Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bristol Short Story Anthology, vol. 2

Today the Bristol Short Story Anthology, arrived. I had been harrasing humble postal workers about it all week. When Andrew emailed to say it wasn't in today's post, I felt like chaff in the wind.

But then it arrived! By some magical postal arrangement that, to this day, Australia Post hasn't grapsed.

Andrew sent me a text message.
I came home straight away.

What, I hear you say? Weren't you at work. How could you just leave? Well, yes. But I work in the library - books are revered, and I'd just received one with my name written inside. No one blinked as I raced out the door.

The anthologies came in a sack. I've never received a sack in the post before.
Here I am holding it.
Yes, that's right. It seems sacks are a Swiss idea.

Inside the sack was a brown cardboard box.

And inside the box were the books.
They look real, don't they!
Here's me holding an anthology.

My story is the first in the book (okay, so a little freaky). Then are all these other amazing stories. I've been reading some this evening. They are really I good! I don't know how I won this thing?

But I did. There's my story, at the front on the book and it has First Prize written above it.

The whole thing feels real, suddenly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Moon Landings and Black Holes in my Understanding

Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?

It’s the question of the week. I have been searching my cache of memories for an answer. But I can’t remember the event. Andrew says he remembers it clearly. He watched it on TV. It was night time, he says, someone roused him from sleep.

I always believed him, until this week. Until I found out the moon landing took place at 13:50 AEST, which is ten to two in the afternoon, if my time-zone converter isn’t lying.

So what was he watching? Remembering? Who roused him from sleep?

We may never know the answers to those questions. It’s a black hole in our family history. But it set me wondering. Where was I when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? Why can’t I remember the momentous event?

I would have been five years of age at the time. I did a quick finger count. Yes, five. The catechism of my family history says I came to Australia at the age of four and a half. That means I must have been in Geelong on July 21st 1969 at 13:50 AEST.

But why can't I remember? And when exactly did we emigrate? For some reason, that date is also missing from my cache. I don’t know why? It was the AD of my childhood. The beginning and end of everything.

I remember my Aunty Jean crying at the airport and Mum being airsick. I remember Dad eating Mum’s airline meals. Ian walking up and down the aisle of the Boeing 747, even at that age unable to sit still. I remember Darwin airport, too, with its high ceiling fans. Mum being take away for re-hydration. Soldiers from Vietnam. I even remember pulling up in front of the Carrington Hotel in Geelong. It was Khaki Green and located next to used car yard. Mum vomited in the gutter at the sight.

I remember everything – except the moon landing.

I decided to ring Mum.

‘Hey Mum,' I asked. 'What date did we emigrate?’

‘We left the 31st of August, 1969,’ she said. It was a bank holiday. You were four and a half years of age.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’s strange. I must have been in England for the moon landing?’

‘Yes, dear, you were.’

‘But I came to Australia when I was four and a half, didn't I?’

I had a strange kaleidoscope feeling at this point. My identity breaking up an shifting. Last week, I did my first ever author interview with a magazine called Venue. It has a readership of around 20, 000. I told the interviewer Mum was Welsh and Dad was English. That we emigrated to Australia when I was four and a half years old - had I lied?

‘But, Mum,’ I said. ‘I would have been five years of age on 21st of July 21st, 1969.’

Silence on the end of the line.

I did a quick finger count.

‘Are you sure you’ve got the date right? Mum, can you hear me?’

‘I might be seventy two, Elizabeth. But I know when we emigrated!’

I did another finger count, slower this time. Mathematics has never been my strength. But I know I was born on July 3rd 1964. I’ve seen the birth certificate. I also know that nine take away four equals five. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but that makes me five years of age the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. It would have been 3:50 on July 21st, GMT, and I would have been tucked up in bed.

No wonder I don’t remember the moon landing? I was asleep. Mum and Dad were preparing to emigrate, selling furniture and packing boxes. About to embark upon their own momentous journey, leaving home, family, friends, and flying to the other side of the world. Henceforth to communicate with loved ones by infrequent letters and breathless three minute phone calls. The moon landing would barely have crossed their radar. Let alone an insignificant detail such as their daughter’s age.

But it matters to me – I was five years of age when I emigrated. Did you hear me, five!

Why has it taken me forty five years to work that out? I can’t answer that question. It’s a black hole in my experience. But I do know where I was when the moon landing took place, even if I can’t remember it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bristol Short Story Prize

Here’s the thing about competitions. They mess with your head. Especially when your short story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, gets shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize.

You tell yourself. I won’t win, over and over, because you don’t want to be disappointed. But all the time you know that the award ceremony for the Bristol Prize will be at 8pm GMT, on July 11th at Waterstone’s. It’s like one of those little black boxes orthodox Jews wear strapped to their forehead.

No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, you can’t forget.

At work, when harassed mothers phone the library to find out whether there are any vacancies for the school holiday activity on July 3rd, you think: that’s eight days before the Bristol Short Story Prize is announced.

When an elderly gentleman calls to ask the due date of his books, you check his card, and tell him the due date is July 11th, you think: how could you possibly forget that date?

On Friday 10th, when workmates ask what you're doing over the weekend, you say, ‘Oh, we’re having friends for dinner Saturday night,’ but in your mind you think: I will be waiting.

On Saturday July 11th you rise late, have breakfast, go for a jog, bath the dog, make dinner and enjoy the evening with friends. But you don't mention the competition, and no one in the family mentions it, and you aren't sure if they’ve forgotten or just are just being kind. But you can't get it out of your mind. It's like one of those subliminal messages on Beatles records: Bristol, Bristol Bristol ...

You go to bed knowing, while you sleep, people will gather at Waterstone’s in Bristol and the award will be announced. You don't mention it to your husband, because, if I you don't win, and by this point you're convinced your story is rubbish, you want to be able to mourn in private. To be able to say casually, without a wobble in your voice, ‘well, I didn’t win the Bristol Short Story prize.’ But at the same time you're calculating the difference between GMT and Australian Eastern Standard time, and trying to remember whether Joyce has a mobile phone and, if not, how long it will take her to get home, and you know the call will come around 8’o clock in the morning.

And the phone does ring!

You leap out of bed, annoyed at yourself for caring, and thinking how silly you'll look if was a tele-marketing call and hoping, fingers crossed, for second or third place, maybe ...

Then you hear the loveliest accent in the world on the end of the line, and it's Joyce, and she's even more excited than you are, and she says you've won the Bristol Short Story Prize, and you can't believe it.

You just can't believe it.

Even now, sitting in bed, in your old green pyjamas, with your laptop resting on your knees, you can’t believe it. But you close your eyes, and lean back against the pillows, smiling, and think: yes, someone liked my story.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Not the Mother of the Bride chronicles

We have found a reception place (that welcomes dogs of the family), set a date, booked the minister and made arrangements for the dress. Phoebe and Andy will be married on December 18th
Liz will be a Mother of the Bride.
She’s started a diet, joined a gym, and made secret enquiries about foundation garments (just in case).But she's been reluctant to blog about it.

‘Go on,’ I said, ‘snuffling up to her with the idea. ‘You could call your blog the Mother of the Bride (MOB) chronicles. ’

‘No,’ Liz shook her head. ‘I want to focus on my novel.’

‘Yes, but sometimes you need a break,’ I said.

‘I’ve had too many breaks,’ she said, scratching my ear just the way I like. ‘I want to finish this draft. Besides, it would be unscrupulous to capitalise on Phoebe’s happiness. Look what happened to A. A. Milne. Christopher Robin ended up resenting all those Winnie the Pooh stories.’

‘But, Liz, I said, ‘How will the world cope without the nitty-gritty of our pre-wedding lives?’

She laughed and said: ‘The world will cope, Biskit.’

I went away and thought about this, stretched out on my mat beside the fire, my legs twitching with doggy dreams. But even after a long nap, I woke up worried. For a start, Liz writes about everything. Finishing the novel must be weighing on her terribly.

Secondly, I thought: Liz is wrong – the world does need to hear about our wedding.

Then, I had another thought. Perhaps I could help Liz. She wants to work on her novel, and I like to write. In fact, if I’d done better at Alpha Dog Training I might have gone on to be a journalist. I have a way with words, the other dogs tell me. They like the way I whine at the door, and bark at the window. When I moan with a squeaky toy it is apparently breathtaking.

But what about this scruples thing?

I had another nap (you have no idea how hard a dog’s life is), and woke up still worried. I mean, is it wrong for a dog to capitalise on its owner's happiness?

Fortunately, at that point, Liz suggested a jog.

I’m not a great jogger (although, I’m faster than Liz), but I do find it clears my head. As I raced around the streets, with my ears back and my tail streaming, wondering if I might have a touch of greyhound in me, I began to feel more confident. Never mind Winnie the Pooh, I thought, I am a wordsmith – a Dog of the Bridie. The world needs me. As for scruples, I couldn’t think of a single case in which an owner resented their dog blogging about their wedding. Why would Phoebe be any different?

I stayed awake for a long time that night, wrestling with my destiny. I have great owners, I thought, they are like a litter of puppies. I have a warm bed in the laundry, fresh water in my bowl and an endless supply of Porkettes to chew on. But it is not enough. I want to do something with my life. Give a canine view of things. I want to be the first dog in history to keep a blog of its owner’s wedding.

Yes, I thought, that is my destiny.