It Was Meant To Be
When Penni and I first met six years, we realised that we had certain things in common. First, and perhaps quite significantly, we were both short. This meant we could look each other in the eye as we conversed; this is unusual for me and I assume for Penni too. It made us both instantly at ease with each other.*
Secondly, we discovered that we both wrote YA fantasy. Thirdly, we lived on the same tramline (alas, I wish this was still true!) and so we were able to ride home together chatting.
We found out we each had one daughter (now we each have two) and husbands whose names started with M.
As we got to know each other, weird connections emerged.
1) We used the same moisturiser.
2) We wore identical runners.
3) Both our Dads were born in England.
4) Both our Dads were in the Navy.
5) We each had an aunt who was a professional ballerina.
And most freakily of all...
6) We had each independently, without knowing each other, written a novel with a character named Trout.
Now, Trout is not exactly a common name. And most bizarrely, Undine Trout and Tremaris Trout were almost the same person, despite living in totally different kinds of fantasy worlds -- sceptical, practical, loyal, sweet.
Obviously something fairly freaky was going on here. Over the years we have been forced to submit to Fate and accept that we have some kind of bizarro Bobbsey Twins thing going on. The only sensible response was to take it one step further and actually write books together, to merge our writerly selves and become one super-author, able to leap impossible plot points in a double bound. Look! Up in the sky! Is it a Little Bird? Is it a plane? Is it a Taste of Lightning?
No! It's Dear Swoosie!!!
Described by Australian Bookseller and Publisher as "the perfect young adult novel"!! Out on 4th January in all good bookstores!
* One day I will write a thesis about how our physical bodies influence our relationship with the world. Tall and short people experience the world in utterly different ways; ditto thin and heavy people; the beautiful and the plain. Even left and right-handedness affects how we interact with others and our environment.
Wrapping Up The Year
The pattering of gumnuts on the roof sounds like hail. I only wish it was...
We're getting ready to set off on the holiday round - Christmas Eve with Michael's family, Christmas Day with my parents and sister, friends for New Year, a week at the beach. It's been a busy, mostly happy year.
I knew I wouldn't get much writing done in 2009, because it was Evie's kinder year and the days are so chopped about; but I surprised myself. Penni and I dashed off Dear Swoosie together (it's due out on 4th January, folks!). I've written about 20,000 words of my New Guinea book (though I think I'll end up discarding nearly all of them). And Pen and I have grand plans for a super-duper fantasy collaboration next year which we're both hugely excited about. Crow Country won't be ready for next year, but we're all hoping it will be published in 2011. It's nice to have that up my sleeve!
Winter of Grace was published at the start of the year, and picked up the Children's Peace Literature Award. Cicada Summer came out in May, and has been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award -- both tremendous and unexpected honours.
Evie had a busy, happy, social year at kindergarten, and is jumping up and down at the prospect of school in 2010. A big contrast to her elder sister, who still hates school -- but maybe not quite as much as she did a year ago. Huge thanks to Trish, her literacy intervention teacher, who has worked wonders this year. Reading is never going to be easy for Al, but it is getting easier, and most importantly, she's now willing to try.
Some awful things happened this year -- the Black Saturday fires, the death of Michael's father -- and the world seems to be sliding, slowly but inexorably toward destruction... But hey, the Bulldogs nearly made the Grand Final! My beautiful girls and my lovely husband are all safe and well, and more or less happy, and we have a lot to be thankful for.
Happy Christmas y'all, and stay safe over the holidays.
My Place, and Our Place
We've been loving My Place at our house. (Actually it's a bit sentimental for Alice, though she likes the historical aspect, but the rest of us are lapping it up.) Michael even rushes home from cricket training to catch it, and both of us have cried. I'm longing now to watch it forwards as well as backwards in time, to pick up the connections I might have missed.
It would be fascinating to somehow get a snapshot of our own house every ten years. We've only been here for five and a half years, so our family barely registers so far.
Ten years ago the previous owners, a couple called Colin and Stephen, were living here. They were making the mosaics that adorn our tank stand and laundry splashback, the stained glass in our back door, and painting the clouds-and-flowers ceiling in what is now Evie's bedroom. Perhaps they were building the bungalow that they used as a studio, and which is now my study and the guest room. They remodelled the bathroom and extended the kitchen. They were planting all the wonderful trees in our garden, which have transformed it into a slice of bushland in the inner suburbs, and attract all the parrots and honey-eaters we see every spring.
Twenty years ago, if I remember what Colin and Stephen said correctly, a grumpy old woman and her grown up son lived here. They painted the insides of the cupboards lurid green. Their backyard was a spartan lawn with a Hills hoist and a lemon tree.
And then it's a big blank, except for strangers' names on the title deed, all the way back to 1927, when the house was first built. All the houses around here were built around the same time; it was a Californian bungalow housing estate. It would have been as grim as most new estates - no established trees, dusty roads, no gardens, all the houses raw and ticky-tacky. The school over the back fence wasn't even finished yet; it was probably a big muddy building site, rather like it is now, with a new "stimulus" building going up. There were probably lots of little kids in the street, just as there are now.
I wonder about all the people who lived in our house before it was ours. Who slept here, wept here, kissed here, dreamed here, died here? Was anyone born under this old roof? What secrets did they hide? What pets did they keep? Were there chickens in our garden? What pictures hung from their walls, what rugs lay on these old pine floorboards? What children whispered and giggled and quarrelled here, before Alice and Evie? Was Evie's room the sitting room, or a bedroom, then? How many kids shared Alice's little bedroom? Was there a sleep-out? What colour was the house before Colin and Stephen painted it blue and white?
Alice says she saw a ghost in our kitchen. I wonder whose ghost it might have been. And I wonder what they think of us?
A Bit More Skiting
Cicada Summer is a finalist for the Aurealis Awards, in the children's long fiction section. Hooray!
The other finalists in this category are Deborah Abela, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen; Jen Storer, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children; and Gabrielle Wang (who I had the pleasure of meeting properly for the first time the other day!) for A Ghost In My Suitcase. Congratulations to everyone.
It is a great honour to be short-listed. But I was possibly even more pleased to discover, the same day, that my eleven year old friend Marcie (who hasn't been reading much lately) has read Cicada Summer three times and lent it to all her friends. Good on you, Marce.
The Children's Book, A. S. Byatt
This book is taking me a long time to read; I started it at the ashram two weeks ago and I'm still only just over half-finished. Perhaps it's unfair to comment before I reach the end. But I'm having a complicated reaction to this novel.
I should start by saying that I've always loved A.S. Byatt's writing. In my twenties, I adored Possession; I devoured the Frederica Potter quartet in greedy gulps (though by Babel Tower I was guiltily skimming some pages, and by Whistling Woman, not-so-guiltily.)
The Children's Book is crammed with detail: precise descriptions of what everyone wore to a party, and another party; what everyone saw at an exhibition and how they each reacted to it; moment by moment descriptions of puppet plays and lectures and what Tom saw in the woods. There are what seem like hundreds of characters, all with complicated relations to each other, those relations laid out in minute detail.
Once I was entranced and hypnotised by this dense layering; now, perhaps because I'm more pressed for time, I can't help thinking, oh just get on with the story! The story is solid and interesting; it doesn't need all this laborious research weighing it down. I'm glad and impressed that she has, obviously, done a great deal of research, and there's no doubt it's a rich book because of it. But I don't need to see it all laid out on the page (all 615 of them). Far be it from me to advise A.S. Byatt, but there are times when the author needs to know stuff that the reader doesn't need to know.
There's also (and Byatt has been quite explicit about this) an undercurrent of nastiness toward children's authors that I can't help resenting. (Weirdly, and as Misrule has noted before me, this nastiness has been echoed more than once on Radio National's The Book Show.) Now, I've met quite a few writers for children and young people and they all seem to be lovely, perfectly normal people. I'm sure they have their flaws, but none of them appear to be psychotic, or trapped in a perpetual irresponsible childhood, or exploitative and oppressive toward their own children, or escaping from reality, or driving their offspring to suicide.
Why is there this assumption that there's something inherently strange or dangerous about writing for children, or that we "can't grow up"? Have these authors and book-lovers forgotten that they themselves were introduced to literature by children's writers? Is it just pure snobbery?
This has turned into a rant, and I didn't intend it to be. I am truly torn between loving The Children's Book and wanting to hurl it across the room in frustration. Perhaps by the end I will have made up my mind. I'll let you know.