The Next Big Thing Meme

Thanks to Simmone Howell for tagging me! And okay, I'm a day late with the post, but I'm here now, aren't I? And it is Christmas...

1) What is the working title of your next book?

New Guinea Moon.
Doesn't it look gorgeous??

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

New Guinea Moon is set in Papua New Guinea during the summer of 1974-75, the summer before PNG got Independence from Australia. I spent most of my childhood in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s and I've always wanted to write about that time and place, but I was never quite sure how to approach it. It's partly based on my own memories, partly based on a lot of reading and research, but the actual story is all made up.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It's a young adult book - part coming-of-age story, part family drama, part romance, set in a unique moment in history. Something for everyone...

4) What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, help. When I'm writing, I can never see the faces of my characters very clearly. I guess I can see Julie as looking a bit like Brenna Harding, who was great in the TV adaptation of Puberty Blues this year. (It's not impossible that I'm being influenced by the whole 70s thing though...)
Ryan can be played by Blake Davis (though he is slightly too good-looking to be Ryan, really). He needs to be sulky.
And maybe Aaron McGrath as Simon? He was so good in Redfern Now as the school boy who refused to stand for the national anthem -- a perfect combination of self-containment and pride, but inner vulnerability - he would be a fantastic Simon. He's too young though - but by the time they make the movie, he'll be the right age!
Hey, this was a good exercise, actually, I'm glad I did this!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When sixteen year old Julie travels to the Highlands of PNG to be reunited with her estranged father, she might expect culture shock, she might hope for first love, but the secrets she uncovers make for a truly unforgettable summer. (Okay, I nicked that off the actual back cover blurb, written by a far better blurb writer than I will ever be.)

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

New Guinea Moon will be published by Allen and Unwin in March 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I spent about three years working on this book, and it changed shape and form many, many times. There are eighteen partial first drafts on my laptop, and three or four versions of the final manuscript.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hm, not sure... Towards the end, I had in the back of my mind the beautiful, painfully sensitive books of Rumer Godden, books like The Peacock Spring or Kingfishers Catch Fire or The Greengage Summer, where growing up and culture shock go hand in hand. Not that New Guinea Moon resembles those books, really, but that was what I was aiming for!

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think Australia's involvement with PNG is a really under-explored part of our history. But almost everyone I discussed this book with would say, oh, my uncle lived in New Guinea, or I was born there, or my sister spent some time in PNG. There are so many Australians with a link to the country, yet it doesn't seem to be talked about very often. Maybe there is some element of shame about our colonial past, it's as if we don't know how to talk about that history. I'm really fascinated by that silence; it's like a secret history that you only know about if you were actually there. But I'm glad that just recently a few (adult) books about that period of PNG history have been published -- like Drusilla Modjeska's The Mountain and Jon Doust's To The Highlands. So perhaps the time is ripe.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

What, that's not enough?? It also has aeroplanes, and earthquakes, and heartbreak, and hope.

I'm not tagging anyone else because I don't know who else to tag. Sorry.


Wickets and Words

Long before I became a football tragic, I was a cricket-lover.

With a handful of fellow incompetents at my girls' school, we'd take bat and stumps up to the top corner of the hockey field and vaguely hit the ball around - a far cry from the almost professional gamesmanship exercised by Nicola Marlow and her team-mates in The Cricket Term. (I finally succumbed to temptation and treated myself to a second-hand copy of this beloved text of my adolescence - it wasn't even very expensive!) It may or may not be a coincidence that my cricket-playing gang at school was also a gang of Doctor Who fans, and these were the years when the Fifth Doctor wielded the willow. 'More of a tennis player than a cricketer,' he sniffed derisively of one meglomaniacal villain. Ah, how we loved him!
My friends and I may have been more attracted to the idea of cricket than in the game itself, but we did follow real-life cricket as well, rocking up to the MCG every summer for tests and one-day matches (still pretty new back then). My favourite player was Jeff Thompson, because if you squinted really hard, he had the same flowing blond hair as Peter Davison. I was young, okay? But I also liked the dash of David Gower, the dour streak that was Chris Tavare, and the spunky "Foxy" Fowler. As you can see, I didn't restrict my love to the Australian team -- there was nothing mindlessly patriotic about my love of cricket. Perhaps that was part of the appeal -- it was perfectly possible to follow the games of individual players with deep appreciation. Cricket crowds applaud a well-struck four, a magnificent catch, or a fizzing delivery, no matter whose side the player is on. At least, they used to...

Cricket is a natural choice for those who love words. It almost seems to have been invented for the purpose of being written, and read about. Perhaps no other sport has provided the excuse for so much loving and well-crafted analysis, and even poetry. Test match commentary has an eccentric leisureliness. With up to five days of play to fill in somehow, they can afford to reminisce, to relive past glories and past disasters, to speculate, to divert to meandering discussions of chocolate cake and seagulls. There's nothing like drifting in and out of sleep to the murmur of Ashes commentary from the other side of the world. And reading about cricket is even better than listening to it. Peter Roebuck's cricket columns in The Age were one of the reliable joys of summer. I miss him. And Gideon Haigh is not just a superb cricket writer; he is a superb writer, full stop.*

Even cricket players in fiction seem conscious of their own literary heritage. In The Cricket Term, Nicola confesses to a longing to be recognised by her 'singularly distinctive late cut' like Peter Wimsey - whose disguise is betrayed, in Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, by his unmistakable batting style. And possibly when I was mucking around on the hockey field, I was thinking of Nicola and her team's unlikely victory over the Sixth in the Kingscote Cricket Cup. I once wrote a sort-of cricket story of my own, called 'A Gap In The Field,' though it was about watching cricket, rather than playing it.
These days, the measured glories of Test Match cricket seem set to be blown away by the senseless farting of Twenty20, a game that bears virtually no resemblance to the sport that spawned it. These days, we are offered a handful of tests, all crammed into the first few weeks of summer so the calendar can be cleared for the 'spectacles' to follow, when people are on holidays and can crowd into the grounds to guzzle beer and blow horns and watch fireworks go off and motorbike tricks and cheerleaders and lord knows what other pointless 'entertainment.'

Well, that's not my idea of what cricket is all about. Give me a sport where you can bring along a novel and a radio, where the reading and the listening and the watching all fuse into a meditative, dream-like whole. That's what I call summer.

* Dear Santa, if you're reading, a copy of Haigh's latest, On Warne, would tuck nicely into the old stocking. Just saying...


Twenty Years Ago Today

Paul Keating's Redfern speech.

How far, and how tragically little, we have travelled since then.


Tiny Garden

 This is Alice's window box. She tends to it conscientiously (much more attentively than I tend to our actual garden), using a teaspoon for digging and a tin kettle for watering. Gardening advice is obtained from her grandparents, because what I know about gardening would fit comfortably on the back of a matchbox. (Water -- not too much? Sun? Prune sometimes?)
At the moment, the box contains oregano, carrots, mini marigolds and a fern. Her bonsai ficus is not, strictly speaking, part of the box, but it does spend some time on the window sill.
 The tree attracts varied bird life.
 The oregano has gone beserk since being brought back from the Show as a tiny free seedling in an eggcup. We need to find some more oregano recipes. The carrots have been savagely thinned, and are being saved for Christmas dinner. I've never heard of anyone growing carrots in a window box. They are certainly very luxuriant; whether or not the roots are equally flourishing remains to be seen.
Wildlife hiding beneath the fern.

The window box is doing so well that I'm seriously considering handing the whole garden over to Alice's care. Come to think of it, she is already in charge of mowing the grass, sweeping the paths, and occasional watering, so she's halfway there...


Another Medal for Crow Country

On Friday, my good mate Penni and I flew up to Sydney for the NSW Premier's Literary and History Awards. We were looking forward to a fancy dinner and a night away in a nice hotel, but we also couldn't help feeling quite sick with nerves. The Awards organisers had made the decision not to notify winners in advance - which meant that most of the short-listed authors and historians were there on the night, but it also made for a lot of tension in the room!

Well, as you can see from the picture above, it was a good outcome for Crow Country, which won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature, and also for Penni's Only Ever Always, which won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adults. Being able to celebrate with one of my best friends made the night incredibly special; needless to say, we both found it quite hard to sleep that night, and the next morning we were wandering around still in a daze (and occasionally pinching each other).

This is what the judges said about Crow Country:
It seems that war friends form lifetime bonds, except when class and/or race enter the equation.  Such is the basis for this compelling story set in a small Australian country town.  Manslaughter, cultural secrets and unrequited love give rise to the tensions and ill-feelings that linger into the second generation. When Sadie unwillingly moves with her mother to the little town of Boort, the thirteen-year-old finds herself in conversation with a crow who embroils her in a mystery from her family’s past. When she time-slips into the body of her namesake of two generations ago she is caught up in a class-race conflict. Constable has cleverly let Sadie participate in her past history without changing it, which allows her to be the keeper of an enormous and troubling secret in her own time. Constable’s characters are beautifully rounded and real, from the family in the past to old Auntie Lily, an Aboriginal elder.

This is a multi-layered story, beautifully told, with themes interwoven through three generations; the prejudices and mores of the 1970s persist into the twenty-first century with black-white friendships frowned upon in both parents and children. The Indigenous connection to the land is a major theme, with a sacred circle of stones being exposed when drought causes the dam water to recede and the old town to be revealed. As in life, sport becomes the common bond as truths win out and secrets are fought for and kept. At the start of each chapter a small black crow sits on the black number while the cover illustration signals the stark ravages of drought with a large crow demanding attention as it does throughout the book.


A World of Girls... In the Kitchen?

Attentive followers of my 'What I'm Reading' list will have noticed that I've been devouring lots of old-fashioned girls' stories lately, especially the ballet books of Lorna Hill (which probably deserve their own post). This was partly prompted by my picking up Rosemary Auchmuty's A World of Girls from the last library book sale. This was a fascinating analysis of the enduring appeal of girls' school stories (think The Chalet School, The Abbey Girls series etc) in the face of (male) derision and jolly-hockey-sticks satire. Auchmuty contends that these books, despite some dodgy elements, nevertheless provided their young readers with a picture of a world where women thrived, independent of men, and had real, loving relationships with each other.

I was never a huge consumer of school stories (apart from Antonia Forest, who, with respect, is in another league entirely from the authors discussed here), but Auchmuty's description of one particular book made me sit up. In Dorita Fairlie Bruce's Prefects At Springdale, the different houses of Springdale compete to show their special strengths -- one house gives a concert, another shows off their prowess in foreign languages etc. Wistaria House decides to go in for Domestic Science, and puts on a dinner party, which ends up winning them the prize.

'Hang on,' I thought, 'this sounds familiar...' and sure enough, a search of my mother's bookshelves revealed a battered copy of Prefects At Springdale, awarded to Mum as a Sunday School prize in 1948 (twelve years after its original publication).

Auchmuty's book contains a whole section on the topic of Domestic Science and its role in the school story genre. Especially after the female freedoms of the two World Wars, there was a concerted political push to encourage girls to be educated in the science of home-making, to nudge them back into their 'proper' domestic sphere. This was a source of some ambivalence in women's education and also in the school stories, though in Prefects, Dorita Bruce comes down firmly in support of girls being taught to cook and mange a household (though the actual cleaning, one gathers, would probably still be performed by the servants!)

Rosemary Auchmuty applauds (with reservations) the attempt to revalue 'women's work' by making it more 'scientific', but laments the way that girls were forced to cram in Domestic Science on top of the normal (male) curriculum of sports and academic subjects. 

Having won the competition, Wistaria is awarded with their trophy -- a bonsai cedar tree. As Auchmuty points out:
Of all the images that could have been chosen to symbolise women's position under patriarchy, it would be difficult to find one more apt than this. A bonsai tree is something which is beautiful, certainly, but stunted, reduced to ornamental status to stand on a domestic shelf, certainly not fit to take its place in the might forest of real trees.
Of course, back then, Domestic Science was a subject taught only to girls. These days, Home Economics should probably be compulsory for everyone (my friend Elizabeth, who is studying to be a Home Ec teacher, might agree with this view). All students can benefit from learning about nutrition, environmental sustainability and the economics of household management. In a world of scarce resources and climate change, this is stuff we all need to know: how to live responsibly and sustainably, how the personal decisions we make about how we live (what we eat, what we buy, what we consume and throw away) affect the future of the planet. It just needs a more compelling name: Applied Environmental Ethics? Practical Life Philosophy? Any ideas?


19th November

2012 (aged 46)
I am officially an AFL tragic; I'm getting twitchy for draft day.
2010 (aged 44)
Evie: Don't say fingernail! It's an Evie swear-word.
2008 (aged 42)
Alice: I want to make a pond out of the swimming pool. Because nature is more important than luxury.
2000 (aged 34)
Got the blue line in the square window this morning. I know a million things can go wrong from here and it's very very early days, but OH. MY. GOD!!!!
Charlie or Amy? Gotta get that folate supplement.
1996 (aged 30)
Xtos, B and S's joint birthday party. Danced till 3am.
1997 (aged 31)
Pulled the plug with T. He didn't try to talk me out of it. Very annoying. I cried. Afterwards.
Thank God for E (18 months) who jumps up and down and says KateKateKate when he sees me and covers me with kisses. So at least there is ONE boy who loves me.
1992 (aged 26)
Remember Edinburgh: the chippie (Rapido), the laundrette, The Pear Tree, The Green Man, Mahal, Grassmarket. Check diary. Remember hard.
1991 (aged 25)
Last night an American boy started chatting to C and me, sharing his wine etc and we ended up  going for a massive walk up to Montmatre & Sacre Coeur - gorgeous night view and the cathedral full of heavy shadows & moonlight shining through the stained glass. Long tedious tramp back, dropped into bed exhausted; an Aust girl packing her bag and a US girl chatting -- party animals -- right into "hostel life" -- nightmare. Got the train to Avignon.
1986 (aged 20)
Watched cricket. C rang, bored. Rang J to see what's happening about this bloody party - can get a lift down but then she's disappearing with F so I'm stuck. Might ask G for a bit of floor at his place? He is the only reason I'm going. Bet he doesn't even talk to me.
1985 (aged 19)
I'VE GOT A JOB! Swagman rang, I start on Thursday night. I have to bring my own bottle-opener.
1978 (aged 12)
We got up at 6 o'clock to drive to Nana's. It was so rainy, it broke the record for five years! Nana and I had a philosophical discussion.* I played with the cards most of the time.
1977 (aged 11)
We went to the library and the market. Mrs Findlay blow-waved my hair. The Heralds have a new dog. It's a gorgeous puppy. I read a lot.


The Patricia Wrightson Prize

Just when you thought the award season was safely over...

The shortlists for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards for 2012 were announced on Monday, and I was humbled and delighted to learn that Crow Country has been shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Award, for children's literature.

I wish I had more time to write about this properly, but I'm supposed to be working on a copy-edit and I'm on a strict deadline! But I just had to comment quickly on how special it feels to be nominated for an award named after Patricia Wrightson, and particularly for this book.

Patricia Wrightson is best remembered for her children's books which drew on Aboriginal myth and folklore to create a truly Australian literature, in a time when many books for children were firmly rooted in an inherited British culture. Many readers of my generation grew up on her evocative and beautiful fantasy stories. As time has passed, some have questioned whether Wrightson's use of indigenous material was in fact "appropriating" or "controlling", and when I set out to write Crow Country, I had to ask myself the same question about my own exploration of Aboriginal myth and philosophy. I don't have time to discuss this in much depth here, but Matthew Finch has written a fascinating series of posts on his blog which talk about Wrightson's project, and her legacy, in more detail.

It is of course a complicated, sometimes fraught, and difficult area. But these are conversations which we need to keep having. And meanwhile, I feel deeply honoured that one of my books is up for a prize named in memory of one of Australian's best children's writers, a wise woman who thought long and hard about our connection to this land, its first people, and its magic.



As part of my research for my next book, I've been reading Janet McCalman's fascinating history of the working-class inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond, Struggletown. She charts the ebb and flow of poverty and prosperity through the twentieth century, the impact of war and depression and changing social mores on the lives of Richmond's inhabitants, from 1900 to 1965. Published in 1984, the photos show how much Richmond has changed and become gentrified even in the last three decades.

As I read, it struck me that the book closely traces the course of my own grandmother's life. Doris was born in 1905 in North Carlton, and as a young woman worked in the 'rag trade' for one of the dressmakers in Flinders Lane (as did some of the Richmond interviewees). She was a child during World War I, but when the Depression hit she was married with a young family, living in Thornbury; they were lucky that my grandfather kept his job, and the extended family were able to help out. My grandfather didn't fight in the Second World War; the family story (half-joking, or perhaps not!) is that 'Nana wouldn't let him.' Or perhaps his job as a clerk with Dunlop Tyres was regarded as essential? In the 50s, my grandparents moved from the inner suburbs to a new house in Cheltenham, where they lived for most of the rest of their lives. And finally at eighty, Doris moved in with her youngest daughter (my mother) and her husband, and she lived with them for ten years, until her death in 1996.

Nana was definitely what Janet McCalman would categorise as a "respectable" type.

Respectability prescribed disciplines in behaviour... cleanliness, sobriety, extramarital chastity, thrift, time-consciousness, self-reliance, independence and responsibility...

As I read this list, I couldn't help thinking, yep, that's Nana. Like many of the "respectable" Richmond residents interviewed by McCalman, she disapproved of alcohol and feared the destructive effects of alcoholism. She lived within a narrow hedge of conservative social rules, which led the adolescent me to argue passionately with her. (To be fair, I think she quite enjoyed those arguments; she was so convinced she was right, I never made the slightest dent in her self-assurance.) It seemed to me that she was anti-sex, anti-pleasure, even anti-nature (she didn't like trees) -- opposed, almost on principle, to anything that could be construed as fun.

But in hindsight, I can see that those rigid, self-disciplined rules must have given her security, and perhaps protected her and her family during the hard times she'd lived through. Nana was nothing if not stubborn, and this inflexibility used to drive me mad, but that iron will must have helped her to survive.

And she did know how to have fun. As a young woman, she acted in radio plays, sang in choirs and toured rural towns with a theatrical group. She used to boast of modelling clothes for clients at the fashionable dressmaker's where she worked before she married. My Nana, the supermodel! (As she was a tiny woman, less than five feet tall, I doubt she would have cut it on the catwalk these days.)

I wanted to read Struggletown to learn about Melbourne history, but it's also given me an insight into my family history and psychology that I wasn't expecting to gain. Well worth reading.



So I bought some toothpaste that was on special. And once we'd opened the box, it became clear that it was on special because it had a cap that has to be screwed on and off, rather than the squeezy nozzle that we've become used to.

No drama. But the girls gathered around to stare, open-mouthed with excitement. 'Look, look!' 'Oh, wow!' 'That is so cool!' 'That's awesome!'

They were just as thrilled by this retro toothpaste dispensing mechanism as I would be by a Bakelite wireless or a horseless carriage. It's a funny old world. So many things disappear before you even have a chance to realise that they've gone.

And because I'm starting to work on a book that is about, among other things, the vanishing ephemera of the past, it was a timely (see what I did there??) reminder that even the simplest things can be unexpectedly fascinating to kids.


Behind New Guinea Moon

Comment on Kirsty's Kite, below:
Just dropping by...
What's next Kate?

x Lorraine Marwood
 As they used to say on The Curiosity Show, I'm glad you asked!
Me, my little sister Hilary and an unknown boy, Mt Hagen Show, 1975
Next up, hopefully in March 2013, will be my long-awaited (by me, anyway) 'New Guinea book,'  now titled New Guinea Moon.

I've wanted to write about PNG in the 1970s for a long time. When I was six years old, my family moved there, first to the capital, Port Moresby, and then to Mt Hagen in the Highlands. My father worked as a charter pilot, flying everything from coffins to cows to coffee beans, in and out of tiny Highland airstrips. We moved back to Australia just before I turned twelve, so effectively all my primary school years were spent in PNG.

It's fascinating that  every time I tell someone that I'm working on a book set in this time and place, almost invariably they will respond, oh, my uncle lived there for years... my mother grew up there... my cousin/sister/neighbour's brother was a missionary/teacher/had a coffee plantation in New Guinea... Everyone seems to know someone, or is related to someone, who was involved in the country in some way.

PNG is a huge, but largely unspoken, part of of Australia's history. I've been encouraged by the recent release of at least two novels, both based partly on personal experience, set in pre-Independence Papua New Guinea - The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska, and To The Highlands, by Jon Doust. Maybe it's time to talk about colonial New Guinea at last.

New Guinea Moon is a young adult book, not literary fiction, and I don't have any grand ambitions to explore the relationship between Australia and PNG in great depth. But to me, those three decades between the Second World War and PNG's Independence, from 1945 to 1975, and just after, have always seemed like an intriguing, and neglected, little pocket of history. Old hands say that once New Guinea gets into your blood, it never leaves you. That's certainly been true of my father, who would dearly love to go back and revisit all those airstrips. And I guess it's also true of me, even though I was only eleven when we left, and too young to make sense of much of what we'd experienced there.

When we came back to Australia to live, two things stood out for me about our time in New Guinea. First was the isolation -- both physical, tucked away in those remote mountains, and cultural. We had no TV, no radio apart from Radio Australia. If we wanted news of 'home' we were reliant on aerogrammed letters from my grandparents, and out of date newspapers and magazines airfreighted in from 'Down South.' When I landed in Grade 6 in Cheltenham East, I was totally ignorant of pop music, fashion, football, TV -- everything that might have given me some common ground with the other eleven year olds in the playground. I might as well have dropped from Mars.

The second was my consciousness of Other. At the time I didn't see this in terms of race, but of poverty. I knew that not everyone in the world lived in brick veneer houses in suburban streets. I knew that there were people who lived in smoky huts with woven cane walls, where pigs wandered in and out, and who sold sweet potatoes for a few cents at the market. I was horribly, painfully aware of how incredibly lucky, in material terms, I was and all my peers were, and I was priggishly prompt to point this out. Especially when I went on to my very privileged private secondary school... And perhaps that awareness, that sense of amazed gratitude, has never quite gone away either.

My dad said recently that those years in PNG set us up, as a family. We were able to rent our Melbourne house while we were away, and that extra income paid off the mortgage and secured our financial future. 'Growing up in New Guinea' has always been a huge part of my personal identity. And although Julie's story in New Guinea Moon is very different from mine, many of my memories have gone into the book. I hope that I've managed to convey a little of what it was like to live in that extraordinary place, at that extraordinary time.


Kirsty's Kite

I hardly ever listen to music any more. Maybe all those years as a record company lackey has spoiled music for me; or maybe I'm just getting old.

But an article in the weekend paper about Kirsty MacColl prompted me to dig out one of my favourite albums of all time, Kite, and even though I haven't played it for a decade, I still knew all the words. Where do the words of unforgotten songs hide? In what corner of the brain do they lie dormant, called out by a familiar tune?

I loved this album so much. I have no idea how many times I played it. Even though she wasn't one of "our" artists, I occasionally sneaked it into work and listened to it there (strictly against the rules). One of the things I love is her voice -- no vocal gymnastics, no trills and tricks and vibrato; just clear, beautiful singing where you can understand every word.

And what words! ... with a pocket full of plastic, like a dollar on elastic... sod all your funny little ways, they don't make me laugh these days any more... some boys with warm beds and cold, cold hearts, can make you feel nothing at all, the boots just go back on the socks that had stayed on, the next time they see you, they treat you like dirt... she sleeps like a woman when he wakes like a man... if I wore your shades could I share your point of view?... it's you and me, baby, this is journey's end...

The lyrics sound grim but the music is so joyous, so alive. Alice wondered why she was singing about "boys with wombats" and I can almost imagine her doing it.

Kirsty MacColl was tragically killed in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000, saving one of her sons from being run over by a powerboat.

I should write out a hundred times, put my hand on my heart and say that I don't want to lie, don't want to lie, don't want to lie, about the way it is...it's the end of a perfect day.


Ramona Revisited

Evie has asked me to re-read the Ramona books to her and we're racing through them. The process is made swifter by the fact that this time round Evie knows which chapters she wants to skip - the scary ones, mostly. (There's not going to be a book called Evie The Brave any time soon, let me tell you.)

The Ramona books are about the only books featuring human beings, rather than talking animals, that Evie really enjoys. I think the main attraction is the fact that Ramona is a little sister, just like Evie. During the earlier books, when Ramona is a pest, Evie will ask, 'Did I do that? Did I annoy Alice like Ramona annoys Beezus?' Statements like: Her father, her mother, nobody could understand how hard it was to be a little sister, are greeted with heartfelt sighs of recognition.

And Evie always wants to know, 'Was I naughty like Ramona? What naughty things did I do when I was little?' But the sad truth is that Evie was hardly ever naughty. She rarely got into mischief, and if she did, she was prodded or coaxed or goaded into it by her big sister. If anything, in our house, Evie is Beezus, and Alice is Ramona.
Evie at four (aka Beezus, the responsible sister)
Alice at seven (aka Ramona, the bolshie sister)
But it doesn't matter. The important thing about Ramona and Beezus is that they are sisters, and their relationship is true.

Evie and Ramona: not the same...

... or are they???


Crow Country Book Trailer

I love this!

A uni student called Abi Riley has made a book trailer for Crow Country. I hope she doesn't mind me sharing it, but I think it's great.


Making It Up

Penelope Lively describes this book as an 'anti-memoir.' She looks back over her life and selects certain turning points where things might have turned out very differently, and imagines the alternatives in a series of short stories: what if the ship on which she, her mother and nanny escaped war-time Egypt had been torpedoed, instead of delivering them to safety? What if she had fallen pregnant at eighteen? What if her future husband had been sent to the Korean War during his national service, instead of being reprieved at the last minute?

It's an intriguing idea. How many times do we really face a genuine crossroads in our lives, and how often is it our own choice that determines the path we follow, rather than a trick of chance or fate? I can't help thinking that such moments are actually quite rare. And perhaps the moments we think are so important are not really the most crucial ones.

I enrolled in Law at university, which seemed a momentous, agonising, life-shaping decision, but one which ultimately has had almost no effect on where I've ended up. However, the decision to live in at a residential college, and the particular college I put my name down for, was taken very lightly -- I only went to look at colleges because my friend Amy had wanted to -- I didn't even know what a college was -- and I signed up for JCH because it had the prettiest building. And yet the friendships I made there have lasted for twenty-five years, and had an incalculable effect on my life. It was at college I met David, and through David that I met Michael. And the rest is history...

I've always loved Lively's books because of their keen awareness and preoccupation with the past, and how it moulds and bleeds through into the present. This odd, but oddly satisfying book, takes that awareness and twists it into an entirely new shape.


Rilla By Night

Alice and Evie go to bed with an audiobook every night. Don't blame me; their father can't fall asleep without the radio murmuring in his ear, so I reckon they got it from him. Anyway, this habit is all very well when we are on home turf, but it can pose problems when we're staying elsewhere.

This weekend we had a sleepover at a friends' place. Thank God for the iPad and the free Audiobooks app which we had spent some time exploring recently. There are literally hundreds of books available, though unfortunately many are read by narrators who are... well, less than perfect. The word wooden springs to mind. The only book we'd downloaded in its entirety, and which had an excellent reader, was Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, one of my absolute favourite childhood reads, and the source of all my early knowledge of World War I. Essentially it's the story of Anne (of Green Gables) and her family's experience of the Great War, focusing on her youngest daughter Rilla who comes of age during those agonising years, with friends, brothers and potential sweethearts marching off to war around her.

Well, we put on Rilla when the girls went to bed at about nine thirty. When Michael and I came to bed an hour later, Evie was asleep but Alice was still wide awake and listening. 'England has just declared war on Germany,' she hissed. I fell asleep with half an ear tuned to Rilla's tribulations, and whenever I rolled over in the night, I was dimly aware of the story murmuring away. We were all squished into one room and I couldn't reach the iPad without treading on everyone, so I let it run. Al must be asleep by now anyway, I thought lazily. When I woke up at about six, sunlight was seeping into the room and Rilla was still going! But by seven thirty, all was silent and Alice was fast asleep.

At half past ten, she was still dead to the world. When she finally surfaced, she confessed that she had stayed awake all night, listening to Rilla. And she really had.

'Oh, Mum, why did [spoiler spoiler]? It was so sad. And why did Jims' father have to come back? I didn't like Rilla's boyfriend at all... It was so scary when Jims was really sick and Mary saved his life. And Little Dog Monday, waiting for Jem! Oh, Mum...' - big contented sigh - '... what a great book!' She hadn't missed a minute.

And I know I'm a bad mother, letting my child stay awake till dawn listening to a novel, so she had big black rings under her eyes and could hardly speak for tiredness, but secretly, deep down inside, I didn't mind at all. So there.


Finishing New Guinea Moon

Goroka market 1972; photo copyright Brian Wilson
I've written before about the weirdly unfinished process of "finishing" a manuscript. It doesn't seem like three years since I was last in this position -- gulp, I just checked, and it's closer to four years, actually.

New Guinea Moon has been a long time in the writing, and there are many, many versions of it buried in the depths of this laptop. I knew I wanted to write something about PNG in the 1970s, but I wasn't quite sure what. Slowly this story struggled to the surface, took shape, sank and re-emerged. The ending didn't reveal itself until the very last draft, so in some ways, the manuscript that I showed to the Onions was still quite unfinished. They had some helpful suggestions about ways to improve what I'd written, and now I've reached the point where I've revised as best I can, and it's time to send it off again. As late as this morning, under the shower, I thought of a bit to put in - just a few lines, but hopefully it will make this one scene clearer, stronger, better. I don't need to send the manuscript off until the end of the week, so no doubt I'll think of something else to add, or something else to cut. But I will never know exactly what that final alteration will be.

There is still editing to do, of course -- with luck, not major surgery, but tweaks here and there -- a line removed or shifted, a word added or deleted. But there never seems to be a moment, like there is in the movies, when you rule a line under the story and triumphantly write THE END!

Finishing off a book, like beginning to write one, is a strange, dribbly, blurred process. Not unpleasant, but in some ways, oddly dissatisfying. It can be hard to let go, to admit that no amount of tweaking will make your flawed manuscript match the shining ideal you held in your head before you began to write. It's hard to hand it over into the care of others. It's hard to say goodbye.

And weirdly, now that I'm writing this, I can see the parallels between my own mixed feelings about saying goodbye to this novel, and the feelings that led me to want to write it in the first place - my own stubborn attachment to a place where I lived for six years, the place that shaped my childhood and my family's history; and my protagonist, Julie, who also has trouble saying goodbye.


Fantastic Little Miss Fox

Yesterday was Roald Dahl Day for the Grade 1/2s at our school. Evie dressed herself up as one of the baby foxes from Fantastic Mr Fox. She made her own ears and devised a tail from a little (fake) fur jerkin.

Do I dare to confess that Roald Dahl, much as I admire his work, has never been one of my favourite authors? He has that streak of cruelty which a lot of kids find very appealing, but which always repelled me a little, both as a child and an adult. However, we have a box set of Roald Dahl audiobooks which the girls have listened to a lot, so I'm glad they've had the Roald Dahl experience without me having to read to them. (Will I be expelled from the Society for Kids' Writers now?? Oh dear. I do enjoy big chunks of Matilda, and The Witches.)

However, the foxes are certainly very cute. Especially this one.


Three Men In A Bad Ending

From left: the original George, the original Harris and 'J' Jerome K. Jerome. Imaginary dog not pictured.
So I've been reading Three Men In A Boat to Alice. Written in 1889 by journalist and humorist Jerome K. Jerome, this slim and well-loved volume chronicles the adventures and misadventures of three young men (to say nothing of the dog, Montmorency) as they take a leisurely two week trip up the Thames.

There are lots of poetical descriptions of the landscape (which Alice found dull) and history lessons, as they pass various towns and grand houses (which Alice found moderately interesting, so long as we could tie it into Horrible Histories -- the Saxons had us pretty baffled though). But her favourite parts of the narrative were the tall tales the three friends share (like George getting lost in the maze) and the silly accidents that befall them along the way - the tins that won't open, the boat cover that refuses to go up, the huge fish in the pub that every man who wanders in claims to have caught, and which eventually (after an unfortunate accident in which Harris climbs on the back of a chair to examine said fish more closely, but knocks it down and smashes it into a million pieces) proves to have been made of plaster all along.

The three men were closely based on Jerome himself and his two friends Carl Hentschel (renamed Harris) and George Wingrove. Only Montmorency the dog was entirely invented, which is a fact I'm reluctant to pass on to Alice after her reaction to the ending of the book. You see, the three men jump ship. They've sworn themselves to a fortnight's holiday, but the weather in the last few days is so unrelentingly terrible, they abandon the boat with two days to go, take a train back to town and treat themselves to a slap-up meal and a trip to the theatre instead.

'What?' Alice was outraged. 'That is a terrible ending.'
She's been brooding about it for days, and last night when Jerome's name popped up in another context,* she said savagely, 'Huh! He wrote really bad endings.'
'What's wrong with the ending?'
'Those three men were really bad role models. They just gave up. They should have stayed until the very end.'

It emerged that she felt cheated of another two days' worth of anecdotage and misadventure. In her view, sending the three men home early was sheer laziness on the part of the author, and she is not prepared to forgive it.

* He featured in Who Do You Think You Are? as a crusading journalist who ruined Emilia Fox's ancestor's name. Long story.

In Other News:

Here is what the judges of the WA Premier's Book Awards said about Crow Country, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Young Adult award:
Kate Constable has taken a complex and contentious topic and handled it with a deftness that will be enjoyed by a casual reader but will be long considered by a thoughtful one. As race relations in this country are still being negotiated, this novel reminds us of past injustices while offering hope for a better future.
The winner of the Young Adult award was my dear friend Penni Russon, for Only Ever Always, which makes me very happy:
Mysterious, complex and challenging, Only Ever Always is a beautifully written story of parallel lives where Claire in the now, and Clara in a dystopian, timeless world, each face similar difficulties. Is one the dreamer, the other the dream, and if so, which? Changing voices, points of view and place make this a very satisfying novel for a reader willing to give it the close attention it deserves.
 Couldn't have put it better myself!  Congratulations, Pen.


Knowing It All

This was an impulse buy from the library book sale, but I was unexpectedly beguiled by it. AJ Jacobs, once convinced he was the smartest boy in the world, and horrified by the slow leaking of knowledge (and intelligence?) from his once-agile mind, resolves to regain his mental ascendancy by reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.

This is the true story of his quest, liberally punctuated with bizarre and fascinating snippets of information gleaned from each volume. It's also a personal memoir of the year or so he spent cramming all that knowledge into his depleted brain - his attempts to outdo his (extremely smart and somewhat competitive) father and brother-in-law; his and his wife's simultaneous quest to get pregnant; his appearance on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

The thing is, I can totally relate to the idea of reading the encyclopaedia from beginning to end, though admittedly it's the kind of project I would have embarked on when I was thirteen rather than thirty five. I love QI (have I mentioned that?) and some of my happiest moments have been spent (modestly) beating others at Trivial Pursuit or whipping out some obscure factoid to take the lead at a quiz night.

On the slightly disturbing side, I found that I actually already knew at least half -- maybe even three quarters -- of the obscure trivia with which Jacobs liberally besprinkles his tale. Is it possible to watch too much QI? Horrors.

Another rather sad footnote: it's no longer possible to emulate AJ Jacobs' feat (not with a current edition, anyway). A few years after this book was written, Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped producing hard copy volumes and is now available in on-line form only. It's just not the same.


News Just In: Richard III's Body Found?

How cool is this? Archaeologists digging up a car park in Leicester have found a skeleton which  they think may be the long-lost body of Richard III. They are doing DNA tests with a descendent of Richard's sister, Anne of York, to check. The male skeleton does not have a hunchback or a withered arm, but it does have a curved spine, which would have made the right shoulder sit higher than the other, consistent with contemporary descriptions of Richard.

My favourite aspect of this story? That my husband sent me an excited email as soon as he heard the news. (Love you, Mikey!)

History has long argued about the comparative villainy or heroism of Richard III. Did he murder his nephews, the Princes in the Tower? Josephine Tey thought not; Sonya Hartnett is not so sure. I did a project about this in high school (after reading Daughter of Time!) and concluded that Richard was innocent; now I'm not so sure, either.

But for the final word, over to the man himself:


Nuns and Horses

Alice and I were watching an episode of QI last night, where they were discussing horses. One of the panellists remarked that a certain piece of sad music always made her cry, because it reminded her of Black Beauty, when Ginger died.

Alice turned to me, her eyes like saucers. 'Ginger died? When did Ginger die?'

It seems that the audiobook version of Black Beauty just, you know, skipped that part...

As I was tucking her into bed, she said, 'Mum, have you got any good books about nuns?'
'Well, there's that book about Maria Von Trapp, the real Sound of Music story... Or I have got a very good novel about nuns, but it's for adults.'
'No, no, I want a factual book about nuns, their day to day lives, what they get up to. I'm just really interested in nuns.'
Obviously there's a gap in the market for a really gripping kids book about nuns. Maybe a pop up?


Spring Poem

(By someonE who liVes In our housE but would like to remain anonymous. )

Spring is puppies playing in the grass.
Bees flying slow and fast.
Not to hot, not to cold,
Spring is just simply gold!
Flowers blossom in the trees,
Birds singing in the evening breeze.
Even if there is wind and rain,
The sun will allways come out again!
The pears are juicy, the apples ripe
All because of spring's bright light!
Butterflys speed around beds
While around the land spring spreads.
Goats pull off the drying washing
And bees are buzzing!



Not actual child
So we stumbled into a bit of a drama at school this morning. I was signing in the girls (late, oh dear...) at reception when a distraught mum rushed in and stammered to the admin office lady that she'd lost her two year old, a little boy in a green jacket, could she put out an announcement please? Then she rushed away again.

The admin office lady made an announcement over the PA, I shooed the girls off to class and set off to join the search. But lo and behold, I didn't even get as far as the door when I spied a little boy in a green jacket strolling happily down the corridor. So I called his name and took his hand and we went to find his mum. Two minutes later they were reunited, the frantic search was called off, and all was well. The little boy himself was completely unperturbed by all the fuss.

But what upset me a little was how distressed his mum was. 'I'm such a bad mother,' she sobbed, tears rolling down her cheeks. Another mum and I patted her back and told her not to be silly, it happens to everyone -- and really, if you think about it, a primary school on a quiet street is a pretty good place to lose a toddler. There were lots of people around to help, and not much trouble to get into. Of course it's deeply scary to mislay a small child, even for a few minutes, but it was very unlikely that this story would have anything other than a happy ending. I really hope this mother isn't going to spend the rest of the day beating herself up about what a terrible parent she is, when the only thing that happened was that her confident, comfortable little boy went exploring, in an overwhelmingly safe environment, and was out of her sight for a few minutes.

This is where I've found the excellent Lenore Skenazy and Free Range Kids such a boon. She talks about the dangers of "worst-first" thinking, the astronomical unlikelihood of the actual worst-case scenario happening, and the very real harms and dangers that result from smothering our kids and not allowing them to face any risks, however minor. (There are also inadvertently hilarious, and frequently disturbing, stories about what happens when people take the no-risk-is-acceptable approach waaay too far.) Do check it out.


Political Observation

It has come to my attention, when listening to the rather (ahem) conservative radio station that I tune to in the footy season, that their news service enjoys an interesting turn of phrase when it comes to public funding.

"Bad" things (like police presence at strikes, or welfare payments) "cost the taxpayer x millions of dollars."

"Good" things (like upgrading sports facilities) are merely "paid for by the government."

Which is an altogether different thing, obviously.



It might have been reading Shaun Tan's brilliant, wordless exploration of the migrant experience, The Arrival for book group, that started me on what seems to be an ongoing quest, but I seem to be picking up stories about refugees at the moment.

I was halfway through Neil Grant's The Ink Bridge when I found out it had won the Queensland Literary Award for YA (well, maybe this was sort of inspired by doing a school gig at the same time as Neil and remembering that I hadn't read The Ink Bridge yet -- and I'm so glad I did, though the first half was a pretty harrowing reading experience.) Congratulations, Neil!

Now I'm reading Anh Do's The Happiest Refugee, also much awarded, and waiting next on the pile beside the bed, I have Her Father's Daughter by Alice Pung.

Any suggestions for other similarly themed books I might have missed?

I just realised these titles are all Australian, too. Coincidence? I don't think so, somehow...



It is easier to blog every day than once a week.


(For bonus marks: This is a cheat post. Give another example of a cheat post.)


Puzzle Girl

I wish I were a quilter, or a knitter, or a sewer. Then I might have something concrete to show for hours of relaxing activity. But alas, my favourite mindless* recreation is jigsaw puzzles.

Oh how I love a good puzzle! One of the best things about our recent renovation was that it gave us the space to set up a jigsaw puzzle table without tripping over it constantly. I couldn't believe my luck when we found perfectly nice 1000 piece puzzles on sale at Woolies for $1.60 -- we bought three. (Though it seems sort of wicked that they could possibly be that cheap.)

I think the reason I enjoy jigsaws so much is that they engage parts of my brain that are otherwise sadly neglected (ie the visual parts!) and let the parts of my brain that are over-active (ie the verbal parts) switch off. Picking out the corners and edge bits; sorting through the pieces for flashes of white; scanning for patterns and colours that might go together -- it's all extremely restful, wordless, meditative. My mind clicks into a different gear; I become an observer, not a commentator. My actions are simple, slight and immediately satisfying: notice a similarity, pick up a piece, try it in the gap. Yes, it fits; or no, reject. Next piece. I'm very methodical; that's part of the zen.

And at the end, you get a lovely picture! Admire it for a couple of days, then sweep it back into the box for next time.

Sometimes I think that writing a novel is a bit like doing a jigsaw, too. You have to juggle things around, look at them from different angles, try a bit here and a bit there, discard and try again. Sometimes you force a piece into what seems like the right place, then you realise it actually belongs on the other side of the picture. And it's only right at the end of the process that it all makes sense. The key is to relax, and let your unconscious mind skim across the problem. The answer is there somewhere, and sooner or later, you'll find it.

* Of course quilting, knitting and other such creative pursuits are far from mindless. Perhaps that's the problem... for me.


Because We Love Horrible Histories Waaay Too Much In Our House

So this morning, when we should have been rushing around getting ready for school, we wasted a good fifteen minutes debating the merits of our own personal Top 10 Horrible Histories song lists.

Here are MY favourites, in ascending order:

10. Civil War song (based on West Side Story)

9. Cleopatra (a la Lady Gaga)

8. Pilgrim Rap (with thanks to Empire State of Mind - which I'd never heard of before this song, and I'm afraid to say I greatly prefer the HH version)

7. Boudicca  ('No man, Roman, don't push around this wo-man!')

6. Suffragettes (after Bananarama; Horrible Histories really needs to put out a Just Dance disc)

5. Literally (Watch out, it's the Vikings! Or is it Guns'n'Roses? 'We're tearing up this town tonight - literally!')

4. Charles II (The King who brought back partying! Mat Baynton looks adorable in a long wig. Yeah, okay, I admit it, I have a tiny crush on Mat)

3. The 4 Georges: Born 2 Rule (there are those wigs again)

2. The RAF Pilots Song ('Take that, Hitler!')

1. And last but not least, my all-time favourite - Dick Turpin (Mat does Adam Ant: utterly irresistible!)



This is the cover of the book that I read when I was a kid - about nine, probably - I think there was a copy in the Mt Hagen library. I couldn't remember much about it, except that it was written in letters and even I could foresee the Big Twist coming at the end. Perhaps that's why I felt slightly dismissive of it and didn't reread it, which was a rare event back in them days.

But recently I found a copy and gave it another go, and it was just delightful. Yes, it is a little creepy that Judy addresses her anonymous benefactor (and eventual SPOILER! love interest) as 'Daddy' throughout, but hey, it was written a hundred years ago! And it was sweet. I'd completely forgotten, or more likely it hadn't registered in the first place, how lively and funny and brisk (if rather dense) a narrator Judy is - and surely her denseness is intentional, to give us readers a smug shiver of anticipation, as we can so clearly see what Judy can't.

And it's feminist too: 'Don't you think I'd make an admirable voter if I had my rights? I was twenty-one last week. This is an awfully wasteful country to throw away such an honest, educated, conscientious, intelligent citizen as I would be.' Yeah, you go, Judy!

I was shattered to learn that Jean Webster, who was an orphan herself and presumably wrote from experience, wrote only one more book after this one. She married at 39 and died in childbirth. How awfully sad, and what a waste indeed.

PS Just discovered that Jean Webster's real name was Alice! Thanks, Wikipedia.

What Everyone Is Reading At Our House

Michael: Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
Alice: A Caribbean Mystery, Agatha Christie (audiobook); The Moving Finger, Agatha Christie (me reading to her); Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, Jen Storer
Evie: The Wandering Wombles, Elisabeth Beresford
... which pretty neatly reflects their main areas of literary interest: Michael, World War I; Alice, murder and mystery; and Evie, sweet little furry animals who talk.




Not written by me
It's funny, when you meet a stranger (and this has happened at least three times recently) and you tell them that you write books for kids, their first response always seems to be an enthusiastic but slightly patronising, 'Good for you!'

And then they tend to follow up with: 'And do you draw the pictures yourself?'

Now, I wish that I were talented enough to create picture books -- or indeed, just pictures would be thrilling enough -- but why is there is this automatic assumption that kids' books equals picture books? All of these lovely strangers grew up reading. Surely they didn't all go straight from The Cat In the Hat to Wuthering Heights? One of them has children of her own, and one used to work in a book shop!

So -- bemused.

PS Happy International Left-Handers' Day -- especially to my sister, my daughter Alice and my friend Sandra. Hooray for lefties!


Australian Women Writers Challenge

I haven't signed up for this because I'm not a joiner. But other people, more conscientious than I, are doing it and more power to them, and it prompted me, just out of curiosity, to see just how many books by Australian women writers I have read this year. And it turns out it was more than I thought: enough to qualify me for the Franklin-fantastic (if I was energetic enough to write proper-length reviews).

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark: Glenda Millard
I put off reading this for ages because I'm a bit wary of post-apocalyptic, kids-in-a-war books; but this drew me in with the beauty and sweetness of Skip's narration and the warmth of the little displaced group that become his surrogate family. Not what I was expecting, but in a good way. (I should have known better, because I love Glenda Millard's beautiful writing.)

Act of Faith: Kelly Gardiner
It's 1640, and Isabella, the daughter of a radical scholar, is forced to flee to the Continent, where she falls in with the courageous printers who dare to spread books and ideas that the all-powerful Church doesn't necessarily approve of. I thoroughly enjoyed this window into a world that I don't know much about, and Kelly has obviously done heaps of research - the book wears it lightly, however, and Isabella is a brave and appealing heroine.

Stasiland: Anna Funder
Another one I put off reading because I thought it would be worthy but difficult. Man, was I wrong. This was supremely readable, an engaging and fascinating journey into the vanished world of East Germany -- disturbing but compulsive. When it's done well (like this, and Helen Garner) literary non-fiction might almost be my favourite genre. Now I have to read that novel that everyone's raving about...

Graffiti Moon: Cath Crowley
Part of me wanted to pick this book to pieces to find out how it worked, because this is bloody close to being a perfect YA novel. Gorgeous stuff, simple but poetic, set in a single night, not a word out of place. You could sing it. This gave me a severe case of writer's envy.

Pirate X: Sherryl Clark
Sherryl has packed in a lifetime's obsession with pirates into this children's novel. While some of the detail was really interesting, at times it felt a little over-stuffed with facts, to the detriment of the story's flow, and the time-slip mechanism that transported her contemporary protagonist back to the swashbucklers was slightly clunky. But anyone who loves pirates will find plenty to absorb them.

Listening to Country: Ros Moriarty
A moving account of a white Australian's journey through the physical and emotional landscape of her Aboriginal husband's family in the Tanami Desert in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Warm, generous, intimate, heart-breaking and ultimately inspiring.

Star Jumps: Lorraine Marwood
A slender volume of verse, telling the story of a rural family's struggle with drought, and the ties that bind them to the land and to each other, through the eyes of young daughter Ruby. Winner of the PM's Literary Award in 2009. Small but perfectly formed.

The Children of the King: Sonya Hartnett
This was a book I wished I'd written myself - it's wartime England, and city kids sent to the country discover two mysterious boys apparently hiding out on a ruined castle. But are the boys what they seem? Hartnett didn't handle the material the way I would have done myself -- so maybe I can still write my own version one day!

The FitzOsbornes at War: Michelle Cooper
Words cannot express the depth of pleasure that Michelle Cooper's Montmaray books have given me. Roll up the Mitford sisters with I Capture The Castle, and sprinkle some sparkles on top - consume in one bite. I've got my mum hooked on these as well. I cried reading this - not just because of what happens, but because it's all finished and there are no more.

Losing It: Julia Lawrinson
Four teenage girls vow to lose their virginity before Schoolies Week. This is a kind of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants where the pants come off rather than being put on... It was an easy read, covered lots of bases and talked matter-of-factly and with humour about the temptations and mortifications of adolescent sex, which is probably something we need more of.

The Lieutenant: Kate Grenville
Based on the true story of William Dawes and his tentative interactions with a young Aboriginal girl in the first days of the Sydney colony. A compact, beautifully written tale, though I was vaguely bothered by the fictionalisation of historical characters such as Arthur Philip and Bennelong. I guess Grenville had to protect herself, because she is writing fiction, not history; but the disguises were so transparent as to be practically invisible... Not sure what the answer is to this one.

The Barrumbi Kids: Leonie Norrington
A lively story about the adventures of a mixture of indigenous and white kids in an outback community. I really enjoyed this. Alice's class are reading this at school and she has found the beginning hard to get into, but I'm encouraging her to persist, because it's well worth it. A terrific introduction to Aboriginal Australia.

Love-Shy: Lili Wilkinson
A fun read. I'd never heard of love-shyness before, but after reading this, I suspect I have snagged myself a slightly love-shy man, which is no bad thing. I read bits out to him and he said, hmm! Which I'm taking as a yes. Lili does funny but meaningful YA so well... I dips me lid.

In fact I dips me lid to you all, women writers of Australia. And may there be many more of you!


Too Many Names?

Our family: K. Constable, A. Taylor-Constable, M. Taylor, E. Taylor-Constable
 There have been a couple of articles in The Age lately about names -- people changing their names, to be specific. To be even more specific, married people changing their names. To be more specific still, married women changing their names. Apparently about 90% of women change to their husband's surname when they tie the knot.

What's happened?? When I was a young thing, back in the hairy-legged 80s and 90s, we were all proud feminists who would never have considered even getting married, letting alone sacrificing our names on the altar of patriarchy. Okay, so I softened on the first point, but not on the second. It never even crossed my mind to change my surname. Maybe this was partly because I'd started getting published under my own name. Maybe it was partly because, frankly, I preferred the sound of my surname to his. But mostly it was because, well, Kate Constable is just who I am. Why on earth would I want to give that up?

Then there is the whole what-about-the-children debate. I was slightly startled to discover that only three percent of families take the same route we chose: the hyphen. I sort of understand why -- it's clunky, it's a lot to write on your pencil case, and what happens in the next generation? Are we dooming kids to producing families of Smith-Nguyen-Robinson-Portelli children?

It's true, Alice has only just mastered the spelling of her hyphenated five syllable surname, but she has adamantly rejected (in fact, both girls have) any suggestion of trimming back to one name or the other. We'd vaguely thought that one day the girls could choose to drop one half of the hyphen, but at this stage they hate that idea. But who knows what will happen if they decide to get married one day...

Interestingly, from a very small and unscientific sample, it seems most of the couples we know (the majority of whom are not formally married) have chosen the father's (or non-childbearing mother's) surname for the children. The other couples in our social set who have gone the hyphen option seem to be the formally married ones. (And each of those mums has stuck to her own surname, too.) I wonder what negotiations of identity and commitment and compromise went into those decisions?

I completely understand the whole "we want everyone to have the same name" argument. It's never been a problem for us, having three surnames in the family, but I can see the emotional appeal of being the XXX family. But still, why does XXX seem to end up being the man's name, nearly every time? Of course it's a matter of individual choice. But when 90% of people are making the same choice, you can't help asking why.


19th July

2012 (aged 45)
Alice is counting the days till her 11th birthday. She's requested a countdown of her seven favourite meals for "birthday week." Tonight: potato and leek soup with garlic naan.
Very different from Evie who spent the week before her birthday sobbing, 'I don't want to be eight! I want to stay seven forever!"
2001 (aged 34)
Still no sign of movement down below - except that she has engaged and I'm getting the odd Braxton-Hicks twinge. A strange time, waiting, waiting. Every time I get up to go to the loo Mikey sits up in bed: "Are you okay? Is anything happening?" Oh hurry up little one. We want to meet you.
1996 (aged 29)
Nana died on Saturday morning.
Mum and Hilly both sick so it was me and Aunty Lois on either side of the bed all day Friday. The blind hand grasping, grasping for something to hang onto. She kept saying, Mama. Lois: I'll be your mama. Nana: No, you be my daughter. She said quite clearly, pension day yesterday. That made me laugh.
1994 (aged 27)
he wheels above her, unattainable as a comet
comets are only lumps of dirty snow
he didn't know when angels fall that they burn up before they hit the ground
1991( aged 24)
First night in Paris and I am rigid with terror. Absolutely stark staring bonkers with fear.
1990 (aged 23)
Had tea with C, B and B and got a bit thingy when they were all talking about their boyfriends and rode home and cried. Have had vivid and extravagant dreams -- is the oyster soup to blame??
1987 (aged 20)
Told B there was a danger I could fall for D... D thinks I'm still still in love with B, what a joke! What a pathetic little story our lives would make.
1986 (aged 19)
Up unreasonably early, worked. No 'Lawyers Guns & Money' so read the paper. Had horrible lunch. Met family at the Rivoli to see "Hannah and Her Sisters." Home by 1am.
1985 (aged 18)
No one to sit with Legal History -- no S, no J, no John Roskam... Met F, D and A at the Student Union, went in on tram to meet L, then on to the Myer Music Bowl to skate with KD, P and J and E and J. Went to Spaghetti Graffiti for hot chocolates. Can't afford to go out tonight. Feet blistered. Watched telly with PH.
1984 (aged 17)
Economics essay in class "Money supply and monetary policy"
Prepare 2 Latin chapters
Read ahead in Galileo
1983 (aged 16)
Scotch debate - meet in foyer at 2 PM    WE WON
Liberal death (Orchestra Room)
1979 (aged 12)
Basilinka Basiline Basilatka Pereghrone (Perethane) Victrova Vicravia (Valrava)
1978 (aged 11)
After lunch we went to traffic school. I only got a small go on a bike, because I used a wrong hand signal. They didn't have signals in New Guinea. When I get my bike, I must practise a lot! Weather: Sunny
1976 (aged 9)
Eva came. The Seddons came back.We got homework. Had sausages and chips for tea. Yum. At school we played "Dogs."


Bluffers' Guide To The Bulldogs Part 4

Another week, another defeat to the Western Bulldogs.

It's becoming a painful pattern this season. Earlier in the year we had a couple of gallant losses, near misses, and even some wins. But things are looking pretty dark and dismal down at the Kennel at the moment.

As a relatively new supporter, I've been spoiled the last few years. We've made the finals most years, we made three preliminary finals! Coming third or fourth was excitement enough for me (though not for many of the long-suffering Bulldog fans who have been waiting sixty years for another flag). Even when we lost, we usually looked like we were in it, and there was always hope that we'd come good next week.

Well, not now. We look bloody horrible. We are "rebuilding". We are "getting games into the kids". We don't need to tank for draft picks - we're just losing without even trying. We're at the bottom of the football cycle. It's no fun watching the Bulldogs at the moment. We look slow, clueless, unskilled and disorganised. I'm sure there is a long term plan for the team's development, but it's ugly to watch.

This is where, as a supporter, you have to make a hard decision. Do I jump off the bandwagon while it's struggling through the mire? Have I got better things to do with my time and money than sit through yet another flogging? Do I really want to put myself through that pain? I hate seeing my boys lose, knowing that whatever misery I'm feeling is amplified a hundred-fold for them. Being a football fan when your team is doing badly is the opposite of enjoyable.

It's tempting to walk away. To say, see you in five years -- when we've acquired some talented youngsters, when the coach's plan has gelled, when the kids we're blooding now have matured into senior players and gained some strength and confidence and experience.

The trouble is, with a club like the Bulldogs, in five years time there might not be a team to come back to.

Our membership is low. We are poor. A few years at the bottom of the ladder could kill us. If enough members walk away, we might not make it. We will drown.

So I've made my decision. I'll try to anaesthetise myself against the pain, but I'll hang in there. Because being a true supporter means loving your team even when they're awful. And when victory finally comes, it will be all the sweeter, and I can feel as if I've earned it too.



Apologies for the long silence. I have been trapped in the Long Tunnel of Flu, which is not a very nice place to spend the school holidays. All the other times in my life when I've dragged myself about the house, croaking pathetically, 'I've got the flu...' Nah. You know what? That wasn't flu. THIS was flu...

However, light is now visible and I expect to emerge any time now, bouncing with good health. (Actually I feel a bit like a child in a Noel Streatfeild novel who is pale and feeble and should be sent to the country for six weeks.)

Something rather frightening and completely unexpected happened while I was trapped in the Long Tunnel. I lost the urge to read.

This has never happened before. I have never in my life felt so ill that reading was an impossibility. But worse, I didn't even want to read. It was awful. I was even too sick to watch TV!

Thank heavens for Radio National. When all you can do is lie on your back with your eyes closed, moaning gently and occasionally being racked by violent coughs, the radio is a true friend.

PS Something very nice did happen while I was trapped in the Tunnel of Flu: Crow Country was shortlisted for the WA Premier's Literary Awards! Congratulations to everyone else on the list, and it's especially cool to be there with Penni Russon's Only Ever Always.