I know you will reach every goal you set for yourself. What a rich life you've led and continue to lead. May God bless everything you set out to do (and every contest you enter!)
To read Debbie's work, visit her FaithWriters profile here: http://www.faithwriters.com/member-profile.php?id=23216
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