When it was announced that New Zealand would be going into lockdown, Elena de Roo was only a few weeks into her tenure as the University of Otago College of Education / Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence for 2020. She decided to stay, and kindly agreed to write this post about level-four life in the cottage.

The sign on the corner of Titan Street in the student area of North Dunedin says “Writer’s Cottage”. When I first arrived at the small brick workers cottage (aka Robert Lord Writer’s Cottage) it was a sparkling blue day at the end of summer — precisely a month before ‘alert levels’ became part of our everyday vocabulary. I was here to take up the only children’s writers’ residency in New Zealand (the one with the long name — The University of Otago, College of Education, Creative New Zealand, Children's Writer in Residence Fellowship) and was unashamedly excited to find that the house I was going to live in for the next six months had its own sign. “That’s me”, I yelled … at least, in my head. 
After months of anticipation, and a week-long road trip down from Auckland (with my husband along for the ride as well) I felt one very lucky writer when I stepped through the door into the historic workers cottage, carrying an ancient laptop, some handmade soaps from the Oamaru Sunday market (the best buy ever!) and far too many summer clothes for the Dunedin climate. After all, how many writers are fortunate enough to be given a place to live and a regular income and their own office at the College of Education (pre-lockdown when the university was still open, of course) for a whole six months with nothing asked of them except to write? Even at the best of times, most authors in New Zealand find it impossible to survive on their writing income alone. But thanks to the generosity of the Robert Lord Writer’s Cottage trust (and a massive thank you to the College of Education and University of Otago for their support too) I am one of a long line of children’s and other writers to take shelter from the reality of day to day life in this small but delightful cottage. 
Once I’d been shown where the kitchen light switch was (clue: you have to look up and stand on tip-toes if you’re on the short side like me) 3 Titan Street soon began to feel like home … and not long later, home office too. The first four weeks I was in the cottage, North Dunedin was filled with the sounds of laughter and music from front porches. Now, the streets are strangely empty and quiet, with many of the students having packed up and gone home for the duration of the lockdown. For the last week and a half, instead of walking across campus every morning to my office, I walk a few paces down the hall to the desk in the front room, where I try to focus on my writing project (a junior fantasy novel set in a world inspired by the bird-people paintings of New Zealand artist, Bill Hammond). But I’ve found it almost impossible to shut out what’s happening in the outside world and settle to anything. So I’m telling myself tomorrow will be better and cutting myself a bit of slack – I’ll work through Easter instead. 

On my walk today, I discovered the sign on the corner not only serves to spark joy in the heart of this writer in residence, but is also a useful reminder of the way home for an author lost in thought. I was wondering whether all those teddy bears looking out of their first floor windows (especially the cute one on George Street — you know who you are) might be feeling a little self-isolated and lonely all by themselves. Are they holding the fort for their scarfie owners or are they part of a bigger bubble? Perhaps I should reach out next time with a smile and casual east coast wave? And why didn’t I have the foresight to pack in my own writer in residence teddy bear? So many unanswered questions. There’s one thing I am sure of though — this residency will be like no other and one I’ll never forget.