Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And Now for a Little Eyecandy

Speaking of BFFs... check out Zoe's new etsy store. How freaking cool is that? What a coiffure.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Last year we inherited a turtle, when my BFF moved to Tassie. He is the
He is tranquil and restful when in the water, but a dynamo on land - man that turtle can move. With purpose. He eats worms (both frozen bloodworm cubes and fresh ones from the garden) from our hands. The girls are responsible turtle owners - Fred takes him for walks, and the girls take it in turns to feed him. We have all been suddenly seized by the desire to expand into dog ownership (much fence building needs to occur before that day, so it probably won't occur until someone around here decides to bring in a proper income - I'm looking at you Una), but we will always have Snappy to love, and I will always respect his profoundly peaceful, zen-like silence.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Letter to the Productivity Commission

To The Commissioners

I am an Australian author and freelance editor, published in Australia and the US.

I believe the proposed changes to the current importation and copyright regulations will adversely affect Australian publishing, without due benefit. There are many links in the chain of book production and retailing. While I sympathise with the pressures that booksellers face in competing with international sellers, and while I believe that making (internationally produced) books cheaper for consumers has some obvious short term benefits, I simply believe that the losses will far outweigh the gains.

Simply, we have a wonderful publishing industry in Australia, an industry that contributes to the intellectual, cultural and imaginative growth of Australia – from which we all benefit. The fact is that this is possible because Australian publishers are able to compete in a fair market. Please don’t threaten our cultural heritage in the interests of a marginal discount (which may or may not be passed on by the booksellers to the consumer). Brick and mortar booksellers can offer plenty that online booksellers don’t offer, such as attentive customer service, a tactile experience, personalised recommendations and ambience… They can also offer free postage within Australia, as Readings does on their website, entirely negating the advantages of ordering cheaper books from overseas and then paying the alarming postage costs. Online competition does not have to be a death knell for local booksellers.

Books are a unique product and should never be treated simply as a consumable object – they are not a toothbrush or a shoe. They are still the most effective way we have for transferring ideas from one person’s head to another. They must be looked at as both a consumer product and as a mode of cultural production. Books help us grow, they help us understand each other, they help us work out who we are as a nation, they educate us, they show us where we have been and where we are going, they fill us with ideas and knowledge and possibility and hope. We need books about Australia, by Australians, for Australians. And in a market where Australian publishers cannot compete, such books will become an endangered species.

Best wishes,
Penni Russon

Monday, January 19, 2009

What I've been up to lately

1. Rearranging the furniture. Amazing how much of a difference that can make. I love our house so much more now that we have a 'cul-de-sac' lounge room, instead of a walk through one. I so want to pull up the carpet, and have been getting some peer group pressure on Facebook to just do it, but I need Martin's complicity to move the furniture out of the way. We've got a few more changes planned, a lick of paint for example, and we're both keen to get rid of the conara fireplace and get a split system instead.
2. I've been asked to teach a novel class or two this year. 3rd year students. Looking forward to it because teaching is fun, and phew, because it takes some financial pressure off.
3. Rethinking my PhD. I got knocked back, did I tell you? Turns out no one wanted to supervise a digital novel. Le sigh. I can't say I blame them, I'm not sure I am brave enough to write one. Anyway, so I am oscillating between shopping around for braver souls, and creating a whole new proposal, which is bringing up all these other issues about PhDs generally. What are they for anyway? To contribute something to the academic landscape? Or to showcase your skills? Or for personal development? (I suspect I'd get a different answer from everyone). But I don't really know how to answer the question for myself. The reason I proposed the digital novel was because it was an opportunity to get funding for a novel that would otherwise possibly have no other income stream, but would offer something up in a new and developing field, and would potentially help my publisher wrap their heads around how the pitfalls and possibilities of publishing digital narratives.
4. Applying for a job (gulp). It's a part time lecturer position in literary studies, but they emphasise Creative Writing in the ad. While I'm not wildly overqualified, I do actually meet all the requirements and I actually think I'd be great at it and that I would love it. It interests me that I want so much to apply for it. I love the idea of a clearly delineated worklife for a while. I love writing and being a writer, but sometimes I hate it too. Perhaps I shouldn't be allowed to peruse job sites when I have writer's block. But it's only a part time position, so I'd still have time to write in theory
5. Getting Una settled into a new creche. After the recent post we found out that there was a place available at the next door's ex-creche (Tommy finished up last year). We rang up, secured Una a place and went to take a look. It's a bit of a drive and it will take some logistical planning to get her there and home, but it's a STUNNING centre, a really beautiful space, with a good staff and a very settled feeling. Una is in the kinder room, with a qualified carer and a kinder teacher, so I think it will be a stimulating environment for her. We've got one day and we're going to talk about a second day, for her sake and for my sake. I've gone from having 2 days a week to work to 3, maybe 4. It hasn't quite relieved the pressure in my chest, but it's a start. I think I'll feel better once we're into the rhythm of our days - the school year begun for all of us. (Since starting this post I've had another visit at Una's creche and we've definitely got a second day - yay). This centre basically fell into our laps, but I don't think I could have chosen a better one for her.
6. We went to see Bolt - it was Una's first cinema experience, and the first time we'd taken Fred for about a year. They both stayed till the end (bonus) and no toilet visits (*gobsmack*). The movie was actually a bit of a miss, though both the girls enjoyed the characters and were reasonably entertained. Neither of them grasped the Truman show type concept that Bolt was a television star who believed he was really the super-hero character he played. Which means pretty much for them, there was no meaningful narrative whatsoever. We had a lot of confused questions and equally confused explanations as I tried to convey real and pretend to them in the context of movies and television. Which is funny-strange, because they have no problem with metafiction in picture books, they have a sophisticated notion of the layers of storytelling. Martin and I were both mildly entertained by Bolt, but I felt that there was a layer of story missing, and it was quite slow in the middle. I'm thinking of taking them to Desepereaux before school goes back. It was exciting being at the movies, Martin and I don't go very often. I have heard mixed reports about the movie but I am a huge admirer of Kate DiCamillo, who wrote the book on which the movie is based.
7. And I've been reading and researching Thumbelina and related fairytales, as well as dollhouse and mouse fairytales and stories, particularly Beatrix Potter's Two Bad Mice, which is mine and Fred's favourite story, especially the line: "Then there was no end to the rage and disappointment of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca" which is the best example I know of telling rather than showing for maximum impact. This is for the fairytale in Only Ever Always. Apart from that I have writer's block thank you very much, and no I don't want to talk about it.
8. And finally Martin and I have been sticking needles in our eyes trying to have a reasonable conversation with [Home Loan Company]. You see, as a writer I get paid at all sorts of different times, and so we pay our mortgage with a lump sum well ahead of schedule. So it turns out the nice man who said that he would make that work for us has actually set up our account so it goes into arrears, we get a credit note and then they take the monthly payment out of our redraw. Which makes us look like bad mortgage people, when we're so not, we're suckhole good mortgage people who always make our payments well ahead of time. We need to borrow off our mortgage to buy a second car, but it's looking unlikely at this stage because of this situation. Surely there must be other people in our position, other primary producers like farmers and artists and small business owners whose repayments need to be made in lump sum payments. Luckily Martin's been making the calls and managing to keep his cool as he explains our situation for the hundredth time to yet another small backboneless fish in the big murky bog that is [Home Loan Company].

Monday, January 12, 2009

Blue Milk's Treechange Questions

I posted towards the end of last year about how much we're loving living where we do. As much as I miss the city at times, my heart is here for now, and even if we won tattslotto, we'd probably stay in this house (with some renovations and a nice writing retreat in Fitzroy). Anyway, Blue Milk asked some questions about the logistics of living out here, and I thought I'd post the answers for everyone.

I imagine you work from home but what about your partner? Does he have a long commute or did he change jobs to somewhere more local?
Martin is currently studying education, this year is his fourth and last year. He has a looong commute on the days he's at uni but this has never been more than 2 days a week. He has one day a week (and then later in the year a six week block) in a school. The commute to uni was always long, even when we lived in the city. Luckily he has always been able to make arrangements with local schools. The hope is that next year when he starts working he will be able to get a job close by. The beauty of living on the edge of the city is that there are plenty of schools in driving distance, and in fact some of Melbourne's so-called top tier secondary schools (Martin will be qualified for primary and secondary) are in relatively easy driving distance. The thing that always stopped us moving before (we'd often thought about moving to Tassie in the past) was Martin's work, so this was part of our motivation for giving up his income for four years while he became qualified for a job that would allow us to live in a regional area (there were other reasons he chose teaching too, including a passion for kids and literacy and learning).
I do work from home, though sometimes I work in schools conducting workshops etc. If I need to I stay at a friend's house in the city and she doesn't seem to mind. We are about 15-20 minutes drive from an express train into the city, lots of people do commute daily into the city for work.

Do friends still come out to visit you or have you had to make new friends?
Our friends still visit and we visit them. We live 45 minutes to an hour drive from most of our people. There are a few friends we see less often, but I think that would have happened anyway, as school and work commitments sank their claws into us. We have made friends around this area, we get on well with our neighbours, in fact it's the best relationships I've had with my neighbours since I was a kid. Martin and I also spend a lot of time at home, always have done. We see people most weekends, and I sometimes drive in to the city to hang with friends during the week, Martin often takes the kids to his parents house during the week too. Things will change this year when we're tied to the 9am drop off and 3.30 pick up of school.

Will you drive your girls to activities or do you see a life without too many music classes and such?

I am not that into activities, one of the things I think we get from having almost an acre and kids next door and kids across the road and living on the edge of 11 hectares of bush reserve is a release from that feeling of needing to program them into healthy outlets for all their pent up energy. I like that they have access to lots of space with lots of freedom. Instead of activities my focus is on giving Fred independence - encouraging her to walk out the front gate and around the road to the driveway (a short walk for a grown up, an adventure for her, and a good preparation for going down to the local shop on her own and buying lollies, which I can't wait for her to be able to do), or going and buying herself a drink at the local market without us with her. Having said that, there are dancing classes in the next town (Una did a great preschool class that was loose and easy, but there is proper ballet too), a ceramics class and music lessons for kids after school at the local school, horse riding in the local area... And there will be sport options no doubt, I guess we'll find out about those - and other things we don't know about yet - when Fred goes to school. The main thing we lack is a pool, the closest one is about a 20 minute drive away, though next door have put in an above ground one. The girls will learn an instrument each, hopefully we'll find a local teacher. And I imagine they'll both have their turn at horseriding or ballet or whatever.

Did you have trouble finding good schools where you moved to or were you lucky?
Not really, we actually had the opposite problem. We had three primary schools to choose from, a big one with heaps of shiny resources and a really fabulous reputation about a 10 minute drive away with a local bus service, a smaller one with an amazing principal about 8 minutes away (adjacent to Fred's really lovely kinder), and a very small one a walk away, that is in a bit of a state of flux. We chose the very small one after a lot of toing and froing, mostly because we like that it has a very strong focus on the big kids looking after the little kids and we knew Fred would like to be where everybody knows her name, and I HATED the idea of driving her to school when she could walk. My main concern is that there will be no kids in Una's year, we haven't met many in the area her age, and those we have met are going to other schools. But we'll just have to wait and see.
High schools aren't going to be a problem if we're still out here, there are two to choose from. One is a so called 'top tier' (sorry I hate that phrase), the other sounds really interesting as well.
I should say here that my main focus on school for them is that they like being there, or at least that it doesn't suck too much and that they have an opportunity to find out what they love. I am realising I don't especially desire them to graduate in the top ten percent of the state. I don't even know that I believe in 'good schools'. I went to the same school as my childhood friend Lydia and she's a vet. I so could never be a vet, and I would have said the science in my high school was absolutely substandard, but somehow it was good enough for Lydia to get into Vet Science, or my other friend and neigbour Mike to become some sort of Antarctic scientist. I have been to several unis in my time (Adelaide Uni, Flinders, Tas Uni, Monash, Uni of Melbourne - yeah I know, fickle much? Plus I've been to Tafe at RMIT) and the posh ones were absolutely no better than the others, in fact if anything the opposite is true (far and away the one I'd personally recommend over all of them is Tafe).
I don't know if we'll stay in the area when the girls are teenagers. At the moment I'd love it if we could afford to move back in to the city when the kids are in high school, not so much for the schools but to be able to give them more independence (there's no public transport here, apart from the school bus). But who knows? I might change my mind about that.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Linky Post

Sometimes you just have to link:
to funny things on Amazon of all places
and to someone intelligently saying all the things you couldn't quite articulate about the proposed changes to publishing laws in Australia, and not wanting to go back to the dark old days when Australian publishing consisted of sheds that stored books written overseas
And then saying it again just as well
to editors laughing at themselves
and I really don't know what to make of this - incredible, disturbing, beautiful, confronting and a little sickening: the colour of consumerism, the gendered colours of childhood.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Me and My Dad

New Year's Day, 2009

Monday, January 05, 2009

Oh, nine?

Yes. It is '09.

This year Frederique will start school and I feel deeply ambivalent about it. I am pleased for her because I think she will be happy in an environment composed largely of kids and the early years will suit her, where there is still some freedom to wander and giggle and chat and play. I am excited about all the things she will learn, I am excited about her life opening outwards, away from us, I'm relieved that some of the pressure of how her time is to be passed day in and day out is to be taken off us. I am looking forward to her developing a deeper relationship with the 6 girls who are going from kinder and with the two new girls in her class. I am looking forward, with reservations (reservations being that I don't want it to take over what's left of my social life), to becoming a part of the school community.

But I am also grieved. Not just about the fact that Fred's moving onto the wider world, though I am aware that she'll be bringing home some big kid concepts that I'm not quite ready for (words like dickhead and everything having germs - 'There are no germs in this family' I tell Fred firmly. I always hated the prissy kids who wiped the tops of the bottle with their hands before they had a sip - and for heaven's sake, what do you think is all over your hands anyway, germ freak?) My sadness really comes from the loss of freedom. Fred is the first one in the family to tie us to the school year. Next year Martin becomes a teacher and the year after Una goes into prep. As much as I'm looking forward to all that alone time to read write, I am sad about losing all our loose and easy, non-prescriptive, spontaneous time. I also wonder if St Andrews will start feeling further away from the world when I'm tied to the 9am drop offs and 3.30 pick ups.

I am also sad for Una, who will be spending long weeks at home. We still have no childcare for her and the competition in this area is only getting fiercer with two ABC centres closing down. I am going to be home with her for 3 days and Martin will have her for the other 2 (yes, during which time I will write novels and do speaking gigs and generally keep the family afloat - insert weak laughter that may turn into torrents of tears here). We are also down to one car - we had been borrowing a second car but its owners needed it back. We're investigating getting a second car, but even so, I think Una will have a lonely year - we don't have many kids her age in our lives, and most of them have parents with insane schedules.

For the record, for anyone who has been reading for a while, we finally opted for the local school, after Martin saw the whole school on excursion at the Museum, and observed the relationship between the biggies and the littlies (I was convinced by an excursion as well - they caught the train into Collingwood and walked from the station to the children's farm, that's a pretty impressive journey). We figure we chose this area for our kids for better or for worse, we owe it to them and to the area to support the infrastructure here. Plus I read something compelling about how kids in small schools LIKE school better than kids in big schools. And to be honest I couldn't get my head around sending Fred anywhere else. I think both Fred and Una are very self-motivated learners and I hope a small school environment will be nurturing for them. My one big fear is that Una won't have any other kids in her class (there was only one girl prep in '08 and just three boys), so far all the kids in the area we've met in Una's age group are going to one of the other schools.

Round Up.
'08 brought a new nephew into our lives. I become a great aunt. The Indigo Girls was a bestseller in Angus and Robertson and I was invited to appear in the Melbourne Writer's Festival. Drift was rejected by the American publishers. Sale figures for the second and third books of the trilogy have been, frankly, disappointing and I grieve for Undine, because she is so real for me. Sales figures for The Indigo Girls have been exciting and before Christmas it went into reprint - it has sold over 10000 copies. I wrote Little Bird (which will be another Girlfriend novel) and I think it's a really, really good book. I traveled with Fred. I went to Paris. I totally surprised myself by falling in love with Hong Kong. I went to New Zealand with Kate. I lost about 8kgs by being French. I wrote half of Only Ever Always - and I think it's the best writing I've done - and promptly got stuck. I finished my Masters. I toured the Wimmera. I toured Tassie with Lili, James and Kirsty and hassled the Hutchins boys ('it's not pink, it's magenta') and had a fabulous time. I watched my beloved father-in-law come to terms with his diagnosis and fight it and marveled at the strength and resilience of his wonderful wife, my husband's mother. And I parented Fred and Una and loved them fiercely, even when I sucked at being a mother. We had a beautiful Christmas with Martin's extended family (my family too now of course) and then drove up to Mildura and saw some members of my family I hadn't seen for years, and it was wonderful.

I am going to make some New Year's resolutions. I resolve to. I'll let you know when I do.