Saturday, May 31, 2008

the game

Seen at Suse in the Soup

The concept:

a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd's mosaic maker.

The Questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One Word to describe you.
12. Your flickr name

More on my pics here

Friday, May 30, 2008

A fox can't eat a big brown bear

Yesterday I sent Fred (yes we got her back) to pick up the mail while I kept the car's engine running (yes yes, because I flattened the battery, read yesterday's post if you must). Fred came back with our tax returns (between us we're getting just enough back to cover the accountant's fee - no joy, no rage, an unemotive tax year) and a thank you card from Martin's cousin Christine and her new hubby Justin (I mentioned fred's wrapt response to the wedding in her birthday post). I let Fred open the card and a beautiful photo of the bride and groom slipped out.
After exclamations and showing the photo around, Fred continued to stare at it thoughtfully as we went for a drive up Butterman's Track in order to keep the motor running a little longer. I had an idea of looking for the old rusty car that I've seen on my walks and showing Fred, but you can't really see anything from the car.
'You don't get to be a princess for very long, though, do you mum?' Fred said, a little wistfully.
'Don't you?' I asked, distracted, looking for somewhere to turn around. 'Why not'
'Because then you have to be a mother.'
I realise we're having one of those important conversations, one of those conversations that reveal her ideas of the way the world works, that I could fudge in a second by giving her another lecture on diversity and feminisms. I decide not to say anything and make some kind of non-committal remark, probably 'Do you?' again.
She's thinking for a while. Then she says, 'Teachers don't have to be princesses or have babies.'
'Are you going to be a teacher?' (About seven months ago she went from saying she was going to write noggles like mama to saying she was going to be a teacher like Dad - Oedipal much?)
'Yes. I'm not getting married.' (my internal response is utterly complex - glee that she doesn't aspire to bride or princessdom or motherhood, sadness that she still sees things in such stark categories, a shade jealous that she wants to be like Martin instead of like me, and, irrationally, a sadness at the idea of her being unmarried and childless - I want grandchildren). Fred is still thoughtful. As we pull into our driveway she says, 'Actually, I'm going to be a storyteller.'
'Really? Like the ai ai ai ai lady?' (I sing the insect chorus from the much loved storytelling cd my dear friend Jo sent from New Zealand).
'Yeah.' Doubtful. 'No! I'm going to be an ice cream girl, remember? And you're going to be in my shop too.' (This refers to Christmas time, when just before getting on the boat to Tasmania we stopped to buy an icecream. The couple who ran the shop had their little girl with them behind the counter helping to fetch and carry. Fred was entranced at the idea that a little girl could have a job, especially when Martin said, 'Do you think she gets to eat all the ice cream she wants?')
I relax. I'm relieved to know that Fred sees more in her future than princess/bride and mother. That she sees all sorts of possibilities for herself, despite Barbie and Disney and her fascination with Bratz dolls. I am sure it won't take long for her to realise that you can be all these things at once - bride, mother, teacher, storyteller, ice cream seller...

I posted on a friends [popular social networking site] wall today, to say happy birthday to her son and said how according to Freud five kind of marks the end of the Oedipal dramas and entry into the relative peace of the latency phase. As I reflected on this conversation, I thought how that seems to be true for Fred. She certainly seems to be less tormented these days, her world is apparently more orderly, there's rules and laws of physics, a fox for example can't eat a big brown bear (that's not a Fred quote, but something a four year old girl, Hannah, said to me 15 years ago when I worked in childcare - pretty much the most sensible and insightful thing anyone has ever said to me about how the world works). She can slip backwards of course, and I notice especially that she finds many of the absurd things Una says - 'You're a sandwich, Daddy's a girl, I'm going to dream about ALL the unicorns and there's none left for you' - seem to really distress Fred, as if she's just come to grasp reality but it's a reality that could crumble, that the chaotic force of Oedipal Una could destroy with her super toddler power.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Suggestible Pikelets

I noticed on a popular social networking site this morning that my friend Zose in Sydney was making pikelets. It seemed a rather good idea, so Una and I googled up a recipe (well, I did the actual googling, she was there mostly in a moral support capacity) and found this easy one on Taste. I reproduce below for those of you with click-fatigue (long live a no click internet).

Makes 25
1 cup (150g) self-raising flour
1 tbs caster sugar
3/4 cup (185ml) milk
1 egg
Melted butter, to brush, plus extra knobs to serve
Sift flour and sugar together into a bowl with a pinch of salt.
Whisk milk and egg together, then add to dry ingredients, whisking until smooth.
Heat a non-stick frypan over medium heat and brush with a little melted butter. Drop level tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and cook for half a minute or until bubbles appear on the surface.
Turn over and cook other side for 1 minute until golden.
Allow to cool and serve with butter.

I'm not usually one for value-adding (my children would starve to death if they didn't eat fruit and veggies in their unadulterated form because I often forget to buy the other sort of snacks and I don't usually bake), but I noticed in the comments that someone had put a grated apple in her pikelet and served them with cinnamon sugar which sounded like it would make up for the fact that we had only just enough butter to cook them with and no extra knobs.

As you will notice, the recipe only requires one tablespoon of sugar. We've all been loving Michelle Shocked's album Got No Strings, and in particular her version of Spoonful of Sugar in this house, so now the song is going around in my head.I have warm pikelets ready to take to the kinder with me, for Fred to eat in the car on the way home.

In breaking news, the car battery is flat (I drove home through thick fog, halfway home the fog cleared and I forgot the lights were on) and Fred is stranded at kinder and I am officially a neglectful mother. As luck would have it today is the day there's an extended session in the afternoon at the kinder, so Freddie won't be sitting all alone on a swing trailing her toe in the dust waiting for me. She might not even notice. This is the second time in a week I've had to call the RACV, last Thursday I locked my keys in the car. No, I'm not pregnant. Just pathologically vague and proving to myself why I am not responsible enough to drive a vehicle. This is why I never got my license before. I'm just not very good at keeping my stuff nice.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Melbourne Mums

I've been feeling nostalgic lately. I think it's because I'm back on full time mum duty for a fortnight, while Martin does his teaching rounds at Eltham High. Last time I was full time Mum was when Fred was Una's age and Una was a little baby (um, and no, not quite sure how I got two novels written in that first few years of Fred's life). There were lots of people around to play with. I had my mother's group, but I was also part of an enormous online mother's group, mostly Australian-based with a big Melbourne chapter. It started off at a place called ninemonths (there's still a forum there, but lately when I was doing some single mum research for my latest novel I noticed it was pretty much dead in the water). A group of us ninemonthers broke off after what we affectionately came to call Georgiagate, in which an apparently Munchausens by proxy by internet sufferer (or just some mean person) developed this elaborate and disturbing narrative which began with her pregnancy, developed to a terrible premature birth, her husband's affair with her sister (and being the suspected father of her pregnant sister's child) and ending up with her fake suicide - luckily she left her login details in her suicide note so her 'father' could come and tell us all the bad news. Soon after that she was outed as a fake and she apologised, things got nasty, then she disappeared into the ether, probably to manifest on some other site. So anyway, frustrated with a lack of moderation, we went and started our own msn site, that was governed, unfortunately, with a fair degree of suspicion - in hindsight, rising out of the ashes of georgiagate, it's not surprising that some level of trust and faith was compromised. In the article I've linked to bereavement counsellor Pam Cohen describes Munchausens by Internet as emotional rape. Perhaps if you haven't invested yourself in an online group you won't really understand how true that rings for me.

Anyway, those of us on the new site also became closer, now the site was private (new applicants were voted on by the group) most people felt comfortable revealing more personal information and we shared photographs etc. There was still the odd flare up (the life of an online forum is oddly cyclical, the same issues and questions being generated by the collective consciousness of the group, and the same occasional dramas playing out, much like a soap opera) and after the chaos of ninemonths, the new site was managed tightly with a lot of strict rules (rules I personally found overly paranoid and unnecessary). In fact I'm almost breaking one of them writing about the site here. The site was managed by a small group, for a long time in secret, through a second site, which for a while i had access to - as well as a convenient place to discuss controversial issues, it was a second layer of commentary on the site. Of course a number of us also emailed each other behind the scenes too.

Despite this, ore perhaps because of it, the Melbourne girls especially became close. We started meeting up in pairs or small groups. When Fred was about one we began to meet as a big group on a regular basis, at first just the inner city mums and then some that had to travel a bit further. The kids would play, the adults would gossip, mostly discussing the site. We had two shared experiences, our babies, and our online lives. If you've ever been addicted to an online game or a forum or gambling then you'd probably know what it was like. Now that I'm not enmeshed in it anymore, I can't quite remember what it was that was so deeply appealing about the site. I mean, I cared about many of these women and their children (and still do), but the day to day appeal of questions and posts about first teeth and tantrumming toddlers is hard to quite grasp, especially considering the sheer volume of time I spend on there. (I guess some of the appeal was procrastination, a few times I had to quit the site in order to meet a deadline - I always found these times curiously liberating though eventually I'd be drawn back there - such is the mystery of addiction). I don't, however, struggle to remember the point of the meet ups. Being a mum can be lonely. I moved out of my suburb and didn't have a regular mother's group anymore*. We were in and out of each other's homes, or we'd meet in parks and play centres. When you're looking down the barrel of a long week with a toddler when you're seven months pregnant (the kind of pregnant where strangers look at you in horror and back away slowly) then knowing that at least Wednesday will see you busy and your kid worn out so you can justify sticking them in front of the teev for much of Thursday is more than just appealing, it's essential to your mental health. A couple of these women in particular were almost like mothers to me, when I was strung out and had no idea how I was going to write a whole second novel when i couldn't even toilet train a two year old, they'd have me over, feed me up, let me sit in their warm, clean homes while Fred trashed the joint and just be interested, generous, kind and warm (one of them would even make Mars Bar slice). I was living stranded in a suburb I didn't feel a part of and I depended possibly too heavily on these people - I don't know if they know how much I needed them and how grateful I am now that they were there for me. We also left the kids at home and went out for dinners - these dinners made me feel so freaking human. It culminated in one of my most cherished memories - a new year's eve party a few months before Fred turned 3. Una was a few months old. The kids ran around happily on the lawn until after 10, Una and the other newborn slept and we partied we were a family.

It wasn't just in Melbourne. I've met up with mums in Sydney, Brisbane, and Tasmania and I am still close to some of these people. When I was nominated for the Aurealis award I was able to attend the ceremony (adn watch Scott Westerfeld win it, bless his cotton socks) because one of the Brissy mums put us up and babysat Fred so we could go. Some people might be shocked that I left my child with someone I never met before - all i can say is she was in no way a stranger to me - I loved her before I met her, and nothing I saw of her ever suggested she wasn't the woman I knew -and the same goes for all the mums. One of them was notably much much nicer and calmer in person - she knew it too. Some of the interstate mums travelled to Melbourne to meet up too. Other national meets (that i couldn't attend) occurred in Sydney and Brisbane. At one stage I knew I could move to any capital city in Australia and have an instant network of mums. In fact, that's probably still true.

I quit the site for the last time in March 2006 - I know the date because that was when I started writing eglantine's cake. I figured if I was going to spend all this time crafting careful responses to posts etc, I may as well do it in a way that I was extending and challenging myself - the cyclical, closed nature of the forum made me feel like I wasn't growing as a mother, a writer or as an 'online entity'. I hadn't known I was quitting, I breezily wrote something along the lines of 'Gotta go write a novel, be back before the next baby is born.' But as it turned out, I never went back.

Leaving the site was healthy for me. Like I said, it had an addictive and cyclical quality (two words together that usually suggest unhealthiness). And leaving the forum has initiated my own rebirth online. Instead of being in a room with no windows or doors, I now feel like I live across the breadth of the internet, I feel like an Internet gypsy, not homeless, but that I have many many homes, some temporary, some, like this one, more permanent. Through blogs, facebook, emails, and other means I've kept in contact with many of these people. But leaving was not without sacrifice, the intensity is gone and the meet ups are over, for me at least. When I left the forum one of the Melbourne mums had moved to New Zealand and after I left another moved to Canada. I'd moved back to the inner city and closer to other friends, Martin started studying full time, the girls went into creche and I began working more. A bit later all our kids started kinder and school and some of the mums went back to work - even if I was still posting regularly I doubt the meet ups would still be occurring.

But just this past week or so, I've been missing them, the chaos, the fun, seeing the kids interact and the next generation of babies (Una was the first of a Melbourne baby boom**) grow up, the gossip, the friendships big and little. Fred still talks about most of them by name - the kids she's known since before she was two seem permanently fixed in her memory in a way that, say, kids she went to creche with last year are already vanishing. I went to a play centre last week at Fred's request (she was feeling nostalgic too) and saw groups there that could have been us over two years ago and wished I could magic up my Melbourne mums, just for an afternoon.

*though I still see one ace chick from my North Fitzroy mother's group - she now leaves in the Western suburbs - we all dispersed.
**well, strictly Lulu Plum was the first, but she nicked off to NZ.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I've been following some of the Bill Henson debate, for example here and here. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can read the story here.

In this country, in our culture, we find truth-telling suspect. We always look for the lie behind the words, the fiction in the fact. We are troubled by writers like Helen Garner and Helen Demidenko who blur the categories so profoundly that we no longer know what is real and what is not. In a post-surveillance age, photographers especially come under scrutiny (sorry that link is a side issue but interesting nonetheless). They capture a fleeting moment of truth, and yet by distilling a moment, by taking it out of time, they distil and inflate that moment. Fact and fiction morph, boundaries blur and collapse. Photographs are evidence - they tell us what is true. But photographs can be altered, they're tricky, they can also convince us that which is false is true. If someone says 'I'm looking you in the eye and I am telling you the truth' immediately we entertain the possibility that they are lying to us. In stories, someone is always withholding or misrepresenting the truth, it's one of the easiest tricks to create tension and suspense. We are not a society based on trust, we're a society trained to always look for underlying motives - whether conscious or unconscious. We see a great deal of behaviour - perhaps even art - as a symptom of some kind of neurological or psychological disorder. Or perhaps as a deliberate attempt to trick, persuade, or hoodwink us.

What is it precisely that these teenagers (boys and girls appear in the photographs, though I've noticed it's only the female models that people have framed as vulnerable and exploited) are to be protected from? I think it is clear that Bill Henson himself isn't a paedophile, I haven't seen any convincing arguments to suggest he is, nor is he wilfully presenting pornographic material. Are we worried paedophiles will look at the photos and feel things? Or that the images will incite repressed paedophiles to act? Or is it exploitative simply for a man to look upon a teenaged body? Or is it the fact that she has been 'used', that meaning has been layered upon her naked body by someone other than herself, someone with power over her? I've read many fears for this naked girl in the future, that while she might have consented as a minor, ultimately she will feel shame and regret at having posed for these photographs in a media age where images live forever (I think it's a huge assumption that a model will inevitably regret these photographs - I think if such photographs existed of me, I'd actually find them an incredible souvenir of my body, of my travels through my bodyscape).

Do the photos challenge our ideas about consent? "Who provided consent for her to be photographed in this way? Should her guardians be investigated and possibly prosecuted?" Dr Anne Smith asks (a spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of Physicians). Her suggestion troubles me far more than the photographs. Is part of the issue here our fear of the power and control individuals have over other individuals - do we want to dissolve families and individual choice about child rearing, including moral values, and make everyone instead a child of the state? I think for some people the answer would be "no, of course not (but everyone should parent the way I do)".

I've read suggestions that artists should have to jump through the same ethics committee hoops as researchers, or be subjected to working with minors police checks (actually the second is quite a reasonable suggestion). But the former, the ethics committee, suggests that art is as measured as research, even that it performs the same function. Art can be spontaneous and sometimes has to be.

Having said all this, I do think Bill Henson is accountable, artists don't live outside law and social responsibility. I don't feel sorry for him. He has created powerful, troubling, disturbing work and some equally powerful, troubling and disturbing forces have said, 'nup, you've gone too far, let's talk about consequences." As bluemilk said:
"Henson, the art world, and the critics of this exhibition will undoubtedly survive this debate intact, while also remaining completely clothed and I can’t help but contrast that with the vulnerability of this young naked girl at the heart of this scandal."
Unfortunately though, I am not sure what made her more vulnerable - the photographs, or the way she has been seized in the subsequent moral panic on both sides (one side arguing that she is an exploited child the other arguing that she is an object of art).

I am reminded, as I write this, of Margo Lanagan's incredibly and profoundly beautiful and devestating novel Touching Earth Lightly, a work I struggle to describe but that I think touches on similar themes to Bill Henson (please don't anyone read this and censor that too). One difference is Lanagan writes for teenagers. Bill Henson's work is about them. But I don't think that in itself should be problematic. In a world with a youth fetish, we need to analyse the images we are obsessed with, god forbid that the only public images of young people are the coquettish images in a children's fashion magazine. I think we are particularly terrified by adolescence, we gatekeepers of children's innocence (and I say that as a mother not a writer), because, like photography, like truthtelling, boundaries blur and collapse. When do they stop being children? Where are the boundaries between what is acceptable sexual behaviour or desire and what it not? At what age does nudity stop being innocent and fresh and okay and start being something sexual? Perhaps in the end, censorship is part of the success of Bill Henson's work, thematically if not financially. Because they've found a boundary, they've discovered a place in time and space that doesn't want them, that won't open up to them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

And now for the main pestivities

So following the appearance of the mouse (eek) my children have been maliciously raising an army of tiny insects in the quiet quarters of their hair NITS.

Nits. We have nits. We are pariahs. We are no longer welcome at kinder. I have to try and eradicate all traces by Friday when we begin three days of birthday parties.

Isn't it glamorous, being a writer? Isn't it earthy, being a mother? Isn't it marvellous, living out in the bush, side by side with wildlife - parrots, kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, owls, mice, giant spiders, nits. Aint life grand?

In other news I went and looked at two primary schools today - both the local schools had open mornings. One was lovely, clean, orderly, very computery. The other was small and feral and wild and fun. In one they have a visiting social worker and speech pathologist and a young energetic staff and electronic whiteboard in every room. In the other they have ancient computers and a deeply suspicious attitude towards the Internet; they also have a librarian one day a week, a newly planted orchard, a kitchen garden where the kids can help themselves to tomatoes and strawberries and lunchtime Cubbyland, where the kids use available materials to make cubbies and start their own savage communities like Lord of the Flies (but without Piggy killing, the principal assured me). In one school the staff were young and energetic with lots of new ideas. In the other the staff were older, more experienced, but also perhaps a little jaded and certainly not up to date with the technology. One is old and wooden and sweet and adjacent to Fred's current kinder. The other is crouched and brown and ugly, 1.5km down the road. Both have big playgrounds and ovals. One has 120 students this year and 16 preps. The other has 65 total and 4 preps.

And she won't be allowed at either if she doesn't get over the current NITuation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Please allow me to stand on this chair and say eek.

A mouse.

A freaking mouse.



of the cupboard

had a good look around

and then sauntered

right back in again.


I do no love you

get out of my



Friday, May 16, 2008

UMPA Interview (or Blogging for the Terminally Lazy)

I was interviewed for UMPA's magazine recently (UMPA stands for University Melbourne Peasized Antelopes, or maybe Postgrad Association...I forget) by Aaron Mannion. Anyway the publication has recently been released and I thought since some of you might not have the privilege of seeing how clever and interesting I am I would reproduce the interview here, because it's a whole big long blog post just languishing in my email archive. Reuse, Reduce (brain power), Recycle.

What are you studying?
A Masters in Creative Writing by coursework, with a minor thesis. I wrote my thesis last year.

What's been the biggest hurdle for you to overcome in your candidature?
It's a freaking logistical nightmare. For example, this semester I only have one subject, but it's on Mondays at 5pm. We recently moved to St Andrews - it takes over an hour to get to uni. My husband has a competing class, so my mother-in-law has to come to our place, we put the kids in her car, and she drives me to the train station so I can catch a train to uni while she drives the kids back to our place. I travel longer than I am in class. My husband has to get home, do the dinner, bath, books and bed routine and then put the kids in the car at 9pm, way past their bedtime, and pick me up from the station. Life will - hopefully - get easier soon, we're looking for a second car. I just got my license two weeks ago.

How has graduate study been rewarding?
Writing a thesis was an incredible experience - daunting, confronting and I had times when I really believed it would never come together. I am as proud of my 15000 word thesis (on melancholy in children's literature) as I was of my first novel. Also it's been fabulous tapping into a community of people who are interested in talking about creative writing with an academic perspective. My oldest daughter was three and my second daughter was about 9 months when I decided to do the Masters. I was at the point where, if I had a normal job, I would have gone back to work. I was sick of my house. The walls had been painted this really awful nicotine colour and it was like living inside a cancerous lung. When you start thinking like that, you know you need to get out more.

How does having a family affect your study?
In a world of competing priorities, my study comes pretty low on the list. Also there are times when I question the relevance, the validity of post graduate study. Sometimes it feels like the kids are my authentic life and study is this airy-fairy, self-indulgent, and vaguely pointless exercise. It's also a bit weird to write for assessment when I make my living out of writing novels, though I try to write things I can use again later. I can't attend much besides the classes - there's so many symposiums and seminars that sound so fascinating, but I just can't go. I know that uni policy means I can bring the kids to this stuff, but jeez, who has those kids? My girls are deliciously naughty and utterly distracting. On the positive side, study connects me-as-I-am-now to me-who-I-was-then - before I was a mother. Every time I go to uni I feel a curious sense of freedom, there's a slowing down of time, everything looks golden and dreamy. Last year when we still lived in the inner north I travelled home at night, walking through Carlton and then catching a tram up Brunswick Street. I always half expected to see my past self on a street corner somewhere, or spilling out of a cafe or pub. I miss her. I love who I am now, I love my life, I adore my daughters, but I am still bereft and mystified at the loss of her.

What are your childcare arrangements?
In a nutshell, chaotic and largely unreliable. My mother-in-law is fantastic and generous but my father-in-law is seriously ill, so we have to be ready to reinvent the wheel at a moment's notice. I write for uni when the kids are around or after they've gone to bed. Wednesday and Thursdays - when my husband is home with the kids - are strictly novel writing days.

Is there a strain supporting a family while studying? If so, how do you deal with this?
Definitely. Anything that takes you out of the enclosure of the family is automatically difficult. Space changes when you have kids. Everything that occurs outside the family walls is a complex negotiation and often fraught with difficulty, not to mention tired, frayed tempers and competing schedules. My husband studies too, he's an undergraduate, studying a Bachelor of Education. We live off my writing and any other income I can get, like doing school talks, teaching or freelance editing work, plus he builds the occasional website. So my study sometimes feels - mostly to me - like an ill-thought out whim, selfish and self-serving, and then I can get a bit defensive about it and the time I have to devote to it, though my husband has never been anything but supportive. It helped when I started doing some teaching, I allowed myself to take it more seriously then. It's been particularly hard because this course is full fee-paying and to be honest, there have been times when I've seriously questioned if it's worth the money. We deal with it by embracing chaos and loving each other. We're both very committed to each of us being fulfilled in terms of our working and intellectual lives. Luckily neither of us cares much about money or material gain and the girls are happy running around outside in the nude most of the time - so they're low maintenance!

Any funny stories about family and study clashes?
Recently in class we were talking about the role dreaming plays in creativity. The homework we were set - in a room where I was the only parent - was to be aware of the transition between sleep and waking. Everyone's sitting there, nodding thoughtfully while I was thinking, 'Um, there's no moment. There is sleep, glorious sleep and there is four year old girl jumping on your chest and being utterly awake.'

Any advice for other graduate students with families?
Remember that studying enriches family life, you're not doing anything wrong taking time away from the family or making study a priority. Actually my mum studied when I was growing up and I have very warm memories of going to the university with her, reading kid's books in the education section of the library and eating soft serve icecream in the refectory. I always felt very comfortable in the university grounds. So it's a gift we're passing on to our kids, that study has immense value and pleasure.

What's your favourite pretentious word? [We're having a little thing on words that make you seem clever.]
I don't think I can go past semiotic really. I was blown away by the sheer power of its pretentiousness in 1996, and I still feel Awfully Clever whenever I use it in a sentence.

Authenticity and research (the question was something about that Impostor Syndrome, where you feel like your faking it and someone's about to spring you)
When I started the course, having been away from universities for a while, I had trouble adapting. The first reading I had to do was a very difficult piece about time and narrative by Paul Ricoeur. I slogged my way through it and went along to the first class, worrying that I was the only one who'd found it so incomprehensible (of course I wasn't). During the class I had this sudden impulsive urge to laugh when someone said, 'So if there's no text, does that mean there's no space?' I guess I'd been dealing with vomit and urine and breastmilk for so long that this seemed unbelievably wanky and ridiculous to me. And then I realised everyone in the room was nodding earnestly and I almost gave up there and then. I just didn't think I could believe in it anymore, in academia. I don't know that I felt entirely like an impostor...perhaps it was too much the other way. I'd had two novels published by then, and had another on the way, and I'd worked as an editor for years. I felt like the real deal - they were the impostors. Though I write novels for kids and young adults, and I've often come across the perception that writing children's books is a lesser artform than adult fiction. The worst thing is, sometimes I feel this way too, I guess I've bought into it. So after I tell people I've written and published five novels, I often feel like I'm diminishing my achievement, or setting the record straight, when I say they're children's and YA literature.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Oedipal much?

Fred (5): Soon I’m going to be a mum. So…Dad, when Mum dies, can you marry me?

Una (2): Soon I’m going to be a scary robot.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

This American Life

When I was a kid, probably in early high school (in the late 1980s), I discovered a radio serial on some station I never normally listened to, which aired every Sunday night. It was set during World War 2 and it was about a British (I think, possibly American) man who'd been captured and was being held on a German U-Boat. My memory of it was there was a tension between the theatre of war and the tedious reality of daily life, though I think it was an adventure story too. I vaguely remember that the prisoner developed an almost friendship, a sort of mutual grudging respect, with the Captain. Okay, so my memory of it is actually hazy at best. I don't recall ever talking to anyone about it, but I do remember looking forward to it, feeling like it was a very private pleasure - far more so than any television show. I clearly remember my bedroom, lying in bed listening, the red numbers of the clock radio shining in the dark and I've grieved its loss on and off since.

Martin subscribes to hundreds of podcasts, and Martin has an evangelical streak in him - he's been trying to persuade me to try a podcast for ages. 'When am I going to listen to it?' I'd say, 'And with what?' I always had a child at home, or I was working. On the rare occasions I caught a train or a tram somewhere on my own, I had nothing to listen with. After Martin bought me a shiny purple ipod for my birthday, and knowing I'd be doing long trips on the train, I finally decided to delve into iTunes and explore the free podcasts (I think it was the word free that pulled me in). I can't remember how I stumbled on This American Life, just as I can't remember how I stumbled upon that radio show all those years ago. But I've been meaning to blog about its virtues for a while, and I've just listened to a show that I have to tell you about.

This American Life is, without fail, amazing. It's created by Chicago Public Radio, and airs in hour long weekly instalments. Despite the title, the show occasionally sources international material. However the American content is utterly absorbing. The show is funny, sad, intelligent, thought provoking, beautiful (the long letter from an old man to his wife in the Valentine show is one of the most perfectly pitched love stories I've ever heard - not an ounce of sentimentality). I've laughed out loud on the train several times. I've also cried.

I fell a bit behind in my listening, so the show I'm blogging about today aired in March. It was The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar (you can buy previous episodes no longer available for free download for 95c). It's an incredible story about a boy, Bobby Dunbar, who went missing at the age of four (he slipped into a Louisiana swamp) and turned up months later living with a wandering handyman who was arrested for kidnapping him. Bobby's parents came and after some confusion claimed him. Another woman also showed up (a single mother of dubious morals) and also claimed him - she said he was her son Bruce. Like Bobby's mother she hesitated (it seems incredible to me that neither woman was sure). Anyway, the way the story unfolds is spellbinding. And the way the present can interrogate the past, and the way the past can interrogate the present, is quite mindblowing - I found myself literally reeling at the end of this show. Worth every penny of 95c (or $1.01AUD according to my dashboard currency converter) even if you have to listen to it in snippets while you cook the dinner.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

New Header

Do you like it? My huzzzband Martin made it. Isn't he clever. I love how fierce the girl looks. Man, I wouldn't want to be that cake. Scary. I don't know what it says about his perception of my blog. Hmmm.

So anyway, yesterday a little article I wrote about LURVE appeared in the Age. It was a kind of 'how to' for the Ed supplement, about writing about love. I feel majorly chuffed about being asked, and terribly famous and important at the idea of appearing in my second favourite newspaper. I haven't actually seen it myself, it's being stashed away by people who still buy their newspaper as a - well - newspaper...I read everything online these days. In a few weeks I'll probably put it up on my website for anyone who missed it. This is the second article I've had published this year. The first was one about Harry Potter, it appeared in February's Viewpoint magazine. Writing articles takes me a while, it's very different from writing novels. One of the reasons I started blogging was to develop a voice that might work for article writing, since to be a full time writer in Australia means you have to be willing to turn tricks I mean pimp yourself or rather beg and plead for anything going supplement your income with complimentary work. The blog has created these opportunities and lifted my profile, so it's been worth doing, but I really just do it now because I love it. And because I love youse all.

And because I love myself.

And because they keep me locked up in this garret and sometimes it's nice to post a message through the hole in the wall and see if someone comes along and reads it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Every week I do a meal plan. Sometimes we stick faithfully to it, sometimes not. I usually shop for vegetables and fruit on Saturdays then plan our meals around the fresh produce we've bought, then I do the supermarket shopping on Sunday or Monday. I thought I'd post our meal plan this week since if you're anything like me you always ask other people what they're having for dinner as a way of coming up with ideas. I just accidently typed meat plan, and we do seem to be having a bit of meat this week - sometimes we do, sometimes we don't have any, when we do our meat portions tend to be small. Last night's dinner was roast brussel sprouts with fried apple and almonds, served with steamed brown rice (not entirely veggo, there was a rasher of bacon in it). When we were living in Northcote we ate a lot of fresh fish - it was my 2006 resolution to have fish twice a week - easy to do with a fantastic fish market just up the road. It's harder to do that now because we don't have anyone close by selling nice fish and I'm a bit suss on fish from the supermarket, so we eat a lot of tinned tuna. In fact so much, I'm over it, so we're having a rest from it this week. Lunch is usually leftovers or an omelette (or leftovers in an omelette) or hummous (Fred's new favourite) and things to stick into it or a snack plate of rice crackers, cheese, fruit and veg or the good old sanger (I like hummous and radish sandwiches at the moment. Radishes, remember them? Yum) or these great foccaccias we buy from the market that are more like a little pizza with red onion, cheese and dill - we freeze them, defrost them in the microwave and finish them off in the sandwich maker.

This is our evening meal plan this week (could come in any order, we usually decide on the day):

Roast meat and veggies - beetroot, parsnip, dutch carrots, potatoes, whatever else we've got. Meat will depend on what looks nice, preferably with bones so we can make some stock for this week's soup

Spaghetti Carbonara (there's some lovely swiss browns around at the moment, and really, who doesn't love bacon?)

Potato and leek soup with home made garlic bread. The bread's already made by Martin and in the freezer, made from a gorgeous baguette bought from the local market. My girls will always eat soup, so we have it once or twice a week.

Some kind of spinach, mushroom, feta, and possibly bacon pastry thing (Martin's new latest thing)

White bean and sausage casserole with polenta (some kind of weird made up cassoulet type thing - haven't really thought this through, but I fancy something very hearty now autumn is here...if I can't find sausages I like the look of, I'll probably make it with lamb mince)

Beef schnitzels with slow cooked red cabbage and pear (we had this exact dish last week and the girls loved it, so I thought I'd try to replicate it - the shredded red cabbage and pear is cooked together, covered, with a bit of brown sugar and water for an hour or so, and then you take the lid off, add a big chunk of butter and a splash of vinegar - I used white balsamic - and reduce it all down. There was no bitterness left and the girls both loved it, plus, you know, it was pink. 1/4 cabbage and two pears fed all of us; none of us are really big eaters.

The last meal is never planned and is generally some kind of cupboard/leftover/fish & chips and champy at Kate's place deal.

Speaking of Kate, her new book Always Mackenzie is out. Buy it, read it, love it. It's gorgeous.

p.s. As I wrote this, two King Parrots have been rather boldly insisting we feed them. Martin scattered a little seed the other day and since then we've had a number of birds decide they own our asses. Which is a bit contrary to advice we've been given by the next door neighbour about feeding birds regularly - apparently it disrupts migratory patterns. Plus we end up with hoardes of bogan cockies trashing our garden. It's hard to resist those lovely parrots though.