Sunday, December 18, 2011

Coming in 2012

1.  Forgive me banging on (yes, this is the post of double entendres), but on 28 March 2012, Losing It will make its way into the world.  Penguin has been doing some great pre-publicity and whipping up anticipation (see here and here), and I can't wait.  It seems an interminably long time since I started it, back in 2008, to now.  It's had three editors, and been rewritten, restructured and re-edited so many times I've lost count.  It's taken in the stories of so many friends who have, for years, been saying, 'So where is it?'  Now, finally, I can say: here.  Nearly.

2.  I loathe this time of the year.  I know I'm Grinchy, but I have yet to live through a year where I don't wash up after Christmas a wreck of exhaustion and wanting nothing more than to lie in a darkened room alone with a bottle of white and a pill to take me to mid-January.  Until I was 12 I loved Christmas and the smell of wheat dust on the easterly and playing chasey with my cousins, darting in and around the shaded paths my grandfather had built in his backyard.  After that, something happened, perhaps a new awareness of the gap between who I was and who some of my family wanted me to be, and Christmas made me feel the objectionable weight of their disappointment.  And now, though Christmas is now filled with civilised lunches and spending time with family and friends I love, I can't shake the dread of it.  Anybody else with me?

It does, however, cause one to reflect on the year that's passed: this year has been a mixed bag, to put it mildly.  I haven't had any publications out, apart from this republication, but I've done a lot of writing, having finished a project for Penguin and almost finished my junior novel, and am excited about the writing (and publications) to come.  And next year there will be lots of festivals I will be appearing at: more news on those as confirmed.  I am extremely happy in my new job, in contrast to this time last year.  So these positive things are an antidote to other aspects of my life, which are difficult and bound to become ever more so.  (My summer reading program is going to include Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.)

3.  It's been a sad week for the world of literature and ideas: Russell Hoban died, followed by Christopher Hitchens.  My summer reading program will also include more of Hoban's work: I fell in love with Turtle Diary when I was 17 and have re-read it every few years since.  I admired Christopher Hitchens' robust intelligence, erudition and gusto for debate: although I did not agree with some of his opinions, I always respected the sheer weight of information and scrutiny that went into making those opinions.

4.  The garden is an extravagance of produce: corn waves at us through the window each morning; I bite into squirty cherry tomatoes hot from the sun, munch on crisp peas, suck the juice out of sweet strawberries; there is enough rocket to feed a middle-class army.  I've also grown enough garlic to knock out all the characters, major and minor, in Twilight.

5.  I wish you all a productive, happy and uneventful (in the Chinese sense) 2012.  I leave you with one of my favourite Blackadder quotes: Needs must when the devil vomits into your kettle.  Make of that what you will.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New in November

1.  The irony of November being National Novel Writing Month is striking this writer's anvil once again as we speak (pardon the questionable image, it's been that kind of a day).  For me, November is always frantically busy with non-writing-related activities, although lately I have paused to give thanks that I am in a different dayjob to the one which consumed vast amounts of my time and energy twelve months ago.  So I watch my fellow writers' word counts increase through their NaNoWriMo efforts, while the only thing that increases for me is the distance between what I thought was the end of my work-in-progress and the actual end of said WIP.  But what used to be snarkiness re NaNo has transformed into something more gentle: I consider the vast amounts of creative effort being expended by others, and think that this can be no bad thing.

This benign view is probably fuelled by my excitement about my upcoming YA project.  I have tried and failed to get Ozco funding for a couple of years running (close but no cigar), and now I've decided to just Do It.  It's writerly, it's edgy, and I have no idea how I'm going to put it together.  I'm stupidly excited.  And therefore excited about everybody else's creative work.

2.  It is spring, finally.  Here in Western Australia the weather wasn't sure for quite a while, but now days are more blue than rainy, buffeted by pre-summer winds.  The wild fowl on the lakes are followed by their offspring, bottlebrush shrubs (bushes? trees?) are being set upon by squawking parrots, and red-tailed Carnabies are flying regularly overhead, though not in their former numbers.  I've planted spring onions, tomatoes, various greens, capsicum, cucumbers.  A few weeks ago, a complete stranger on a ride-on lawnmower, with a fanatic glint in his eye, levelled the weeds at the front of the house unbidden.  I'm going to plant a row of sunflowers there, and hope that next time he might mow around them.

3. My daughter is studying Bye, Beautiful at school.  That's one way of getting her to read it!

4.  My junior novel is edited, rearranged, fine-tuned.  I'm on the home stretch, but facts, as they are wont to do, are getting in the way of a good story, so I've had to go back to the drawing board for a few things.  And I've just received the blurb for Losing It.  So things are in motion, after feeling like I was running on the spot for quite a while.

5.  I'm writing this on my iMac.  I've never had a computer of my own before (I know, I know), and I'm in love, and jealous as all get-out.  Now I know what all my writer friends have been going on about all these years, and no, this is not a sponsored post.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

While waiting

1.  I'm waiting for the final edit for Losing It to arrive in my mailbox. While waiting I'm pondering a) who should launch it and b) what the playlist should be.  My wishlist for a) includes Bettina Arndt, Kathy Lette and Germaine Greer (actually, the person I'd really have liked to launch it is the fabulous, late Dorothy Porter, RIP), or a smart, funny, sassy young woman.  Any suggestions, let me know.  I'm hoping to launch in Perth and Melbourne in April.

For b), I have a list of the obvious suspects from the days of my youth (Salt n Pepa, Prince, U2, Prince, George Michael, Prince) and a few from my daughter's iTunes catalogue (Jizz in my Pants by Lonely Island for one).  However, the problem with contemporary music is the embarrassment of riches it provides in such matters.  (Listened to the lyrics of 50 Cent's Candy Shop lately?)  I don't have any problem with sexual explicitness, obviously, but I do have a problem with the way that female pleasure doesn't seem to rate a mention in pop culture (Missy Elliot notwithstanding).  Part of the reason I wrote the novel is because it's perfectly fine for young female characters to fall in love, but God forbid they actually might want to have sex.  Sex and romance get horribly tangled, and girls get a raw deal.  Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox.  As with a), any suggestions, let me know.

2.  I'm discovering one of the perils of being a mid-career writer: the email that tells you your novel is out of print.  I'm up to the point where practically half of my catalogue falls into this hideous category.  However, The Girl Who Fell Into A Book has just been given a new lease of life in this:

Details here.  If you have a girl aged between 5 and 7, it'd be an awesome Christmas present.  Just saying.

3. If you had a choice between peace and excitement, what would you choose?  Last weekend I got to combine both with a party for my cousin's 40th and staying in a place where my morning view was this:

before going for a swim in an ocean that looked like this:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spring reflections

*  I once had a poet friend** who would start a new writing project on the spring equinox, without fail, every year.  Winter was her fallow period; summer was all golden phrases and Fremantle sunsets.  If I were able to write to my natural writerly inner clock, I'd probably be the same.  Now, I take time wherever I get it: insomniac mornings, blustery weekends, in my head while swimming laps or sweating on the cross trainer.  It has occurred to me lately that I've got used to this compression of time.  Which doesn't, as I've said before, make it easier not to have big chunks of days or weeks in which to write: I have a big project I am itching to begin but cannot until I know I have guaranteed space to complete it.  But I'm learning how to cut my suit to fit the cloth.  There is something joyful in this, and I'm enjoying writing more than I have in years.  I'm not doing anything ambitious or groundbreaking (right at this moment) - I'm having fun.  And who knows what the equinox might bring?

* I've tried to comment on the nice comments y'all left after my last post, but Blogger says I'm not authorised to access my account (I know!)  Anyway, what I tried to say was, thank you, and I will let you know if there's a launch.  My daughter was going to do the honours but she's gone all mid-teen self-conscious on me.  Kids these days, pffft.

*  I've been madly harvesting and cooking the last of the winter greens: kale, spinach, silverbeet.  The broad beans are flowering promisingly but holding back the pods (probably it's too early), but the onions and garlic are fattening nicely.  For the first time I've planted flowers that aren't bulbs: I have little pots full of purple pansies. 

* The spring equinox hosts my birthday, and my birthday resolution for this year is to find new and creative ways of being naughty (as opposed to being bad, you understand).  A former friend** once said that the older you get, the harder it is to be naughty.  I'm bound and determined to buck this trend, but in case my imagination fails me, please feel free to let me know any naughtiness I can lawfully indulge in at my advancing age.  Also, am I the only one who has birthday resolutions?

* In the shopping centre yesterday I saw two of the girls I met over the summer while researching my junior novel.  Which I took as the universe's way of saying, get on with it.  So I am.

**Well, she probably is still my friend - I just haven't seen her for an age: such are the perils of day job plus writing plus family plus plus plus ... JTK, if you're out there, hello!

***Who also might still be a friend: see above.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Covers (and a Poster)

Well, not so much a tale as a - oh, anyway, here they are:

I am so happy with this I could just burst!  Thank you Marina.

The Chinese cover of Famous

Yes, that is photoshopped.  But it is the best welcome I've had to a school ever.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Children's Book Week etcetera

1.  I have workshop/presentations in Geraldton and Albany for the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre's Youth Lit days; a day in Ballajura Public Library for City of Swan; and Merriwa Primary School.  I'm speaking to kids from year 1 to year 12, a prospect that is slightly terrifying.  (Still, I guess as long as I don't read the year 1s the opening of Losing It I'm sure I'll be fine).  I am preparing new material: the old stuff works perfectly well, but I want to stretch myself a bit, and the students.  There is also the possibility it will be a complete flop and the kids will go, 'What the - ?'  Once when I was doing comedy we had a fabulous idea involving a potato peeler and a set of knitting needles.  The finer details escape me, but not the memory of the audience's puzzled silence.  Let's hope history doesn't repeat.

2.  The daffodils are preparing themselves for spring: the teardrop bulbs that will release glorious yellow petals are fattening.

3.  I went to Sydney and Melbourne last month, to see my wonderful publisher and editors and for some much needed creative-battery recharge.  Which makes the fact I am on the third rewrite of my ghost story bearable.  While I was there I sat on Nina's seat and wondered why I don't live in Melbourne.  But maybe it's better the city is like an affair: maybe daily familiarity would ruin the mystique and the passion.

4.  I promised in May I'd report back on my effort toward Moderation.  I'm doing quite well, thank you.*  Am I finally growing up?

5.  I ran away from my daughter's subject selection night at her high school to eat chocolate fondue with another recalcitrant mother, dragging our daughters behind us.  So the answer to the question in 4. is clearly: maybe not.

6.  I was having a particularly bad day last week, and my old friend B sent me a message, saying: Today at our school we had a 'surprise visitor' (a teacher dressed in a Clifford the Dog costume).  A bunch of year four girls were disappointed because they hoped that YOU were going to be the guest.  They all so love Chess Nuts. :)

* Maybe not all the time, right?  But mostly.  Mostly is good.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Writing exciting

In an otherwise trying week, I had a burst of writing-related serendipity on Wednesday.  Sometimes, with writing, you feel like you're trying to melt glass with your breath: it just won't yield, and no matter the effort you expend.  Sometimes it's not the writing itself: you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you've lost your mojo, or you know what you want to say but not how to say it.  All you are doing is howling at the moon.  At other times, things elegantly, magically cohere.  Like last Wednesday: I talked new projects with a fellow writer at lunch, among many other soul-enriching things, then returned to my desk to find:

 a) a pile of Amazon-purchased books (see picture below, which also contains two others from my Dymocks Fremantle foray), and

 b) an email from my editor with the proposed cover of Losing It.  I squealed with delight and surprise.  I can't share it with you just yet, but if you were to design a cover for novel about four smart seventeen-year-old girls making a bet to lose their virginity (yes, you can tell it's fiction coz they're so old, right?!), what would you come up with?

Stay tuned and I'll show you what Penguin's designer came up with.  It's right.

Meantimes, the books included:

A Pattern Language, principally by Christorpher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein (if you want to understand why most urban planning doesn't work well, check this out)
A Wrinkle in Time (I remember now that I wouldn't pick it up as a kid because I couldn't work out how to pronounce Madeleine L'Engle's name - go figure.  Reading it now because of Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, which is the best junior novel I've ever read)
Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd
Noah's Law, Randa Abdel-Fattah
M.T. Anderson's Feed and Louis Sachar's Holes
Gathering Blue, Lois Lowry
Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793 and Speak (not pictured, because it's in my suitcase)
Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia (I am ashamed to say I once marked a bunch of student essays about this novel without having read it myself.  Anyone else ever done that?)
and Lois Lowry's The Giver

I will be making a dent in this pile soon, as I head off to read, write and talk to my publishers.  *breathes out*

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bits and pieces

1.  Back in the early 90s, when I first got into the writing scene in Perth, there was an incredible bubbling of energy, ideas and poetry collections from writers like Morgan Yasbincek, Tracy Ryan, Barbara Temperton, Marcella Polain, and Sarah French, to name but a few.  There were readings, arguments and frisson, friendships and collaborations, striving and success.  Even if, like me, you weren't a poet, wouldn't have known a cinquain if it jumped out at you in a dark alley and thought a pastoral was where cows graze, you were nevertheless swept up and along by the sheer creative whoosh of it. 

A similar thing is happening in the kids' lit scene here in Perth at present, I noticed as I sailed westwards to Rottnest for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators third annual retreat, which I attended with folk like Norman Jorgensen and James Foley, whose Last Viking book launch I attended on Friday night, Briony Stewart, whose next book Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers is about to be launched, and Meg McKinlay, whose book No Bears was launched at Rottnest by the talent-fostering Sarah Foster from Walker Books - to name but a few.  I spent most of the time cycling around the very windy island, ruminating, and having long discussions about writing, the universe and everything with my fellow housies Meg, Patricia McMahon (into whose lap in the dark a quokka leapt) and the indefatigable Dianne Wolfer, but I did notice that same indefinable energy and enthusiasm that I remembered from way back when.  I also believe there was karaoke.

The lap-leaping quokka

AJ Betts getting funky

AJ Betts and Meg McKinlay vik-ing it up

Do you think I could add these to my parliamentary outfit?
2.  Steph Bowe was talking on her blog about the pros and cons of homeschooling, which got me thinking (I know, who knew?!)  The best school year of my life was spent doing what was then called distance education for year 11, and I was only allowed to do it because of a series of factors (like getting booted out of face-time school) went in my favour.  And I loved it: I loved being able to set my own timetable, work at my own pace, and be treated like an adult by my (invisible) teachers.  It did set me apart from my peers a bit, but given most of the peers I had at my high school, that was no bad thing.  It is a great way of studying, especially for the introverts among us.  Why should you be forced to be social if you don't want to, just to learn?

3.  Here is my latest book haul (thanks, Lending Rights!)

They are: Jenny Downham's You Against Me; Antonio Buti's Brothers:Justice, Corruption and the Mickelbergs; Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers; The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom, which people have been recommending for years; my own copy of Boy on a Wire by sock-man Jon Doust; Michael Gerard Bauer's Just a Dog, which made me weep; Melvin Burgess' Junk; Happy As Larry by Scot Gardner; The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky (about whom I agree with Lili Wilkinson); Margo Lanagan's Yellowcake (ditto); Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood; Isobelle Carmody's The Red Wind; Libba Bray's Beauty Queens; and the books I mentioned earlier, No Bears by Meg McKinlay and The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and James Foley.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back soon

Just a quick note to you, my one reader, to apologise for the sporadic nature of this blog.  I have been doing other things, like writing (who knew?!) and running amok at Rottnest Island with other naughty writers and illustrators.  But I'll report in soon, with tales of quokkas that leap into people's laps and writers singing karaoke.  Or something. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Boy bits

When I asked my Facebook buddies about modern terminology for boy bits - for the purposes of the latest version of Losing It (yes, really!) - it caused much household mirth, as middle-aged and otherwise respectable parents called out to their offspring, 'Hey!  What do you young folk call penises these days?' The 56 comments the request amassed included:

dick (de rigeur, apparently)
doodle (archaic, apparently, tho my sentimental favourite)
dingle dangle (I'm not making this up)
donger (not the thing you sleep in on mine sites)
luscious love muscle
hairy dangler
doohickey (my favourite)
wing wang (my equal favourite)
vertical dangler
transcendental signifier (For all of you who suffered Literary Theory at university.  The friend who contributed this, one of the brainiest people on the planet, tried to train her young sons in irony at an early age.  But even child geniuses prefer dick, it seems.)

The prize for the most creative response, however, must go to Norman Jorgensen:

A Fine Mess 002. Woody could hardly get his breath. ‘You have to come quick. There’s this guy. He’s been electrocuted. With a cattle prod. In the cattle shed. There’s smoke from his …um.’

‘What?’ asked Terry Templar, in disbelief, ‘his bum?’

‘Ah no, his um… his …err…’ Woody pointed to his crotch. ‘His dick.’

‘His penis? What? Smoke? From his penis?’

‘No bull. In the cattle shed.’

Terry and Harry looked at each other in amazement. They had to see this. In all their years in the Ambulance Service they had never, ever, heard of anything this amazing.

Word spread round the showgrounds quicker than a loudspeaker announcement. A man with a smoking penis? Was it a new fairground attraction?

‘Whath’s a penith?’ asked Scarlet Bott. Mrs Bott clamped her hands over Scarlet’s ears.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oh say, it's May!

Sorry for coming off all Enid Blyton-ish in the title.  But here in Perth it is a glorious May Day, which makes one want to write in rhyming couplets (or is that just me?) of jolly things.  I'll try to restrain myself.

Some random things, writing and otherwise:

1.  May is for moderation.  I'm not very good at being moderate in anything really, but I'm going to give it a burl this month.  In some areas, at least.  I'll let you* know how I go.

2.  Chess Nuts was a Notable book in the Children's Book Council Awards.  Although it's been selling well, I thought it had entirely disappeared off everyone's radar, so it was a delightful surprise for it to get a wee gong.  It is a good year for Western Australians: there are two on the younger readers' shortlist, Meg McKinlay and Sally Murphy.  Fabulous and well deserved.

As always I am surprised not so much about what's in the Older Readers Notables and Shortlist as what's not, and there were some corkers that didn't get a look in.  I think about the heartbreak and angst such things generate, and feel for those who produced great work that missed out.  It bites, but there's nothing to be done about it.  Just try not to become embittered and/or drink too much.  (Or else come over to my house and we can be embittered drunks together.  Just not in May.  See 1.)

3. I haven't been doing any writing, but I have been ruminating about the Next Thing.  Due to some stuff going on in my personal life I'm not sure how this will get done in the foreseeable future, but one of the good things about being at this stage of my writing career is that there is no particular rush.  Except that I Want To

4.  I have planted lettuce, coriander (I don't even know if this is the right time for it, but there were seedlings there and I'm a coriander fiend), spinach and broccoli, all in massive pots. 

5.  Does Kate Middleton seem to have no personality, or what?  Is this a deliberate ploy, or is she just missing something?  I remember watching the Diana wedding in primary school, and already she was known and loved.  This latest wedding made me go meh.  Is it just me?

6.  The Virginity Novel has a title and a new editor.  It's called Losing It and will be out in April 2012.  I can't wait.

7.  I love pelicans, especially ones that are nearly as tall as me.  Check out these two mighty birds (note however the way nobody is standing underneath):

* my one reader

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ten long years

This week I spent three days at the wonderful All Saints Literature Festival.   It's the ten year anniversary of the festival, which made me realise with a jolt that it's ten years since Obsession was published: All Saints was the first festival I presented at.  My debut session was 'Girls Business, Boys Business', and my fellow panellists were John Larkin, Glyn Parry and Dianne Wolfer.  (I learned from that session to never, ever go on after a stand up comedian, among other things.  I also learned not to say, 'Girls, this one's for you.  Boys, you just sit there and fiddle with your bits.'  Yes, I did.  I know, I can't believe it either.)  I had no idea how festivals worked, what you were supposed to do.  I used to write out everything in full and hope that I could read and sound natural at the same time (I couldn't).  I remember feeling in awe of the writers with more than one book and of the seasoned professionals who could get up and do their spiel without suffering panic attacks beforehand (I still suffer panic attacks beforehand) and wanting to expire with exhaustion afterwards (ditto).

It's been a roller coaster of a decade, writingwise and otherwise.  There have been a few triumphs, a lot of disappointments, angst and satisfaction in approximately equal measure.  I've done things and been to places I could never have imagined possible, thanks to writing; met the most wonderful people; been inspired and challenged and occasionally gutted. I have a wonderful publisher and editors who I nigh on worship (especially you, CM!).  I have a stack of ten books with my name on, some ambitious and deep, some fun and frivolous, some out of print, some still loved by readers.  I wouldn't trade it in for the world.

In other news, I now have a day job that is compatible, as much as one ever is, with writing.  Cool title, huh?  I am delighted in more ways than I can explain.

Picture:  Norman Jorgensen, me and Karen Tayleur's tongue, just before we triumphed in the Book v Ebook debate at All Saints.  Was it our skillful (and in my case, 30 second) arguments re the bookiness of the book, to quote our opponent Meg McKinlay, or just that booky bookness is what young folk are into?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Carita

The one event I saw at the Perth Writers Festival this year was Richard Lloyd Parry speaking about People Who Eat Darkness, which partly deals with Joji Obara, a Japanese-Korean serial killer who, after a long and torturous legal process, has only recently been given a life sentence for (one of) his crimes.  I wanted to understand why a journalist would want to write about such a thing, as one of his earlier victims was Carita Ridgway, with whom I had a deep and complex relationship from when I was sixteen to when we lost contact, three years before her murder.  I was concerned that he might have been driven by a kind of voyeurism, or detached fascination.  Instead, he said something about restoring the humanness of his victims, acknowledging the horrible range of the murders' impact.

In this vein, I want to record some things I remember of my Carita.

Carita was, more than anyone I've met since, different to the different people she knew. She gave each of us little parcels of herself.  In the years I knew her she was funny, depressed, optimistic, fearless, cautious, cynical, reserved, vulnerable.  She would give her whole heart to something or someone, then suddenly she would pronounce it/them boring.  She had no interest in stability or schooling: all she wanted to do was travel.

Carita taught me how to hitchhike.  Not just to point your forefinger (never your thumb) casually out as you walked in the direction of the traffic, but how you talked to the person who picked you up.  If you talk to them, it makes you human to them, she told me.  One of us sat in the front, the other in the back.  When a well-dressed man drove us around and around unfamiliar Melbourne suburbs telling us about all the vengeful things he wanted to do to his wife, the child-lock keeping us from jumping out at traffic lights, Carita kept asking him questions the whole time.  When he locked us in his car as he went in to get alcohol, I asked her what we should do.  'Keep talking,' she said.

Carita worshipped Marilyn Monroe.  She had every book and video about her, every poster.  When we left Perth - her for good - I don't know where it all went.  She identified with Marilyn's vulnerability, the tragedy of her life underneath the glamour.

One time in Melbourne when we had had a couple of beers, we talked about dying.  Carita told me she was going to die young: she looked steadily at me when she said it.  She was 17, the age everyone thinks they'll die young.  But she seemed sure.

Carita was beautiful: men used to stop in the street to ogle her, guys used to approach her and tell her she was the most amazing girl they'd ever seen.  Carita turned up her nose to such compliments, thought the males who delivered them were idiots.  That was why she dyed her blonde hair black when we were 16, why she refused to wear a dress most of the time I knew her.  But she also wished she'd been taller, so she could have been a proper model.  She adored the 80s supermodels, loved their strength and poise.  She wanted to be the most beautiful girl in the room.  She was.

We had a wordless fight when we were living on the floor of a mouldy backpackers in Potts Point: too much time in each other's company, no money.  The shared pain we'd bonded over was dulled now: we didn't have much to say to each other.  I was offered a bus ride back to Perth by The Wayside Chapel; she refused.  I came home and grieved for the loss of our friendship.  When I returned six months later, she'd met Rob, her future fiance: she seemed different.  Happy, with him at least.  At the bus station four weeks' later, she said to me, 'It's funny to see people from back then, from the past.'  It stung, but it was true: we were part of each other's pasts, and it was the end.  I never saw her again.

Not long after her mother told me Carita had died, but nine years before we knew the truth of what really happened, I had a dream about Carita sitting in a circle of Japanese men.  She was distressed, pointing to one of the men.  She started to tell me what happened, but I woke up before she could form the words.

I saw her mother and her still-beautiful sister after Richard's talk, and I was reminded of a Jewish proverb about murder: if you murder someone, you take away not only their life, but their future children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.  There was someone missing as we talked.  Carita can never join us, cast an amused eye over our changes, our similarities, can't nod at what we once shared.  I still dream about running into her, of weeping when I realise the impossibility that she can be recovered, except in memory.  After all this time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Brigid Lowry's Triple Ripple launch

'In these uncertain times playfulness, whimsy, creativity, music, writing and art are all the more important. Here's to the things that nourish and support us and provide our brave selves with hope.'  Brigid Lowry

Last night I launched Brigid's wonderful, playful, whimsical novel Triple Ripple.  As I said to Brigid afterwards, all I really wanted to do was jump up and down and say, 'Read this!  It's fantastic!'  As was required, I delivered a slightly longer speech, but that was the essence of it.

Here are some of the happy punters at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre.  (No, Norman Jorgensen wasn't asleep, he was concentrating!)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Guest posting and glory

Unless you've been living under a rock, you will know that this week Shaun Tan won an Oscar* for the animated adaptation of The Lost Thing.  The kids' lit community in Australia went nuts with joy and with pride, intensified by the fact that not only is Shaun a rare talent, he is also a kind and generous artist and human being, as all who have come into contact with him over the years will attest.  It's also a nice validation for other creative folk that doing your own thing can be rewarded.

Unless you're well connected with literary gossip, you probably wouldn't know that Kim Scott, another Western Australian writer, this week won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his latest novel That Deadman Dance.  Kim is another true original: I haven't read his latest novel, but his previous works were haunting, lyrical and deeply affecting.  An interview with Kim is here.

Speaking of generous folk, Gabrielle Wang has kindly asked me to be her guest blogger this week, which you'll find here.  Simmone Howell also asked me to Polyvore my inspirations for Bye Beautiful (here).  I love the concept of guest blogging, and once I have some more time up my sleeve, I'd like to ask an array of interesting folk to do the same.  At least you, my one reader,** might get more regular joy from this blog. 

*He also won the Dromkeen Medal - his speech is here.

** You know who you are.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Early writing

Yesterday I was cleaning out my shed and found these:

 The first example, written when I was ten, reminds me that a) I've never been able to draw and b) despite my sometimes difficult relationship with my grandfather, my fondest memories of him revolve around food (eating his raw garlic, fresh peas, and carrots, chiefly) and meals (family lunches and Christmases), which began with Grace (us kids peeping at each other and the solemn faces of the adults) and ended with the grownups passed out in the lounge room chairs, recovering.

The second, written when I was fifteen, reminds me of how easy it was to buy booze when underage in 1984.  Among other things.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All good things must end

When I was a child, I had my own planet, named Jobnye.  In several brown-paper-covered notebooks, I chronicled the features of Jobnye: its monetary system (complete with samples of its coins, tin foil wrapped over cardboard circles), its political system (complete with samples of Vote 1 posters), and photographs of its princes (my two cats, Socksey and Stripey.  Guess what they looked like?!), as well regularly mentioning its sister planet, Nobnye, belonging to my best friend Nobblinees.  There were lyrics to its top ten (parodies of our choir songs, largely) and a few abortive novel beginnnings, starring Noblinees, myself and my cats.  The notebooks featured the very latest stationery accoutrements (glitter glue) and copyright notices.  I even created a version of the queenly domain in my Jobnye palace in my room at Dad's place (except I didn't tell him what it was, and he dismantled it on one of the weekends I wasn't there).  I seem to remember it featured hanging skulls covered in vaseline (why?  I can't remember), amongst other treasures.

I've been on holidays for the past month.  I intended to write for most of it, but mostly I've been thinking about writing more than sitting at the computer.  Normally I would decry such a state of affairs, but it's been necessary.  I've been in the midst of all sorts of flux for the past year or so, and my thinking has been less than clear and/or satisfying about a number of areas. (And watching the floods drench the east coast of Australia has been a salutary reminder of how quickly any of our lives can be up-ended when you least expect it).  I've come to the conclusion, with writing at least, that I need to occupy my own planet again.  Less Twitter-lurking and Facebooking and more time staring out the window at my humble dominions.  More connection to the pleasures of forging my own coin.  And mostly, just making it up as I go along.

At ease.   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Year 12 English Literature books

Prompted by a Facebook status by the wonderful writer Cassandra Golds (who also does a mean line in reposting my favourite 70s songs), I found that I was able to instantly recall my year 12 Lit reading list (not sure what the equivalent of Lit is in other states):

A Burnt-Out Case, Graham Greene
Wuthering Heights, Emile Bronte
John Donne
e e cummings
Antony and Cleopatra
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Ray Lawler

Because I was two years older than my contemporaries, by the time I got to year 12 I had done a lot of reading, but Literature taught me the rudiments of analysis and gave me a taste of what deep and studious reading of a text could reveal.  I loved e e cummings' layered criticisms of The World and the joyousness of his word-plays; I loathed Summer of the Seventeeth Doll because I couldn't relate to its middle-aged disillusionment and I found the obviousness of the language - after cummings and Shakespeare - tedious.  A shame, given it was the only Australian title on the list (and I had no problem with the disillusionment in A Burnt-Out Case).  Donne's witty conceits amused me; the excessive, Gothic passions of Bronte were both thrilling and alien (though I was glad to finally understand what Kate Bush was singing about!)

The things I remember most from year 12 Literature were the conversations we had in class: I had never before experienced the pleasure of communal reading and discussion (I did year 11 by correspondence), and I loved the way the interrogation of characters, themes, story, and language let us all examine, dismantle and reassemble our assumptions, beliefs and reactions.  It was a taste of what was to come at university, and I was hooked.   

It was also the first time that I tackled Shakespeare - in my early teens I was addicted to the Sonnets, but studying Antony and Cleopatra made me realise that Shakespeare repaid close attention: even if I didn't understand every word, I could hear the music and get the gist.  (I mention this because there was some comment about the value of kids doing 'difficult' texts).

Incidentally, I read a lot from what was then on the year 11 and 12 course lists before I was in year 11 and 12, probably because they were the novels in second-hand shops: The Bell Jar, Brave New World, The Collector.  But I also developed aversions that kept me from some great work until much later: The Great Gatsby (I didn't like the title), anything by Ernest Hemingway (overexposure), Jane Austen (I didn't learn to love her until my 30s), Steinbeck (apart from Mice and Men), Gwen Harwood (because her name was Gwen).

What did you have to read at school - did it set off any lifelong passions (or aversions?)

Should we give kids the hard stuff, or should they be left to discover it on their own?