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.