Year of the Dog (and Bunnies)

Today is the last day of school -- the last morning, anyway, because they finish up at lunchtime. All week the girls have been lugging home the cargo of the year's achievements: exercise books, model cars, banners, posters, random maths sheets, pencil cases, empty folders, folders stuffed with worksheets, plasticine figures of obscure origin and purpose.

It's Alice's last day of primary school. This week has felt like the Festival of Graduation. The Grade 6 graduation night was on Tuesday, and (*parental boastage warning*) completely unexpectedly, Al won  the Bell Spirit award. On Wednesday, they all went off to Luna Park. Yesterday was the class party, which went more or less all day, and last night there was a disco party organised by a couple of parents. If she makes it through the final assembly today without collapsing, I'll be amazed… There was never all this fuss about finishing primary school when I was young! And next year, high school beckons. It's a whole new world… But she'll have the bunnies, Meyer and Momo, to see her through.

The big event of Evie's year was, of course, her long cherished dream coming true, and finally getting a puppy. Willow has quickly become an adored member of our family, and it's already hard to remember what life was like without her. Evie regularly asks, 'Aren't you glad I pestered you into getting a dog? Do you remember the first day she came, and she was so little and sweet?' She's already nostalgic for Willow's babyhood, clinging to a past that isn't even quite over yet.

I picked up one of those long-range horoscope books for an idle browse in a bookshop earlier this year, and checked out what the stars held for Michael and me this year and last. It was weirdly accurate, foretelling a wildly successful year for me last year, and a wildly successful year for Michael this year (we are both Virgos, born a year apart). Michael was a star at his work this year, going from strength to strength and loving it.

For me, this year has felt a bit like treading water, which is an odd thing to say when I had a book come out (New Guinea Moon, for those not paying attention!) But that was way back in March, and since then I've spent most of the year feeling loose-endy and unfocused. Maybe it was just time for a rest, after producing nearly a book a year for the past twelve years. And now I'm engrossed in a new Tremaris book -- it felt like the right time to circle back to where it all began, and finish the story of Calwyn and her loved ones.

This will probably be my last blog post of 2013, so I'll wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas, and a marvellous summer. See you next year.


Christmas Reading

As Christmas approaches, so does the anticipation of lots of book-shaped parcels beneath the Christmas tree. I buy myself a lot of book-type presents through the year, mostly second-hand and ex-library -- but Christmas is the time to indulge in shiny expensive newness: fresh brand-new copies of mostly recent releases. And as I don't like leaving things to chance, these are the presents I know I'm getting from my beloveds this year:

Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas - wrapped
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman - wrapped
Activate the Stickitupemizer! First Dog on the Moon (a record by the inimitable First Dog of the Western Bulldogs 2013 season in cartoon form, available here if you're interested :-)
One Day, David Nicholls (I ordered this after discovering that apparently Emma Morley is the literary character I most resemble -- we shall see)
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (an exception to the 'new releases' rule, but I have wanted this book forever, having adored her Gilead and Home, and when I found it online I couldn't resist)

And I think I'm getting a book voucher from my sister, which I intend to spend on Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan, just in time for the first book group meeting of next year.

What's on your wish list this Christmas?


Drina Dances

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that my friend Suzanne had generously lent me (almost) all the Drina ballet books (I think there are 11 in the series and Suzanne was able to lend me nine). To date, I've read up to number 7, Drina Dances In Paris, though volume 6, Drina Dances in New York, is missing. The first book was published in 1957 and the series seems to have continued at the rate of one a year, though the final book was apparently written much later (I haven't been able to pin down the first publication date, and I don't have a copy).

It's been an interesting experience to read a whole series like this from the beginning, with no baggage of childhood memories or nostalgia to colour my views. I've actually enjoyed these books very much. I do find it very soothing to read what I call 'antique fiction' like this; I almost feel I can suspend my critical faculties completely and just relax into the story. I've written before about how much I relish the period details of books written so many decades ago - the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the incidental ephemera of everyday life, the social attitudes, the figures of speech - it's all fascinating, the closest I'll ever get to time travel!

The books themselves are almost completely uneventful -- I can't imagine they'd stand up to modern publishing demands for incident and action! Whole books can go by without anything more dramatic happening than Drina twisting her ankle or almost being late for a performance. In book 6 (the one I haven't got) she falls in love at the age of nearly fifteen, and she spends most of book 7 wistfully yearning; even when her beloved unexpectedly turns up in Paris, they don't even get as far as holding hands! No wonder it takes them another four books to actually get together!

Drina is an appealing character, emotional and sensitive (it's because she's half-Italian, dontcha know!), though she remains quite implausibly humble, still astonished after 7 books that the directors of the school actually know her name -- even after she's guest-starred in plays, filled in for ill dancers in Italy and played Little Clara in The Nutcracker... The cards certainly seem to fall Drina's way, and you can hardly blame her enemies/rivals at the ballet school for their jealousy. When they complain that 'Drina gets everything!' you can't help feeling that, well, actually, they do have a point...

Drina's Big Secret is that she's the daughter of prima ballerina Elizabeth Ivory, who died when Drina was only a baby. Drina's been brought up by her grandmother, who feels that ballet killed her daughter and was determined to keep Drina from dancing - but Drina gets her own way (obviously). Being Ivory's daughter is the ballet equivalent of being the Chosen One, and Drina's determination not to trade on her mother's name, but make her own way on talent alone, is very attractive.

I can't wait to see Drina Dance in Madeira, and  In Switzerland, and go On Tour... not long to go! Hm, I wonder if Drina will succeed in her ambition?? Something tells me she might!