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.


Letter To A Fellow Dreamer

My absolutely favourite part of being a writer is the beautiful, inspiring, humbling letters and emails I've received from readers. Georgia, from the UK, has sent me this letter which she originally wrote as part of her English coursework, and she has kindly granted me permission to quote part of it here. I wanted to share it because she describes the relationship between author and reader so perfectly and with such eloquence. She says:

I do not know who you are, where you are as I write this, but it does not matter to me. For I have lost myself many times in a world that you created, and there was never any need for me to meet you. You were there though, when I journeyed across land and sea; my invisible guide from page to page, pointing out what was there to be noticed and shielding what would give away the ending. So I feel like I know you, as if the story can teach me anything about the author, the dreamer...

I can see myself in the future, standing barefoot on the bank of a river watching the churning water only centimetres below me, surrounded by wild and overgrown plants, trees waving at me in the wind. The sun will be shining on my back warming my skin and clothes and my hair tickling my chin. The only sound will be that of the water and of the calling birds above. I will be looking back at what inspired me to create my entwining fibres of vision, and I will see rolling dunes stretching to the red horizon. There will be a group of travellers alongside me, and we will be trekking across the shifting sand of a waterless sea. I will be smiling and gently rubbing the small red lump on the fourth finger of my right hand I will get from writing down all my ideas.

What does it feel like to have started off my roller coaster? I know nothing about you but your stories, and yet have complete trust in your mind and imagination, enough to call them my inspiration. After reading what you created I realised what I want to be; an author or writer of some sort, an artist of the twisted worlds that flood every person's mind. I look out of the window and see the movement of the living things; from the trees to the animals that fly past the glass and I wonder if the world you invented is as alive as what I observe in front of me now? Mine is.


Someone at Readings Loves Cicada Summer...

Readings, the best bookshop(s) in Melbourne, have picked their staff favourites for 2009. Very chuffed to see Cicada Summer has snuck in there!

Thank you, Readings.


Remember I said I was going on a yoga weekend and I was scared I wouldn't be allowed to read books? Well, I went, and I was allowed to read.

But I didn't want to.

Five Things I Loved About Yoga Camp

1) It was beautiful.
This was where we stayed. The ashram is surrounded by forest. Kangaroos and wallabies wander the property, magpies, parrots and kookaburras call, fairy wrens hop through the gardens, and a tiny but insistent frog tok-ked periodically from the pond. (We saw rabbits and foxes too.) The gardens are serene, the simple buildings look out over trees and gardens drenched by gentle rain. No TV, no phone, no radio, no internet. Just being there was refreshment for the soul.
2) The yoga.
Well, the whole experience was all sort of yoga, but I'm talking about the bendy-stretchy stuff. My favourite sessions were Yoga Nidra, where you lie still and someone talks you through deep relaxation and a kind of guided meditation. It was absolutely blissful (and two story ideas came to me while I was in a trance, hooray). Some people fell asleep. Okay, I fell asleep too, but only for a second.
3) The chanting.
I didn't know there was going to be chanting, and to be honest, if I'd been told, I might not have come. But it was great. We chanted mantras, and even though I didn't know what they meant, the experience of community singing or chanting is so powerful and joyous, it didn't matter. Group singing was always the part I loved about church, when I went, and this was just the same (albeit in Sanskrit). It's interesting that different spiritual traditions end up using the same tools - music, meditation, prayer, work - though they might label them differently.
In one session our teacher talked about the yogic tradition of using chanting to alter energy in the body, to create healing energy in the world, and I couldn't resist a private smile as I thought about the magical chantments of my Tremaris books. Maybe it's not so far-fetched after all.
4) Getting up at 5am
No, really. Okay, you'll just have to trust me on that one.
5) Karma yoga
This means housework. We didn't have to do much, just half an hour a day - mopping bathrooms or cleaning toilets. If we'd stayed longer, we might have helped in the gardens (they have an incredible vegie garden, and most of the meals we ate were grown on the ashram) or the kitchen, preparing the vegetarian meals. But it didn't seem like work, because everyone was doing it at the same time. The idea is that, if done mindfully, domestic work can be a kind of meditation too. And I must say, it was lovely to be somewhere that was uncluttered, and tidy, and scrupulously clean. It made me realise how stressful it is to live in the kind of mess that I'm used to at home. I need to re-think my attitude to housework - and enforce it on my family! This might be a work in progress...

In fact, there were more than five things I loved but I won't bore you any further. Suffice to say that I'm very glad I went, and while I won't be joining the ashram any time soon, I came away with a renewed determination to practice yoga every day, and some new ideas about how to enmesh it into my life. Thanks to Elizabeth for asking me to go with her.

Hari om!


If It Feels Like Summer...

... that's because it already is. According to my trusty Aboriginal calendar for Melbourne, we are into High Summer, which will continue until the end of January. The grasses are seeding (as my itchy eyes and running nose are well aware) and birds are feeding their young -- though I must say there seems to have been a decrease in magpie swoopage this year. Has anyone else noticed this? I don't think I've been swooped once this season (touch wood).

When I was a kid, summer was the season people looked forward to the most - warm days, beach holidays, Christmas, long days at the cricket. Now the arrival of summer is experienced with dread. Summer means bushfires, enervating heat, gardens baked crisp, skin cancer. We can't wait for it to be over. And summer seems to get longer every year, stretching from November all the way through March...

Just the way the first inhabitants of this country knew.


Reading Addict

I am a compulsive reader, and have always been. I gobble books the way some people gobble chocolate. I need to have a book on the go, and I need to have the next five or six books lined up waiting, before I can relax. That massive list of books I picked up at the library sale? I've already ploughed through five of them, along with a couple of (borrowed) library books, in the last week. That's not counting the daily newspaper, the weekend liftouts, some of The Monthly, and quite a few hours of net-trawling.

I can't eat without a book in front of me. If I find myself with a spare minute, I won't use it to wipe down the bench or tidy the toys; I'll read, diving into my latest book, devouring it greedily, eyes frantically scanning just to the end of this next chapter, then I'll do the ironing... (yeah, right).

I have a problem with reading. It's my drug. I can't live without it. Next weekend I'm going on a yoga retreat and my biggest fear is that I won't be allowed to read. Back in my travelling days, when I went to Rome by myself for three weeks, I spent a fortune on second hand books in English. I bought by weight, by smallness of font. I bought ancient classics in tiny type that I didn't even particularly want to read, in the desperate hope that I could eke them out longer. I couldn't. I couldn't help myself.

I read more, and faster, when I'm anxious or unhappy. I read to escape. I read when I need space. I read to switch off. I fall into a book as some might fall into a bottle of whisky. I recently finished Augusten Burrough's Dry, his memoir about giving up alcohol, and I was dismayed at the parallels. Of course, reading won't give you liver disease, but there are other costs. Reading is private; it's anti-social. My children resent my reading; they know that I'm not listening properly when I'm buried in a book. I can be sitting in a room with my husband, but I'm not there; I'm in Georgian England, or New York, or inside a teenage film buff's head. I wonder if I've read so much to avoid living my own life, if there are experiences I might have had in reality if I hadn't spent so much time reading about them.

Once or twice I've toyed with the idea of giving up reading - not permanently, but say, for Lent, or when I'm trying to break one of the girls of some annoying habit. You stop waking me up at 5.30am and I'll stop reading. For a week. Ho ho. It's never going to happen. I can't even seriously contemplate making the attempt. Is there such a thing as Readaholics Anonymous? I'm not the only one out there, surely? Or are you all in denial?


The Slightly Delayed Library Book Sale Post

For Alice and Evie
Stupidly I didn't divide these up between them but airily said, 'You can share.' How long have I been a mother, exactly? You would think I'd know better.
Elephant's Lunch, Kate Walker
Tashi and the Dancing Shoes, Anna Fienberg
Tashi and the Forbidden Room, Anna Fiendberg
When Anna Slept Over, Jane Godwin
One Night At Lottie's House, Max Dann
Scruffy's Day Out, Rachel Flynn
Tai's Penguin, Raewyn Caisley
What a Goat! Narelle Oliver
Up For Sale Rachel Flynn
The library was clearing out their beginner chapter books (Nibbles, Solos etc) and I snapped up all these. Perfect for Alice to read herself and for Evie to listen to (and help to read herself, a bit). Now I wish I'd taken a dozen more.

For Alice
Rowan Hood, Nancy Springer
The story of an outlaw girl in the forest, Robin Hood's daughter, and her pet wolf-dog. It could have been written for Alice, who longs to live in a forest with a wolf-dog. Today she made me read it all down the road to school and right up to the classroom door, where I had to stop in mid-sentence.

For Michael
Escape To Death, Hugh Clarke
This is about the Cowra Breakout. It was right next to an old favourite of Mikey's called Die Like The Carp on the same subject. He can read it in the bath.
On The Duckboards, Gwynedd Hunter-Payne
At first glance I assumed this was a Western Front book but when I got it home I realised it was about nursing the wounded of WWII -- not Mikey's favourite war. Oh well, maybe I'll read it myself.

For me
Seven-Day Magic and The Well-Wishers, Edward Eager
Because I am very fond of Mr Eager and his gentle, funny fantasies. I think I have them all now.
Raisins and Almonds, Kerry Greenwood
A Phryne Fisher story I haven't read yet. Woo! One for a rainy day (if we ever get them again).
101 Lies Men Tell Women, Dory Holland
Because I'm a sucker for trashy pop-psych books. However this one looks like it might be quite bitter and not light-hearted at all. I might quietly slip this back into the pile at the next sale.
Tiger's Eye, Inga Clendinnen
A memoir. Dancing With Strangers was mesmerising, so I'm looking forward to this.
The Silver Crown, Robert O'Brien
Penni picked this up for herself but when I told her I hadn't read it she forced it into my hands. It looks lovely, fairy-taley and magical.
A Midnight Clear, Katherine Paterson
Katherine Paterson is such a thoughtful, interesting writer. This is a book of Christmas stories which I might read aloud at the appropriate time of year (note to neighbours and shopping centres: November is NOT Christmas!)
The Endless Steppe, Esther Hautzig
I remember having this read to us at school. I seem to remember it was rather grim. True story of a family exiled to Siberia.
Second Star To the Right, Deborah Hautzig
Esther's daughter. Penni found me this. It's about anorexia. Grimness seems to run in the family.
Starry Nights, Judith Clarke
Penni says this is good, too. It's a beautiful cover, and I'm always up for a "haunting mystery."
Njunjul the Sun, Meme McDonald & Boori Pryor
I've been meaning to read this for ages so I was thrilled to find it on the table.

In short, an excellent haul! I promised myself to be restrained this time but I'm glad I wasn't. I did, however, limit myself to one green bag full. They fitted very neatly.


Ballet Books

Back when I was a lass, there were two kinds of books about the real world: horsey books and ballet books. (Oh yes, I suppose there were school stories too - the Abbey books, Malory Towers and so forth, but I wasn't a massive fan. Someone else will have to write about those.) I had no hope of ever owning a pony, but ballet was in my blood. My grandmother was a ballet teacher, my aunt was a ballerina, and I started ballet lessons when I was four and continued them even in the wilds of New Guinea. Maybe... just maybe... I might become a ballerina one day?

The Alien Onions have just given us a lovely post about horsey books, but they have balked at tackling ballet books. So here is my own (by no means exhaustive) list of favourites in that genre.

1. Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild

The grandmother of them all. Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are all brought home as adopted babies by the eccentric Gum who promptly disappears, leaving not much money behind for his niece Sylvia to bring up the children. Sylvia converts their great big house into lodgings and the sisters end up training to earn their living as dancers and actresses at Madame Fidolia's school.
I read this until the pages nearly fell out (they were certainly very thoroughly nibbled), and despite the fairy-tale ending, the subliminal message of the girls creating their own family and destiny ('No-one can say it's because of our grandfathers') still stands the test of time.

Needless to say there are loads of other Noel Streatfeild books dealing with similar themes, about children entering the world of the stage or ice-skating or films or tennis. The refreshing thing about them now is that the emphasis is not on being 'discovered', and instant celebrity, but on the need for endless practice and hard work as well as raw talent. Streatfeild also had a gift for writing well-rounded adult characters with their own psychological agendas, which makes for thoroughly enjoyable adult re-reading. Ballet Shoes For Anna, about some Turkish orphans (!) shipped to the UK, is particularly poignant.

2. The Sadler's Wells books, by Lorna Hill

I think I actually started these with Veronica at the Wells which is the second book in the series. There are heaps and I must admit I haven't read most of them. Though there is a ballet background, these are really romances, tracing the tangled relationships between Veronica (another orphan!), her horrible relations and the moody, temperamental Sebastian. Veronica has to choose between Sebastian's love and dancing - or can she have it all? Set in the 50s, the assumptions seem quite dated at first, but perhaps the world hasn't changed that much after all...

3. Ballet for Laura, and Laura's Summer Ballet, by Linda Blake

I nearly cried when I found this cover. I remember Laura's Summer Ballet so vividly - the ballet school temporarily relocates to the seaside, and as part of their end-of-year assessment, they have to prepare their own ballet. The pupils base it on a mysterious painting which looks just like Laura... This was my first introduction to the word and the concept of "choreography," which I found completely fascinating; I loved the idea that you didn't have to be a dancer, you could create dances for others to perform... (Shades of things to come, perhaps.) I also identified strongly with the shy, modest Laura (yet another bloody orphan, by the way!)

4. Ballerina, by Nada Curcija-Prodanovic

Okay, this one is pretty obscure, in fact I had to do some serious internet searching before I tracked it down. The basic story of the ballet school, and the feuds and friendships within it, was familiar territory by this stage, but this book had the distinction of being set in Yugoslavia, where vowels were apparently outlawed and no-one's name was remotely pronounceable. Perhaps this is why it's left less of an impression than the others on this list. Still, I'd love to read it again!

Having compiled this admittedly brief list, it becomes blatantly obvious why my ballet career never took off. With two parents very much alive, my hopes were blighted before I ever laced on a satin shoe.

Any faves I've missed? Any other ballet girls out there?


Melbourne Cup Day

We had a family sweep (no cash involved, just glory) and I'm slightly disturbed that Alice managed to pick first, second and third.

This follows her triumph on Grand Final Day (where quite a bit of cash was involved) when she scooped the pool in picking the winner and margin, and the Norm Smith medallist.

Hm. Maybe her grandfather's gambling genes have skipped a generation. Maybe we should teach her poker.


A Long, Sad Week

Michael's father died.

Michael is sad and tired. He doesn't want to talk about it. He lost his father a long, long time ago. To those who don't know his family history, he has to try to explain his feelings with the vague phrase, we weren't close.

I stand before the coffin with this small band of people, Michael's family, my family now. They are knit tight with love, bound by their shared experience of surviving hell together. Michael's sister speaks of their father's pain, of saying goodbye without ill will. We all weep - brothers, sisters, mother, grandchildren.

I'm angry and sad. I don't want to forgive. But I'm sorry, too, aching for a wasted, miserable life. Michael's sister describes their father as a "talented, sensitive man." He could be witty and charming; his intelligence couldn't save him from the pain he felt, or the pain he caused.

But his blood runs in my children's veins; he is part of us. His children and grandchildren are thriving, loving, deeply loved. In spite of everything, he has left something good behind. I watch Michael playing in the pool with Evie, her bliss at being with her daddy, and I grieve that Michael never knew this loving fathering, that he had to teach it to himself, and I'm fiercely glad that my children will have joyful memories in their hearts.

Love and pain, disappointment and hurt, rage and sorrow; and relief.

A long, tough week, saying goodbye.


Very Happy

Winter of Grace was announced yesterday as joint winner of the 2009 Children's Peace Literature Award, together with Audrey Goes To Town by Christine Harris.

The jury described Winter of Grace thus:
This book deals with the unusual but important theme of the role of religious
affiliations for young people trying to understand the world and human relationships.
Readers are gripped by an engaging story about two Year 11 girls who keep us
intrigued with action and controversy and what might happen next.

The main character Bridie is searching for a set of beliefs or ideas to make sense of
life. Her encounter with Christian fundamentalism brings her into conflict with her
mother and her best friend Stella, who each have reasons for rejecting organised
religion. A variety of religious beliefs is portrayed, and Bridie's quest is not over by
the end of the book. The underlying message is that people with different religious
beliefs including atheism can all be sincere seekers after truth and an honorable
code of behaviour. Bridie comes to realise she needs to think and explore for herself.
Her reconciliation with Stella is based on recognising that friendship and trust allow
people to disagree about religious beliefs without damaging their relationship.
The model of respect for diverse belief systems and their adherents is a timely one in
our age.
So now I feel all warm and glow-y inside. And very pleased to have some further evidence that the Girlfriend Fiction books are "not fluff. Not at all."


A Small Complaint

Dear Moisturiser (and other cosmetics) Manufacturers,

Why do you feel compelled to make the lids of your bottles/jars etc ever-so-slightly rounded? If the tops of the lids were flat, I could turn the bottle/jar etc upside down and let the last of the product within trickle down to the top, so that I could squeeze it out and use it. A rounded lid-top compels me to throw away the bottle/jar etc with a goodly portion of its contents unsqueeze-out-able. This is extremely annoying.

Surely you haven't deliberately designed your bottle/jar etc thus, forcing the consumer to purchase a replacement bottle/jar etc prematurely. Surely not?

Yours sincerely,



Winter of Grace, Spring of Peace

Earlier this week I was proud and pleased to learn that Winter of Grace has been nominated for the 2009 Children's Peace Literature Award.

This is a prize awarded every two years by Psychologists For Peace to a book for children "that encourages the non-violent resolution of conflict or promotes peace at the global, local or interpersonal level."

What made the news especially delightful was that Penni's book, Josie and the Michael Street Kids, was also nominated, along with half a dozen other worthy titles. It's lovely to be short-listed together, particularly for such different books, and for such a wonderful award.

Josie, a firm bedtime favourite at our house, is the story of a girl who moves to a new neighborhood and gradually makes friends with the other kids in the street (we love this book especially dearly because we know that Penni based "Michael St" on the street where we live!).

Winter of Grace is a young adult novel, about a teenage girl whose search for spiritual answers turns her world upside down, and sets her in conflict with her mother and her best friend. It's not a novel that I expected many people to read (can I say that?) but the journey of writing it was one of the most challenging and fulfilling I've experienced, and I'm so quietly happy that it's earned this recognition.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and (how can I not say this?) peace be with you all.


Lost in the Forest of Empty Words

Caught part of an interview with the wonderful Don Watson on The 7.30 Report last night.

The admirable Mr Watson has been conducting a campaign for some time now against what he calls "weasel words" -- the kind of meaningless corporate-speak that clogs our airwaves, our newspapers, our workplaces and even our classrooms and football fields. He pointed out that kids in Grade 2 now have to write their first mission statements; eight year olds are being asked to evaluate their key performance indicators. I winced; this is all too true.

However, I must disagree with the fabulous Mr W on one point. He claims that all this jargon (value-adding, birthday-ing, lines of sight, synergies*) is burgeoning and multiplying in the name of efficiency. No. It's arse-covering. No-one wants to be held responsible for anything. If no-one can understand what you say you're trying to do, it's that much harder for someone to realise that you haven't done it. So we all float around in this cloud of vagueness, in the foggy foggy forest of weasel wordage, where no one says what they mean and no-one ever has to take the blame for anything.

*Michael, who works for...er, the government... can supply me with plenty of examples.


Fear of Meat

I was vegetarian for about ten years. Not that I had particularly strong ethical views about the rights and wrongs of eating animals, it was just what all my (more strong-minded) friends were doing and it was easier to go along. The cooks in our share houses were always vegetarian; vegetarianism, even now, seems to be a default position when I think of meals. It astonishes me when my father, for example, hurrumphs about a meal being incomplete without meat. Pasta, curry, risotto, frittata, soup - what could be easier than putting together a meatless dinner?

Michael was a vegetarian, too, and stayed one long after I'd lapsed back into my evil bacon-and-sausage eating ways. It was having children that brought him undone. The temptation to finish off that abandoned sausage roll or shred of chicken on Alice's plate was just too strong.

Ironically, now we're both full blown carnivores again, it's the girls who turn up their noses at meat. Alice's crossbite makes it almost impossible for her to chew on anything, and she objects to food that looks like it came from an animal (I entirely sympathise with this position, having some residual squeamishness myself). Evie likes warm chicken only, and Nana's roast lamb, and otherwise isn't interested, though they will both eat mince. My lack of cooking practice means I'm nervous about cooking big hunks of meat like roasts, and anyway, we get bored before we can eat it all.

So we are not a big meat-eating household. I have to make an effort to include meat in our meals, rather than leave it out. Shepherd's pie, meatballs and lasagne get a big workout on our menus. These days I feel bad about meat-eating on environmental grounds rather than animal cruelty. Save the planet, have one vegetarian meal a week! I heard on the radio the other day. ONE vegetarian meal? A week? If it's that easy, why isn't everyone doing it?

And yet there are people like my dad, who can't really come to grips with any form of protein that didn't once have a face. Friends in Scotland once planned to open a vegetarian cafe in Edinburgh (this was in the early 1990s); there was no such thing in existence then, and they met so much hostility and disbelief that they eventually gave up the project. (This from the city that invented the deep-fried pizza slice.) At college, our ex-army cook was so baffled by student requests for at least one vegetarian option at each meal that he resorted to eggs every night, and, on one memorable evening, served up a curry made from the fruit scones left over from that day's afternoon tea.

There's something to be said for the belief that if you're going to eat it, you should be prepared to kill it. I know I'm a coward; I don't want to have to think about what the poor animal goes through before it reaches my plate, let alone actually wield the knife myself. But animals do eat each other, and I don't have a problem with that, as such. I don't want to have to grind my own flour, make my own cheese or pick my own oranges either; is it more wrong to out-source meat production than any other food? Do I have an ethical stance? In the end, it's easier to eat the little bits of incidental bacon on top of the roll, make the soup with chicken stock, throw some chorizo into the risotto, than make the effort to be purely meat-free.

There are philosophical tangles here that I will have to face at some point (when Alice starts to quiz me, which will happen any day now). In the mean time, I've got some fruit scones to curry. Bon appetit.


A Room of One's Own (and a minute to one's self)

Oh my God. School holidays. Lord knows I love my children, and they are excellent company; but I am not a sociable person, and my daughters have now reached an age when they count as People. They don't need bums wiped any more, but they do need conversation.

I need my time alone. I am someone who has always largely lived inside my own head, and it's a hard habit to break. Even in crowded share houses, there was always my own bedroom to retreat to, my own door to shut. It's not so easy for a mum to be unavailable. Michael is very good at disappearing to the gym or the shops if he needs some space; for some reason, I find it difficult to just vanish like that. I'm not sure if it's a mother thing, or if it's just me.

I find myself relishing the minutes spent hanging up the washing at the bottom of the garden, or guiltily extending my time in the shower (not that abluting is any guarantee of privacy). Or now, these precious moments snatched in front of the screen while everyone's busy elsewhere. No time to think, no space to write, no time to string a coherent thought together.

And here comes Evie to ask for lunch, and the solitude dissolves almost before it's begun.


Things I've Been Doing Instead of Blogging*

building toy railways
building replicas of Hogwarts castle to stand picturesquely beside railways
rescuing runaway trains from under beds
swimming at the pool
cooking sweet potato and roasted corn soup
watching season 4 of Dr Who
supervising playdates
visiting grandparents
picking Littlest Pet Shop pets out of the bath
helping to make a papier mache volcano
attempting to answer the question "can humans fly?" for the upcoming school science fair**

** the answer is, sadly, no -- not with wings made from old shirts and balsa wood, anyway

Things I Haven't Been Doing

* with apologies to Poppy from Dear Swoosie, who loves a list



Last night, Alice and Evie and Jeremy-from-next-door took themselves off to play the Muddle-headed Wombat. Alice was Wombat, in a battered straw hat and an old green cardigan with a pillow shoved up it. Jeremy was Tabby, "because he's a boy, and he's taller than Wombat." Evie put on my gold-rimmed spectacles and a squeaky voice (no difficulty there) and became the Mouse. "Tabbeee, dear! Oh, you dear old Muddlehead!"

It warms my heart to know that it's not all Bratz and Ben 10 and training bras for pre-schoolers; that it's still possible for children to play Muddleheaded Wombat. Yay.


The Last Chance

I'm in a flurry of nerves all week. Which is ridiculous. It's only a game of football, after all. And pointless, because there's absolutely nothing I can do to influence the outcome. But the days drag, waiting for Friday -- our last chance at the Grand Final.

Yesterday I go to get my hair cut. My hairdresser asks, "So, do you follow football?" I admit that I do. "Which team?"
"Bulldogs," I say sheepishly.
She pauses, scissors in hand. "Me, too!"
So for the rest of the haircut we earnestly discuss football (does this happen anywhere in the western world apart from Melbourne?) She thinks we need Big Bad Barry Hall; I'm not so sure. She's not impressed by Will Minson; I think he's improved a lot this year. It seems that every Doggies supporter except me had a Nana who lived round the corner from the Western Oval; my husband did, and so does my hairdresser.
We agree that we don't stand much of a chance against St Kilda tonight. They've thumped us twice this year; in fact they've comfortably thumped just about everyone and are hot favourites to win the flag. No one gives the Dogs a prayer tonight. "But there's always that little crumb of hope," groans my hairdresser. She wishes the day would last forever, to keep that hope from fading; I want it to all be over. I can't stand the agony of suspense.

The day passes; the hours count down. I'm busy with copy-editing, and school pick up, and creche pick up, and fish and chip pick up, and dinner with the next-doors. Michael's coming home late, so while the kids watch TV, I turn on the radio and pace up and down the darkened kitchen.

And the Bulldogs come out snarling. They are on fire! They have seven shots at goal and the Saints have nothing on the scoreboard but a measly point! They completely dominate the quarter; the are playing out of their skins.
I pace and I gnaw my nails. The second quarter starts; we're still way in front. My god, we're winning.

Michael comes home and I hastily switch the radio off. He eats dinner, we bundle the girls off to bed. When we switch on the TV, he shouts, "It's 15-1! Dogs in front!" I try to look surprised. The Dogs are in front, and we stay in front. It's a ridiculously low-scoring game, tight-fought and tough. Every possession is contested, nothing comes easy.
Just after half-time the Saints snatch the lead. Painfully the Dogs claw it back. I can't look; I'm playing patience on the living-room floor, muttering, "Come on Doggies, come on Dogs." We're behind, but not by much; it's goal for goal.
With six minutes to go, we're in front. I feel sick. I say to Mikey, "The boys have played so well, they've got nothing to be ashamed of," as if we're losing, not winning.
Then St Kilda kicks a goal to nose in front by a single point. All those fluffed shots in the first quarter have come back to haunt us now. I'm pacing. Come on, boys! They scrabble over the ball; all the players look exhausted. The Dogs have the ball, but it's hard work, inching it up the ground, and there's no result.
Then St Kilda grab possession and just like that, bam, they have another goal. Why don't we ever get easy goals like that? There's only a minute to go. Bob Murphy bombs it long but it's no use. The siren sounds. It's over.
Ryan Griffen covers his face with his hands. Callan Ward collapses to the ground. The Saints are ecstatic; the Dogs are gutted. They go through the motions, patting each other, mouthing congratulations. Later, in the rooms, one player covers his head with a towel. Is he weeping? Griffen blinks away tears. No one moves. They slump, motionless, against the walls. In the end, it was seven points. So close. So close.

I haven't even looked at the papers yet, I don't know what they'll say. The boys played well; they've got nothing to be ashamed of. They came closer than anyone expected.
But close is not the same as winning.
It's over.


The Sea, The Sea

This weekend I sat with my back to the dunes and watched my little family jumping the waves. My parents and sister were looking down from the holiday unit behind us; we'd all gone away to the beach together to celebrate my sister's birthday. The Lark and the Owl were in heaven, building dams, playing trains, digging in the sand, cooing at baby lambs.

Perhaps it's the sheer vastness of the sea, its impersonal beauty, that gives us a glimpse of eternity. The waves roll in, the waves wash out. But as I sat there, with my birth family sheltered behind me, and my husband and children standing between me and forever, I couldn't help but feel a profound gratitude: that we're all safe, all healthy, all more or less happy, so blessed to have each other and the glory of the sea.

We asked the Owl to rate her holiday out of ten. "Two million, three hundred," was the emphatic reply.



Geelong 14.12.96 d. Western Bulldogs 12.10.82

Remember what I said about the mock? I TAKE IT ALL BACK.

Well done, Cats. You are a very, very fine football side, and if anyone but the Doggies has to win this year, I hope it's you. Congratulations, Onion ladies. I hope we'll be seeing you (again) in the preliminary final... but I'm not counting on it...


Workplace Matters

The perils of using a laptop...

For the last few months, I haven't been using my study much. Mostly because it's a bungalow in the back garden, and it's freaking cold out there. And when I've only got a couple of hours to work before I have to race out and pick up Evie from kinder, it just seems so much easier to settle in on the couch by the heater, or prop up on my bed in the sun with my lappy on my knees, where it's already warm.

But... lately I've had a couple of Whole Days at my disposal (praise be to Michael and ATO flex-time!) and I've started coming out to my study again. And whaddaya know, I've been a heap more productive. I don't think it's just because I've had Whole Days to reflect and ponder, though that certainly helps. It's also the physical fact of sitting at my desk, with my research books spread round me, sitting in an office chair. It says "I am at work. I am serious now. This is Writing Time."

I've never been a writer who could get much done scribbling in a cafe or even in a library. I like silence while I work, and no distractions. I can't even work when the children are home. And now I remember why I prize my room so highly (it's one of the main reasons we bought this house), and why I never want to give it up. Forget hot-desking (is that still happening??) Give me my cold room any day.


Putting The Mock On

Another grand old Aussie expression, meaning to jinx something or someone. It seems to be a variation on the slightly more common "put the mozz on" which derives from the Hebrew mazel (pronounced mozzle), meaning luck. But we always talk about "the mock" in our house. (Also, "the false mock," to deliberately tempt the gods by pretending loudly not to care about an outcome while secretly caring very much indeed, in a kind of elaborate double bluff. Yeah, I'm not sure how it works, either.)

A belief in "the mock" goes hand in hand with its opposite: warding off disaster by purposefully imagining everything that could possibly go wrong, in the belief that by articulating the worst, one somehow prevents it from actually happening, perhaps on the grounds that catastrophe is, by definition, unexpected. Western Bulldogs supporters, like my mother-in-law, are expert at this, as previously discussed.

On these grounds, I tipped against the Dogs two weeks in a row, and thus guaranteed that they actually won. But this week I threw caution to the wind and tipped them and they won anyway.

I've always been a firm believer in the power of the mock. But to hell with it! The day of the mock is over; the era of positive visualisation has arrived. I'm going to say it loud and say it proud, even if my words come back to bite me:


(Maybe. Possibly. If Brian Lake doesn't do a hammy. If Nick Riewoldt does do a hammy. If the Cats haven't been just toying with us the last few weeks. If the Crows don't get up after all. If the Pies weren't shamming. If everybody fires on the day... And what a day, what a day that would be!)


True Spring

According to my trusty Aboriginal calendar, True Spring is upon us, and will last until the beginning of November. "Warm, wet, windy" -- well, the windy part is certainly true, and there have been moments of warmth lately, albeit interspersed with icy blasts. For some reason, the playground of Alice's primary school is the coldest, windiest place on Earth, especially as you're counting down the minutes till the bell goes. Anyway, here's hoping for a bit more rain to go along with the winds.

The Grade 2s and 3s have gone off on an excursion today. They were feral this morning, racing around shrieking. I'm glad I don't have to sit with them for two hours on a bus. There is excitement in the air at school, as our stimulation package finally gets underway. A nice big hole has been levelled in the ground where the new building's going to be, and soon the foundations will be poured. Next year Alice will have a beautiful new library and flexible classrooms to enjoy, instead of the shabby old asbestos-ridden shed that currently comprises the "Senior School," and the library shoe-horned into an upstairs classroom. I think the old shed was there when my mum was at the school in the 40s.

By the end of True Spring, Evie will be starting Prep Orientation; my baby will be a grown up school girl. I'm both glad and sorry; but you can't have spring sunshine without the winds and rain.


Writing My Way In

I am writing. No, honestly, I am!

My current work-in-progress is evolving in a new way; I've never approached a book like this before. Generally the jumping-off point for a new novel for me is a scene or an image, like a scene in a silent film. For Singer, it was an image of a girl gazing over a snowy landscape, seeing an unconscious stranger carried to the tower on which she stood; for Taste Of Lightning, it was a herd of white horses flowing over a hill. Gradually I begin to see the figures in the landscape more clearly, their situation evolves, my characters come into focus and take on their own life, and the story accretes around them, like a pearl forming around a morsel of grit (well, hopefully it's a pearl). Often the piece of grit (that initial image) doesn't survive the writing process, but it's the foundation for all that follows.

This time it's different. Because I started out wanting to write about a particular time and place (PNG in the 1970s), I didn't begin with any characters, or a clear situation. I've accumulated lots of characters now (exiled schoolgirl Julie, dashing young pilot Doug, hard-bitten housewife Barb, haus meri Koki, explorer's son Simon), but they're just milling around, staring at me mutely, waiting for directions. I have to find something for them to do.

It's complicated, too, by the fact that my own memories keep getting in the way. It's hard to push my personal history aside, to remember that this story is not about me or my family, that this is fiction, that I have to imagine my way in, just as I would with any other story, not fall back on reminiscence. I'm not Julie, and my sister is not Nadine; Allan and Barbara are definitely not my parents.

So I've been writing my way in: fragments of scenes where two characters interact, talk to each other, go to a party, argue, swap books. I never know what's going to happen when I put them in a room together. Julie and the mission wife next door unexpectedly began to play Monopoly; Julie's mother cast lustful looks in a surprising direction; Julie's sister Nadine turns out to be a compulsive fibber. This is all very interesting (for me), but it isn't yet a story.

Then yesterday the scene that I've unconsciously been waiting for dropped into my mind -- the spark to ignite the narrative, the push to start the story rolling. Once I'd seen it, it seemed so obvious: of course, that's what happened! This is how X and Y and Z first met, this is what binds them, this is the source of the tension between them, this is their shared secret. The mists lift and there is the solution, plain and simple and true. Everything else flows from this; the shape of the story begins dimly to reveal itself, like a mountain range lifting out of the clouds. Which is a very appropriate metaphor in this instance, as anyone familiar with the Highlands will recognise.

Now I just have to write the damn thing.


Being a Bulldog

"You need to be strong to be a Bullies supporter," my mother-in-law says, and she should know; she's been a staunch Western Bulldog all her life. Family legend has it that her mother washed the team's jumpers after Footscray's one and only premiership in 1954*.

Joy has learned to live with dashed hopes, promising starts that fizzle into nothing, years of being the poorest, most struggling club in the league, years of being just not good enough. Her instinct is to assume the worst. Michael refuses to sit next to her at games because of her persistent, superstitious negativity. We might be fifty points up at three quarter time, but "You never know..." Joy shakes her head dolefully and refuses to celebrate until the final siren. Even then, it's not so much elation as relief.

When Rodney Eade took over as coach, he commented on the side's lack of confidence. It's an attitude the supporters share. Even when we're doing well, we can't quite believe it. We've seen the wheels fall off too many times. No one hates the Bulldogs, because we've never been a threat.

At work, Michael sits near a Collingwood supporter. She says, "I always tip the Magpies, and I always think they're going to win." Michael says, "I always tip the Bulldogs, and I always think they're going to lose."

So we'll be watching the game against the Cats on telly tomorrow night, resisting the temptation to switch on the radio and find out what's happening in real time, and we'll fight the usual battle between excruciating hope and the familiar comfy slippers of despair.

Go Dogs!

* though actually, it turns out this story isn't true. But why spoil a family legend?? And yes, that's right, 1954. There's an entire generation of Doggies supporters who have never seen their team bring home the big one. NEVER. I wonder if indoctrinating Alice and Evie into the Dogs is a form of child abuse?


Written on the Landscape

This is just the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life.

An artist called Rhett Dashwood has created an alphabet from images culled from Google Earth. I think all the locations are from Victoria. O looks like the MCG when the Commonwealth Games were on, and J is the pedestrian footbridge across the Yarra.


We Were Wrong (Again)

Okay, so I mixed up James Freud's rock'n'roll memoir I Am The Voice Left From Drinking with Mark Seymour's Thirteen Tonne Theory, which is the one I heard on the radio. No offence to James, but Mark Seymour's is much more literary. Not to say that James Freud's story isn't interesting -- it's fascinating, in a train-wreck kind of way, and it's reminding me of the heady days of the eighties and nineties when I was working in the "industry." Lots of money splashed around, booze, lots of drugs (not that I had anything to do with that, I was much too prim), lots of silly mayhem and really, really stupid hair.

And it turns out, Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight, which I associated with high school, wasn't released until the year after I left. Whoops. It must have been I Hear Motion that we danced to in the quad.


Desperately Seeking... Something?

I'm sure I read reviews a little while ago (within the last couple of years?) of a book about a girl who could pick up clairvoyant images from objects she touched -- see their past owners etc. For ages I thought it was I, Coriander but then I read I, Coriander and realised it wasn't. Was I hallucinating? Does anyone know the book I'm thinking of?

PS You know how I was wondering (below) if Nancy Drew was as good as I remembered? Well, it isn't. It's crap.


Library Book Sale Time Again

For Evie
I Don't Want To Go To The Hospital! Tony Ross
Because we love the Little Princess, and Evie is phobic about doctors and hospitals after her traumatic splinter extraction last summer which ended with blood splattered on the surgery walls (long story).
(Anyone who feels that Evie gets ripped off in these sales should be reassured that she has shelves and shelves of books in her room already. Mind you, so do I, and that doesn't stop me acquiring more.)

For Alice
In-Line Skating Basics, Cam Millar
for the roller girl...
Born Free, Joy Adamson
... who also wants to run her own lion park.
Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo
Which I will read to her. Goody.
Queen of the Universe, Libby Gleeson
Which I hope she will read to herself. A Solo book, which are fantastic for struggling readers because they're chapter books, but very short and simple.
Against the Odds, Robin Klein
Unlikely stories which Penni thought might appeal to Al, after the success of Tales From Outer Suburbia, which she adores.

For me
Damned Whores and God's Police, Anne Summers
I'm pretty doubtful that I'll actually read this, to be honest, but I felt it was something I ought to have. It's the updated version, too. Maybe the girls will use it for a school project, or a uni essay. If they still write essays by then. If the girls ever go to uni.
I Am The Voice Left From Drinking, James Freud
I heard some of this read on Radio National, and it was fascinating, and well-written, even though rock'n'roll memoirs usually leave me pretty cold. Also the Models were the soundtrack of my high school years. Out of mind, out of sight, gotta keep my body TIGHT!
People Might Hear You, Robin Klein
One of the Wattle Birds, Jessica Anderson
Jinx, Margaret Wild
Penni thrust all these on me and said I ought to read them. Which is true. So I will.
Women's Trouble, Kaz Cooke and Ruth Trickey
To complete my collection of Kaz Cooke health and well-being tomes. And it might be useful, it has natural remedies for lots of ailments, which appeals to my Christian Science, medicine-distrustful ancestry. (Hm, maybe that's where Evie gets her doctor-phobia...)
Ruby Rosemount and the Travellers Telescope, Jodie Brownlee
Because it's about magic lessons, and it has a nice cover. Another one I might read aloud to the girls. Though I must say now I've noticed the missing apostrophe in the title, I have gone off it slightly.
Cathy's Secret Kingdom, Nancy W. Faber
Not an ex-library book, this was published in the year I was born. It's about the relationship between two very different step-sisters and a secret room.
Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Glowing Eye
Is Nancy as good as I remember? I suspect not.
The Georges' Wife, Elizabeth Jolley
Another unread Australian classic. As a struggling would-be writer, I was always cheered by the fact that Elizabeth Jolley didn't get published until she was ancient. Now I look this up and find she was in her fifties. Gulp. Not that far away after all.

Grand total: $9.50


The Lark and the Owl

Alice can't fall asleep. She is still wide awake at ten o'clock, looking at books, drawing, making light shows on the ceiling with her torch, listening to stories, sometimes brooding (no story to listen to = increased likelihood of brooding). Often she calls out to Michael and me in the living-room, "What are you talking about? Talk louder!"

Evie, on the other hand, conks out as soon as her head hits the pillow. But she is an early riser, frequently waking at 5.30, bright as a button and ready to start the day. Worse, she often wakes in the night and crawls into our bed, which means disrupted sleep for all three of us.

So we have put up two beautiful new wall charts in the kitchen, to be filled in (hopefully) with shiny stickers, and ultimately, rewards. Alice's challenge is to lie quietly in bed without calling out, awake or not (last night I went in to check her at 9.30, sure she must have fallen asleep, she was so quiet; but she was bolt upright in bed, eyes as bright as a possum's, changing the CD on her stereo and making plans for her personal lion park. But she was doing it silently which is all I care about right now.) Evie's challenge is to stay all night in her own bed. (Crashing failure last night -- she came in crying at 5.30, and was even more upset when she realised she'd forfeited her very first sticker.)

If they were both owls or both larks, I think we could handle it better; but having one or other of them awake seemingly permanently is very wearing, and incidentally does little for parental privacy!

Apparently it takes 21 days (or nights) to form a new habit. The clock starts now.


Why Freo Are Terrible

Yes, my boys beat them at the weekend (and so they should have, in fact we should have buried them, but didn't, which is slightly worrying as September draws nearer... but anyway...) which has led me to reflect on poor old Fremantle's general awfulness. I'm not bagging the players (in fact some of them are pretty bloody good, hello Matt Pavlich if you're reading, and Aaron Sandilands, gee you're big), or the coach, or anyone associated with the club actually, with the possible exception of the marketing department who helped set them up in the first place.

First, the jumper. It's horrible. What a mishmash. Everybody knows that footy jumpers should have no more than three colours. Freo has four: white, green, red and purple. I only discovered after research today that the green and red are supposed to represent port and starboard, thus emphasising the maritime theme. Well it ain't working. No one knows about port and starboard. You need to lose at least one of those colours. It probably won't be purple, as that's the most distinctive hue. Maybe a white, green and purple jumper is the way to go? (Traditional suffragist colours, by the way, if anyone's interested. The Freo Feminists? Hm... probably not.) In STRIPES. Or with a SASH. Or a V. Like a real jumper. And what's with the anchor? It's just ugly. Drop the anchor.

Second, the nickname. Apparently there are no dockers in WA, they're called wharfies, which makes it even more ridiculous. If they wanted to make it sound like the Fremantle Doctor (a famous cool breeze, if there is such a thing), just call them the Doctors! Replace the anchor with a stethoscope, it would make about as much sense. And legally, they're not supposed to call themselves the Dockers anyway, because Levi Strauss will sue them!! (says so on Wikipedia, it must be true.)

Three, the song. For those who haven't heard it (and since the Dockers (TM) rarely win in Melbourne, we've been lucky enough not to hear it very often), it goes like this:

Freo, heave ho!
Freo, heave hol
Give ‘em all the old
Freo, heave ho!

We’re the rollers
We’re the rockers
We’re the mighty Freo Dockers!
We’re gonna roll ‘em and we’ll rock ‘em
We’re gonna send ‘em to the bottom
And if they get up, we’ll do again
The Dockers stop at nothing – nothing

Freo, way to go!

Etcetera. I won't inflict the whole thing on you, it's too painful. You can listen to it here if you're a total masochist. Compare that abomination to Richmond's joyous "Tigerland... Yellow and black!" or the sublime Sydney song, where they "shake down the thunder from the sky." Again, I discovered today that the awful dirge upon which Freo's "rock'n'roll" "anthem" is based is the traditional awful Russian dirge, The Song of the Volga Boatmen. So again, you have to give them points for trying to work to a theme. But it's just horrible. No wonder they never win, who'd want to stand around and sing that after a game? You couldn't belt that out, it's unbeltable.

In short, the reason Fremantle have been so unsuccessful is that they have nothing to play for. A jumper no one could be proud of, a ridiculous nickname they're not even officially allowed to use, and a club song that no one could enjoy singing.

My prescription: a new jumper. Perhaps green, white and purple hoops. Something clean and sensible.
A new nickname. There must be some animals left, surely. Could they be Goannas? They're pretty scary. Or Emus? Okay, I'm clutching at straws here. I guess they're not going to want to be quokkas. As long as it's not one of those abstract noun names -- Power, Victory, Storm. Ooh, I know, if they want something wind-related they could be the Hurricanes. As long as they don't try to draw it on the jumper.
A new song. Preferably something, you know, singable. How hard can that be? Base it on a song everybody knows, that's out of copyright. Don't try and write something new. That way madness lies.

And then start winning some games. Easy.


Create Your Own YA Cover

(Via the Onions)
1 - Go to "Fake Name Generator" or click http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/

The name that appears is your author name.

2 - Go to "Random Word Generator" or click http://www.websitestyle.com/parser/randomword.shtml

The word listed under "Random Verb" is your title.

3 - Go to "FlickrCC" or click http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.php

Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 - Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 - Post it to your site along with this text.
Too easy!

Not sure how I feel about being Floretta Rollins though.

And while we're at it, here's one I knocked up for Dear Swoosie:

Just kidding...


Rollergirl and Reading Rocks

Alice got rollerblades for her birthday. They hardly came off her feet for forty-eight hours. Initially unsteady, she's now zipping up and down the street. The bicycle and the scooter have both languished on the porch, but the skates are THE BEST PRESENT EVER. They seem to give her a freedom and a power that the machines can't match. Go, rollergirl, go!

And also, Shakespeare's Muse has interviewed me for Reading Rocks. Check it out to discover where the inspiration for all the names in the Tremaris books came from, how moving around as a child affected my writing, and how my website is disgracefully out of date (nb must speak to my webmeister).


My Brush With Fame

Lucky me had the privilege of attending the opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival on Friday (thanks to my clever friend for inviting me, and David, for the tix).

I haven't been to one of these does (do's? dos? they all look wrong) for many a long year, and for some reason on arrival I was quite startled to see an actual red carpet and lots of famous people being photographed. At least I assume they were famous because I didn't recognise most of them. However I did see John Safran and Derryn Hinch so that was a thrill.

Later on (having been ushered down the plebs' section of the red carpet, not past the photographers) the most exciting event of the evening occurred: Sandra and I were coming out of the toilets, chatting away as you do, and barrelled straight into Jose Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor, and his entourage, including a bodyguard with very impressive gold braid looped all over him and a don't-mess-with-me hat.

President Ramos-Horta was in attendance because the Opening Night film was Balibo, the true story of the murder of six Australian journalists during the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975. It was a harrowing story, all the more so because we knew that members of the journalists' families were in the audience, as well as many East Timorese who suffered terribly during the years of Indonesian rule. It must have been almost unbearable to watch.

It seemed massively inappropriate to file out of the film and into the huge opening night festival party, with footage of the real Greg Shackleton (one of the journalists) from 1975 flickering on a big screen. However the food was fabulous and the crowd certainly glittered and a good time seemed to be had by all.

I hope I can make it to at least one more session of the Festival; I want to take Alice to Coraline.


The Vanished Wilderness of Childhood

"Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted—not taught—to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?"

Michael Chabon mourns the loss of freedom for today's over-protected children in a wonderful article for the New York Review of Books. Read the whole thing here.

This chimes with thoughts that have been bothering me a lot lately, not just as a author struggling to make space for fictional children to have adventures, but as a mother who would love her children to grow up independent, resilient and confident in their world. (See also Free Range Kids.)

We're lucky that our local school is literally over our back fence; Alice can, and sometimes does, walk home around the corner alone. But the last time she did it, she was stopped and questioned by a (no doubt well-meaning) teacher. Alice is small for her age, but she is in Grade 2, and she has only to walk round the corner of the block; there are no roads to cross. She had asked to walk home by herself. She was so proud of her independence, and as a solitary child, relished the few minutes of private time between school and home.

But since she was stopped and interrogated, she hasn't walked home alone; she wants me to walk her home every day. This tiny morsel of freedom and achievement has been spoiled for her, and that makes me so sad.


Weather Tragic

Now that I've officially outed myself as a meteorological obsessive, I may as well talk about the seasons again.

According to our Aboriginal calendar, we are now well into pre-spring. Indeed, today feels positively spring-like, no "pre" about it. Yesterday was warm. I heard birds chattering before sunrise this morning. The wattles, the native hibiscus with its big soft purple flowers, the correas and the gums are in full flower, and the gum trees are abuzz with bees and festooned with rainbow lorikeets after the blossom. Life is stirring; there are new shoots and fringes of fresh green growth. The worst of winter is behind us, and the energy for new projects is in the air. Hooray!


This Made Me Laugh So Hard

(I still love you, boys.)

First Lines

Everyone else is doing it...

The Singer of All Songs
Long before sunrise, even before the first faint blush of gold had touched the snowy peaks that ringed the valley of Antaris, the bells began to peal.

The Waterless Sea
Dawn had not yet broken over the Straits of Firthana.
(Uh-oh, I see a theme emerging here already...)

The Tenth Power
The autumn night was chilly, and the skies over Antaris were black.
(Yep, I sure do love my weather.)

The Taste of Lightning
The Palace clocks were striking midnight and distant thunder growled from an early summer storm.
(Okay, this is just embarrassing now.)

Always Mackenzie
"We're doomed."
(Hooray! That's better!)

Winter of Grace
The bus was packed, but more and more people kept piling on: mothers with strollers, old people in cardigans, dads with babies strapped to their chests, women in suits, boys in caps.
(Yeah, yeah, but is it raining? It is winter, after all.)

Cicada Summer
Eloise floated on a sea of red and orange swirls.
(But we already know it's summer, which is the main thing.)

Dear Swoosie (I bags this cos I happened to write the first chapter)
On the day of the hundredth birthday fair, I arrived at the school first thing to set up my stall.

Crow Country (possibly)
The crow wheeled high in the clear winter sky.
(And here we go again...)

How excruciating! At least I've learned something from this exercise, which is that my weather obsession is way out of hand. Editors, please note!! I need help!


Is It Just Me...?

Once upon a time I used to get funny looks in cafes for requesting tomato sauce with my French toast. Now I don't even bother.

When I was growing up, French toast (or eggy bread, as it's sometimes known at our house) was a savoury food, served with bacon as a weekend lunch. It wasn't a bloody dessert, dusted with cinnamon sugar and drowned in maple syrup (and still, weirdly, served with bacon!) I understand the whole sweet/salty thing but it's gone WAY TOO FAR in favour of the sweet stuff.

My favourite brunch cafe meal -- ruined.


A Wonderful Place To Visit...

I've nearly finished China Mieville's Un Lun Dun. It's taken quite a while to get through, which shouldn't, of itself, be taken as a criticism (it's quite fat). There's lots to admire in this book, and I do admire it greatly. It's incredibly inventive, dazzlingly so, and the central conceit is brilliant -- that there exists a kind of mirror London, the "abcity" UnLundun, made up of scraps and discards from the other place. This is the place broken umbrellas, obsolete computers and lost socks go. The umbrellas become, naturally, unbrellas, under the command of Brokkenbroll, the Unbrellissimo. There are characters composed of schools of fish, who wear suits of words and use their heads for pincushions, who are half-ghost, half-human, and best of all, the binja -- martial arts-fighting rubbish bins. There is a reluctant heroine, Deeba, the UnChosen, who has to save the city from its deadly enemy, Smog, and its minions, the stink-junkies and smombies. The story rollicks along at tremendous speed, with fresh explosions of invention on every page. And he's done all his own illustrations, damn his gifted hide!


UnLundun falls into the category of books for kids that stretch your imagination in unexpected directions, that play hard with words and ideas -- like The Phantom Tollbooth and Alice in Wonderland. And I must confess that much as I enjoyed and admired those books, I didn't fall in love with them either. Maybe the pace is a shade too hectic. The cataract of wondrous inventions almost drowns you.

But the books that I loved most as a child were the ones that I could imagine living inside, taking my place beside the characters, becoming their friends. UnLundun is a fabulous place to spend some time, but I can't imagine living there.