Fay Clayton has always loved finding ways to express herself creatively through language. “My love for words started when I was two,” she says. “I’ve really had a love of words always.”
Her passion turned into a writing career when a friend showed her a poem that had been submitted for a poetry competition. “She said, ‘You must read page 40.’ It was a poem about a man and wife,” Fay says. “It described a terrible marriage, and I thought, my goodness – my marriage is not like that!” Drawing on insights from her own marriage, Fay found unexpected success: “I wrote my own poem and it won first prize.” The note on my marriage offering reads, "I didn't know women could write so well!"
“After that, I just kept writing,” Fay says. She went on to write around fifty articles for The Dominion (now The Dominion Post) and a series of columns for the Christchurch Press, focusing on the nomenclature of flowers. “So many flowers are named after men,” she says. “There was one very sad one – Boronia. It’s a little low bush, very sweet with little berries on it – a lovely scent, very beautiful. That’s named after Borone, who had gone to Greece with his tutor. One evening Borone was singing to somebody’s guitar upstairs – and he fell and was killed.” His tutor, the botanist J.E Smith, named the flower after Borone, Fay says. “So often, there’s a very interesting story behind it.”
Alongside her professional writing career, Fay also worked as a social worker and marriage counsellor.
Fay still writes often in her care room at Summerset on the Coast. “I’m ninety-two, and I’m still doing it,” Fay says. “What I’m doing at the moment is writing about the origin of words themselves.” She gives an example – the word ‘magenta’. “Magenta was a battlefield in Italy, a particularly bloody one. And at that same time, a new dye had been discovered. And they said, ‘We’ll name it after this field – Magenta.’ I had never seen it or even heard the word before.”
Fay continues to read her work for the pleasure of other residents
Fay has lived at Summerset on the Coast for around a year, ever since she found her mobility wasn’t what it used to be: “My legs won’t do what I want them to do,” she explains. Her children encouraged her to move into Summerset for their collective peace of mind, and since she arrived, Fay has enjoyed living in an environment where her children can visit as often as they like.
These days, Fay prefers to spend time relaxing in her care room – “I’m very happy lying on my bed” – but still finds time for her favourite treats, thanks to Summerset staff: “Every now and then, they take me for an ice cream,” Fay says. “It’s a weakness of mine.”