Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Yay! We've night-weaned Una and this has cured the night-waking. Or at least the night-parenting. She still wakes, but she just thrashes about moaning for a minute and puts herself back to sleep. I feel like a successful parent in control of my life. Don't worry, it's only a brief but pleasant illusion brought on by the sweet sweet natural drug: sleep. I wouldn't exactly say I feel like a new woman but I feel like me again, and that's all I could ask for.
And it's going to be twenty degrees today. And tomorrow is the last day of winter. And we're going to K-Mart to buy Fred a new pillow and Fred and Una get to pick one schleich animal each (Fred tells me Una would like a cat.) Fred had her first pony ride on Saturday on a roly Shetland called Mickey, and on Monday Martin took her to see Curious George with free tickets sent to us by Quickflix after our free trial. Martin says the movie is highly recommended for little kids, and he enjoyed her enjoying it but there's not much in it for adults - no ironic subtexts or witty asides. No scary bits (which is great for Fred but the lack of scary bits does often mean there's less tension for adults). Curious George was not part of my childhood or Martin's, and Fred hasn't encountered the books yet, but they're clearly going for an instant nostalgia feel in the movie with the bright but muted colours. I wonder how people who loved the books as children will relate to the film. It sounds like it hasn't really been made for past fans but for a generation of new ones, in which case, as often happens for the post-dvd generation, the movie may well supersede the books. Sigh. Being a book-lover, this always makes me feel a little sad but I think I am probably projecting values of my generation (some of my friends had VHS players in mid-primary, we didn't get one will I was well into high school. I knew one girl with a BETA. Snigger.) onto children of today who will be much better at switching between mediums and making sense of and drawing meaning from the fragmented narrative. And I am glad that Fred could have a cinema experience that was pure enjoyment for her.
Fred's favourite book at the moment is Tashi by Anna and Barbara Fienberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble. It's been an excellent introduction to the idea of a chapter book with two short chapters that can easily be read in one sitting. I can't wait till she's ready for longer books.
Una's is Woof woof: baby flip-a-face by SAMi. Lots of delcious books to look at on the publisher's website (Blue Apple Books). Nice site too.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I'm sorry, are my neurons keeping you awake?

What is it about this age? Una was awake for two hours (two separate hours) last night, for about the seventh night in a row. Is it teething? Is it her neurons firing? Is it social, developmental, hormonal? Is it separation anxiety? Is she worried that, what with being the centre of the universe and all, the world will end when she goes to sleep? Who knows? I am too tired to care. Lucky she's cute or I'd be posting her to Berlize in my waking hours. Lucky the post office isn't open at night. I pondered this neat feature of the universe at 3am when I was up drinking my milo.
Meanwhile, this is cool: The Tenth Dimension I'd like to go and live in a nice cosy alternate infinity for a while, one with no gravity and all the milo you can drink.
And if you really have time to murder and are close to lack-of-sleep induced pyschosis like me go and log into the forum and read the posts about space and time aloud in a kath and kim voice. For some reason it's really really hilarious (I can lend Una out for the night if you need help inducing pychosis).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blue's Clues

We went to the library today and among other things, we borrowed a 'Blue's Clues' dvd. Fred doesn't watch television, though she does watch dvds, partly because Martin and I don't watch tv anymore and partly because our ABC reception is so bad and that's the only channel in Australia that airs decent kids TV. Anyway, so we borrowed Blue's Clues which has the dual benefits of being good, entertaining kids tv and quite funny for the grown ups watching it.
So when Martin told me a few months ago that Steve died of a heroin overdose I was, understandably, quite upset. A girl at uni told him.
A quick search of Google today reveals that Steve is, in fact, alive and well (and apparently he's also neither a porn star or drug dealer...)
So why do people spread such rumours? Why this inherent distrust of people (especially men) who host children's television? What does it say about society's views of, amongst other things, male childcarers (there are two at Fred's creche) and hands-on, stay at home dads? I can't remember hearing similar rumours about Noni or Bonita or the various Miss Janes on Mr Squiggle.
We also got Microcosmos. For over a year Fred's absolutely favourite movie was Travelling Birds. She still loves it. So we'll see how she goes with the insects. I hope they aren't too scarey. Even Cinderelmo has been banished because of a slightly snarky step-mother type figure.
I also borrowed, for me, a novel called Property. The gorgeous voice drew me in on the first page, though I don't think it will be an entirely comfortable read. But considering I have been reading lovely Noel Straetfield books acquired at the Darebin Library Book Sale (paperbacks 50c, hardbacks $1), I thought it was about time I read some adult fiction. I do have some Anne Tyler waiting for me but I'm saving it up for special.

Monday, August 21, 2006


In 1 month and 1 week and 1 day Una will be 1 year old.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Book Design

Chad Beckerman sent me the loveliest email today. He is the very talented man who designed Undine and Breathe in the US. The designer of the Australian books is the clever and extremely prolific Ellie Exarchos. It's been very interesting seeing two different designers come up with very different books in response to the same material. I love Ellie's Undine because it's so beautiful and gentle and magical but I really adore Chad's Breathe because it's so exciting and dramatic. The Undine on Chad's cover is also more my picture of Undine than the one on the Australian Breathe. I am looking forward to seeing what each of them does with Rise.
Here are some of my favourite book covers:

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Zakka, Wabi Sabi, Suki

After a brief writing exercise for my masters class in which we had to convey an emotion through writing about an object (see below), I began thinking about framing a piece of writing around the Japanese notion of zakka. Wikipedia defines zakka as: "'the art of seeing the savvy in the ordinary and mundane'. On one level the zakka boom is just another in a series of consumer fads, but on another it's plugged into something spiritual. Cute, corny and kitsch is not enough. To qualify as a zakka, a product must be attractive, sensitive, laden with subtexts."
Lots of the craft blogs I like to look at are preoccupied with this mysterious Japanese way of thinking about Stuff, and I in turn find it fascinating that so many Westerners are drawn to it (and can't help wondering what might be lost - or gained - in the acquisition of the concept of zakka into another culture).
Another term I came across was Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic concept concerned with finding beauty in the impermanent and the imperfect. The threefold rule of wabi-sabi ("nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect") is a rule to live by for any artist. Like many others, this concept has resonated with me. Suki (I found mention of it somewhere but cannot locate it right now) is similar, but instead of the impermanent or the broken, suki sees beauty in the eccentric and idiosyncratic.
I do not have a spiritual life. Yesterday I was thinking about this. I don't hanker after a godlike figure. But I do like the idea of a structure of spiritual rules, of a folksy gathering on Sundays in a lofty space with singing and possibly finger sandwiches after. I think for me to feel absorbed by spirituality it would have to think a lot about these sort of resonances.
I am not sure quite how I am going to craft this into a longer piece, but here is the fragment from class (the emotion was expectation).

It’s a baby’s felt slipper, hand-stitched. Not pink or blue: it’s clotted cream with a chocolate trim, complimenting the other ornate objects (a pale shell, a hand blown vase) on the low table in the main living room. It’s puffed up, breath-filled, conjuring the shape of the plump, pinkish, lolling foot that will inhabit it. It’s soft. There’s another.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Congratulations to Dan and Zoe who moved into their new house today, it's a dear little abode and I could already hear the walls singing for joy to have Zoe and Dan living there. Made me quite sentimental for mine and Martin's first apartment, a lovely place in Brighton with lofty ceilings and enormous rooms, above an architect's office. We actually moved back there briefly after having Fred (long story). They were going to cosy up tonight and watch a vid, eat takeaway and just be...I did some concerted waving about of Una though and Zoe was looking a bit clucky and really now she's got a nest there's no excuse...but seriously. I am very happy for you both. Good luck with the whole happily ever after business. Falling in love is fun in a rollercoaster, feeling sick on the downward run kind of way, but being in love is fun-ner.
Now shh. Go away everyone. I am writing a Very Important essay about staircases. Seriously. The upness AND the down.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Madeline's New Dress and a Wee Doggy

Madeline and doggy
Madeline and doggy,
originally uploaded by nellup.
Since Fred was sick again on the weekend (it's a neverending cold, with extra colds sometimes on top) I made Madeline a little dress to entertain her. It was an easy pattern, taken from here:

Then over the past few nights, I've also been stitching up this little doggy. He's to be a rainy day present for Frederique sometime. The little bone comes out of his pocket.

I must say I am enjoying learning to sew. I don't know that I will ever master it, but I am actually enjoying not being brilliant at it too, letting myself make mistakes, since I've always been a bit of an over-achiever, reluctant to take on things that I'm not very good at.

The sun has been out in Melbourne, the sky has been astonishingly blue. Days that say, 'Winter doesn't last forever.' Blossoms are unfurling, flowers are poking through. It's almost spring, and when spring comes, Miss Una Petunia, Una Balloona, Una the Tuna, will be one year old. Time, like the birds in my expansive cornflower sky, flies.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Where the Wild Things Are

If you're in Melbourne, head over to the Australian Jewish Museum, I know I will be. I love Maurice Sendak, looking at Where the Wild Things Are is like looking through a portal directly into my childhood. And now Fred's childhood too. On a few pages of her copy of Where the Wild Things Are (funnily enough only on the pages where Max is making mischief), she has scribbled with black texta and part of our reading experience is now a very serious discussion about drawing on books. It was an early lesson in permanence - when we used to open the book, she would see her marks of transgression and cry for me to fix it. At first I was so sad about the defacement myself, now I it has become part of my - and Fred's - personal history of the book and those black marks belong as much to the book as any other illustration within it.
Wild Things is being made into an animated film too, written and directed by Spike Jonze (of Being John Malcovich fame). (Edited to say that I think it's actually going to be a live action film).
A page by page analysis of Wild Things, including some images of the darned cutest dummy books ever (I'd sell my right thumb for one).
A Wild Things lesson plan including a suggested art activity which we might try ourselves - sticking googly eyes to a page and drawing a wild thing around them.

We also love: The Night Kitchen (Fred's favourite), Pierre, and Alligators All Around. We used to have this audio recording but, in another act of transgression, Fred unthreaded it when she was about 18 months old and she had so much fun I didn't have the heart to stop her. But I must get it again, it's a fantastic recording, Tammy Grimes is perfect.

What I love about Maurice Sendak is he writes about very powerful children who are masters of their own world. This to me is why Where the Wild Things Are or The Night Kitchen aren't actually scary, despite the nightmarish qualities. The kids have agency, they have choice, they are interested, exploratory, engaged. They drive their own stories in exactly the way you know some kids would drive given the chance, clutching the wheel, glee on their faces, heads thrown back.

Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak in his Own Words and Pictures is at the Jewish Museum of Australia, 26 Alma Road, St Kilda, until October 29. Inquiries: (03) 9534 0083.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A New Niece

Announcing the birth of

Ruby Elizabeth
born 4.30pm
8lb, 54cm

Congratulations Ben, Annemarie and Nina
Oh I can't wait to squeeeeeze her! Hooray for little girls!


A little bit blurry because we didn't want to startle her with the flash.
She's beautiful, so tiny, so delicious. Ruby lips, just perfect for kissing.

Posting Comments on Eglantine's Cake (or I Heart Comments)

A few of my friends have said they'd like to comment but haven't because they have to set up a blog I.D. Well, silence need no longer be your only weapon, I've changed the settings so anyone can comment (I think), but you have to enter some kind of gobbledycode because I've been spammed (and I was sooooo excited when I saw one post had attracted 15 comments).
I love comments. Consider yourself encouraged.
Martin is MIA looking for the Brunswick library, I am waiting for the Heater Man Who Never Came and Fred and Una are Going Beserk.
Naturally it's perfect o'clock for fiddling with the template of my blog.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Walking through landscapes of my childhood, tripping over icons...

Apparently mutilating Barbie is a rite of passage. I cut my Barbie's hair off and tried to dye it with black shoe polish (it didn't work, Barbie's hair was curiously resistant). It would appear I did this because Barbie raises complex and violent emotions in children (perhaps leading to gender confusion), because she is an overmarketed, overhyped commodity. Hmmm. I am sure I was driven by a desire to individualise my Barbie. I can't remember having terribly complex emotions about her, though I have to say I'm pretty sure she was quite promiscuous. Strumpet.
I must say, I never tried to microwave her though.
And what do I think about supplying my own kids with Barbie? Fred already owns one, I got it for $3.95 at the supermarket in the last weeks of my pregnancy with Una. It's not a favourite toy. I think for me Barbie was such a dud toy that I don't see any point banning her. I'd rather teach my girls to respond critically to commercial and social constructs than entirely restrict their access to particular products. For a start I'm not keen on investing Barbie with tantalising "forbidden" qualities, amd also I do believe there is something quite healthy about exploring the subversible aspects of Barbie play (perhaps not so much in emulating promiscuity! But in altering her appearance or function, kids can express their own ideas of what BArbie's hyper-feminism might represent) and also ultimately in my experience Barbie proved unsatisfactory and limited, so I don't feel threatened by what she might have to say in secret to Fred about womanhood. Hmm...but then this starts to fall apart when I think how much I DON'T like Bratz. But that's purely a design issue. On the other hand, I quite like the other B girl with the colour-changing eyes.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Writing about Tasmania: a mythology of place
I consider myself in many ways a Tasmanian author, though I no longer live there, and have spent most of my adult life in Melbourne. When I began writing Undine it was never really a conscious decision to set it there. For me Tasmania simply is the landscape of childhood and adolescent experience. Being born on an island furnishes you with a life long metaphor for identity. You belong to the part as significantly as you belong to the whole. One the one hand, you occupy a space that is partial and fragmented and incomplete, the child always reaching for the mother figure of the mainland. On the other hand you dwell in a microcosm, an intensely charged small space that mirrors in miniature the cultural and social experience of the larger, more diluted land mass with it's sparsely spread out population (I remember hearing that new products were often tested in Tasmania because of the comparatively containable test ground). You are forgotten (left off the map, untoured by rock groups, unrepresented in national sports competitions or cultural events). You are mysterious, you are Other, you are lost in time and space, you are outside culture. You are a little bit savage, a little bit wild. Where the houses are, the bush still grows, fires come, there's snow.

As I wrote about Tasmania, about Hobart, I found myself changing the landscape, creating a mythical place, that looked, sounded and behaved like Hobart, but if you went to Hobart tomorrow and tried to navigate its streets through reading Undine, you could easily find yourself making a left turn and suddenly you're lost. There's no Camelot Drive (loosely based on Liverpool Crescent) or house on the steps, though there is a set of concrete steps that runs up to Liverool Crescent from (I think) McKellar Street. This is the general territory where I picture Trout and Undine's house. In my mind I can walk between these houses, I know every step, every nuance of the landscape. I can also walk the floorplan of Undine's house or the Montmorency's. In fact, I have lived inside Undine's house now longer than I occupied any one address in my adult life. I know where they are, what they look like...but they don't exist. Undine's house certainly wouldn't reside between city councils. Nor would her high school have students from year 7 to year 12 - particularly when her high school (some might recognise it) is Taroona High - my own. Or at least, if you drew a map of Undine's Hobart and overlaid it on a real map of Hobart, they are situated in the same space. (In Hobart state schools, year 11 and 12 are sensibly taught at a separate instituion that is in many ways more like university than high school and provides an excellent grounding for tertiary study.)

in part this mythology was necessary to open up the world, to create a sense of possibility, to create room for the fantastic elements, to give magic a space to grow. But it was also about giving my characters a space to grow that wasn't overshadowed by my own experience of the landscape.

Rise is about alternate worlds, places that look much like our own world but with subtle, yet psychologically consequential differences. In some ways the Undine trilogy is set in my own alternate world, it exists a mere half step away; the geometry of the map, which resonates with familiarity, is a geometry of dreams, of half-remembering, of deliberate not-remembering. Is Undine autobiographical? I don't mean it to be, but yes, it is, in what I do write about and what I deliberately do not. Some of Undine's experiences are my experiences. In fact all of the characters are part-me and all of them contain echoes of people I have known. But more significantly, you will find shadows of me in the spaces, in the changes between the real world and the imagined, this is also where you will find a story of me, of what I DON'T want you to see. The space between Undine's world and mine has texture and fibre - it is the same texture, the same grain as paper, as strong, as sturdy as paper, as tearable, as vulnerable, as alterable.

The autobiography starts before the novel starts, on the dedication page. You will see me there, not the author but the other me, who lives here, in my life. "For Martin & Frederique with love".

All writing comes from within, all writing comes from that space, that island space, that is part me and part the landscape of my childhood - the remembered home to which we spend our lives trying to return. I wonder if childhood is the only time in our lives when home is a stable concept (or for me it was anyway, the fixed suburban Australian iconology of Home saturates my childhood memory: lawns, sprinklers, trees, tupperware, hills hoists, school sports carnivals, huntsman spiders, bunk beds, spaghetti bolognese).

So I am at least in part a Tasmanian writer living in Melbourne. Islanded from the island. The island within islanded too, like a chain of islands, or like a Russian doll, islands inside islands, where the biggest doll fits inside the smallest one.

Bookshops I have loved:
Hobart Bookshop
Sandy Bay Newsagency and Bookshop
And RIP Greensleeves