Book Parade

It's not as if we didn't have plenty of notice. The newsletter came home weeks ago, advising us about the Writers' Festival, and the date of the Book Parade.

-- So, who do you think you might dress up as?
-- Leafpool, from Warriors.
-- Which one is Leafpool, again? Is she the healer cat?
-- Medicine cat. She's a brown tabby.
-- Couldn't you be a grey cat? We have loads of grey clothes, that would be easy. You've got those grey tracksuit pants.
-- No, Mum. Leafpool is brown.
-- But couldn't you be a different cat? Aren't there any grey cats in Warriors?
-- I don't want to be one of the grey cats! I want to be Leafpool!
-- Okay, okay.

Weeks pass.
-- We should start thinking about your costume. Book Parade is next week.
-- Yes, you need to buy me some brown tracksuit pants and a brown top.
-- Well, I'd rather not buy new stuff if possible. Anyway, brown is out of fashion, it'll be hard to get... Why don't you be one of the grey cats? Or a wolf? You could wear your wolf hat.
-- I'm sick of wearing my wolf hat. I want to be Leafpool from Warriors.
-- But we don't have any brown clothes. Couldn't you be a human book character? Let's try and think of someone. Ramona? Laura Ingalls? Matilda?
-- I hate Matilda. Maybe I could be Camilla, from Life in Outer Space. I like her, she's nice, she's cool.
-- Oh, good. Be Camilla. Great.

-- Book Parade is in two days, have you organised your costume yet? What does Camilla wear?
-- I don't want to be Camilla any more.
-- Oh, no!... I mean, really? Who do you want to be then?
-- I don't know.
-- Let's get the dress-ups down from the attic and see if that gives us any ideas.

-- No. Nothing here. None of these.
-- A gypsy skirt? A white cat? A detective?
-- No. I've decided. I definitely want to be Leafpool.
-- But we don't have any brown clothes! It's too late to run around and buy stuff now! Why don't we we pretend that Leafpool is grey.
-- No. I've told loads of people I'm going to be Leafpool, and Leafpool is brown.
-- But no one else knows what colour the Warrior cats are!
-- Sarah knows! Felix knows! Leafpool is a BROWN TABBY.
-- But you don't have anything brown... Okay, don't have a meltdown. I'll go to Savers today and look for brown clothes there. Oh! I just remembered! Look, here's my brown hoodie, you can borrow that.
-- Thank you, Mum. And if there's nothing at Savers, we'll go to Northland.
-- Hm. We'll see. I'd rather not. Let's see what's at Savers first.

-- Okay, I found these lovely brown cord pants at Savers, the only brown kids pants in the whole of Savers. And this scarf, I can make that into a tail. And I spent all day cutting out bits of cardboard and gluing on scraps of brown cloth out the rag bag and trying to stick them to this headband, for ears.
-- These pants are too small. I'm not going! I don't want to go, I never wanted to go, I'm not going!
-- You have to go! You're giving a speech at the opening! And it's TOMORROW.
-- I don't care, I'm not going!
-- Here's my old brown skirt, why don't you wear that instead?
-- Cats don't wear skirts!
-- But Leafpool is a girl cat... and we don't have anything else...
-- I don't care, I'm NOT GOING.
-- Okay, get in the car, we're going to Northland.

There are no brown pants at Best & Less. No brown pants at Target. No brown pants at KMart. No brown pants in the whole of Northland.
-- When I grow up, I'm going to open a shop that has just brown clothes.
-- Brown is out of fashion at the moment. I did warn you...
-- What about people who like brown? There must be brown somewhere.
-- Fashion doesn't work like that. They don't give people what they want, they give you what they want to sell you...
-- Can you ask?
-- If there were any brown clothes, we would have found them by now.
-- Just ask, Mum!
-- Excuse me, do you have any brown clothes?
-- It's for a costume...
-- No brown clothes.

-- Okay, I guess I'll have to wear the skirt. With white leggings and white socks, because Leafpool has white paws.
-- Okay. Here's your tail, I've sewn up that scarf for you.
-- Thanks, Mum.

-- Mum, these ears won't stick to the headband! Mum, can you plait my hair in a fancy way like Elsa from Frozen? Mum, this hoodie is HUGE. Mum, the skirt is falling down! Mum, how can I tie the tail on? Mum, help! Mum...
-- School starts in half an hour! I don't have time for this! There's the doorbell, your friend is here.

The friend has dressed as... a school girl. Shirt, tie, skirt, tights. Simple.
They go off to the parade together, chatting.

About books.


Landscapes of Childhood

Recently I read The Cartographer, by Peter Twohig, a kind of Boys' Own adventure set in (and under!) the streets of Richmond in the late 1950s. The eponymous 11 year old hero makes maps of his world: dangerous houses, enticing warehouses, mysterious tunnels, haunted parks. I tried to match up his maps to satellite maps of present-day Richmond, without much luck; but a 1977 Melways directory provided more clues. I found the power station, the factories and tram depots that the Cartographer described -- all gone now.

Coincidentally, one of the next books off my pile happened to be Deborah Forster's The Book of Emmett, and while the tone this time is darker and more adult, the decade the 1970s, and the suburb Footscray, the theme of a remembered Melbourne childhood continued. Perhaps because the setting was more recent, I recognised more landmarks: the Western Oval, the narrow streets of Footscray, the Chinese restaurant Poons where I've had lunch.

Last week Michael went for a wander around Cheltenham, the suburb of his 1970s childhood, and found lots of changes. The old tip is now a housing estate, the sprawling streets were he played cricket with neighboring kids seemed shorter, the shops he remembered had merged into each other or disappeared.

And then yesterday we drove through the Melbourne University precinct and I didn't recognise it. All these big new buildings, the Business School and the blocks of student apartments -- the shabby streets of my university days have all but gone. It doesn't take long for an urban landscape to alter utterly. And then the only places we can find those landscapes in is our memories and our dreams; or in the pages of other people's books.


Going to the Footy, Old Style

There are many ways of experiencing a football match. In the few brief years that I've been a Western Bulldogs member, I've seen our team play many times in a half-empty, roofed stadium. Sometimes I've been in a big group of extended family; once or twice, I've sat alone. It's not always a soul-less, depressing experience; a few weeks ago, I was perched above an astonishing goal from wunderkind Marcus Bontempelli, and the whole crowd rose to their feet as one, cheering. Late last year I was present during a regrettable (ahem) melee when a spine-tingling chant slowly growled from the crowd: Bull...dogs...Bull...dogs... We don't do that a lot; it was spontaneous, thrilling, tribal.

I've also seen the Doggies play in the tropical warmth of the Gold Coast, the bitter chill of a Canberra winter, and at the icy Hawks fortress of the Launceston ground. I've seen footy at the MCG (not often, and a long time ago, when we still played finals occasionally), and even, in ancient days, once, at Waverley (my first footy game, St Kilda versus someone, and mist hid the play on the other side of the ground). I've watched matches on TV, in the comfort of my lounge room, where I can swear and pace up and down and even run to another room if the strain proves too much. I've listened to games on the radio, busily scrubbing down the kitchen cupboards to calm my nerves. I've hunched over games on the tiny screen of the iPad, sitting in bed, squinting at the poor resolution and hoping my fellow spectator won't lose his temper and hurl the device across the room.

But I have a new favourite way to watch football: the old-fashioned way. This year the Western Bulldogs have started their own VFL team, and they play some of their games at the Bulldogs home, the Whitten Oval in the heart of Footscray (the team is called Footscray, too). Last Sunday we went along. The sun was shining; we took a picnic rug and sat on the grass in the forward pocket (see above). We ate gourmet hot dogs and chips, bursting out of a paper bag -- twice the amount and half the price you'd pay at Etihad. At half time, kids and parents rushed onto the oval and footies flew in all directions. We took the dog, and walked her around the ground, and she made friends with other dogs. There were two or three thousand people there -- enough to hear a decent roar when a goal went through, not so many that you felt cramped or overwhelmed. An injured Bulldogs player hobbled up the hill on crutches and sat on the grass behind us (he signed our football). It was intimate and friendly, relaxed and fun.

And suddenly I understood: this is what football used to be like, before the corporates got hold of it. This is what everyone is nostalgic for! But you don't have to be nostalgic: because it's still there.

NOTE: I planned to write this post all week. But quite coincidentally, last night I started to read The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster. And lo, it's set in Footscray. The very first scene takes place in the shadow of the Whitten Oval! Synchronicity strikes again.



Inspired by my fellow book group member, Judy, who was exuberant about her recent re-reading of Heidi, I dug out the copy I acquired years ago and I've started re-reading it myself, simultaneously reading it aloud to my older daughter (she seems to like it so far).

Sometimes it feels as if my reading diet consists of torrid YA, pretentious literary fiction and ponderous non-fiction. Reading Heidi is like taking a draught from a refreshing Alpine stream, or a nourishing bowl of fresh goat's milk.

But I have to confess that my love of Heidi originates from a less-than-pure source. I didn't read the original (in translation) until I was an adult. The Heidi I adored was actually a Little Golden Book, which I think might have been based on the Shirley Temple movie version -- looking at Heidi's very inauthentic golden curls in the illustrations*, I suspect this may have been the case! The Heidi of the Johanna Spyri book is dark-haired and lively, while Clara is fair and languid.
There were two elements of the LGB version of Heidi that particularly appealed to me, and perhaps this   shows what a sedentary child I was. The first thing was Heidi's dear little bed in the hayloft; the other was Clara's couch (Clara being too feeble to walk). By a happy chance, my grandmother had a chaise longue in her house which was exactly the same shape as Clara's. One of my favourite games was to drape a blanket over my legs and pretend to be Clara. Ah, bliss, to lie on a couch all day and read!
The absolute simplicity of Heidi's life with the Alm-Uncle, their sparse possessions, and the beauty of their mountain home, is still wonderfully appealing. There is part of me (the part that goes to yoga camp) that loves the idea of living in a cottage halfway up a mountain, with only wildflowers and goats and the wind for company.

But I bet I wouldn't like it much when it snowed.

* By Corinne Malvern, according to Professor Internet


The End of Orange?

We went to Smiggle yesterday, and all the orange product was shunted away into a corner, and it was 60% off. Call me suspicious, but my first thought was, I hope they're not phasing out orange...

My second thought was, oh, good, we can stock up on some cheap orange stuff for someone in our house whose favourite colour is orange.

IF it's true, and Smiggle are planning to stock orange product no more, then I'm sad. The orange range, adorned with lions (and sometimes robots) was relatively gender-neutral, bright and cheery. Removing the orange product entrenches the stark gender division in the rest of the store, with pink/purple/pale blue on the girly side, and stark black and green on the boys' side (just in case you're a girl who likes green, the green range has been coded "not for girls" by the inclusion of tough skull-and-crossbone motifs, soccer balls, and boys playing guitars).

Why are there no yellow or red ranges in Smiggle? Too hard to code as "male" or "female"? Why not put animals on them, or fruit, or balloons?

I'm sure Smiggle would say (IF it's true) that the orange range probably sold less than the traditional "girly" colours. Maybe it was seen as too boyish for most girls, and too girly for most boys. But its removal just takes away another option for those kids who aren't that interested in stark gender signals -- and kids, like mine, who just like orange.



As far as my writing is concerned, I've always been a bit of a lone wolf. I'm shy about sharing my work in progress. I've never belonged to a writing group. I feel slightly baffled by those acknowledgments in the backs of novels that thank people for reading first drafts. Huh? You showed a first draft to an actual reader? Before it was a real book? Crazy, man!

So I was pretty nervous, as well as excited, at the idea of co-writing a YA novel with someone else, even if that someone else was a good friend and someone whose writing I love and respect enormously. Actually, that's probably exactly why I was so nervous! But the Girlfriend Fiction series needed a title at short notice, and Penni Russon and I offered to step into the breach.

We ended up producing Dear Swoosie at record speed. We sat at my dining table and threw around some ideas, then refined them with lots of emails and phone calls, until we'd nutted out a proper chapter outline and worked out our respective characters: flaky, self-proclaimed psychic India for me; smart, brittle Poppy for Penni. We'd agreed early that the story would be written in two voices, in alternating chapters; but we didn't realise we'd end up with four voices, because the middle chunk of the book is an exchange of letters between the girls' two mothers, Sarah and Mandy, which we wrote parallel with the main story.

But of course, if you're writing about two characters who are thrown together and gradually become friends, you can't just write your own person. It wasn't till I sat down to actually write the first India chapter that it dawned on me that I'd have to write dialogue for Poppy too. Yikes! I was a bit scared of Poppy. It was daunting to put words into her mouth, and then offer up those words to Poppy's creator… Penni and I gave each other editorial control over each other's characters, in case we didn't feel comfortable with words or actions that the other writer had given them; but I don't think we ever needed to exercise it. Penni did chide me once (deservedly) because I had accidentally left Poppy out of a crucial conversation toward the end, and I corrected some minor technical errors in a tarot reading, performed by India but described by Poppy. But otherwise the process was very smooth.

I wrote the first chapter in a google document, and emailed Penni to tell her when it was ready. Then she would get back to me with any comments or questions, and then a few days later, there would be an email from her to say that her chapter was up. We wrote fast, because we knew that the other person was waiting; but we couldn't prepare too far ahead, even sticking to our chapter outline, because there were always little details about the way the other had resolved a situation, lines of unexpected dialogue, unanticipated poignant moments, that would affect how the next installment unfolded. It was a perfect mixture of surprise and security, knowing where the story was headed, but never knowing what the scenery would look like along the way (or what might jump out of the bushes!) In retrospect, it kept the writing very fresh; it kept us on our toes. It was almost like living out the story while we were writing it.

In keeping with that feeling, we found that we had to sort of stay in character during our dealings with each other. We almost stopped talking or emailing, except for Swoosie stuff. One day we went op-shopping together, and Penni pointed out that the clothes I'd bought really belonged to India (eg a long purple velvet skirt… now in the dress-up box! Oh well…) When Mandy and Sarah had their big falling-out, and we had to write each other emotional letters explaining why we couldn't be friends any more, Penni and I upset ourselves so much we had to jump on the phone to check: 'We're okay, aren't we?' My stomach churned; I didn't sleep well for a few days. It had all become a bit too real…

But overwhelming, my memories of writing Dear Swoosie are of how much fun it was to share the creation of the story, the making-up-ness, with someone else. I would check my emails twenty times a day to see if Penni had sent the next chapter yet, and when it came I would read it and double up laughing. When the whole novel was done, Penni and I feverishly planned a whole series of Swoosie sequels: India going in search of her long-lost father, Poppy and India travelling overseas, Poppy and India starting university, moving into a share-house…

Maybe we will still write them one day.


Writing Blackadder

Not long ago, we bought the final series, Blackadder Goes Forth, the one set during the First World War, having realised that neither Michael nor I had ever seen the whole thing, despite Michael being such a WWI buff and me being such a Brit-com addict. Also, we reasoned, it would be educational for the girls… (And at least one of them loved it, and caught up with seasons two and three on iView, or maybe it was Youtube.)

So having been reminded how clever and funny Blackadder was, when I saw this book at the library I couldn't resist it. And it was, on the whole, an interesting read, though slightly burdened in places with a weight of crushing detail about the careers and relationships and true histories of everyone who ever walked onto the Blackadder set. (It was sad, and disconcerting, to read about the late lamented Rik Mayall in the present tense.)

But there was heaps to enjoy. I liked the story about the day that Rowan Atkinson stepped out of the dressing-room in full Elizabethan regalia for the first time, and the women in the studio were taken aback, and murmured to each other, 'Wow… he's actually quite, you know, sexy…' which was exactly the way I felt about Elizabethan Blackadder, too! Something about the combination of the ruff, the pearl earring and the curled lip just worked for Rowan Atkinson the way nothing else ever quite has…

And there were juicy details about the writing process. Just about every actor in the ensemble was also a writer, and they all felt they had something helpful to contribute to the script, which could be agonising. Apparently the character of Captain Darling was originally a colourless, flat character called Cartwright and Tim Mcinnerny complained that even his name was boring; it was someone's suggestion, during rehearsals, that he should be called 'Darling' which brought the character to full, twitching, resentful life.

It was a reminder of how much fun, and how productive, collaborative writing can be. Hm, perhaps there's a blog post in that!



My clever younger daughter made this iPhone cover for me. She found a Youtube tutorial to give her the basic shape, but she made up the rainbow pattern all by herself. It's a fantastic cover - light, bright and flexible, and if you drop it, it bounces! (I haven't dropped it from a great height though…)

It took three days to make, and she was quite apprehensive before it came off the loom, in case it all unravelled before our eyes (we have had previous catastrophes with fancy bracelets); this was the most complicated thing she's tried to make, and the most nerve-wracking. But it was extracted from the loom without incident, and it works perfectly. She was very proud of herself, and so she should be.



I started this blog, in a nervous and tentative fashion, back in 2008. This week it registered its 100,000th visitor.

I have no idea if that's a lot or pitifully few, but it feels like a lot to me! That's a full-to-capacity MCG. If I had a dollar for every pageview... well, I'd be very happy. But I'm happy anyway, even without the dollars.

I know people say that blogs are dead, that it's all happening on Instagram and Twitter. But I don't like change, and I'm comfortable with my sporadic blog activity and my Facebook browsing. Once I'm in a groove (you could even say -- ahem! -- a rut) it take a lot to budge me out of it.

So this humble blog is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Even if no one is looking.


Books I've Bought This Week

I've bought three books in the past week.

First was Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. I mentioned a while ago that I was craving some non-fiction and this book (recommended by my friend Kirsty) is fulfilling that need perfectly. Solomon examines the stories of parents and children who are very different from one another, where the children partake of what he calls a 'horizontal identity' -- one that, unlike ethnicity or religion, is not inherited from family. He examines ten of these horizontal identities, some innate, others acquired. So far I've read the chapters about deafness, dwarfism and Down Syndrome. It's fascinating, moving and very readable stuff.

It seems to be becoming a pattern that I'll purchase these sorts of chunky non-fiction titles on e-book -- easier to handle, physically, and much cheaper. I bought Far From the Tree for a third of the price I would have paid for the paperback version, a sixth of the price of the hardback. I do still wish I could have the physical copy on my shelf, to lend out, or to flick through; but I fear those days are gone.
Up to page -- who knows?? But about THAT much through...
 My second purchase was made on-line - via Readings, my favourite local new-books bookshop. I ordered it on Thursday, and it just arrived at my door a few minutes ago. It's a book I found out about at book group (the second, informal book group I discussed in my last post) and I'm reluctant to mention exactly what it is, because it's a birthday present for a forthcoming birthday and there's just a chance that the recipient will see it here. So mum's the word for now…

My third purchase for the week was very much an impulse buy. I'd popped into Brown and Bunting, my favourite local second-hand bookshop, on High St in Northcote, just because I was in the area and I hadn't been in for a while, and even though I didn't really have time to browse properly (or at all, actually…), I just can't walk past without doing a pop-in, however brief and token. I was in a hurry, and not looking properly, but this book did catch my eye: The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford. It's the story of two dogs and a cat who make their way home through three hundred miles of Canadian wilderness, written in 1960 and apparently made into a Disney movie a few years later (though I've never seen the film version). I remember reading this at primary school, and it wasn't really my cup of tea -- I was easily bored with animal stories -- but I thought it might be to the taste of my younger daughter, who won't read anything BUT animal stories (and Harry Potter). At $5, I thought it was worth a punt.
1964 edition -- older than me!
 It wasn't until today that I realised that none of these books was bought -- technically -- at a new-book bookshop. Once upon a time, that was the only place I would ever buy books -- from Readings in Carlton, or the Brunswick St Bookstore. But I just don't have the leisure, or the funds, any more, for hours of browsing. I have to be quickly in and out; or else I don't want to risk wads of cash on an unknown title. The way I buy books have drastically shifted in the last fifteen years.

Me, and everybody else in the world, I guess.


Books in Company

I belong to two book groups. Though both groups focus on children's and young adult literature, they are set up quite differently.

The first group I joined meets once a month, and we read three texts for each meeting: a picture book, a junior fiction title, and a young adult book. Once a year we select themes for forthcoming meetings, so from month to month we might read books on Steampunk, or Humour, or Witches, or Hamlet. Typically, our group of ten or so has a lively discussion on the merits and faults of the books we've read (one person agrees to facilitate, and guides our debate, and shares useful research they've discovered), and then we adjourn for a big chatty lunch. It's been fascinating to compare the way that the same theme is tackled in books for different age groups -- for example, the War books varied hugely in their approach, in interesting ways. Often, different members of the group will express wildly differing opinions on each book: someone loathes fantasy, someone else loved the language in this novel but disliked the storyline, another enjoyed the story but found the language pretentious. We have great arguments.

The second group I belong to is much more casual. We meet only every six weeks, and there are no set books; instead, we bring along any kids' or YA books we've read lately, and tell the others what we thought of them. Sometimes this leads to several members reading the same book, one after the other, as the volume is lent around, but usually we've all read different things. They might be brand new discoveries, or old favourites, or books that were overlooked when they were first published.

Both groups have led to my reading books I wouldn't otherwise have picked up. My knowledge and appreciation of picture books, especially, has grown immensely. I love being part of both groups, and the discipline of belonging to a group has kept me focused on my reading, and forced me to think more critically about what I read, which is a Good Thing.

 But mostly I'm just grateful to have met the wonderful, clever, generous, interesting ladies who comprise both these groups, and to be able to call them my friends. To those fabulous women (and you know who you are): thank you.


Who's the Boss?

So APPARENTLY (I haven't seen it yet) there's a scene in the latest season of Mad Men where Don and Peggy end up slow dancing together…

That's all I know. It might, or might not, be a sign of developing romance between them -- we all know that they already respect and love each other, and have done for years. They've been through a lot together, and they understand each other better than anyone else does. But does this mean they should end up together?

In the real world, hell yes. In the world of Mad Men, definitely not.

I don't care if this is what Matthew Weiner has been planning since Day 1. However much the writers, and we, the viewers, might long for an outcome where Peggy and Don walk off into the sunset hand in hand, the writers have a more important obligation - to the integrity of the story. And it would be simply wrong for Don and Peggy to get a straightforward happy ending. It would go against everything that the Mad Men universe has come to stand for. Over the last six seasons, we've learned that (inside this story world, at least) people don't get what they want; they don't want what they get; life is not easy and dreams don't come true.

Sometimes you can't just push your characters around, no matter how much you might want to. Sometimes they just stand there and shake their heads and say, no, I don't think so. You can push them and pull them and prop them into position, but they just won't cooperate; the story doesn't work. Because it isn't true. It jars with the rules of the story you've created.

I'm sorry, Peggy and Don, but this might be one of those times. And I suspect Matt Weiner knows that too.


A Break In Transmission

My hospital was not quite as gorgeous as this, but it was pretty nice. I had a room to myself, and a window, and deft and attentive nurses -- and let's face it, that's all you need, really. (And maybe some painkillers.)
Things have been quiet on this blog lately. There is a reason for this. Not long, ironically, after writing a  post about the delights of writing in bed, I found myself in hospital for a week, mostly in bed, and then recuperating quietly at home, which has also involved a lot of bed and couch time. Talk about being careful what you wish for…

It seems I'm not the only person in this position. I concur with Michelle that what you want when you're not feeling well is something fairly light to read; for me, that was the Agatha Christie compendium that I had fortunately acquired not long before I ended up in hospital. I can also recommend New Scientist magazine, kindly supplied by my friend Elizabeth, which was the perfect blend of interesting longer articles and fascinating snippets of science-y news.

Since I came home, I've been reading steampunk books in preparation for my next book group session on that theme. But I must admit to feeling a certain restlessness with my reading matter. And I think I've worked out what the problem is. You see, I like to keep my reading material in a fairly even balance of YA/kids books, adult fiction, and non-fiction books. Looking back over my reading diary, I see that I have been reading nothing but fiction for some months. Clearly I'm in need of a shot of non-fiction!

A visit to the library is clearly in order. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to drive just yet, and I don't feel quite strong enough to walk there. I'll just have to wait for someone to drive me...


Writing in Bed

Photo by Annie Leibowitz
Marcel Proust did it. So did George Orwell, and Winston Churchill, and Truman Capote. Also Edith Wharton (as recreated in the above photograph), and Nancy Mitford wrote all her letters first thing in the morning, before getting up.

Over the school holidays just gone, I got into the habit of staying in bed for a couple of hours and working. Daughter no. 1 was still asleep, daughter no. 2 would get herself some breakfast and happily occupy herself on the computer, so I could often count on a good two or three hours of uninterrupted time to bash out a few hundred words, or prepare a writing workshop, or even write a blog post. Then I could get up, with almost the whole day ahead of me, and the lovely virtuous feeling that I'd already been productive.

So this morning, first day back at school, I'm trying to recreate this useful habit. I'm not sure if it's going to work quite as well when I've been up for two and a half hours, showered, taken the dog for a walk and seen everyone off to work and school before I hop back into bed. I suspect part of the success of this technique depends upon the writing being the first thing I do, rather than making lunches, buttering toast, nagging about runners for PE, brushing hair, shooing the dog outside, getting dressed, etcetera, etcetera. But I'm prepared to trial the going-back-to-bed variation for a while and see how it works.

So far I've written a blog post. No progress on the novel yet. But we shall see.

I suppose the other alternative might be to wake up early, say 5.30am, haul the laptop into bed with me and work for and hour and half or so until it's time to start all the other morning stuff. But my husband might object to that. I can't find any evidence of what the above-mentioned writers' spouses might have thought of their writing-in-bed habit. Hm, now that I think about it, quite a few of them were single… I'm sure that's just a coincidence!


Girls' Stuff, Boys' Stuff *UPDATED*

We are looking at buying a bike for our soon-to-be ten year old daughter. This is the kind of option we have to choose between -- a dark, hard, 'masculine' boys' bike, or a prettified, frou-frou, pink and purple, flowery 'girls' bike. There seems to be no middle ground, no bicycle choice for a girl who might not like pink and 'girly.'

Even a dozen years ago, when my first daughter was born, things weren't this bad. Every damn thing seems to be genderfied these days. There's nothing neutral: bathers, building blocks, bicycles, guitars, are all aggressively gender-coded. I realise this is hardly an original observation but I feel increasingly exasperated every time I step into a shop. What kind of a gender panic is gripping our society, when every children's purchase has to be unambiguously labelled 'for males' or 'for females' only?

The last straw was when Evie saw a top she really wanted -- a black, long-sleeved top with a Tardis on the front. And it was in a box, labelled BOYS TOP. Not 'Child's Top' or just 'Size 12 Top.'

BOYS TOP. There were no GIRLS tops.

Fortunately Evie didn't care. She wears that top just about every day. Don't they know that girls love Dr Who, too?

Evie informs me that there are also gendered toy crossbow/bow and arrows available! Boys get a green and black 'Zombie Attack' nerf crossbow, to wipe out all those apocalyptic zombies and save the world. But girls get a pink-and-purple 'Rebelle' (nicely feminine) 'Heartbreaker' (!!) bow and arrow, so they can… break hearts? Play Cupid? Seriously, I am speechless.