Saturday, April 28, 2007

thinking about poetry

Remember how as well as writing three novels, looking after my children and doing editing work I'm also doing a Masters (I can feel my shoulders siezing up with tension as I write)? Anyway, as part of that Masters I am writing a thesis. I've written about 300 words. Only 14700 to go. Woohoo. I'm also doing a subject called Research for the Creative Writer, taught by Steven Conte (that's an odd photo of him), whose novel, The Zookeeper's War comes out in August. There are many interesting smart people in my class, including the dazzling Miriam Zolin, the divine Ms Niaz (I am in love with her name, Nadia Niaz, it's one of the best names ever) and the delicious Jennifer Cook (yay, another YA writer). Everyone else is smart and interesting too, but as far as I know they don't have their own websites to link to. They are welcome to come here, boot me around and tell me otherwise.

Research for the Creative Writer is theory. Ha ha. But seriously. It's a good concept, encouraging writers to research, but it really seems quite artificial and back to front to research first and write later. We also have a lot of theory to work through and discuss and yet they don't directly interact with our work. It's a problem with the way the subject is designed I think rather than the way it is taught, but my biggest issue is I don't actually feel at all prepared to write a thesis proposal which is, as far as I can tell, the main objective of the course.

For the creative component I was thinking about writing poetry. Partly because if you're going to research first the best thing research brings up is lots of interesting words and what better way to stick words on a page than through poetry. I thought poetry was more about ideas than prose, remembering back nearly ten years to when I used to think I was a poet who would never write a novel (now I seem to be a novelist who can't write poetry). But poetry isn't really about ideas, it's really just the whole world seen through your poetic filter. Part of it is about ideas, but the rendering is really a step away from ideas and back into your self. Or for me anyway. I think to write poetry I have to think in poetry, and I seem to have lost this skill. I am suddenly in great awe of writers like Margaret Atwood who can write poetry, novels, short stories and essays. How does she turn her hand to so many different ways of thinking? (Ooh, what a weird sentence, yet oddly apt, so I'm leaving it).

I did write one poem, and it did emerge from research, not from the research that I was doing to write poems about though, but from the research I was already doing to write my pink book (chick lit). Because of course I already do research. Heaps of it. I just don't call it research. I think of it as looking stuff up. Write first, research later. That's my motto, which I stole from Rodney Hall, and he's like, fully smart.


The girls are everywhere.

They’re on the street

They’re in stairwells hallways buses shopwindows.

They linger in doorways. They languor.

They’re all pelvis and sculpted bone.

They live inside their own hollow dimensions,

They occupy interiors: phones ipods televisions

They take photos with their eyes.

They’re wireless the girls.

They can break themselves up into particles smaller than dust

They can send themselves travelling across light.

They want to be pure. They want to be information.

They’re hard. Their eyes are hard. Their eyes say,

There is nothing you can do to us

That we would not do to ourselves.

Friday, April 27, 2007

a day

So it being a nothing day, home with the girls in intermittent rain (yes, yes we love rain...) I've been very busy not being busy. As you can see, Eglantine has a new frock. She is very happy with it, she keep swirling it about. I'm a bit of a sucker for wallpaper, my dream house, the one that doesn't exist yet, has lovely wallpaper. And a change is as good as a holiday. NOT.

I made a pumpkin and chorizo tagine for dinner, with a lovely full flavoured but mild and tender chorizo sausage from the local delicatessen. It's one they've just started bringing in from Spain and it's definitely quite special. Anyway, the tagine was perfect autumn food and the recipe is definitely recommended. I love food.

We danced our blues away today, drew gardens, Fred watched Play School and her terrible horsey movie, featuring AWFUL Bryan Adams songs, but it makes her happy. Una was cranky most of the day, lots of floods of tears, forehead to the ground, full drama moments. Fred filled her gumboots with water while she was wearing them. I got a lovely review of Drift (see the next post for a juicy quote).

I also ended up spending ages today poring over Harry Potter rumours and pottering (teehee) about on J K Rowling's official site (yeah, cause she so needs a plug from me). It's actually quite fun, she strikes me as a very generous spirit, she seems to enjoy all the speculation about the outcome of the seventh book but is quick to squash any reall pointless rumours. I've changed my mind by the way. A while ago I predicted that Harry Potter won't die, but now I think Harry Potter must die - but not a permanent death. More a symbolic one, he needs to face truly face death, to put his toe over the line, in order to live. The character whose fate I'm most interested in is Snape. Oh well, only three more months or so till we find out. Anyway, I'm doing all this because Monash is doing a Harry Potter thingy in August and I am thinking about putting a paper proposal together because I think it would be Good For Me. But I might not because I had bad dreams about it all night last night. I'm a bit scared of smart people.

First Review of Drift

A quote from the review:

"Drift is a beautiful watery creation concerned with the shifting boundaries between reality and desire."

Reviewed by Ronni Phillips, Canberra Times (21/4).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Introducing some new links

I've added some new links in the sidebar.

First of all, Chad Beckerman's website and his blog. Chad designed Undine and Breathe in the US. His website is probably the most beautiful one I've ever seen. I look forward to keeping up with his blog news and seeing more of his work. Last time I posted about him a few girl readers happened to observe that he's not bad looking. I think if New York was a twenty something man it would look like Chad. His work at least is utterly dreamy.

Anyway, while I was fiddling about in there, I also added the Guardian Book Blog, thinking if it was right there on my sidebar I'd remember to look at it sometimes. I wish the Age had a book blog. Especially one that devoted some screen time to kids books. I don't know if anyone else tried to read the CBC shortlist in the Saturday Age. With a magnifying glass. My god, could the print GET any smaller?

And finally I thought I would challenge my own cultural anxieties with one more link: Print is Dead (eek!). But no,'s very interesting. I am starting to think more about ebooks, they're in my contract of course, and so far I've signed the ebooks happily over to the publishers, believing that as technology advances the (at least initial) publishing process will more or less stay the same and they'll either change their production methods or outsource it (in the same way that publishers don't actually print their own books, they send them to the printer). But how are they going to develop an electronic book that is actually pleasurable to read? On Star Trek they read them on their little Pads, which are really just rather dated looking PDAs. Martin has a PDA and there's no flippin' way I am reading anything longer than a six word novel on that.

Oh well (see how I wrap it all up nicely now?), if anyone can make a digital book beautiful, Chad Beckerman can.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fred's song

Brown girl in the bread tra la la la la
Brown girl in the bread tra la la la la
Brown girl in the bread tra la la la la
She looks like a plum plum plum

I think it sounds a bit Tori Amos myself.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

now she is four she is so much more

Thanks everyone for your lovely comments and emails. Fred is now four years old and had a lovely birthday. She woke up to find four pink parcels and one spotty one waiting for her on the couch. She said 'Look at all the presents' then almost broke Martin's brain by not showing any inclination to open them.

A bit later she came up to us and asked shyly, 'Why are all the presents there?'
'They're for your birthday!'
'Didn't you know you get presents for your birthday?'
Confused look. No answer. She opens first the card from Grandma and Grandad and then the card from us. She reads them to us (they say things about elephants bottoms - Grandad had drawn an elephant's bottom - and antennae - not sure where the antennae come in. Maybe the letter i?) She then continues to break Martin's brain by continuing to not open her presents.
'What are you going to do now?' Martin says.
'Run around and play.'
Eventually Martin manages to convince her that these presents are for her and she is allowed to open them and there are no kids coming to watch her open them (I think she knows other people bring presents to parties but she didn't realise we would also give her presents).
She enters into the spirit of it by opening the biggest present first, a pink razor scooter. She loves it. Hurray! Then comes the puzzle. She wants to stop opening presents and do her puzzle. We start. Una sabotages it. Martin begs Fred to open another present. We put the puzzle away. She opens another present - this time it's an Eric Carle book, The Bad-tempered Ladybird from Grandma and Grandad. She's kind of getting into the present thing. She opens the next one - a Schleich unicorn. It's love at first sight, she names it Sparkle. Last parcel, two more books - The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child and The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Jane Ray, one I actually bought second hand two years ago and we've been hanging onto till she was old enough. It turns out Four is a good age for fairy tales, Fred has also recently discovered Hansel and Gretel - I'd love to know what her subconscious makes of it, this tale of abandonment and appetite, lost children, ambiguous mothers.

After present opening, breakfast and phone calls from both Grandmothers, we headed out to the Collingwood Children's Farm, one of my favourite places in Melbourne. It was a whim, but one of those really felicitous outings, because it turned out there was a special thing on, part of the Comedy Festival. Not only was the entry to the Farm free, there was also a show, with three stand up comedians, plus the MCing 0f hilarious Claire Hooper, who did a brilliant job at being funny simultaneously for four year olds and old year olds. Fred was in awe of the whole event and incredibly starstruck afterwards. It really was a great day out, including a picnic lunch purchased from the really excellent farm cafe. I heart Melbourne. I want to live at Collingwood Children's Farm. I want Claire Hooper to come to my party.

We had to postpone Fred's dinner party because of sickness (ours, though we are all on the road to recovery thanks for asking. Conjunctivitis officially sucks though, I'm way voting it off the island) but it turned out a blessing of sorts because two doors down let us know by way of politely worded anonymous notelet in the letterbox that it was also having a party and not the kind with four year olds, but the doof doof make me cry with impotent rage at 3 in the morning kind. So while it rained all afternoon, Martin and Una slept, Fred watched Alice in Wonderland and I made a cake. We took it to Fred's Nana and Papa's, along with a lasagne, and stayed overnight. More presents (clothes) and a musical birthday card and cake and candles - Fred had a happy birthday. Now she is just four all the time. In the car on the way home she was saying 'and then I will be five and then I will be six and then I will be seven and then I will be eight...' Boggles the brain really. But for a whole year she will be four.

Fred watches three 'Saddle Club girls' with longing. Later she gets very sad that even though she's four whole years old she's still not old enough to ride the farm horses.

Yes, it's a poo. On wheels. Every now and then it moved. It was mildly disturbing - poo with agency. The kids loved it.

Just to prove Una was there too.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Four Years Ago: Before Frederique

This time 4 years ago I was walking around Fitzroy Gardens and East Melbourne. My waters had broken but my contractions hadn't started, not properly and I was trying to get things started. I reckon I walked about twenty kilometres that day. We were at the old Mercy Hospital which was a bit shabby and worn, the birth centre's wing was like a daggy but clean and comfortable country motel. In the end my contractions wouldn't start and I would have to be transferred to the labour ward the next morning to be induced. A mere snifter of syntocin would things started and Frederique would be born easily and relatively quickly, under 5 hours of labour, at the civilised time of ten to one in the early afternoon on the 21st April, Easter Monday - Monday of the Angel. But none of that had happened yet, four years ago.

I was excited, I don't remember being scared of giving birth - bring it on. But I was reluctant for other reasons. I believed (I still partly believe) that labour wasn't progressing because I wasn't ready to let her go. I loved having her inside me, like a secret, keeping her close and protected. Having her out, in my arms, in the world - having her belong more to the world than to me - was a daunting prospect. How would I keep her safe, the way I could when she sheltered inside my skin? How would I manage the complexities of breastfeeding, love, sleeplessness, separation, mothering? How would I learn to share her when she was my Best Thing?

We walked and walked around the gardens, in the golden light, under the deciduous trees, the sharp smell of Autumn in the air. What did we talk about? I don't remember because I was carrying on an internal conversation too, not so much in words but in the language we spoke then, a dream language, internal and fluid. We went back to the birth centre for regular checks, the midwife listening to the baby's heartbeat with the doppler. She wasn't Frederique yet, we called her Squeaky Delicious. We had chosen her name, but we hadn't told anyone. We were waiting to give it to her when she was born. But perhaps it was another way of keeping her close, keeping her private, belonging more to us than to the world.

Four years is a long time. It is four years between Olympic Games. It takes four years to get a degree with honours, or a Bachelor of Education. (Martin has two and a half years to go.) Four years is how long I was at Taroona High School. The official dates of World War One spans roughly four years. It's also how long the war of 'shock and awe' has been going in Iraq. For Frederique, four years is a lifetime.

Up until now, Fred's birthdays have seemed to creep up on me. I'd have thought it was just yesterday that we brought this tiny baby home from the hospital, that we sat up through the sleepless night with her, unable to settle her, until we rang the birth centre and they asked us if we had changed her nappy. We hadn't. It seems unbelievable now that this would be something we'd forget. But now four years seems right, there's a distance between me and that tiny baby that is insurmountable. It seems almost unfair that I can't return to that time, that I can't visit. So four years is a good way to describe the time I have spent with Frederique, though in other ways time is meaningless. Was there a time before Frederique? It seems hard to imagine. My memory writes her in, or amends things. For example, Martin and I were married in Greece in 2002, two months later we conceived Fred - now it seems that in essence at least the beginning of her was already there, that she glimmers between us somewhere in the wedding photos, like a background guest. In some ways mmore real than the village children and British and German backpackers who actually witnessed our wedding.

Four is a great age. Four year olds are fun, confident, they dig themselves. Fred is fueled by energy matched only by her boundless imagination. Her language is complex and intelligent, she is beginning to enter the wider world, she has a life beyond me, far far beyond the enclosure of my skin or even the enclosure of the family. She has secrets I don't know. She belongs to the world now but even more, the world belongs to her. She wants to know every part of it. I want to show her, but that's not my role anymore. No matter what, she will discover it herself, she will stubbornly see what she wants to see. We can point things out to her (and we do, often, we can't wait for her to see everything), but what we show her and what she sees is often a disparity as wide apart as the baby she was four years ago and the girl she is now. Same same but different.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rewriting into 1st person

I have just, at the suggestion of my editor (who gave me permission to call her crazy and not do it), rewritten a whole novel into first person. Admittedly it was a short novel but still, I feel like someone ought to throw a parade in my honour, even if it's just a little one. But I now feel entirely vindicated as an editor to suggest making similarly horribly daunting radical changes.

In this case it was a spot on suggestion. It resolves some of the younger qualities of the language and the story (that cosy, sitting on the narrator's knee feel that often works so well for adventurous or magical children's books), elevating it fully into the tweenie, 'Chomp' market. It made the character-driven story more immediate and the main character, Josie, instantly felt less passive and sulky (she's pretty moody) and generally more accessible and likeable. A magic trick. Plus it made me really focus on the line by line stuff, so I think overall it will be a tidier novel, and everybody likes tidy. I also think that I couldn't have written this novel as well if I'd intended to write it in first person first (confused?). So I am glad that I wrote it the way I did, even if it did mean sitting up late squinting at the screen through an ouchy, puffy, conjuntivitis eye.

Still, I'm glad no one ever asked me do it for Undine. And to be honest, I am still a third person girl at heart. Unless it's really beautifully written like Gilead. What I love about third person is you get to show layers - you still have the wobbling 'I', in dialogue and internal thoughts, but you can zoom right in or right out and observe your characters, your landscapes and the story itself, from different angles, you're not limited to one perspective. To me cinema is 'third person'. The narrator is kind of the camera, the shot, the camera angles, what's left in, what's left out. I tend towards a similarly visual way of writing novels.

Ink Pink I Squint

I have conjunctivitis.
In other news, Martin has conjunctivitis and tonsilitis.
In other news Fred has a sore ear.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

News of the Week

1. We had a lovely (though not restful) holiday in Mount Franklin, staying in a house called Arda Cluggen with Martin's best friend since primary school, Matt, his lovely lovely woif Kate, and their kids Mieke (10 weeks older than Fred) and Quinn (2 weeks older than Una, actually Quinn was born on Una's due date). Photos to come. Fred and Mieke rode a pony. Fred and Mieke collected pinecones in the deep, dark forest. Una rode around and around the house on her little bike/trike/quadcycle (it has four wheels). We went to the Chocolate Mill where I had the best hot chocolate ever. They brought it in a bowl. Words cannot describe.
2. Fred has an angel and a devil on her shoulders at the moment. We've had some bewildering tantrums that have lead to us having to enforce some pretty harsh rules (for me anyway, as I am not a natural disciplinarian). Last night she refused to hang up her towel and it escalated into a hugely dramatic stubborn battle of wills which everyone lost. It resulted in Fred going to bed without her stories - a huge deal in this house and Martin and I were in and out comforting her all evening until she went to sleep, though we stayed firm, no stories if she wouldn't just FREAKING HANG UP HER TOWEL (why why why wouldn't she just hang it up??). Today she threw a similar enormous stubborn wobbly about putting sunscreen on, absolutely refused to back down and so I went out without her. Martin said it took her twenty minutes to calm down, then she started screaming at me as soon as I got home an hour later (she doesn't usually maintain her rage so long). She's begun lying too (she told us last night that she had hung up her towel but she didn't want us to go and check), she's testing every boundary. I know it's a stage, it screams developmental from every quarter, and I know she's still exploring the difference between lying and imagination. But it's fully hard to live with.
3. Frederique spent Tuesday up in the kinder room. I'm wondering if they're thinking about moving her up. Perhaps the extra stimulation would help. She's at an awkward age, because her birthday is the 21st April and we had to decide whether or not to start her in 4yo kinder this year (the cut off is 30 April). In the end because she's such a wild child we decided to wait, also she's a wee little thing and the trend, particularly for parents of boys, is to hold back so I felt like we had little choice. But occasionally I question it, mainly because in other senses she seems so ready to move on to the next level, particularly in terms of reading.
4.Una has her cast off...hooray!!! She got it off yesterday and seems to be missing it...she keeps peering up her sleeves. But last night's bath was fantastic for her. The doctor expressed slight concern about Una not walking. I'm not so worried, because I'm pretty sure it's more related to personality than anything - she's just not that interested. But I am so way fully ready for her to walk. She weights 12.5kg (1.5kg less than Fred), and if she doesn't walk soon I'm going to need back and shoulder surgery. Mmm...general anaesthetic...doesn't actually sound all bad.
5. I am a writing machine. I hope to finish Indigo Girls (chicklit novel) by the end of next week. I am loving writing it and as it takes shape I am beginning to feel like it has some really nice aspects. The two main characters (it's a headhopper, switching between the p.o.v of 2 very different girls) are taking on a life of their own and there are some new elements in the story I didn't plan on but that give it depth and dimension. Both girls are surfers, which has meant lots of research - I will have to find a surfer to read it for me to tell me whether the surf scenes ring true. Writing with an outline is actually kind of liberating - every time I slow down, I just go back to the plan. It also means that I get to enjoy the way the story unfolds, instead of worrying if I am writing myself into a corner. I still find there's room for spontaneity, particularly in terms of backstory and characterisation, it's not as limiting as I feared it might far. 12000ish words to go.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Amazing - a map illustrating the world's population

From Strange Maps

This map distorts land mass size in terms of population. Look at, for example, the size of Australia compared to Indonesia.

More distorted maps here


drawing personality

What does your drawing say about YOU?

About me, this:
You tend to pursue many different activities simultaneously. When misfortune does happen, it doesn't actually dishearten you all that much.
You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way.
You like following the rules and being objective. You are precise and meticulous, and like to evaluate decisions before making them.
You have a sunny, cheerful disposition.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bolinda Audio - Breathe

Some good news today. Thanks to Bolinda audio, Breathe is to become an audio book. Undine is one, you can listen to an excerpt via that link. It's read by Melissa Eccleston (who I am sure does a brilliant job, my mother thinks so anyway. Unfortunately it makes me squirm to listen to it - I can't read my own books either after they've been published, except for work reasons - like writing book 3 I had to go back to Undine and Breathe. But I do it tentatively, I keep waiting to hear/read an enormous clanger that it's too late to repair). But I do look forward to listening to Breathe at some point in the future - I have a big soft spot for Breathe.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

on novels

"I think of novels in architectural terms. You have to enter at the gate, and this gate must be constructed in such a way that the reader has immediate confidence in the strength of the building."

Ian McEwan

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Oops. We broke the baby.

Una has a fractured wrist. We're not even sure how she did it. If she hadn't still been a crawler (at 18 months) we may not have realised how serious it was. As it was, we realised her arm was causing her pain on Wednesday (though we knew something was wrong before that) and then by Thursday she was hobbling around up on her knees (though otherwise happy enough most of the time unless we touched her arm) so we took her to the doctor. X-rays on Friday then back to the doctor for plaster. She can't have baths, which is about the only thing she's really sad about. Back to the doctor in two weeks, hopefully to have the cast removed. X-rays were horrible because we had to twist Una's arm around and it obviously really hurt her. Fred sat in the other room and blew raspberries to cheer Una up - it worked. Fred was really interested in the x-rays. Though when we were looking at them afterwards in the cafe she said, 'Where's Una's VAGINA? [in the x-ray, which was of Una's elbows and hands]. I have a VAGINA. Sometimes babies come out of VAGINAS. Mummy, how do the babies get into VAGINAS?' which was our first birds and the bees question and I am pretty sure I did a terrible job answering it. Also in the waiting room at the radiologist she stood on a chair and cheerfully shouted 'SHIT SHIT SHIT' which of course she didn't get from me while I was frantically searching for my purse which Una had hidden just before we were due to go for the x-rays. I was a wee bit stressed.