The United Nations flag (where I work in Rome) was flying at half-mast today as a mark of respect for those who died in the Emilia Romagna area north of Bologna following a violent earthquake. Reports here in Rome say it was a double quake with the first 6.0 magnitude one hitting on May 20. It killed seven people and left thousands homeless. Nine days later, a 5.8 quake rattled the same region killing at least sixteen people. Beautiful historic buildings, churches and Renaissance-era towers have crumbled.

I didn’t feel a thing in Rome but it has all reminded me of the devastating February 22, 2011 Christchurch earthquake, which claimed 185 lives. Out in Oxford, we didn’t get hit with the full force of the 6.3 magnitude quake but I remember that day all too clearly.

Zeph was a tiny puppy. Just four months old. I was sitting on the couch in the living room and he was asleep beside me. Zsa Zsa was born on February 14 2011, so she was just one week old and we hadn’t even picked her out yet from the litter. I was doing some writing – the novel that I’ve been writing for centuries – and I remember everything suddenly went quiet. The birds stopped chirping and Zeph suddenly woke up and looked around.

And then I saw the tall lampstand start to sway and plates and china started to rattle and roll. I grabbed Zeph and rushed out the french doors that lead out into the garden. He was pretty scared so I clung on to him and glanced up at the house. The whole house was swaying slightly and I could feel the power of the earth moving under my feet. Then it was over.

I tried to get hold of hubs as he was in Christchurch that day. I couldn’t get hold of him for hours and, when we did speak, he told me he’d been in a shop when the quake struck. His first reaction was to run outside but the staff in the shop told him what we in New Zealand are instructed to do: drop, cover and hold.

Ever since this quake, hubs has been rattled. He lived in the Azores (a group of islands situated in the north Atlantic and belonging to Portugal) and experienced several quakes there. One apparently moved the staircase of his house by quite a few centimetres. But he wasn’t fazed by these nor was he rattled by the 7.1 magnitude September 4 2010 Christchurch earthquake. That one scared the living bejesus out of me because it was my very first quake experience. We were asleep at the time (it struck at 4.35am) and all I can remember, as I was rudely awakened, was the noise. Like a train hurtling towards you. A loud whoosh.

I am hoping the quakes in the Canterbury region are over now. I’m also hoping that the idiots who are contemplating fracking in New Zealand come to their senses.