Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The North Wind ...

This is possibly carol is sung to the dreariest tune in the world.
But the words are nice.
The North Wind is tossing the leaves,
The red dust is over the town,
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.

The tree-ferns in green gullies sway;
The cool stream flows silently by;
The joy bells are greeting the day,
And the chimes are adrift in the sky,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.
Have a Good One

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Corbett Family Christmas Letter - December 2008

It is that time of the year again. A moment to reflect on the year that has passed and to somehow convey, in a manner that does not send the reader to sleep, where we are at, and what we have been doing. It is customary to make such an epistle breezy and self-congratulatory, to pick out highlights and to celebrate achievements. This year, as any other year, there have been many such events. There have also been some difficult moments: times that have brought us to the conclusion of 2008, with slightly less cheer than we might have hoped. But let’s start at the beginning …

Jack and Ness moved to Canberra in January, where Jack took up a graduate position with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It has been an exciting year to be in Canberra. He was able to participate (in a voluntary capacity) at the 20/20 Summit. He also stood on the lawn during the Prime Minister’s historic apology to the Stolen Generations and took part in a community cabinet in his old home town of Adelaide. Jack has been offered a permanent position within the Office of National Security and, although enjoying his work; he is still toying with the idea of doing a Phd, eventually.

Ness has tackled the move with her usual drive and tenacity. She landed a temporary job within the Attorney-General's Department the day after arriving in Canberra (trust Ness) and has since been offered a promotion and permanency. Ness has enjoyed the challenge of playing soccer for Belconnen United and won the Player’s Player and Most Improved awards this year. She is also looking forward to being a bridesmaid in her sister Heidi’s wedding in January.

I have always told my children, by all means go away to work, but make sure you live somewhere interesting so that I can come and visit. I am not sure if Canberra exactly qualifies, but we did enjoy visiting them earlier this year.

Phoebe turned twenty one and celebrated with a big party. If you want to see photos, they are on my blog at: http://hannercymraes.blogspot.com/2008/09/phoebes-21st-birthday.html She has also completed her second year at university. Phoebe achieved reasonable marks in all subjects but, just between you and me, her interest was somewhat eclipsed by her growing friendship with a young man called, Andy. On a less exciting note, she has continued to experience back pain since her tobogganing accident in Switzerland. She therefore decided to have the plates removed from her spine in November. The operation went well but she is still recovering.

Seth turned eighteen this year and started driving. He also did year twelve. It isn’t easy doing VCE when your older brother and sister both got high scores. He is no academic slouch, however, and has given it his best shot. He also had a good time in the process. There are photos of him dressed up for his final day of school on my blog:(just in case you hadn’t noticed, my blog is a serious hobby). We get the VCE scores on Monday and then begin the process of applying for universities. He is planning to take from study next year and to work for a few months, before travelling overseas with Phoebe.

Naomi Priya has had a difficult year. It is as if she has read a book called how to be a rebellious teenager and applied herself diligently. I am not going to go into the finer details of her misdemeanours (no, you won’t even find them on my blog). I will only say they have angst, expensive mobile phone calls, heavy eye-liner, and a change of schools. Andrew and I have found the most difficult aspect of the whole experience is our divergent reactions. It feels like we are being torn apart.

Apart from the trauma of a hellion fourteen-year-old daughter and a wife who in her middle age has developed self-confidence and opinions, Andrew has had a great year. He now works pretty much full time from home. He has made a number of trips overseas with work but has still managed to fit in some recreation. He has hiked frequently at Wilson’s Promontory, has continued to cycle long distances, his most recent achievement being to complete the Great Victorian Bike Ride. He also led a small group for our Church, Heathmont Baptist and had his last year on Vermont Secondary College council. He and Monique have continued to make music together but on a smaller scale. You can check them out on: http://www.myspace.com/andrewmonique

Liz continues to attend Welsh language classes (although her knowledge retention is less than brilliant). She has also enjoyed a successful year studying Novel at TAFE (technical and further education). She has started writing reviews for a magazine called the Historical Novel Review and has been invited to submit a feature article to their magazine, Solander. She has been doing an extra day per week at the library since June, which as allowed her to contribute to the City of Boroondara youth blog.(there’s that word again). She enjoyed being involved as a volunteer in the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and spoke for the first time at a Balwyn library book talk. The extra library work ends next week (yeah!) and hopefully, teenage issues aside, she will finish the re-write of her novel in 2009.

We will celebrate Christmas 2008 at home with the Canberra Corbett’s, Paul (whose Mum is Liz’ Godmother) and, of course, Andy:-) My Mum will not be joining us for Christmas as Ian and Wendy are home from Malawi. But the Rev. Dr. (latter is a newly acquired title) Ian Dicks and family will join us, afterwards for a beach holiday in Port Fairy.

Well that is it, the year in brief. I trust you also have many things to celebrate and that you have managed to find your way through the obstacles that 2008 and has thrown in your path. My God Bless you with a continued assurance of his presence in 2009, and the grace to honour his precepts.

Love as always
The Corbett family

Monday, December 15, 2008

Georgiana: woman of flowers

Georgiana: woman of flowers
Libby Hathorn, Hachette, 2008, $17.99 AUD, pb, 298pp, 9780733609169

Georgiana Molloy and her husband, Captain John Molloy, were among the earliest settlers of the remote Augusta region in the colony Western Australia. The novel begins in 1839 at the time of their arrival in Western Australia. It finishes with Georgiana’s untimely death in 1843, following childbirth.

Running parallel to the story of Georgiana and her growing family is a fictitious tale of the poorer, less educated Summerfield family. The narrative is told in a lyrical, omniscient voice that shows the varied hopes and aspirations of each family. The stage is set for a compelling read when we learn that Will Summerfield, and his sister Charlotte, are living in fear of their mother’s second husband the brutal Thomas Summerfield. The lives of the two families are loosely interwoven and there is potential for the story to build to a satisfying climax that it never quite achieves.

Georgiana Molloy was a pious young woman and Libby Hathorn makes a concerted effort to reconcile the evangelistic fervour of Georgiana’s Christian faith with her, otherwise, gentle demeanour. There is reference to a book called Peace in Believing from which Georgiana is said to have derived considerable inspiration. We are not, however, given insight into what aspects of the text particularly affected her. It is therefore difficult to develop any empathy for her convictions.

This is a worthy novel. It portrays the struggles and triumphs of early settlers in Australia and their attitude towards the aboriginal peoples of the region. It also illustrates the significant contribution Georgiana Molloy made to the study of the region’s unique flora. The narrative had a strong biographical feel and would therefore be suitable for young adult readers who enjoy life history, rather than those who want a compelling story.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bad hair days ...

Have you ever had a bad hair day? I have had a bad hair week.

It started the Friday before last Friday. I showered and washed my hair (as you do). But as I began to blow dry, I realized a patch on the top was really greasy. Silly me, I thought. You haven't rinsed properly.

Fortunately I have a stash of hippy headbands in my drawer. The kind you stretch round your head twice and cover a multitude of sins. I chose purple that day, for energy and vitality.

The next day, Saturday, I made sure I rinsed my hair extra carefully. But, lo-and-behold, same problem: hair extra greasy.

I chose a green headband that day,a sort of questing, what-is-happening-to-me sort of affair.

The next day, Sunday, I did two washes and rinsed thoroughly. But, no way! My hair was still disgusting. It was like working in the Woolworths service deli, during my teens, and having the metwurst drip on me.

I chose black that day, for mourning.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I was becoming alarmed. For no matter how I rubbed and scrubbed, no matter how low the water temperature, no matter how much shampoo I used, or how thoroughly I blow dried - my hair was like suet. You could have fried chips in it.

On Thursday I went shopping. Now I don't know about you, but when I am perusing shops, possibly trying clothes on, I don't want my hair to be greasy. Firstly because when you go into a shop with big mirrors and fluorescent lights you immediately feel yourself diminishing. Every wrinkle shows, evey small acne scar looms, let alone the hairs that are not growing on your chin. Added to which, the sizes are ridiculous in those stores. I can't possibly be pushing a sixteen!

I wandered around the shops for about an hour. But I didn't have the heart to try anything on (yes, that bad). Other shoppers were staring at me. I was sure of it.

'Look at that woman's greasy hair,' they whispered. 'It must be really bad under that black thing.'

'Euw! Disgusting,' they said. 'I bet she doesn't wash it.'

I tried to be philosophical. Told myself I was identifying with those who do not have the luxury of regular showers. Told myself that in future when I saw a plumpish, middle aged woman wandering round the shop with greasy hair and the early stages of a beard on her chin, I would be more understanding.

It didn't work. I felt dirty.

On the way home, I drove past the hairdressers.

Shall I? Shan't I? Greasy? Clean? It was like pulling petals off a daisy. I decided to go in.

'Caroline,' I said (I can not stress the value of the family hairdresser in these sort of emergencies. Someone who knows your folicle history). 'I have a problem.

'Do you need to bring your appointment forward?' she asked, smiling.

‘No, it's my hair. I can't wash the grease out of it.'

'How long has it been greasy?' she asked.

'A week,' I said.

She and her assistant were by my side in an instant. Touching the offensive patch. shaking their heads, tut-tutting and deliberating. I can only say, it was like two librarians collaborating on a reference enquiry. A religious thing.

'Come over to the basin, we'll wash it straight away.'

It was a relief to be taken seriously.

'This has happened before,' they said, cheerfully. 'One lady's whole head turned greasy. It took us ages to get on top of it.'

I trembled in the chair, hoping this wasn't a bizarre stage in my ageing process. Hoping I did not have to visit the skin specialists, only to be told there was no cure for me. Praying I wouldn't have to go through life feeling slimy!

It took two vigorous washes to get my hair clean. The second wash had bi-carb soda mixed with heavy duty shampoo.

It did the trick. My hair is now wondrously clean. I feel like a girl on the Pantene commercial. Like shaking my head and letting it cascade around me. Feeling young and liberated and free.

Yesterday, I went to the hair salon for my regular ‘cut and colour.’ Then I am going to move on, try and put the whole thing behind me. Perhaps buy a lottery ticket, or shares in a shampoo company.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Anila's Journey - book review

Mary Finn, Walker Books, 2008, $16.95 AUD, Pb, 315pp, 9781406306590

Anila’s Indian mother is dead. Her Irish father is inexplicably missing. When her guardian, Miss Hickey, relocates to Madras, Anila is alone. She finds employment with Mr Edward Walker whose intention is to travel up the River Ganges in search of a new, un-named, species of bird life. Anila’s task is to paint impressions for Mr Walker to take back to the Royal Society in London.

Their ornithological quest is not without jeopardy, however. While on the river they discover an outlaw salt depot set up to avoid the heavy taxes being imposed by the East India Company, rescue a boy who has been punished and left to die by his master, and visit the village Anila’s mother had left, long ago, and in shame. Through Carlen, Mr Walker’s assistant, Anila first hears news of her father. But she cannot decide whether Carlen is friend or foe.

The novel is told in a whimsical first person voice that shifts between past and present. From Anila’s youthful perspective we glimpse the darkness of her mother’s sexual exploitation and the despair that crushed her soul. Yet the novel is never without hope. Supporting characters are drawn with a delicate blend of good and evil that makes them fully human. From the outset we are drawn into their lush sub-continental world of eighteenth century Bengal.

Anila’s Journey has a Bardic quality that speaks of the author, Mary Finn’s, Irish origins and a fascination with India that is both detailed and compelling. The outcome is a story that reaches beyond time, culture and place to become a novel about humanity in a wondrous but imperfect world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why I work in the library ...

He was small boy and it had been a big afternoon, one of those afternoons when everyone decides to join the library. I’d had my quota of patrons who are unable to use the library catalogue. Added to which, in between signing up new members, the phone had not stopped ringing. In short, I was ready for my desk shift to end.

But, I still had half an hour to go.

He stood head and shoulder above the Reference Desk. He had a little black, basin haircut and skin the colour of honey. He had been waiting patiently. Here we go, I thought, imagining how the script might run.

Now before I continue, I would like to point out that I don’t generally think, oh no, when I see children at the reference desk. But do bear in mind it had been a long afternoon. And sometimes children, well, here is how it can be:

‘How can I help you? (That’s me by the way with a very big smile)

‘Have you got any Garfield books?’

‘Let’s see.’ (I rise from my chair and walk out from behind the desk). Do you know where to look on the shelves?’

‘Yes (earnest nod, wide eyes). ‘But there aren’t any.’

He’s right. There aren’t any. ‘Come back to the desk,’ I say. ‘We’ll have a look on the catalogue.’

After careful searching, I am able to confirm what the empty shelf has already told me. There are no Garfield Books (mental note – buy more Garfield books). ‘There are none at this branch,’ I say. ‘But I can get you one over from another branch.’

‘No, it’s ok.’

‘It doesn’t cost anything.’

‘No, doesn’t matter.’

Child goes in search of his second favourite book. It isn’t there because he likes the most popular books and ours is the busiest (but not the biggest) branch in the region. Child comes back to desk:

‘How can I help you? (Smile still wide).

‘Have you got any Master Q comics?’

‘Let’s see.’ (I rise from my chair and walk out from behind the desk). 'Do you know how to find a book on the shelves?' (I can’t miss this opportunity for a quick library lesson).

‘Yes (earnest nod, wide eyes). But there aren’t any.’

He’s right of course there aren’t any Master Q comics. ‘Come back to the desk,’ I say. ‘We’ll have a look on the catalogue.’

After careful searching, I am able to confirm what the empty shelf has already told me. There are no Master Q Comics (I make a mental note to ask for an extension of youth book budget). ‘There are none at this branch,’ I say. ‘But I can get you one over from another branch.’

‘No, it’s ok.’

‘It doesn’t cost anything.’

‘No, doesn’t matter.’

‘What about Tintin? I saw some of those on the shelf.’

‘It’s okay, I’ll keep looking.’

‘Or Asterix? (I just bought loads of Asterix).

No, thanks. I’ll be fine.’

Child goes in search of his third favourite book. It isn’t there. Child comes back to desk ...

Do you get the picture? The only variable in this, oft repeated, after school enquiry is the name of the book and the size of my smile. Sometimes I am able to scrounge around and find a recently returned book, or, introduce them to our free reservation system, or find a new item to capture their interest.

But sometimes they only want their favourite ... and it simply isn’t there and, if they can’t have their favourite, they don’t want anything else. Sometimes they are only at the library because their Mum doesn’t want to pay for after-school care. Other times, it is because Mum has been told they should be reading more. Quite often, Mum is simply using the internet and they have been told to: ‘Go and find a book.’

They are lonely and tired and a little bit bored and, unfortunately, I can’t help them.

Anyway, I still had half and hour to go – and he was a very small child.

‘How can I help you?’ I asked, cheerfully.

‘Where are the books on origami?’

‘Origami, hmm, let’s have a look.’

I do a quick keyword search because (and this may surprise you). I don’t know the Dewey Decimal System off by heart. My tiredness has evaporated, at this point because I might be able to help this kid. He has been waiting patiently, after all, and he appears to have a genuine information need (that’s library speak by the way) and just in case haven’t realised, we take information needs very seriously. They are sacred.

What? I hear you say, how can a request for origami books be sacred? You have a point. But do bear in mind that I work in a public library. An information need is a human need. It requires the patron to share something of themself with me: a burgeoning interest, an illness or struggle, a recent bereavement.

If you still don’t believe me, search the NSW white pages with me for a son who hasn’t been heard from in seven years. Look into the eyes of a man whose wife has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, feel the enthusiasm of a recently retired woman for ribbon embroidery. Respond to the desperation of a student who has lost his copy of the play he is studying. An information need is sacred, a soul thing, and so is an interest in origami.

My hasty scan of the catalogue establishes the call number. It is 736.982 by the way. But rather than look through the many records, trying to establish exactly what we do and don’t have, I headed straight for the shelves. I like to do this with kids. They don’t want lists of titles and locations. They don’t want a scrap of paper with a Dewey number or a finger pointed in the general direction. They want a book in their hand.

I had noted that there were a number of items in the on the shelf, but none of them are junior books. This didn’t worry me unduly. I had not viewed every record. Added to which I had noticed there was a recently returned junior item on the trolley.

There were a number of books in the Folio section and more in the Non Fiction. More than his small hands could carry. He squatted down to look over the illustrations. I hovered anxiously over him. The diagrams looked pretty complex but, then again, you are talking to someone that after raising four children, can barely manage to fold a cloth nappy.

‘They look a bit difficult,’ I said.

No answer: he was too busy flicking through an array of mythological figures, animals, fruit, trees and flowers, all done in origami.

‘There's a kids’ book on the trolley,’ I said, to the back of his head. ‘I’ll go and get it.’

The kids’ book was perfect. Easy to follow diagrams, age appropriate language and step by step instructions. Even I could have made some of its simpler models. I smiled as I held it out to him, feeling absurdly like a fairy-god librarian in sensible T-bar shoes.

‘Thanks,’ he said, falling on it with a grin.

He was only a small boy with a black basin haircut and skin the colour of honey and an interest in origami. But when I finished my desk shift, twenty-five minutes later, he was still there, on the floor in the middle of the aisle with the books spread out around him. For a moment, I stood there and watched. He didn’t look up. He didn’t notice me. But I went to my tea break light of step and with a glow like halogen within.

That’s why I work in the library.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seth has Finished School (Yeah!)

Seth is a special kind of kid.

He doesn't take life too seriously. At a recent Seventies party he dressed like this:

On his last day of school he dressed as a tissue box:

The night before last we attended Seth's Valedictory Dinner. It was our fourth Valedictory Dinner (I swear I had already hear the Principal's address three times).

It is difficult to make such an evening fun and entertaining while trying involve and congratulate as many student as possible. It is hard to feed hundreds of people, on a finite budget, and make the food unique and delicious(I swear my chocolate sauce came out of a bottle). But we got through.

Seth achieved academic excellence in a number of subjects despite the year's disruptions.

We are very proud of him.

Here he is at the function centre.

Here he is with some of his friends:

We didn't get a photo of him receiving his award. Andrew was the photographer on this occasion. He was up the front jostling, with all the other parents, like a footballer trying to take a mark. But when the moment came to take the shot, his finger hit the Power button instead of the Capture button, and the camera turned itself off. :-)

I am not sure what to say in his defence, except, that it was a school function, and he hadn't even had a glass of wine, and it has been one of those years, really ...

My General Absence of Creativity

I haven't blogged for a month. I am sure you have noticed.

I won't go into the details of why I haven't blogged (this is a family site). But close your eyes and think of all the things you pray your daughter will never do. Know this, our youngest daughter has ticked a number of those boxes over the last few weeks.

Andrew and I have been angry and desperate by turns. Not the best environment for creativity.

To be honest - I feel as together as cut grass.

But there are some other, good, things happening. I want to blog about them. But not in this entry - they deserve and entry all of their own.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Phoebe's 21st Birthday

Phoebe is twenty-one years old and we had a party.

Here are a few shots for the grandparents, aunties, uncles,host families and anyone else who might be interested. There are no photos of me because depsite having a sexy new outfit I looked somehow supersized. I will not be appearing on my blog until I have shrunk at least five kilos.

Of course we had a cake (I ate way too much)

We rearranged the house and garden

And there were balloons

And all the important people were there

Including this Fellow ... I don't know his name is but he keeps coming around.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Historical Novel Review

Let me tell you about an extremely auspicious publication. It is called: The Historical Novel Review.

What? You haven’t heard of it. Where have you been hiding all these years?

It is simply the best magazine for readers and writers of historical fiction in the world.

It is the premier periodical for librarian’s, serious readers and writers. I would know because I subscribe to it.

In recent months the Historical Novel Society has taken a giant leap in the right direction. Let me detail their meteoric rise.

1. They let me subscribe

2. They let me join their online discussion list

3. I met one of their editors at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival (Hi, Marina)

4. They have a great children’s historical novel review editor (Hi, Mary)

5. No one is doing reviews of Australian young adult historical fiction

6. Except me!

7. That’s right, me!

8. In Issue 45, of the August 2008, HNR,there is a review by me.

9. Yeah!

Just in case you do not subscribe to this magnificent publication, I will reproduce the review in full.

A Rose for the Anzac Boys
Jackie French, HarperCollins, 2008, $15.99 AUD, pb, 260pp, 9780732285401

It is the year 1915. Margery (Midge) Macpherson is a seventeen year old New Zealand girl attending boarding school in England while her two brothers serve with the Australian New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in Turkey and Europe. Midge leaves school to set up a railway canteen in France. She serves refreshments to the endless flow of soldiers returning from the front, relieves the local ambulance driver, and assists at a field hospital. Jackie French does not spare the reader. People die and are injured. But somehow she strikes a balance between the horrors and humanity of war that is appropriate to upper primary lower and secondary readers.

Each chapter is headed by a series of letters. I found myself poring over them, as if they had recently arrived in the post. The letters are written by Midge, civilian relatives, and others serving in military and medical capacities. Through them, we hear the voice of the era with all of its class consciousness, parochialism, hope and despair.

The narrative is framed by two contemporary events: ANZAC Day, 1975, as Lachie prepares to push his Pa’s wheelchair in the Biscuit Creek remembrance parade; and ANZAC Day 2007, where Lachie is marching as a soldier newly returned from fighting in Afghanistan. These chapters attempt to bridge the past and the present. It was not until halfway through the narrative, however, that I connected Biscuit Creek with Harry, a young Australian soldier Midge was befriending. Or until the final chapter, that I understood Lachie to be a descendant of Harry and Midge. I was disappointed to find the adult Lachie in military uniform. To remember the ‘war to end wars,’ was no such thing. But that is Jackie French’s triumph, the final thrust of her novel. She delivers it powerfully.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pearls of Wisdom from the Melbourne Writer's Festival ...

The count down is on. My brother’s flight is scheduled to arrive at 12:40am. It is running late. We are now looking at 1:08. I have time to share my pearls of wisdom with you, snippets of disjointed information that I have picked up at the writer’s festival.

First, a quote:

Truth in her dress finds facts too tight. In fiction she moves with ease. (Tagore)

The experiences you write about can be quite ordinary. If you write about the ordinary with intensity and feeling it comes alive. (Alice Pung).

Don’t tell the reader a character’s feelings. Give them a way of seeing it, feeling it, hearing it. Arnold Zable, illustrated this by citing an example from a student he was teaching who hated writing.

Zable asked the kid what he did on the weekend.

He said: ‘Surfing.’

‘What was it like,’ Zable asked.

The kid said: ‘Awesome.’

Zabel asked him: ‘What was so awesome about it?’

The kid said: ‘Words can’t describe it.’

After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, Zable said: ‘Close your eyes. Imagine you are on a surf board. Tell me what you see?’

The kid said: ‘The water is a wall like glass shimmering. (I can’t remember the exact words but it was very poetic).

Zable said: ‘Tell me what you hear?’

‘I hear wind rushing through a tunnel.'

‘Tell me what you feel?’

‘I rise on wings like a bird, flying.’

Zable then asked us. Do I need to tell you how he is feeling?

Tim Winton was asked what story model he used when plotting. He said he does not use any. Which is all very well, if you are a genius but not very useful for a pleb like me.

Robert Muchamore, a children’s writer, was inspired to write by his nephew who could not find anything to read. He said, the nephew still hadn’t read his books.

What did I learn from this? You can't please everyone.

Muchamore personally thanked us, the volunteers, for our assistance. I will be recommending his books heavily in future.

Emily Rodda talked about finding ideas in the ordinary, everyday and how they became fantasy. One such example came from watching a wasp drag a paralysed spider into its mud nest and sealing it inside for its young to eat. The children were delighted to recall an instance in which some of her characters were trapped in a mud cave.

Melina Marchetta said her stories always start with character and grow from there.

Lili Wilkinson said she writes a ‘zero draft,’ a draft that no one gets to see. From that she learns what she wants to write about and builds the ‘first’ draft.

Lili read Trixie Belden books as a child (among other things). She also used to chew her books. She showed us examples of books that had most definitely been munched. Remind me to check if she is one of our library patrons and suspend her membership.

John Marsden writes with the TV on in the background. He read Enid Blyton books as a child (yeah). I admired his honesty. He is a born storyteller. He is also a teacher. He directed one of his comments at some boys who were reading from a newspaper(ouch!).

Margo Lanagan likes an envirnoment free from distractions.

In Kate Mosse’s session I put my hand up and asked my first ever Writing Festival question. I attribute this newfound courage to my job share partner Philippa. She told me you get more out of a conference if you read the latest book of each speaker. I have spent the last week reading Labyrinth and have Sepulchre in my TBR pile.

Mosse’s books have two stories, a historical one and a modern one, intertwined and interlinked, but distinct. I asked if she wrote them separately or wove them together as she wrote.

She explained that she wrote the historical strand first, then the modern one, to keep their voices distinct. Then she went back and put them together, crafting cutting and shaping. Finally she wrote the last ten chapters, tying up all the stands and links.

I was pleased with her answer because it is how I imagined I would tackle it. More important by far was that immediately I asked the question, she looked up into the crowd, beyond the spotlights and asked:

‘Are you a writer?’

I called out: ‘A wannabe.’

She said: ‘Well, that is a good question, a writer’s question, and good luck with your book.’

It was the highlight of the festival for me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Diary of a Festival Volunteer: the story of how Liz scored a new red beret

A few months ago, I put my name down to help at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. I can only say that on the day I sent that fateful email I must have been feeling uncharacteristically energetic. For as my son Seth said when I outlined the scheme to him.

‘But Mum, you find a normal week pretty hard going. Whatever were you thinking?’

My desire to be part of Melbourne’s premier literary event was not, however, as unrealistic as it first appears. There would be no TAFE that week. I had planned to take annual leave for my library work and to give myself over to the festival completely. That was before I found out I was unable to take annual leave.

The problem with my leave was two-fold. Firstly, another of my colleagues had requested leave for that week. Secondly, the remainder of my colleagues were going to the festival as part of their professional development, you know ... getting paid for it.

Then I found out that the festival coincides with the greatly anticipated visit of my brother and his family. Okay, so now I was going to be working and volunteering as well as picking my brother and his family up from the airport at 12:40 am Thursday morning.

I should have probably quit at that stage and, after weeping into my pillow, sent an, I regret to inform you, letter to the festival organisers.

Instead I became stubborn and unrealistic.

‘Look, it is going to be a busy week,’ I said to my family. ‘But I really want to do this.’ All the time I was thinking: I must be a complete and utter muggins.

My husband Andrew compounded my inner sense of inner idiocy by saying: ‘I doubt anyone ever goes from being a volunteer to being an author.’

Of course, I wasn't doing it for that reason (well, not only that reason).

‘Why was I doing it?’ That was the question I asked myself as my alarm shrilled early Saturday morning. Of course, once I saw the Red Beret I would be wearing, I added and ‘F word’ to my original sentence.

Today is Tuesday and, yes, it has been tiring for a middle aged, health challenged, Vermont girl like me. But I am telling you, now. I will volunteer again next year and count it a privilege.

I have been assigned to BMW Edge a glorious venue in Federation square. After collecting tickets, volunteers are free to attend each session until it finishes. I have spent most of my time perched on the back bench of the BMW Edge looking out over the Yarra and listening. I have also carried the roving microphone around to various students during question time.

On Saturday I went to a reading by Age Book of the Year winners. A highlight was hearing Tim Winton read from his most recent novel, Breath. He read beautifully. Don Watson and Jan Harry were also fantastic. Monday evening, I sat in on a VCE session focussing on the film, Look Both Ways. I had not seen the movie but my son Seth is studying it for VCE. Last night Andrew and I perused his copy. It was inspiring, especially as I had just heard the writer and actor speak.

This morning I heard Robert Muchamore and Emily Rodda speak. At the end of Robert Muchamore’s session a teacher came up to me with a lone student. He had an email from one of the festival organisers indicating the student would be able to meet Roberts Muchamore. As the festival organizer in question was nowhere to be seen, I took the lad over to where the author was signing. Muchamore’s assistant was happy to arrange a meeting.

As I turned to leave, a petite woman in a pink poncho approached me. She had copy of The Shadow Thief by Alexandra Ardonetto in her hand. She said she could not wait in line because she had to go to the Green Room (the author’s waiting room). She asked could I please get it signed for her. I explained that I was not actually supposed to be standing in the author’s signing queue but promised to see what I could do. ‘Ah, before you go,’ I called out, as she hurried off. ‘Who would you like her to sign it to?’

‘My name is Melina,’ she said. ‘Melina Marchetta.’

My eyes flew open. I know that is a cliché line but I felt it happening. Standing there with my eyes like saucers I whispered: ‘I love your books.’

Thankfully at this stage my Liz-you-are-being-a-loser radar started beeping. I shut up and went in search of Alexandra Ardonetto.

Just in case you have never heard of Alexandra Ardonetto she is a Melbourne girl who signed a three-book-deal when she was only fourteen years of age. Can you imagine how I felt approaching her in my red beret and Crew T Shirt. Asking her to sign a book for Melina Marchetta and hoping she would do it quickly so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for being there, in line, instead of collecting tickets, or picking up rubbish, or directing people to the box office or the toilets.

I felt like an earwig.

Alexandra was sitting next to Alice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem. When I told Alexandra, Melina Marchetta wanted her autograph there was an audible gasp from both girls. Alice turned to Alexandra and said: ‘Oh, Alex, that’s fantastic.'

And it was.

When I took the book to Melina Marchetta in the Green Room, I felt like a fairy Godmother. Even now, as I sit here writing this blog, I find myself grinning stupidly.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Competing with the World ...

We have moved the television into the house. This only happens once every four years. Normally it lives out the back in the shed (I like to think our children are more intelligent as a result of this draconian measure). But it is Olympic Games time and we are Australian. We take our sport very seriously.

My friend Jane was the first to comment on the elevated status of our audio visual equipment. She comes from England and, despite having the recent privilege of citizenship conferred upon her, is sometimes mystified by local cultural practices.

‘Why have you got your TV in the house?’ she asked on a recent visit.

We looked at her dumdfounded. ‘It is the Olympics!’

My workplace sent out an email prior to the commencement of the Games, telling employees where television screens would be located during working hours. In my branch of the council library service the television is in the tearoom. We have been asked to consider non-sports enthusiasts (as if anyone would own up to it), and to be responsible with the amount of work time we spend viewing.

For my own part, it is always a shock to be exposed to commercial viewing after our Spartan diet of selected DVDs. Every advertisement during the Olympics is nauseatingly patriotic. Every possible link to sport is construed. Carine (who has been staying with us these past weeks) said this intense nationalism in relation to sport, is a novelty to her.

‘What,’ I said. ‘Don’t the Dutch go all sentimental during the Olympics?’

‘Not like you,’ she informed me.

I am not an avid sport watcher (I am more of a couch potato kind of girl). But I do love an event – and let’s face it, sports lover or not, the Olympics is an event. I can’t help but enjoy it. I like watching the agony on an athlete’s face give way to jubilation. I like the colour of the gymnastics. I like seeing people standing on the podium. I like the flags. I like the anthem singing. I also look forward to wheeling the television back to the shed when it is finished.

My favourite comment regarding the Games of the XXIX Olympiad comes from an online book group I belong to. The group is currently reading Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett. I am not following the reading schedule but I like to eavesdrop on other’s comments. This week someone wrote a plaintive message to the forum saying: ‘Can we please postpone this discussion for two weeks? I am not a big sports fan. But I can’t compete with the world.’

That pretty well sums it up for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

This Heroine's Journey ...

I have a cleaning lady. None of my neighbours have cleaning ladies. It is not something you admit to in Vermont.

In my suburb women whip around the house cleaning the wash basins before they leave for work; they remember to get their meat out of the freezer every morning, and they mow their lawns on Saturdays while their husbands watch football. They are tough, tracksuit-wearing super-women who take on the world before I have even brewed my morning coffee.

When I had babies and stayed at home full-time (at the tender age of twenty), I tried so hard to be a super-woman. I had a cleaning day and an ironing day, a shopping day and numerous wash days. I scrubbed, waxed and polished laboriously. I even bought myself a tracksuit. But, no matter how hard I tried, whenever I looked at other women’s gleaming stove tops and their sparkling tiles, I knew mine were somehow lacking. I felt inadequate.

Then I went to live in Fiji.

In Fiji everyone had a cleaning lady (we called them House Girls). It was an economic necessity for many of the local women. I had the best House Girl in Suva. Her name was Naomi. I did not inherit her (as many ex-patriots did). I found her myself. I paid her well. She went on courses. She designed her own uniforms and established the first House Girls playgroup. I think she was happy. I know I was.

While living in Suva, I noticed something peculiar. Some women did not like having a House Girl. They were always complaining. Their house was not clean enough. They could never find necessary items in their cupboards. They missed doing the washing. Whereas I was confident, adaptable and coping.

Then we returned to Melbourne.

We arrived in the middle of winter. It was bleak. I had a white skivvy with a permanent stain on its rollover neck from my mascara tears. When we moved back into our house I said: ‘Enough! I am getting a job so I can employ a cleaning lady.’

I went back to University. I did my library training. I got my first job well before I finished my Graduate Diploma (a career founded on such noble principles was bound to flourish). As soon as my first pay hit the bank, I employed a cleaning lady.

She is wonderful! and I am her slave.

If my cleaning lady suggests a change of floor wash, I buy it. If she wants a new sponge, she gets it. Brushes, mops, vacuum cleaner attachments, whatever she wants, money is no object. I prize her above rubies. Every Wednesday, I prostrate myself at her feet crying:

‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the work of your hands.’

It is as close as I get to goddess worship.

It is not for me to whip around the house cleaning basins. I do not iron or dust. I barely make the bed. My teenage kids do their own washing. We take turns with the cooking. don’t feel inadequate about this. I am in my forties; to hell with the super-woman complex.

I have been learning about the Heroine’s Journey at TAFE. In her excellent book, Story Structure Architect, Victoria Lynn Schmidt, calls this stage the Eye of the Storm. A time when a woman has come to terms with an ordeal and thinks her journey is over.

That was me — last week, I was light and happy and free. I thought I had found Nirvana. Now I realise it was only an Illusory Boon of Success. Yesterday, my cleaning lady told me she wanted to reduce her hours.

She may as well have shot me.

Last night, I pulled the old tracksuit out of the drawer. It still fits. Soon my scrubbing muscles will return. I am on the Road of Trials. I can feel my soul growing calloused. One by one my illusions being stripped away. I have begun my descent to the goddess.

This morning, I broke the news about the cleaning lady to the family. I told them it is all in Victoria Lynn Schmidt's book, and not to worry. That I am undergoing a symbolic death from with I will emerge strong and in control of my life. They did not panic. They did not weep or gnash their teeth. I was proud of them. Though it is the end of life as they know it.

Of course, I have not mentioned the roster word, yet. It is too soon. They are still in shock. But it will have to be faced ... eventually. Meanwhile we take things one day at a time. A mop here, a dust there, a spit and polish. Like a re-occuring nightmare it is all coming back to me.

I have commenced therapy.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Art of Concealment

I have reached the end of my TAFE term feeling less confident than when I started. Wondering what this whole writer’s journey is all about, wondering if I am staring at failure, shaken to know that I have invested three years in a novel, only to find myself caught in a maze not quite knowing how to get out.

Enter the Victorian Writers Centre. It is one of those unsung heroes of an institution that sits alongside public libraries and state schools. An institution that runs on a AAA battery, for the good of a community. In this case my community, the aspiring writer I share my body with.

Every month or so, the Victorian Writer, the VWC’s magazine, arrives in my mailbox. I read it avidly, circling competitions, classes and mentoring opportunities like wishes in the sand. I also read its articles.

This month, there is an article by John Armstrong called The Art of Concealment. I am going to quote from it liberally because it has touched my soul:

“About two thirds of the way through each of my last four books, I’ve made a resolution: this is the last time I am ever going to put myself through such misery again. At this stage I feel like I have been working on the project forever and it’s never going to be good enough.”

Perhaps I am normal, I think. Perhaps I am a writer after all.

“I have gone through this enough times to bear with it – I hate it but I don’t stop. It’s not that I know all will be well – I don’t know that. It’s much more like an addiction.”

This has resonance with me. Ask my family. I am tired, stressed and distresses, yet I turn on the laptop day after day like an old alcoholic, determined to keep going (yes, I know, I need to take a break). Here is my final quote:

“My core experience of writing is that the pursuit of writing is that the private image of perfection creates a lot of mental disturbance. And that one has to bear the disturbance, and not be too terrified of it. And not let others see much of it. It’s an art of concealment.”

Do not be terrified. I repeat the phrase over and over as Jesus walks to me across the Sea of Galilee.

Do not be terrified that you can’t find the perfect opening line.

Do not be terrified though the waves are high and you can no longer see the shore.

Do not be terrified when conflicting opinions come flooding in.

Do not be terrified. It is an old liturgy, made new for me.

Relax, take a break, this is normal.

Do not be terrified.

Listen to that gentle voice of reason — that still small voice.

Do not be terrified. Let the old made new wash over me.

Do not be terrified. Trust in God - yes, why not! and celebrate the writer within.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sorta, dunno, nothin' ...

This is for the aunties, uncles, parents and grandparenst among us. Or anyone who simply wants a good laugh.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What life is like ...

Sometimes my life feels like a pinball machine. You know, the kind you put money in and out comes the disc and you flick it with little levers and every time you get a point it goes ping! I work from two diaries and a mobile phone reminder system. But I still scurry about without managing to be in the right place at the right time.

Last Wednesday this helter skelter existence finally came apart spectacularly. I missed an important, and expensive, medical appointment. I also forgot to take my car to the mechanic as scheduled. As I lamented this unfortunate (but not unusual) series of events to Andrew and Seth over coffee, I regregretted that I did not own a diary small enough to fit in my handbag.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It would make a huge difference. Perhaps when Linda (at work) takes the diary requests for 2009, I will order a more compact organiser.’

‘Mum,’ Seth said, leaning over and speaking earnestly. ‘I don’t think you should wait until next year.’

I went straight to the newsagent.

I now own a modest shiny black synthetic leather volume designed and produced by Tai Shing Diary Limited. I sat down and transferred all my data, feeling buoyant with hope and achievement. I even went so far as to clean out my in-tray (heaven rejoiced). I saw a letter from the bank in my in-tray. It that had been sitting there for over a week with a replacement card stuck to it.

‘Look at that,’ I said, signing the back of the card with a flourish. ‘They have made the new Mastercard the same colour as my old Keycard.’

I chopped my Mastercard up and put it in the bin.

Feeling very righteous, I made room for the new piece of plastic in my purse. It was at that point I realised, my new Mastercard actually had the word Keycard written on it.

I phoned the bank.

A replacement Mastercard will arrive within five to ten days. Meanwhile I have my new Keycard to go on with.

Since Wednesday, I have been taking my diary around everywhere. I sleep with it beside my bed. It is the first thing I see every morning. The last thing I look at each night. I go to sleep mouthing imminent appointments like a sacred liturgy. I think it is helping.

On Friday, I managed to get myself to the airport, park the car, and board the correct flight to Adelaide without hiccup. I even rang my Mum to say the flight had been delayed. Yes, I thought, I can change. I was born to be a chess set. Not a pin ball machine.

I disembarked at Adelaide Airport feeling regal, calm and serene. It was lovely to see Mum. We gathered my luggage (no mistakes there) and made our way out to the car park. All was going well until Mum realised she had forgotten where the car was parked.

Mum has a new car so I didn't know exactly what we were looking for. I knew it was a red car. She thought the number might have an X in it.

There were quite a few red cars in the car park. As we walked around the car park pointing her automatic locking system at cars hoping for the lights to flash, I had a dark epiphany. Even with my Tai Shing Limited diary bumping against me, I knew in that moment, that I would never be a chess set. No matter how hard I tried. My problem is genetic. I was born into a family of pinball machines.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


I did not get selected for the ASA mentorship program.

I only got 9 out of 10 for my last TAFE assignment.

I am not upset or anything. I am a mature adult. I can handle disappointment - not!

I think the following video from Dylan Moran says it all.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I believe in Fairies

I believe in fairies. I am sure you do too. Ever since my mother explained to me that the terrifying roll of thunder was merely the fairies having a party, I have found it a convenient explanation for a range of peculiar happenings.

Tylwyth Teg is the Welsh term for fairies. They are a diminutive race, resembling humans, who ride miniature horses, and are often accompanied by small white dogs (I think Biskit is probably a fairy dog). In Wales the fairies can live side by side with households, in a sort of unseen Harry Potter style world. The Welsh Fairy Book, by Jenkyn Thomas documents their existence. He tells the story of Gutto Bach of Llangybi, who disappeared from home, and one day, two years later, re-appeared. Little Gutto wasn’t a day older than when he disappeared, however, because he had been playing with the fairies.

Ianto Llywelyn of Llanfihangel on the other hand, was a friend of the fairies. He used to keep his fire burning all night long. He also left a vessel of water and bread with its accompaniments on the table, taking care, to remove everything made of iron before going to bed. For you must know, iron acts as a deterrent to fairies. This is where the old custom of hanging a horseshoe above the door comes from because if you offend the fairies, they can become rather a nuisance.

Such was the case with Morgan Rhys and his family from Ystrad Fellte in Breconshire. They heard all manner of noises in the cowhouse. Yet, when they went to the cowhouse to investigate, they found nothing. When they eventually returned to the house, they found everything upset in the kitchen. Night after night, their crockery was broken and their cows were milked dry. Their horses ridden until their wind was broken.

Now as you may know, I am writing a novel. It is an emigrant story set in 1841. One of my main characters is Welsh (which is how I discovered this interesting stuff about fairies). I have very little about fairies in the book (just in case you are being bored witless) but I am developing a breakthrough historical theory. I would like to suggest that it was not only humans who came across the sea from Britain. The Tylwyth Teg came too.

There is a historical precedent. Morgan Rhys’ family were so desperate to escape the fairies they packed up their belongings and proceeded to move temporarily (for it was the custom of the fairies to quit an establishment that passes from old into new hands), only to find that the fairies had packed up their belongings and moved with them to Ystrad Towy.

It seems to me that the fairies came with the first emigrants from Britain and have been coming ever since. Indeed, I suspect a whole family might have emigrated alongside my family in 1968. Now before you object, I will ask you one simple question. Where do your odd socks disappear to? Are you with me? Ok here is another thought. Why can you never find a ball point pen or a tennis balls when you need it? As you can see, I have s strong case. It must be the fairies.

Our household have forever been plagued by fairies (I am not sure what we have done to offend them). When the children were little it was spoons that went missing. I know that is peculiar, because spoons are made of metal, but I suspect that during the evolutionary process, some fairies have become immune to it (the tooth fairy is a prime example). Anyway, I was forever missing spoons. Occasionally I would find one in the sandpit (which is how I first came to suspect the fairies), but mostly they just disappeared.

The sandpit is now long gone from our garden. It has been replaced by MSN, iPods and P Plates. I thought the fairies had gone too. But I was wrong. I have lately begun to suspect they are still with us. How else do I explain the recent and mysterious disappearance of the forks in my cutlery drawer?

The truth about the missing forks has dawned upon me slowly. At first, it was simply a fork here and a fork there. With the rapid rotation of cutlery and crockery in and out of the dishwasher, and the very haphazard habits if those rostered on dishes duty, it was easy to miss the decline in numbers until last week ... When I realised there were no longer enough forks to have dinner with.

Andrew was in America at the time, so we only needed four forks. But no matter where we searched – the dishwasher, the various cutlery drawers, Seth’s bedroom (very scary) Priya’s bedroom (even worse) – they were nowhere to be found. We had to face the cold hard truth. We had twenty knives, forty spoons (including soup spoons and teaspoons) and three forks. It had to be the fairies. There is not other explanation for it. I am wracking my brains to work out how I have offended them.

I may never know the reason for this attack on my cutlery drawer. But the answer is simple. I must placate the fairies. It is vital for the continued well being of my forty spoons. I will convince Andrew of the value of running the heater all night (never mind the gas bill). I will watch what I say from now on(word watch fairies); I will write nice things about the fairies on my blog (blog watch fairies); I will practice random acts of kindness (benevolence fairies), I will not nibble and eat badly (Doctor Tickle’s diet watch fairies); I will be firm with Biskit (Alpha dog training fairies) and of course I must leave food and drink for them like Ianto Llywelyn of Llanfihangel did.

There is only one problem I can see with this plan. It is the cockroaches. Melbourne is in the throws of a nasty roach plague. This is not the fault of the fairies (or my housekeeping). It is because of global warming. As the earth warms, our Melbourne cockroaches are growing bigger and uglier. It is a kind of King Kong or Honey I blew up the Kid situation. To reach my carefully placed snacks the fairies will have to mount an assault, more gruelling and devastating than the ANZAC campaign at Gallipoli. I don’t know how they are going to deal with it. I will have to consult the Welsh Fairy Book to see if there is a precedent.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My TBR Pile

I would like to tackle the subject of the dreaded Too Be Read (TBR) pile. Mine is a problem. Not a Twelve Step kind of problem, I hasten to add, because that would mean doing something about it. No, this is a happy to have but annoying nonetheless kind of problem. The sort you complain about, lose very little sleep over, and never expect to solve. It is also the sort that drives your partner mad.

Earlier this year Andrew and I bought new bedroom furniture. After twenty plus years of marriage we thought it was time. We actually went out looking for a set of drawers for Priya and decided, on the spur of the moment, to give her our old chest of drawers (clever huh!) and to buy a whole new suite for ourselves. Perfect, except we would now have to tidy the bedroom thoroughly.

Andrew thought this was wonderful because he is a neat freak. I walked round the house like a dog with its tail between its legs. I had a lot of clutter to be re-housed. Fortunately I had recently inherited a spare bedroom and set it up as an office. But I still had a basket full of books sitting beside the bed. In the new regime these books were given a drawer. Not a big drawer, by the way: a sort of overgrown-match-box type of arrangement that could not possibly hold my TBR pile.

Over the months, I have tried manfully to stick to the limits of my drawer but ... I work in a library. It is akin to an alcoholic working in a bottle shop. The problem is essentially mathematics: I bring home more than I take back. But I would also like to suggest that they do not make bedside drawers big enough. I am looking for a drawer that can never be full, like the bag with which Pwyll tricked Gwawl ap Clud.

Andrew is away this week and the drawer has come into its own. It does not quite close anymore. It is spilling out all over the floor. Its contents have marched out, two by two, and ranged themself along his side of the bed. It is a sort when-the-lights-go-out-in-the-library experience as I snuggle up between Joseph Campbell’s, Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Lola Workman’s, Wheat-Free World. At last count there were thirteen books, three magazines, some chapters from my friend Leisl’s unpublished manuscript, a notebook and Bible and a number of overwhelmed book marks decamped about the room. Fortunately, Andrew is coming home next week, or I may find myself buried in a paperback tomb.

I noticed today that I have seven (said in hushed whispery tones) overdues on my library card. I have spent the evening bustling about trying to find them (yes, sometimes TBRs escape). I found Eclipse in Priya's room and Atonement in Phoebe's room (you can always blame the kids). I have weeded Aristotle's, Poetics, and, Story Structure Architect, from my own pile. Make no mistake. This is serious. I feel purged. There are books lined up like naughty children by the back door. If I'm awake when I leave the house in the morning, and that will depend on whether I wake up in time to make make coffee, I may even remember to take them with me.

You may think it looks like smooth sailing from here (sorry about the cliche I am all smilied out). That I now have my reading habits on a leash.

Dont' be deceived!

There is a hidden TBR pile. It is like the church seen and unseen, awaiting its day of triumph.

A reservation list is so much more accommodating than a drawer. It is not made of wood for a start. It grows ... and it grows, like the Five Fat Peas, but it does not pop! I can't tell you how many books I have on reservation at the library. It is a privacy issue for a start. But do know it was double figures last time I had the courage to count.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jack flew down for mother's day ...

What a lovely surprise!

I got flowers

and a necklace

and new pyjamas (some things never change)

and here we all are.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Little Britain

Welsh is the language of heaven, something I do for my heart. I expect it is supposed to be good for my brain, too (it certainly beats doing the Sudoku). But I tend to find my old grey matter lacks adhesive. I do homework (sometimes), and I try to listen to my Mp3 lessons, and I attend class, but no matter how hard I try, it does not stick.

That is where the heart comes in.

The heart is not about competition or achievement.It is about connection. It is about the little trill of satisfaction my pulmonary muscle gives when I see or hear a Welsh word. The start of recognition I get upon seeing the word eisteddfod used arbitrarily, by non Welsh speakers, and knowing eistedd means, 'to sit.' It is a warm, throbbing, umbilical kind of feeling that give me a sense of history and resonance and belonging. But ... enough of that, I am being overly sentimental.

In Welsh we have been studying comparative, equative and superlative adjectives.

Now the Welsh word for tall is: tal If we want to say John is tall we would write:

Mae John yn dal

The equative:

Mae John yn mor dal a Bill reads: John is as tall as Bill.

To say John is taller than Bill we add 'ach' to the adjective - Mae John yn dalach na Bill

Please notice that the word, tal, has become, dal. That is because Welsh is Ninja language. It is always mutating.

When we want to say John is the tallest, however, the form changes. We do not say Mae John (john is), we say: John ydy'r talaf

In class I had a great deal of trouble remembering this. I don't know why, it seems simple now I am writing it, but the lesson was more like a post-it-note than a Super-glue kind of an experience. In the end, we tried playing around with the superlative form and being, well ... a little silly.

For example: Rydw i 'n unig hoyw yn y pentre, means, I am the only gay in the village (now where have I heard that phrase before?).

I am not sure how you would say I am the gayest person in the village. I will have to ask my Welsh teacher. We didn't tackle the first person superlative. It might be: Rydw i 'n person hoywch yn y pentre.

But I do know how to say: David is the only gay in the village. It goes like this: Davydd ydy'r unig hoyw yn y pentre.

For some reason, I no longer have trouble remembering the construction.

It's funny what sticks in your mind.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Today we started workshopping at TAFE. I was asked to go first. It was a sort of a Liz the guinea pig sort of thing (not really , it only felt like it).

I am no stranger to workshopping but this involved twenty three people, who I barely know, and it was kind of scary.I had lots of favourable comments. That's because the lecturer made everyone say at least one good thing. The more noteworthy ones were: A good sense of period; strong opening sentence; good descriptions; powerful and evocative similies; good establishment of character and relationship; wanted to read more; and my favourite: some of the lines were so good I wished I had written them.

Then came the suggestions for improvements.

You will be glad to know, I am recovering.

Actually, they were not too bad and on the whole very insightful. I will take them all on board, especially the ones about Bridie's needs and wants being expressed more powerfully.I came home and debriefed to Carine(Yes, she is here again). But ... I would have to say at this point my gut is still churning. It will be like that until I get a chance to make changes. That is the thing about writing. The creative tension is like elastic. You are stretched ... and stretched ... and stretched ... until you finally give birth and then, it starts all over again.

It is soooo hard writing a novel.

My lecturer's final comment was: "overall a good start which could be made even better."

There goes my weekend again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dog Training

Liz is back at dog training. Personally I don't think she needs re training. She has just the right sort of oh-never-mind, attitude that is perfect for dog ownership.

If Liz says sit, and I drop, she chuckles and tells me I am sweet.

If I run through the door when I am not supposed to she growls, but I can tell by her smile she does not mean it.

At dog training they talk about consistency. I would say Liz's consistency is 100%, for a marshmallow recipe.

At dog training, on the other hand, they are pedantic!

They want me to sit in the perfect position.

To go into a drop with my head still in the perfect position.

They make me sit, only to give me the stand command.

They do a check command and I roll over, but they forget to tickle my tummy.

I come home with quite a headache.

To make things worse, Liz has started practicing in between lessons. She gets the halter out and makes me stay in a drop while she is writing. It is very frightening. There is a strong possibility she could forget about me ... forever. Just ask Andrew. He knows what that is like to be forgotten by a writer in a flush of creativity.

Last week I came home from dog training and there was a box sitting just where my sleeping mat usually is. I thought, here goes. I am being asked to jump through hoops again. Being an obedient hound, and not wanting to let Liz down because, quite frankly, she is a failure when it comes to dog training, I climbed into the box. It wasn't very comfortable, but neither is the perfect position.

I am not sure why, but the family all laughed at me.

A better response would have been: Good dog Biskit

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The great TAFE race ...

The competition is on folks! It will be a fight to the death between my new friend Paula and me. She got full marks for her first TAFE assignment (bitch!). But I got full marks for the second assignment (yeah me!) That’s what you do, by the way, when you have four kids, live in the eastern suburbs and are too old to win the Vogel award. You vie for TAFE marks. It is a kind of an, I am getting old, I-must-be-good-at-something, mid life crisis kind of thing. At least it is for me. I can’ speak for Paula. But just for the record my bet is on Paula to win because she has a Law degree.

Anyway, Paula suggested I put my assignment on my blog for the edification of mankind. I will, just because I can, but I warn you it is a detailed outline of my novel plot so if you don’t want to know what happens, give it a miss. If you are a publisher, however, wanting to sign me up for a multi million dollar contract so I can live in a castle next to JK Rowling, please feel free to read.

It came with pretty pictures because we have been studying classic Three Act story models. I learned how to do all the coloured lines and comment boxes at work. It is how I demonstrate catalogue search skills to school kids. but I can't get blogger to accept the format, so if you are a library wanting to offer me a lucrative position demonstrating catalogue skills to school kids, sorry, no go, I already work for the Premier library service in Melbourne.I can't upload the pictures in their curent format, however.

Project Outline for Chrysalis

It is the year 1841. Thirteen-year-old Bridie Stewart is travelling to Port Phillip in emigrant vessel, the Gloriana. The ship’s steerage accommodation is noisy and claustrophobic: a jumble of laughter, idiosyncratic personality and petty conflict. Bridie shares a bunk and rostered duties with the orphaned girl Annie Bowles. She watches her stepfather, Alf Bustle (Alfie), flounder in his role as steerage cleaner while her mother, Mary, who is expecting, becomes increasingly morose and inactive. Cut off from the world for months-at-a-time, their journey is a chrysalis from which no one will emerge unchanged.

For Bridie, the most enthralling aspect of the journey is her friendship with Rhys Bevan and his pregnant wife Siân. The Bevans are storytellers. The poetry of ancient myth, as told by Rhys for the amusement of his fellow travellers, infuses Bridie’s affection for the couple with a sense of wonder. Siân’s use of an ancient healing stone adds enchantment to the narrative. Their friendship touches a deep chord in Bridie and alleviates some of the loneliness she has experienced since her father died of alcohol related illness.

The Bevan’s young lives hold secrets. Bridie learns that Rhys is estranged from his father and that a crippling fear of enclosed spaces caused him to flee his Welsh mining village. She also becomes aware of Siân’s shameful, illegitimate birth. The bardic tradition of Welsh folklore sets their stories in a mythological context. It also provides a framework for Bridie to grapple with the tragic loss of her own father. At Rhys’ gentle insistence she begins to accept the presence of a new stepfather in her life.

Bridie and her friends are not the only ones wrestling with their past. As Alf seeks to establish himself in the eyes of the surgeon, he is dogged by an insecurity reaching back to his own childhood and the harsh treatment he received at the hands of his father. Annie has lived with her aunt since her father died. Now her aunt has arranged for her to emigrate. Annie’s face is deeply pock marked. She fears she will never find employment or a marriage partner. But she is good with children and finds courage in making herself useful. Doctor Roberts, the ship’s surgeon has left gambling debts and a failed marriage behind him on England’s shores. Rhys recognises Doctor Roberts from one of his droving journeys and knows of the surgeon’s involvement in the illegal anatomy market. As the journey unfolds, Rhys realises Siân will give birth before they reach Port Phillip. He asks Annie to stay with Siân during her confinement because he does not trust the surgeon.

In a storm of the southern coast of Australia, Mary and Siân go into labour. Annie is present during Mary’s labour but is dismissed hurriedly once the baby is born. In Annie’s absence Siân dies. One baby survives. Only Doctor Roberts and Mary know the true fate of Siân’s baby (although Annie suspects it), for it has been swapped with the dead child Mary was carrying. In a wave of guilt and self reproach, Rhys begins to drink heavily. Without Siân, he is unable to manage the fear that threatens to overwhelm him. Rhys’ drunkenness is a like reoccurring nightmare to Bridie. Lonely and confused she turns to her stepfather for support. With his help she is finally able to confront the painful circumstances of her father’s death.

At its deepest level, the novel is modelled on an abiding theme of Welsh folklore — the lost child. A child who is secreted away, found and restored to its destiny at a later date. The mystical elements of the story, as seen through Bridie’s youthful eyes, bring depth to the novel’s exploration of struggle and loss. This is the first book in a proposed trilogy of novels that follow the various paths of these characters during the early days of the Port Phillip District. The trilogy will culminate in Rhys’ reunion with his son and his marriage to Bridie.

Dates for the Gloriana’s fictitious voyage have been chosen specifically. The vessel enters Port Phillip Bay on January 1st 1842, just before the temporary cessation of Government assisted emigration. Its inhabitants are plunged into the economic recession that was occurring in Port Phillip at that time. The historical framework (independent of characters) has its own story arc.

The story is told in shifting Point of View with five main voices. Bridie is the main protagonist and I am still trying to get a firm handle on her dilemma. Rhys’ arc is a tragic arc (in the first book). I am trying to make his and Bridie’s arcs converge so that in the final scenes Bridie faces the truth about her father and from her newly matured perspective gives Rhys a glimmer of hope that will enable him to go forward.

Note: I attach two diagrams. The first one demonstrates the overall convergence of the main character’s story arcs. The second one is an attempt to plot Bridie’s arc in detail. I have been working on the other characters’ needs, wants and flaws but I have not included them as I am already over the word limit.

Wants: her Dad back (but he is dead). She also wants her mother to remember her father kindly instead if always showing a preference for Alf.
Needs: to let go of her Dad and to accept the presence of a new stepfather in her life. Before she can do this she needs to be sure that her Dad actually loved her.
Flaw: she has idealised her father rather than face the painful truth about his death. She tries to recreate her father in Rhys.

I will try and put the pictures on seperately.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Elizabeth in London

Here I am on Time magazine when I was four years old.

It's Raining!

It's raining. Yeah!

It started in the middle of the night on Easter Monday with thunder and lightning - torrential downpours.

We were camping but I didn't mind.

We packed up amid drizzle and headed down the Hume Highway counting puddles along the side of the road.

It was raining Yippee!

It had been raining in Melbourne too. The earth was dark and moist. We pulled out damp canvas and hung it to dry.

We didn't mind. It had rained.

Today it was still raining. I got wet when I went shopping. I ran the food into the house with water slipping down my neck.

I didn't mind. It was raining.

The floor by the door is muddy. Did you hear me? Muddy! Rows and rows of camp clothing hang dripping on the washing line.

This evening it is still raining. Hip hooray!

They say it is going to rain for most of the week. On Saturday I am going to work in the garden. Yes!

The the earth will raise its face to the sky. Thirsty plants will remember their life. The soil will be moist and sweet.

It is raining. Yes, raining. I lift my voice.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A bit of this and that ...

Last weekend we went to the Port Fairy Folk Festival. The weekend before that was St David’s Day and my Mum came to stay. This weekend I am working. The weekend after this is Easter, then school holidays. That means a busy time for me at the library. My Blogging has suffered. But there are a few things to note.

St David’s Day was great. Mum and I went to the concert of the Victorian Welsh Choir. Sunday we were scheduled to attend a Cwmanfa Ganu at St Michael's in the city. As we were walking to the concert, Mum fell over and cut her head open on the pavement. A very helpful man from the choir called and ambulance and we spent the rest of the afternoon in casualty. The next day she woke up looking like this:

I don't know why but she seemed to expect sympathy.

The folk festival was great, as usual. I saw five people I knew the festival: three librarians, one fellow writer and a Welsh language learner. That pretty well sums up my life really. The music was fantastic. I enjoyed seeing Casey Chambers live, again. I also really enjoyed a British folk singer called Martha Tilson. It was very hot at the festival. The temperature in Port Fairy was thirty-nine degrees. Do bear in mind that we were sitting in tents with hundreds of other people. Surprisingly it was not too smelly.

The hot weather has continued on into this week. It was thirty-nine degrees again today. I feel a tad lethargic. My preparations for the school holiday programme at work, involves a session called Hysterical History. I have booked the library laptop and data show. We are going to read stories about inventions – useless ones in particular. This is my favourite one so far:

It is for those heavy hayfever days.

I have been learning about the three-act story model at TAFE. It has been mind blowing. I now understand consciously what I have been trying to do in my novel instinctively. Carine is here for the weekend (I am calling her the boomerang exchange student). I gave her a detailed run down of the three-act model with an in depth analysis of my novel this afternoon. Now, that’s what I like about Carine. She sat right through it and even managed to look interested.

Next weekend is Easter. We are going to Beechworth. If you are Victorian you will link the word Beechworth with Bakery. We are looking forward to sampling its delights. More exciting, however, is that we are meeting Jack and Ness there. It will be the first time we have seen them since they moved to Canberra. We are looking forward to catching up with them. I will take lots of photos and, no doubt, eat lots of chocolate. I will be on a crash diet by the next time we speak.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Seth's 18th Birthday

We had Spicy Bhuja Mix in a Swiss bowl and samosas off a Portmeirion plate, accompanied by a Black Swan pumpkin dip with Japanese rice crackers. It was Seth’s Birthday and he got to choose whatever he liked. So we added some Japanese Beers, a Merlot from South Australia, three different kinds of curry with roti, rice and mango chutney. Such Variety: Mr Heinz would have been proud of us.

Phoebe, Seth and I had started the day with brunch at Banks, a local cafe. While there Seth received a text message from his mate Damien. It read:

‘Hey Sexy, Happy Birthday, I’ll be over later with your shit.’

Such eloquence! Who said the English language was in decline? Well, you could imagine how keen I was for Damien to arrive. I mean shit can mean so many things. As it turns out it was two very nice T Shirts. The word present would have been adequate, in my opinion. But I am getting old, I think.

Damien arrived between dinner and dessert (some people have impeccable timing). His mum, Judy and his sister, Lauren followed to add their birthday greetings. When Michael got home he wandered over too. It was a party. We served the dessert, apple crumble, which goes very well with curry (not). We had a bit of trouble with the candles. The crumble was so hot they melted and sagged before Seth could blow them out. But we sang Happy Birthday anyway and, yes, Alice, we even took a photo.

Seth received so much shit for his birthday I can’t possibly list it all here. I will leave it to your imagination. You can fill in the gaps. If you can’t think of anything, you might be getting as old as me.

I will conclude with the obligatory at-the-table shot, just so Carine, Winnie and Alice feel right at home. The rest of the photos are on my Flickr site which is linked from the right hands side of this page.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My First TAFE Assignment

The Little Team

As a child I did swimming, tennis, judo, gymnastics and athletics. I also played netball. My best sporting memory belongs to netball. It was the pinnacle of my sporting achievement.

It was in my first season of netball. I was in the under eights — the little team. I do not remember my first night at training, or the obligatory thanksgiving service (it was a Methodist team), but I do recall my uniform. It was a grey box pleat tunic with two wide strips along the bottom of the skirt: one red and one green. I had to stand tall with my hands bunched at my sides, my knuckles determining my hemline. I wore a crisp white shirt under my tunic and a red corded belt at my waist. It had tassels like a misplaced curtain accessory.

The winter season was divided into two rounds. Sometimes we played at home and sometimes we played away. Our Mums and Dads took turns driving us to away games. We lined up jostling, hand-in-hand, determined to sit next to our best friend. For home games we brought oranges: one for our self and one for our opponent. I enjoyed the car ride. I enjoyed playing games at practice. I liked the oranges. But I was lazy on the court. I did not like being out of breath or running hard, I did not jump high enough and I did not care overly much about winning. But I was taller than most of the other girls so they put me in defence.

Juanita McCurdy's dad was our coach. He wore a gold neck chain and a leather coat. His skin was more olive than it should be. He made us do drills. We practiced bounce passes and chest passes. We learned how to attack and defend. We endeavoured to catch the ball without stepping. On Tuesday training nights, our breath came in little silver puffs as we giggled our way round the church netball courts. The overhead lights made circles of light on the gritty asphalt. Mr McCurdy was a good coach. We only lost one game that season.

The Grand Final was played on a neutral court. We brought our own oranges. I was skittery-nervous in the car on the way to the game. I checked the length of my fingernails. I checked the length of my friend’s finger nails. My Mum had tied my hair ribbons extra tight. My straggling fringe felt like barbed wire it was held back by so many bobby pins. The team bibs were given out in silence. As I walked on to the court the soles of my Levi sneakers felt too thin. We took our positions. The whistle blew. Suddenly, it was happening.

I do not recall the name of the team we played that day, or the colour of their uniform. I certainly don’t know the score. I remember jumping high, and my Dad’s smiling face, the sound of my mother’s cheering. I remember Susan Lacey and Catherine Purvis popping impossible shots from the edge of the goal ring. I remember sunlight and singing our team’s song with a high, light fairy-floss kind of feeling. I remember winning. Then, after the game, Mr McCurdy bought as all ice creams.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Children

Today was a great day for our nation and not because of a our history, or in response to a great sporting event. It was not about ANZAC day, either. It had nothing to do with war or fighting. Neither was it about industry achievement or economic success. It was a day for saying sorry, and it was long overdue. It was a chance to right a wrong: to set the record straight.

My husband Andrew and his singing partner Monique wrote a song about the Stolen Generation a while back. It sounds best when they sing it. But I thought I would put the words up as my own little way of paying my respects.

Their skin a little lighter, they were mine
We heard the stories, they'd be taken away
I charcoaled them black, 'don't wash it off'
'Hide out the back if the truck comes'

Take my land, take my pride, take my dreaming
Crush them in your stride
Leave my children, here with me
Leave my children, here with me

We saw the dust, then heard the sound
Hats and paper forms, heavy boots and frowns
A trick, the door closed, then their screams
No ! leave my children here with me

Take my land, take my pride, take my dreaming, crush them in your stride
Leave my children, here with me
Leave my children, here with me

I am sorry

Monday, February 4, 2008

Green Tea

It is a curious thing drinking Green Tea. There is a sense of virtue in it. A flushed out, grit-your-teeth, this is good for me feeling. Not that I don’t like the taste. I do, but only when I am feeling happy.

You see, for me, green tea is not an o-my-God it’s morning sort of a drink. That is coffee. It is not a refined, afternoon tea experience. That is Earl Grey tea. Neither is green tea an I-have-to-stay-awake-or-else fix. That is Diet Coke, for me.

Green tea is an all-is-well-with-soul sort of beverage, an I-am-strong; I am invincible; I am woman kind of a feeling. That is why I am drinking it now, in my study, with my dog at my feet.

Here are my reasons for drinking green tea:

I have been to TAFE, and made the right decision about what subject I want to do this year.

I am buoyant in anticipation of what I will be learning.

I have done the grocery shopping and have made a pot of vegetable soup (essential for ongoing weight management).

I have cut up fruit in the fridge.

Tonight I am going back to Welsh and my friend Anna is coming.

Tomorrow I am going to write all day.

I love Green Tea