Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Post-busy blah

So I should tell you all about the cocktail party Kate Constable I went to on Friday night where there were no cocktails but lots of fabulous people. Scott Westerfeld was funny and eloquent, Meg Rosoff read fantastically, Sonya Hartnett sounded like she was talking underwater (from where I was standing) but I am sure she was brilliant and someone else was also underwater but brilliant but I can't remember who she was and this smart library guy talked about curatorship and young people (and about how they're going to have jobs that don't exist yet, dealing with technologies that haven't been invented, which I found simulataneously chilling and exciting) and I talked to all my gorgeous editors, all of whom looked far more glamorous than me - when did children's literature become glamorous? - and I felt a wee bit mumsy and not quite so fabulous. I looked very hard and didn't see Lili anywhere or Justine (and I'm not sure if I'd recognise her, even though I've met her before because I've got her mixed up with the girl on her book covers and someone famous, um, oh I know, Mary-Louise Parker), but I did see the very tall and very lovely Mike Shuttleworth, who I know peeks in from time to time (hi Mike). I also sat at a very large table in Kri Kri with more fabulous people, including the very interesting Lisa Shanahan (we love Gordon's got a Snooky and Bear and Chook) and her lovely baby and many others. It was a great night and apparently there are rumours flying about that Reading Matters (a two day kids book conference, for those of you who don't know, of which the cocktail party was part, unfortuantely I couldn't make it to the conference) is going to be podcast, perhaps Lili or Mike can shed light on this rumour. But in the meantime Simonne Howell is blogging about it on inside a dog.

We then went on to have a huge weekend with lots of kids parties, then I had to stay up till midnight to finish my semester's work. Today I felt a bit flat and blah, sitting at home listening to the rain, reading and loving Saving Francesca, and thinking about what I'm going to write next. We're vaguely househunting again and it really is a dispiriting experience.

So I am tired of me. Let's talk about you.

Tell me: what was your childhood home like? Did you move much or live in one place? What was the best hiding place? Did you live on a quiet street or a main road? What was the best place to play? Who lived next door? Did your neighbourhood have a haunted house?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thesis Update

So I have a (working) title. I'm pretty happy about that actually. The title is: Made or found, what’s the difference? The Melancholy Act of Creation in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline
There's a recurring motif of creating in Coraline, the creations of the other mother, the story Coraline writes and the picture she attempts to draw at the beginning of the mist (eventually writing the word MIST in wobbly letters in one corner). There's also a strong recurring image of playing, in fact you could argue that the whole novel begins because Coraline wishes she had someone to play with, and because she wants to explore. The title comes from a conversation she has with the (very Cheshire-like) cat:
‘Did she make this place then?’ asked Coraline.
‘Made it, found it––what’s the diffence?’ asked the cat. ‘Either way she’s had it a very long time.’
Coming up with a title and narrowing my focus a little (ahem...okay, a lot) has definitely been the key to finding my structure. My thesis supervisor, Kevin Brophy, said this would happen and he was right. Phew. Also it's making my reading feel productive rather than scary and overwhelming because I have a specific question in my head. The question came about because I asked myself sternly why I was writing a thesis, as a creative writer, what's in it for me. So I'm going to write a bit about melancholy and a bit about the relationship between intertextuality and originality (has it all been done before? Is there value in the uncovering and arranging and rearranging of found objects, detritus, debris? Are writers kind of collectors?) and lots about creativity, plus I'm going to partake in a little self-indulgent pyschoanalysis because I find it kind of fun. I'm just nerdy like that.

I've also decided to do a creative component. But that bit's secret, too nebulous to talk about. If I describe it, it might frizzle up.

Book as enduring object

"I'm fascinated by the fact that bookbinding, far from being a gentle art, is actually quite a rough, energetic pasttime, and much of the terminology is very physical: we smoothed her down, trimmed her clean, knocked up her shoulder, rounded the headband, padded up her spine, wrestled with the bookcloth, boned her all over, blocked the case, cased her in."
Ampersand Duck
This is a post from last year, recently linked to on Sarsaparilla, about rebinding a hardback book (photos via flickr here). There is something about the book as object that I find eternally compelling. Although I believe books in bound form will always exist (if nothing else, the ones that already exist and are treasured will endure), I do think that the future is in some kind of cost-effective, resource sparing technology and that bound books will increasingly become for beauty's sake only, something closer to art and more of an ackowledgement of our desire to collect and collate, to invest ourselves in the objects we own, to surround ourselves with objects that say something about us. Perhaps in the future instead of shelves of books, we'll have a small few, displayed not spine out but like art, either front facing, or perhaps splayed open in a prominent part of the room, revealing the inner workings.

The objectifying language of bookbinding above, its erotic undertones, reminds us what a fetish the possession of books can be.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


She is intense, imaginative, a little wild, eager to please but never sure what the rules are, undisciplined, scattered, smart, perhaps too smart for her own good, everything's a game, language is a game, she wants to play, she wants to control the game, she wants to be controlled, she wants to lead, she wants to follow, she wants to hit, she wants to scream, she wants to laugh and laugh, she wants to keep laughing even though the jokes over, she wants to make other people laugh, she's a chameleon, sometimes I think she is a beauty and sometimes I think she is plain, she's fun, other kids love her intensely, other kids don't want her to play with them, she wants to please people, she's prickly, she wants affection, she pushes people away, she's ambiguous, ambivalent, she crowds, she wants space, she's not sure of herself, she loves herself, she doesn't want to dress up, she doesn't like dresses, she wants to be a princess, she doesn't want to carry anything, she wants a new bag, she wants to make, she doesn't like mess, she wants to be covered in mud, she wants to wash it off, she wants to fly, she wants to jump off high things, she's scared of spiders, the dark, the gap between the platform and the train, she wants to go out, she wants to stay home, she loves the museum, the huge spaces, the arrangement of things, she loves books, she loves maps, she loves beautiful things, she notices things other people don't see, she won't take no for an answer, if you tell her not to do something she does it anyway, she does it twice.

Who am I describing? Mother or daughter? Frederique is so like me, sometimes I feel like I am having to find a way to parent myself. The shifting space between us, it never occurred to me before I had her that I would find the boundary between us so vague, so indistinct, the beginnings of ourselves so blurred. I don't have this with Una...is it because she was second? Or is it because Frederique is so like me and I can see great joy for her but a difficult road all the same?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I don't know if I'm the last person in the blogosphere to discover threadless, a designer t-shirt site where new designs are submitted and voted on and then, if they are loved, made into men's, women's and kids t-shirts. There's text ones too:

There's other stuff to do too, if you are in need of an obsession. You can vote on tees, you can comment on the designs of tees being voted on, you can send in photos of you wearing your tees, you can submit designs or text, you can look at sold out and retired tees and mourn their loss. Anyway, it's a fun site and some of the designs are really beautiful (I'm a v-neck girl, but I may yet go to the dark side...bummer that the interpretive dance one is sold out).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Melbourne Bloggers Meet Up

I found this little message on Janet's blog. I hope to be there, though I am nervous about not knowing who everyone is! I just can't keep up with the blogiverse. But it sounds like fun.

Come one come all.

If you're a blogger and in Melbourne on Sunday June 17, would you like to meet a few other bloggers? The (almost) no rule Meet Me in Melbourne bloggers gathering will be in the Flagstaff Gardens in the afternoon from 2pm onwards in the vicinity of the kids' playground, near the junction of Peel, William and Franklin Streets. You can come in any guise for as long or short a time as you like. BYO picnic paraphernalia if you so desire - perhaps some afternoon tea to share.

The only rule? A name tag with who you are and the name of your blog.

And no excuses, like you don't know anyone or are worried your type of blog won't fit in. It's the perfect opportunity to get in touch with some of your on-line acquaintances and plan to meet up. We all share the desire to connect to each other through our blogs, so I'm sure none of us are too scary in real life.

Of course being Melbourne, the weather is something of a lottery. Please check on the morning of the meet for latest details and weather contingency plans at any of the following blogs:

soozs big adventure



If you'd like to help us spread the word (even if you can't come in person) please copy and paste this post to your blog. We're also working hard to bring you one of those groovy badges so stay tuned.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fred's story transcribed by mama*

It was time for Frederique to have her bath.
"I don't want to have my bath. And I don't want to go to bed!"
"Why don't you want to have a bath and go to bed?' asked Mama.
"Because I want to stay and play," said Fred.
Mama was very cross and she said "Shut up."**
Frederique cried, "Daddy Daddy"
Daddy gave Frederique a cuddle and said, "I love you."
Frederique said, "I love you" and Frederique loved Daddy all afternoon.
Una held Fred's foot and sang "la di da di da di da."
Mama was cross with Daddy too, and she said "Shut up."
But when she was at night time she got very sick.
And Daddy came and said, "What's wrong"
And Mama said, "I'm not very well."
Daddy went out and jumped over the fence and just came back and then just went back over the fence again.
Frederique was grumpy and she banged herself on her bed.
Mummy had a piggy-tail.

And that's The End. Write The End.

*A work of fiction
**Fiction, I said.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Five years ago today I got married.
In Greece.
On an island.
In secret.
I wish I could share some photos but I only have ye olde kind.
But it was beautiful.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Classic Stages

or just another bloody thesis writer
I am going through what I am sure is one of several classic stages of any thesis writer. At the moment I feel overwhelmed by all the reading I've been doing. Every reading mentions another writer and I think well, I guess I better check him/her out. I feel wobbly in my academic general knowledge and unsure who thinks what in the psychoanalytic world. My primary texts (Coraline and Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman) are rapidly disappearing behind the vast sea of theory.

You know how there is always a point when you're making custard and you think it's not going to thicken. In fact it seems impossible that it could, all that terribly thin liquid sloshing around. I'm kind of at that point. And sometimes custard really doesn't thicken.

It seemed like such a good idea to do a 100% academic thesis. It seemed very sensible indeed. But now I am thinking longingly about the 100% creative option. Maybe I should take even odds and go 50/50. Ah me. Masters. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A mother's day moan

I'm about to bitch about the housing market. For those of you who've heard this one, please bury your heads in the sand now.
It sucks to be a renter in Melbourne. It really does. It's actually horrifically depressing. Our rent has just gone up $80 a month. $80! Last time I had to deal with a rent hike was a few years ago and it was $5 a week. The thing that sucks most about $80 in one fell swoop is that it seriously cuts into what little we have that is play money. Unassigned, coffees out, a couple of videos, a bit of gratuitous chocolate money. What's more, the amount they want breaks down (if you do the whole multiply by 12 and divide by 52 thing to turn monthly rent into weekly rent) to $300.99. 99c! Just so they can squinkle an extra $50 a year out of us. THE BASTARDS.
And do we get any more value for our money? Of course not. We still have a hole in our kitchen window that we have asked, begged and pleaded with the landlord to fix. We have cracks in the wall (when people come to visit Frederique likes to give them the crack tour - she's a little worried the house is going to fall down in the middle of the night. Apparently the landlord doesn't share her concerns. This is because he doesn't think about us at all, except when he's making the decision to up the rent). We have crumbly plaster, missing sections of skirting board, and a grape vine that ate Paris that the landlord generously offered to have cut back for us (then promptly forgot to give a rat's arse about us). But they didn't put the rent up because the house is worth it. They put the rent up because there's not much we can do about it.
Moving is of course an option. We could move into a one bedroom flat (maybe if we're lucky a 2 bedroom tiny gardenless flat) in an area where Fred and Una could still go to the same creche and where we might get a place for Fred in 4yo kinder - if we move into another council our chances of a place for next year are slim. In fact, they're not even that great here, though luckily Fred can do 4yo kinder at the creche that it took us 2 years to get into. Our friends are in this area, most of them bought a house just before the market shot through the roof. Yeah, we didn't do that. Some of them are renting and at some point, like us, will be driven out of the area. If we move to a different area, the chances of us finding a place at creche for Fred and Una (let alone a place at a creche that we like) are almost nil.
We actually got this house without looking at it. There was so much competition for houses, it was a week of insane heat, Frederique vomited from sitting in the back of our hot car driving around in the heat of the day looking at houses. So we went to a nice air conditioned real estate office and applied for everything on their books that we could afford (which you aren't allowed to do). We signed the lease sight unseen. No one had seen it. That's why we got it. The market is still insane. Prices are rising. Investors are buying again because rents are going up, so the prices to buy are rising too.
There's things about this house I love. Sitting in the alcove at night watching the tellie, the high ceilings on one side, aeroplanes in the sky outside. The backyard, the size of the girl's bedroom, the funny internal window between the girl's room and the lounge room that they climb through (and through which we can hear them giggling at night). Bad things include having to write in the living room and the lack of space for more babies (should one happen upon us) and the stupid micro bath that is up a big step (bad for pregnant ladies, should one want to shower there - and no I am not pregnant, but one day I might like to be.). And the fact that the house is possibly going to crack in two and all the other things I already whinged about. Realistically though, our days here are numbered. The rent will continue to rise and it seems mad to start Fred at a school when our chances of continuing to rent in this area (let alone buy - don't make me laugh...and cry) are minimal, to say the least.
The thing about moving further out (besides the creche/kinder issue) is that then we greatly reduce our access to all the free stuff that makes our lifestyle possible. No more riding to the museum, walking to Ceres or Kate C.'s place or to see Zoe and Dan. Depending on where we move to, less time with family like Martin's parents, Mart's sister and Fred and Una's cousins.
Plus we tried living in the suburbs and it made me seriously unhappy. I am sorry to people who live in suburbs and like it, maybe we just picked the wrong suburb. But I need people to live on the streets, not behind their front door. I need to feel like there's a buzz in the air, that people live in their area, not get into their car in their remote controlled LUG (that's garage in real estate speak) and drive somewhere else to live their lives. I didn't move to Melbourne to live miles away from it. I moved to Melbourne for the CBD, the inner suburbs. I want pedestrian culture, bike tracks, museums, schools that serve lattes at their school fairs. I want to shop on a street - I hate shopping centres. I hate them. I HATE THEM. (Did I mention I hate them?) I want air. I want light. I want a FREAKING house.
There are suburbs we could afford a 3 bedroom house, maybe even we could afford to buy one (I don't particularly want to buy a house, except that it sucks to be a renter in Melbourne). I have nothing against these suburbs or the people that live there. It's just that I don't want to live there. I want to live here. Or here-ish. I want to keep our childcare centre, Fred's ballet school, our place in the queue for kinder. Our friends close by, family a decent-ish drive away). But I want all this and a 3 bedroom house with walls. Apparently this is being fussy and demanding. Thus a long ranty post filled with impotent rage. If you came this far, you're very kind. Thanks for listening.
Happy mother's day me. I got things and lunch out of the deal. And to my mother, Fran. And to all the mothers I know. You're all doing a marvellous job.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Beautiful Thinking

"To understand poetry one must be able to put on the soul of a child, like a magic cloak, and to prefer the child's wisdom to that of an adult."
J. Huizinga

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Una, by Fred

5 Una bath toy, originally uploaded by nellup.

Fred took a series of photos of Una in the bathroom (yes, not only do we have a pink kitchen, we have much pink in the bathroom too. Daggy eighties pink).

Anyway, I love these shots. To me they have a tenderness about them, I can see how fascinating Fred finds Una. Fred's curiosity about her self and the world definitely extends to Una. It reminds me of a Toni Morrison quote I found once (I'm not sure where it's from): "A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves - a special kind of double."

More of Fred's photos, including a sequence of Una in the bathroom, can be found here.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

This is why we call it The Cake

Pink Cupcakes
Even though Fred's birthday was, like, ages ago, our postponed par-tay happened on Saturday night. We had 6 kid-friends (all girls, except one boy, Quinn, who was permitted due to his status as baby) running wild around the house while the grown ups (parents, plus Zoe and Dan) quaffed champy and ate stuff (I forgot to put half the food out though!) and talked and it was lovely to be socialising when it was dark outside. Fred was so deliciously tired at the end of it all, eating sausage rolls in her pyjamas because she forgot to have dinner during the party. Afterwards she had to check with Martin, 'Am I still four?' Someone at the party asked her how her actual birthday was and she said, 'It was very stylish.' Riiight. As you will see from these photos our kitchen is not at all (stylish). They called it a country kitchen in the ad. Is that the exposed brick? Or the mushroom pink laminated benchtops?
These teeny little cupcakes were actually strawberry, raspberry and white chocolate muffins witha funny old made up cream cheese icing and were extra delicious. And how much do I love silicone bakeware patty pans?

Kitty Cake
But wait, there's more. Cake that is. Aunty AJ and Uncle Ben were away in Byron Bay sunning themselves for her birthday, so we had a final cake with them today, plus a birthday lunch fit for a queen (that is if the queen is into eating sausages with her hands). This morning she requested not to have more cupcakes (dang, I so wanted to use the silicone patty pans again), and found a picture in the cake book of an elaborate cat cake. To be honest, I was pretty impressed with myself for coming up with a cat cake at all at the eleventh hour (it really was 11 too, 11am that is.) I stole the idea for this cake from Jo, she made something similar (but I think less goofy) for her Lulu Plum last year, but though I searched flickr and her blog, I couldn't find the pic - she must have emailed it to me (which means I still have it as I never delete emails, much to Martin's distress at my cluttered inbox).

Ballet Girl
The other thing that has happened in Fred's life since she turned four is ballet. Every Saturday at 1pm a group of outrageously cute girls dressed in navy blue get together to do secret girl's business - no parent's allowed. The first lesson was as exciting for me as it was for Fred as this was something she initiated. There was a beautiful moment when she arrived for her first lesson (we got there early to get the last bits of her uniform) where she was peeking in through the keyhole at the bigger girls having a class. It was such a heightened moment, such a potent image reminding us that we can't see what she sees, that her eye is connected to a private internal life. Not being able to stay at ballet to watch is both excruciating and exciting. There is a concert at the end of the year. I am so proud of how brave Fred is in new environments, when the first class started she ran inside and didn't look back. She doesn't like talking about it much, but once she had her ballet clothes on again this week, her eyes filled with stars.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Comfort of Breasts

some men seem to think highly of them
peering and staring
what they don't know is
the breast stares straight back
interested as a reporter

some love them
and invest them with glamour
but like life they are not glamourous
merely dangerous

Kate Llewllyn, 'Breasts'

Headlines when it comes to sexual assault are often terrible. This one though, Breast Accused Gives Up...what does that even mean? First of all grammatically it is completely misleading. It sounds like the Breast is the Accused. (My Breasts are often rampantly criminal, operating entirely with a will of their own.) Or that the Breast is Accusing someone called Gives Up. It also implies that any sexual assault that took place was against the breast itself and not a woman. It uses language appallingly, to dismember and disfigure, an assault in itself.

The (real) story, about a man who approached a woman breastfeeding in a private cubicle in a shopping centre, asked sensitive questions and then touched her exposed breast, is a particularly sensitive one. It taps into all sorts of moral panic and preconceived notions about breasts, breastfeeding, sexuality, exposure, voyeurism (though this was NOT a case of voyeurism, as touching was involved) and private and public spaces. I must admit that once I learned to feed without cushions, props and having to wave my nipples around like I was conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, I always preferred doing it completely in public, outside if possible. I always found those feeding rooms in shopping centres kind of creepy. Initially Martin was quite uneasy (far more so than me) about my boobs, which had always been a part of our private domain, being, well, out there, in Public World. Personally my worries were more about how my relationship with my breasts would change in Private World, which as it turns out were fairly legitimate worries as it has changed a lot, though of course not all for the bad - I'm far more impressed by them now than I used to be.

I think my main problem with the language of this headline is that both breastfeeding and sexual imagery can encourage, accidently or deliberately, this sense of separation, this sense that breasts belongs more to something else, or someone else, than they do to you. Navigating the truly bizarre divide between sexual identity and maternal identity is never more potent than when you are contemplating your own breasts. Even when you're not having to worry about 'sexual' predators. I use quote marks because you have to wonder how truly sexual an act like this is. It doesn't seem to stem from desire, but from somewhere else, from a deeply twisted confusion about what sexuality - and perhaps maternity - really is.

The thing that makes me sad about this story is that it will probably turn people off breastfeeding in public (and frankly if you can't breastfeed in public then your chances of breastfeeding successfully must be reduced - and besides one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding is that wherever you are you have an immediate, free, safe, sanitary, and basically unlimited supply of perfect food for your baby, that needs no preparation). The woman who was attacked was feeding her one week old son. Her breastfeeding experience will always be tainted, perhaps even spoiled, by this encounter. For me breastfeeding was one of the most intimate and immediate connections I experienced with Frederique and Una. Even though they no longer produce milk, both girls still have a close and special relationship with my breasts. They seek them out, as pillows or for comfort, plunging a hand absent-mindedly down my top. Although my breasts might have lost some of their sexual mystique (for me at least), the new power and status they have is more than compensation for this loss.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

the case of the disappearing lesbians

Don't ban books. Banning books is stupid. It's also wrong. Stupid and wrong. Banning books makes me tired. It's even ineffective as a mode of thought control because it elevates books into cult status, so just don't do it. Someone should tell the good people of Bartleville. Because looky. One banned book, Maureen Johnson's The Bermudez Triangle. Because some of the characters happen to be girls who kiss girls. Oo-freaking-er.

(Yes, that's right, the way to cure gayness is PRETEND IT DOESN'T EXIST. Anyone who thinks such attitudes are going to lead to marginalised, disenfranchised and confused adolescents is clearly a sissy. I met a lesbian once and I completely ignored her and she like, fully vanished, right before my eyes. It's as easy as that. Of course this means we'll lose about 2 in 10 girls in high schools (and a lot more if we count the ones who experiment or experience moments of confusion about their sexual identity). But what sort of life were they going to have anyway?)

In all seriousness, I wrote these people a letter and you can do that too. The email addresses are available here. Because book banning is disgraceful. I am going to put my email in the comments so it doesn't end up all big and diatribe like in this post (one day I am going to have to learn how to hide some of the post, so posts aren't so scary long.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An abundance of katherines

I must have this book, because this guy makes me laugh.
And so does his brother.
Listen to the Helen Hunt song.
Found via Justine's blog. Her latest post is about using spreadsheets for her novels. I don't do this. But then I don't sort my socks from my underpants (or from Martin's socks or his underpants - they all live in one basket, we don't pair the socks either) and every morning when I go to get socks and underpants, I wish I did sort my socks and underpants, but then the day starts and one thing leads to another and I don't and then it's another day and I am fishing through the basket again. So in short, I think spreadsheets sound bloody sensible. I did intend to start keeping character sheets (and haven't) in which I record physical details as I write (eye colour, hair colour, background stuff) because when I was writing Drift I was never sure if I'd mentioned, say, Grunt's eye colour and though I have a reasonably clear picture in my head, it's possible my picture of him has evolved as his character evolved.

Did you know Grunt has a sister? She's mentioned in Breathe. I tried to write her into all three books and she got cropped out of each one at an early stage of the writing process. Her name is Isobel.