Last Monday – a public holiday in Wellington – was a sunny day and I went for a casual saunter along the waterfront, starting a block from the Freyberg Building, before heading along it to the Freyberg Pool and Freyberg Beach.
In case you think there’s a certain theme there, you’re right. Just then my phone rang. It was my publisher. Good news, he said. They’d run out of stock of my book Freyberg: A Life’s Journey and were going to reprint it.
It was somehow apposite that, amidst all the buildings and places remembering the great man in his home town, I got the news that my character biography of him had been selling well ahead of expectation – sold out in just three months, with back-orders piling up.
That is, of course, very cool. Authors don’t get that sort of news very often, if at all, these days.
Why has the book sold so well? My publishers, Oratia Books, deserve a lot of the credit – they’ve got it stocked in virtually every bookshop in New Zealand and available worldwide. And their publicity programme was tremendously successful – Freyberg questions even appeared in the quiz column of The Press.
Talking to various bookshop owners I’m also told that the book draws attention on the shelves because everybody knows the name. Freyberg – a champion swimmer, war hero, decorated commander and later Governor-General – was a household name from the First World War through to the 1950s. His name, today, is given to streets, avenues, parks, schools, pools, sports venues and more. It appears on the foundation stones of many buildings. As I found myself, it’s possible in Wellington to walk between multiple major buildings and places named after him.
But three generations on from his heyday, nobody really remembers who the man was. And they’re curious.
So what sort of man could achieve such profile in his lifetime? Well – you’ll have to check the book out to discover that. Suffice to say that his character was as extraordinary as his public profile: an intensely private man who few really understood, who hob-nobbed with the elite circles of British society – was best friends with Churchill, had a brief wartime fling with Cynthia Asquith, and was called ‘Peter Pan grown up’ by Peter Pan Creator J. M. Barrie.
Freyberg: A Life’s Journey is available in all good bookshops (or by back-order), buy direct from the publisher – or grab it from Amazon.
Copyright © 2021 Matthew Wright