Sunday, July 27, 2008

why bonfire day is a good day

What's more exciting when you're a kid than playing with fire?

Sparks fly. Even the grown ups play. And that's before the red wine comes out.

Then everyone starts looking for more things to we really need this fence?

What's better than fire? Marshmallows, sticky, melted, charcoaled on the fire, eaten quickly, leaving sticky places all over that dirt and charcoal stick to. Before a dinner of beans and rice, also eaten around the fire.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top Ten Children's Books from my 80s Childhood

After Read Alert's links to the Guardian top tens.

1. Momo by Michael Ende
A richly disturbing children's book about time and narrative. Written by the author of The Neverending Story, a German guy (and man, is it German - you know, in a totally great way). It's title in the US was The Grey Men after the creepy bad dudes, that literally sucked time out of the world (smoking it in cigars).

2. Charley by Joan G. Robinson
I love Charley (her real name is Rowan). She thinks she's being sent to an aunt who doesn't want her so she runs away and makes a home in the chicken coop, then goes a bit wild and loopy. I love all the survival aspects, how she scavenges food and drink. It's a good blend between Famous Five adventure and something a little more psychological without ever being truly dark. It's a great abandonment tale with a neat little twist and a satisfying ending.

3. Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden
I haven't read this for years, and love everything Rumer Godden has written. But this was the one I love most, because it's a doll story and a Christmas story.

4. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (closely followed or perhaps trumped by Greenwich)
Actually the whole series really. Dark is Rising is probably the essential volume. But Greenwitch I loved because it was a very female story, about a deep power associated with coming female adolescence.

5. The Silver Crown Robert C. O'Brien
Everyone should read this book. That is all. ANd I snuck in a token American.

6. The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
We read this as a class in grade six, then I read it again a few times as a teenager and once or twice as an adult - in fact I think I'm due to read it again. It's about understanding war through children's eyes who get their hands on a gun. I love WW2 fiction.

7. The Little Grey Men by BB
Who was the enigmatic BB? In the day and age the answer is a click away but I spent many hours puzzling over this peculiar pseudonym. Anyway, this was a great book about some grumpy miniature men (gnomes that is) who go looking for their brother Cloudberry. This all sounds twee, but it wasn't at all. This was one of those books I just found one day, wedged in the bookshelf. My parents owned a lot of books and every now and then I'd discover treasures - this was how I first read Seven Little Australians, Little Women and the Billabong Books.

8. Chocky by John Wyndham
My first sci-fi. I think I saw the tv show first but both were good. Wish you could get the tv show on DVD now. Read this in grade two. I remember because it was the year I was at Glenorchy Primary and Dad got it out of the library for me (he was the principal, we ruled the school). Oh NO WAY! Just found the series on Amazon. Gotta get it.

9. People Might Hear You by Robin Klein
I never met a Robin Klein book I didn't want to pass off as my own, but this one is my fave. Got this for Christmas on year and within a few minutes my dog Toby had chewed the bottom lines off the first nine pages. I read it anyway several times (I was a great rereader), and then looked up those lines much later.

10. The Green Wind by Thuerley Fowler
This is a QLB (quiet little book), but has a warm place in my heart.

Cripes, I've just realised how anglo-heavy this is. I read American books too, and particularly liked Paula Danziger - I'm sure she's who taught me how to write dialogue. And Paul Zindel, Betsy Byars, Beverly Cleary's Ramona books...And of course I read lots of Australian books too. Strictly Playing Beattie Bow should go on this list because it was my favourite for absolutely years, but it got squeezed out. Elephant Rock by Caroline Macdonald and Pen and Pencil Girls by Clare Mallory (about a group of south island girls who write and make their own book, including sewing the pages together) are two NZ books I adored. I loved Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit too and I can't believe I made that list without Noel Streatfield's Ballet Shoes or anything by Nina Bawden. Oh I could make this list all over again. Better stop now or I'll be up all night and it will become a top 100.

What are your favourites from your childhood?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Fred is reading the stories tonight. Martin and I are having a night off.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Another post about dreaming

Frederique slept the whole night in our bed last night (and seems to want to return to co-sleeping, which we abruptly and probably cruelly terminated late in my pregnancy with Una – who can blame her considering the freezing cold snap we’ve been having) and had her own clear dream which she told me about the minute she woke this morning.

“There was a girl looking for her ice in the water and it was all turning to ice and I saved her just before she slipped under and drowned. I saved her! And put her on the seesaw and I got on the seesaw. And she told me she had no mumandad, no home, no clothes, no toys, no food and I told her she could come and live with me.”

Which is remarkably similar in plot to the novel I’m writing.

Meanwhile we’ve taken the side off Una’s cot (which confused her a great deal at first, she thought we were breaking it, and now she goes around confusing other people by telling them we make her sleep in a broken cot) so that it’s now a little bed. As a result she gets herself up in the middle of the night and stumbles around the loungeroom in the dark, Martin had to chase her back to bed twice last night. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

the coloured boys

Last night I was reading the prose section in the heart of Gwen Harwood's final book, The Present Tense (1995). It is comprised of what I assume are childhood memoirs, presented as four short stories. The last story has an image that comes of a mishearing. A young woman tells of finding a glass buoy on the beach, and the child thinks it is a glass boy, green in her imagination.
"The glass boy, were his arms jointed to his sides, or did they move like a doll's? Was he a baby boy or a grown up boy? Could you stand him up like an ornament? Was he hollow or glass all through?'
The young woman writes the word down for her, buoy.
'It's something that keeps you afloat in the water. Or tells you there are dangers, like rocks underneath.'
Later as she goes to sleep, in the shadow of modernity (she has just listened to the wireless through a headphone with her friend Alice, her father tells us the wireless will change the world), she mourns the green glass boy 'born of a mistake in my head, floating on the waves in his net cradle.'

This morning Una relayed her dream for the first time. She dreamed of a blue boy, a bad blue-eyed boy. 'And he was on the floor and I sawed it. In bed. And that blue boy have a blue t-shirt and blue legs too and long blue hair and it was really really scary.' He didn't do anything. He just looked at her. When she came home this morning from dropping Frederique at kinder, she checked her room to make sure he wasn't still there.

How real these things are, glass boys and dream boys, lodged in the worlds between language and thought in the realm of the imaginary, on the edge of dreaming.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Melbourne Writer's Festival

I'll be appearing at the MWF this year, along with (eek) Margo Lanagan. I hope I don't melt into a pool of fannishness. I'll have to play it very cool. Very cool.

If you've never read Margo Lanagan, drop everything and go and do it now. Her short stories are the bomb (Singing My Sister Down is a beautiful story with a gorgeous title), but I love her novels too.

We're doing two sessions, one on the 25 and one on the 27 of August.

Myths with a twist
Do fantasy writers avoid reality, or confront it more directly? Are stories with magic in them just a matter of make-believe and play, or do they say serious things? What happens when you allow orcs, ogres and weather-workers into your written world? Margo Lanagan is the award-winning author of many books, including Black Juice, while Penni Russon’s earlier books for young adults include the popular fantasy titles Undine, Breathe and Drift.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

the aesthetics of ebooks

Sometimes I wonder what ebooks will look like, in the future, when we read nestled into our hover cushions.

Will they be beautiful?

I think so.

I hope so.

La la la

There are people in the way
And stories today
open wide
come inside
it's playschool

~Una Pearl

Saturday, July 12, 2008

that's what little girls are made of

This post contains a not while you're eating warning
Ask Fred what bodies are made of and she'll tell you the following: bones, skin, blood, chicken.
I tried to convince her that it was called flesh. She was very certain though. Chicken. 
The other white meat.
Anyone hungry?


"The unsaid is that which advances literature, that which it explores as a virgin or submerged land. Ghosts are born of the unsaid. Children are particularly sensitive to them: they hear the specters shake their chains in the attic, they believe in monsters under the bed, they notice the stirring of creatures in the cupboards…What is hidden from them is always concerning death or sexuality: and these fundamental questions, passed in silence, oblige them to structure themselves using ghosts, to trust their imaginations to clarify the world... Fantastic literature is the fear of the dark which is rediscovered by adults. With regards to conjugal, familial, and social scales, what happens silently makes itself heard in one way or another: it is a map of psychoanalysis. To write is to give a voice to ghosts."
Marie Darrieussecq

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Sad Demise of Bedda

Bedda is dead.

Sad but true.

He grew old, got sick, had an accident and then died. All before he could eat his first mouthful of breakfast.

Bedda, for those of you who don't know, is Fred's imaginary friend. We've had him for nearly exactly two years, he joined us on a holiday in Queensland. Recently he became a part of our family, his own parents died and so we kindly adopted him he became Fred and Una's imaginary brother (Fred says imaginary in the same way she might say 'German' - to her imaginary is just another way of being real).

But now, Bedda is gone. Fred is quite sure about this.

Maybe he will come back, I say, far more stricken than Fred about this sad news (she did cry about it, but she was already crying about something else, and conveniently threw Bedda in for good measure).

No Mum, Fred tells me, sadly but firmly. When people die they don't come back.

Maybe he was just sleeping very heavily. Maybe he's not really dead. Maybe it's a mistake.

Fred tells me I need to get over it. Bedda's dead. Move on. She doesn't quite say it in those words, but she does cheerfully inform me that now Bedda's gone Hallie is here! Hallie's come to play!

I remain stubbornly grieved about Bedda. I'm not even faking it. He can't die. He can't. Martin is more callous. He had to go sometime, Martin says. But I don't believe that. Not really. We could have accommodated him forever in some small dusty corner of the house.

Will he be a ghost? I ask Fred.

She shakes her head.

How's Bedda today? I venture at the dinner table, hoping his death will prove to be a temporary affliction.

Fred rolls her eyes. Dead.

Eglantine's Cake Word Picture (pretty)

Either I blog about cushions more than I blog about Una or Una is one of those words wordle automatically screens out.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Pens down, heads up

I've finished another novel. No balloons, no Sale of the Century streamers descending from the ceiling, no fanfare. Just a dual sigh of relief - mine and Martin's. (He is always relieved when I finish a novel, don't know why, I am an absolute pleasure to live with while I'm writing.)

It is drifting in that no-man's land now, where the email and attachment has been sent but there's no one in the office to take possession of it yet. It has no title (it's working title is Ruby-lee, which is the name of the main character), but it does have a beginning, a middle and, my favourite, an end. It appears to have a story, a quite pleasing shape, and a teeming populous of characters, all of whom I love, even the dastardly Spence. I already feel a bit sad to leave them to their own fortunes (I will stop feeling sad when it comes back to me to be fixed - at the moment it is perfectly whole, soon all its springs will go sproing and little nuts and bolts and random screws that never seem to fit back in will scatter over the floor.)

But for now it is done. It is done.

No time to pause, tomorrow, back to all my beginnings and see what can be finished next, posthaste.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In four and a half childfree days

I flew over an ocean and went to a teeny little country I'd never been to before, a country I'd underestimated and one I will go back to. On the way back, flew over snow capped peaks.

I explored a small harbour city that reminded me of Hobart.

I wrote over ten thousand (good) words and nearly finished my current novel (though I didn't come up with a title unfortunately).

I read four novels
Jaclyn Moriarty's The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie
M.J. Hyland's When The Light Gets In
Helen Garner's impeccable The Spare Room
Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now
Perhaps they paled in comparison to The Spare Room, but I have whinges and criticisms of the other three. Short version: I couldn't quite go with the silliness of the story of Bindy, though I thought JM's characterisation was perfect and actually very moving as well as genuinely laugh out loud funny. When The Light Gets In was frustrating to me, possibly for the reasons that made it an adult novel instead of YA despite the fact that it had a teenaged protagonist (basically the main character doesn't develop and there's not much story - the sentences were exquisite though, some of the best sentences I have ever read). How I Live Now perhaps faltered from Guardian Book of the Year-itis. I kept waiting for the story (of the year) to start and then I looked and realised I must be in the climax because I'd already read a lot of book, but there was still no story. Very interesting and inventive juxtapositions, just not, ultimately, as successful as it could have been. I wish someone had let me write a structural report on it. Actually ditto for all of them except The Spare Room which might be my idea of a perfect novel. I think I might have to write a post about Helen Garner in the near future.

I enjoyed good company, a view of the ocean, a bed to myself, simple food, long walks, museums without having to do the kid's bits, secondhand book shopping and only drank 2 glasses of champagne (one at the airport before we left).

Highlights: shopping at the supermarket without children, writing in a sustained burst (a month's worth of writing in five days), the views, chewing the fat with Kate, long walks, observing people, finding my passport the morning we left after a very long frantic search late into the night and after ringing Kate and telling her we might have to cancel the trip (and yes, it was in the first place we looked, just wrapped up in some other documents), buying duty-free Baileys on the way back.

And, of course, the welcome home.