Monday, September 16, 2013

This is how I made the dark

Avery: Waving his yellow spade unearthed from the toy box. I dig in the garden?
Me: It's raining and it's dark. So no.
Avery: I see? Flings back the curtain. Where's the garden gone?
Me: It's night time.
Avery: Is daaark! How you make it?
Me: Make what? The dark?
Avery: Yeah. The dark. How you make it?
Me: Shivers. Because we are up to that bit and I didn't even realise. 
I am explaining about the earth and the sun – it all sounds very unlikely – when Avery tugs on my sleeve.
Avery: Mum? I have a problem.
His problem is he wants bread and butter.

'Mum?' Avery says to me as I type this.
He thinks for a moment, now he has my attention. 'I have a dinosaur?'
'You want a dinosaur? What sort of dinosaur?'
'A greeeen dinosaur.'
'Um,' I pat my pockets, glance around. 'I don't have a green dinosaur.'
'Oh. A yellow dinosaur?'
'I don't have a yellow dinosaur.'
'Where's the red dinosaur? Where's the blue dinosaur? There's the red dinosaur.' He points. I turn around and look. But there's no red dinosaur. He laughs.

Even a month ago, Avery's conversational powers consisted of asking questions prefaced with 'Where's...'
'Where's Freddy?'
'Where's Una?'
'Where's Daddy?'
Lately he's been asking after some slightly more obscure people, like my niece Crystal who we saw at Easter, or my friend Kirsty's daughter Maddy, who joined us for coffee one morning when she had a doctor's appointment and wasn't at school.

But this is another leap again. Jokes and misdirections. Conceptual questions that shows he understands cause and effect. If the dark is here, who made it? He makes a theory, Mum made it. But how?

This is how I made the dark: I made the boy who opened the curtain and saw the light was gone.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Frederique is offended

I have a job. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and some Fridays I go into the office to work, other days I work from home. The job is working with youth mental health professionals, writing therapy for young people with depression and for carers of young people with depression. It involves lots of research and problem solving, story-telling and buckets of characterisation and back story. I am really enjoying collaborating, and, just, working actually. Meetings. Lunch. You know. With other people. And a regular paycheck. And shiny, shiny superannuation.
Today the car was in for a service. The girls were booked into before and after care, Avery had a day at creche. Martin and I travelled most of the way in together. I caught a bus and a train the rest of the way, riding through familiar inner suburban territories. Brunswick. I always wanted to live in Brunswick. Yeah, we are not affording that, even with two incomes. Even with shiny super. And the girls think the city is polluted.
I do the reverse trip back to Martin's work in Thornbury.
We pick up Avery first. We drop into the supermarket to get emergency supplies: peanut butter, cottage cheese. As Martin performs this errand, Avery and I sit in the car. Someone honks their horn. Avery says 'Is that. An angry man?' he speaks in very distinct clauses though sometimes his words run together.
Next stop is the after school care.
Freddy slides into the backseat, while Una juggles two large pieces of three dimensional craft, her bag and a notice.
'Hi, Freddy,' I say. 'How are you?'
'How's that working out for you.'
'Fine!' She rearranges herself. 'Guess what I did on the computer today?'
 'I found your blog. And I read it.'
'Did you?'
'Yes. AND you said your children are ghosts!'
I laugh.
'Did you say that?' Una asks. 'Your children are ghosts.'
'Oh, probably. That sounds like something I would say.'
'That's offensive!' Fred says.
Una says, 'That's racist.'
Fred tells us she's been feeling a little bit sick. Her knee hurts where she fell on it on the weekend and she has a flashing pain in her foot. 'It's FLASHING,' she says. 'It comes and then it goes. It comes and then it goes. And I've got bike ed tomorrow.'
When we get home, Martin origamis various seats in his little car to get the bike in. We mentally engineer a convoluted drop off arrangement for tomorrow, because only one child can fit in the car with the bike.
As soon as we come inside I put water on for the rice. We have stir-fried beef and salad. Fred says she is still feeling sick, but she eats all her own dinner and Avery's meat. Avery eats half his rice and the rest is distributed around the floor, grains adhering themselves to the towel Martin has put under his seat. He also eats several pieces of tomato, which is his nod to salad.
After dinner, Una sets up her violin practice. I take off Avery's clothes, ready for the bath, and Fred finds a spot. She calls me over. Lots of spots, all over her tummy, her neck. She turns around, on her back they are already beginning to blister. 'Oh,' I say. 'Oh dear.'
She begins to wail. 'Not again.'
Third time. Chicken pox.
She says, 'But I've had it three times in a row.'
By in a row she means once when she was 2, again (suspected but never confirmed) when she was 5 or 6. But there is no doubt that this, at 10, is the pox.
All night, in the bath, getting dry, getting dressed and reading, every now and then she will begin to wail again and she cries out in sheer disgust 'Spots!'
Avery is intrigued. He and Una have both had the immunisation, but (because Fred has had it apparently twice) we haven't ever had Fred vaccinated - it wasn't on the schedule when she was a toddler.
So this is it then. Working life. Complicated and sort of...spotty.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Save the Mercy Family Birth Centre

Dear Health Minister David Davis and CEO Mercy Health Stephen Cornelissen,

I am writing to call on you to stop the closure of the Family Birth Centre at the Mercy Hospital for Women.

I had three babies in the centre. My first was born in the hospital in 2003 when the hospital was still located in Fitzroy. I would walk to the hospital from my little house in North Fitzroy. My waters broke but my contractions didn't start. This could have been a dangerous situation, however I was able to transfer to the regular labour rooms to give birth. My only negative experience was a doctor who addressed all the medical information and argument for me to proceed with the induction to my husband. "If it was my wife, and my daughter..." I wrote a birth plan before I transferred, using the the education I had received at the FBC in both the prenatal classes and my appointments. With the support of the midwife who took me over and the lovely midwife from the regular labour room who attended the birth (the doctor popped in at the beginning and end), I was able to have the birth experience I wanted and was transferred back to the Family Birth Centre to recover. One particular midwife, Rose, taught me the art of breastfeeding (a suprisingly difficult skill).

My husband was able to sleep over. This was probably the best part for us. We started our life as a family together. He wasn't thrust out when visiting hours were over. There was no culture of "letting mum rest" as is he was somehow outside the mother baby bubble. In fact he allowed me to rest, by taking the baby into the sitting room so I could sleep soundly, knowing my newborn was cuddled in her other parent's arms rather than in a plastic crib somewhere. He was sitting beside me at three in the morning as Rose taught me to express my milk, and how to know if the baby was latched on. This was not secret women's business. This was our family coming into being.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


When I was eighteen I was working in childcare. I was in a rocky relationship with the best friend of my ex-boyfriend and I shared a flat with both of them for a while until it was obvious that this was crazy. Being with the new boyfriend masked the fact that I was grieving the old boyfriend, who I had been with for two years, which represented a fairly significant proportion of my life to date.

I moved into a little cottage with an attic bedroom on my own, where I struggled to pay the rent and keep the house clean and ate very little, squatting over a two bar radiator watching a portable black and white TV. One day I came home from work to find that the owners had slashed all the jasmine and fuchsias that grew thick and verdant as a fairytale in the backyard.

I was lonely. I didn't like working, nor did I feel very good at the job, though I loved the kids. Hating work made me feel like a failure, and so did the loneliness of living on my own, and my badly managed finances, trying to get my head around concepts like electricity bills and hire-purchase. I felt bookish and weird compared to the other mostly young women working at the centre; I was reprimanded for using too many big words. I missed friends from school, but I didn't know how to keep in touch with them. I was tired all the time.

I had this idea I wanted to Be A Writer. I sort of thought it meant feeling all the feels and writing it down on scraps of paper and going to the bookshop on Sundays and listening to In Liverpool on repeat and owning more than one cat. No, actually, to be honest, I had no idea how to be a writer. I mean I did scribble things on paper and I did go to the bookshop and own cats and listen to that one song over and over but I had no idea those things had anything to do with being a writer, nor did I realise that hating my job, stuffing up my relationships, loneliness, money worries, cat ownership and the burdensome, instinctive and sometimes joyful love I felt for the kids were all part of growing me into a writer.

Anyway, in the midst of all this the Tasmanian Writer's Union advertised a short course with Jan Owen over two weekends. In a rare moment of self-determination, I somehow registered for the course, paid, and managed to turn up on time to the first session. Somehow I knew that to be a writer, I needed to get out of my house, talk to other people about writing, and show my work to people who could give me feedback. The class was most middle aged people (middle aged meaning anything over 28, though in my memory most of them had grey hair), and I remember very little about them except one of them said she was allergic to bananas and I didn't quite believe her. I know I was a novelty to them, the youngest by far. I felt just as socially awkward there as I did at the childcare centre, I did not find my people. But I remember Jan Owen was very kind and sort of pleasantly surprised at my writing. I loved being in a serious learning environment, talking about poetry as if it was as tangible and important as electricity bills or my immutable work hours.

Tragically, I turned up at the wrong time or on the wrong day for the second weekend and missed the follow up session.

But still, some element of the learning experience stayed with me. I did not suddenly start to write more or submit poems to magazines. I was not Discovered and Nurtured by Jan Owen. It was a step in a lifelong journey towards writing, and seeking the company of writers, and always being on the lookout for teachers. I continue to meet teachers in all sorts of places, occasionally in a classroom. Some of my best teachers have been my students. My children teach me a lot, just as the children at the childcare centre. I learned all those years ago that if a boy steals sandwiches out of someone else's bag he is hungry, but he is not just hungry for sandwiches. That if a girl is smarter and funnier and kinder and smaller than her parents, you cannot steal her, but you can keep her forever and she can make you a better writer. That a fox can't eat a big brown bear.

My lifelong love of learning, the feeling of security and "at homeness" I have in a classroom environment fairly naturally led me to teaching. When I was doing my Masters, my supervisor said, 'hey, you know stuff, wanna teach?' And teaching is something I love to do. To me teaching is a collaboration between teacher and student, much like the editor-author relationship. I love the dialogue, the refining of thought and experience. I love questions, the ones I ask them, the ones they ask me, but especially the ones we ask of ourselves.

In July I will be teaching for a month of Saturdays at the Victorian Writer's Centre. The course is called Voice is Character is Plot and it's an introduction to writing YA for anyone really, at any stage. I'd love it if you'd like to come along. Information is here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Penguin Specials

I am intrigued by the Penguin Specials - bite sized ebooks that can be read in a sitting. Penguin has a long tradition of exploring short form literary non-fiction and fiction, publishing it in cheap and accessible formats, and so it is little wonder that they have found a way of exploiting the potential of digital publishing. I was enchanted by The Element of Need by James Bradley, a short haunting meditation on the violence of the city of his young adult years and was terribly interested when I saw Sonya Hartnett had also written one - I bought both at the same time. Shortly after I was given the opportunity to review Gideon Haigh's The Deserted Newsroom via Netgalley.

Hartnett could write a shopping list and it would resonate with mysterious and unsettling possibility. In some ways shopping list is an apt description of Life in Ten Houses, though it is a list of what she has already shopped for and bought - a list of the houses she has purchased over a period of about 15 years and a reflection of her writing life within them.

In typical Hartnett style this is very pared back, incredibly potent in terms of sense of place, telling and yet so much left unsaid. As someone who arrived to late to the real estate boom I had to stifle jealousy in places. Yet what shone through for me was a kind of connectedness through place (a similar experience to reading Sophie Cunningham's Melbourne).

James Bradley's The Element of Need is subtitled Murder and Memory in Adelaide. I spent six months in Adelaide at the age of 19 and I have to say I found the city a strange and disturbing place - mannerly on the surface and underneath, shadows - though my experience was tinged with bad love and homesickness. I remember talk of serial killers, at the time it was considered very dangerous to walk through the parklands which entirely surround the city centre. There was a spate of attacks going on.

Bradley's account of his own young adulthood in the city, layered with the city's shadowy past, is compelling, like a long dream. I have not read many essays that examine so closely the experience of being a young adult in Australia's regional centres, and I was totally beguiled by this violent, poetic, reflective piece so beautifully balanced against a bigger picture.

The Deserted Newsroom is comprised of five pieces that originally formed part of Crikey's Brave News World series. Haigh deftly navigates the pitfalls and possibilities of a changing industry, negotiating the optimism, nostalgia, gloom, despair and utopian idealism of a decentralised media to examine the deeper implications in the changes that have already taken place and what this might mean for the future of news circulation and consumption.

I often say when I give talks about being a writer that I am not a journalist because it takes me too long to decide what I think about things. As much a junkie as the next person for the fast news cycle that abounds in online news reporting, I actually much prefer longform, deep, contemplative writing that can only happen in retrospect. The Penguin Specials offer an intriguing opportunity for curating, inspiring or archiving a variety of cultural projects and in this case it is particularly fascinating to think of the context of publication - a piece of digital writing about the future of digital writing, particularly in light of the Penguin Random House merger and what that might signify for the Penguin brand.

These specials remind me of a written form of a really good podcast. The kind of thing to have on the Kindle to read when you want something reflective, intelligent but achievably consumable (say when you have a sleeping baby in the backseat of the car and you want to give them another twenty minutes rest). Pricing is a bit arbitrary, Bradley's is $3.11, Haigh's is $4.16. I am not sure how the pricing will work for them, on the one hand, a few dollars is not much to pay, but in a competitive industry, where so many apps, podcast, epubs and other media are vying for our time and bit change, it is possible that even $4.16 might seem prohibitive. Hopefully not, because the above titles are highly recommended.

This is a mash up of reviews that have already appeared on Goodreads but I wanted to put them together.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The best thing

It's the day after Frederique's 10th birthday.

I have been playing the game. You know the game? This one:

This time ten years ago, it was an uncharacteristically warm late April, the sun was like syrup thick in the trees, and the air smelt of the changing colour of the European trees in Fitzroy gardens, across the road from the hospital.

This time ten years ago I was still in hospital, caught in suspended animation between before and after in the perpetual muted twilight of the birth centre.

This time ten years ago, I looked down at this complicated thing, bundle of limbs, this puzzle. Did I know her then? Did I see the first glimpses of who she is becoming? The expanding infinity of her?

Or: I did not know her then, what makes me think I know her now?

Or: do I know her the best I am ever going to know her? The pure dark whorl of her id inflating to block out all other sources of light and information. She hasn't yet learned the complete art of hiding the wildness of desire. She is hungry, but for what? She feels, all jangling nerve ends, all raw appetite. As time passes and she slowly perfects the skills of concealing, delaying, fabricating, will I know her less and less. As she solves the riddle of herself, will she become more and more a puzzle to me?

Last night she gave me a hug before going to bed. 'What's the best thing about being alive so far?' I asked her. She thought for the briefest moment and in that moment the tangled mess of her seemed just below the surface and I thought it would be a question she wouldn't be able to answer. But she surprised me.

'Books,' she said. 'I couldn't live without books.'

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Necessary Labour

I have a story in the latest edition of Review of Australian Fiction, a digital literary journal powered by

The inspiration for my story is this post from June 2011, "The choices we make that choose us":

It can hard not to feel faintly (or overtly) accused when people you respect and admire make different choices from the choices you've made. Or the choices that made you: the choices that erupted from nowhere - the volcanic variety - and shaped you. ...The choice not to have children is not actually an event, it is a continuum......We have made a life for ourselves, hewn it out of raw materias, carved it from the landscape. There are rich rewards for this kind of life, and there are penalties too, and you show me the kind of life where that isn't true. ...Parenthood is something other than the pinnacle of existence. But this is because existence is a continuum too. There's no pointy end. ...I couldn't have made an informed choice about motherhood before I had babies (how could I have known what it would be like?), I choose this life. I choose these kids. I choose this me – because of and despite everything.

I hope you love Missy and can forgive her the choices that she made and didn't make and the choices that have made her. Personally I think she is too hard on herself. I wanted to write about characters who faced different obstacles and different potential outcomes from my own experience. This is one of the "Lotta" stories, a series of short stories featuring characters whose lives are touched (sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, like Missy) by a four year old girl Lotta, who changes the way they see their own circumstances. Another of these stories featured in Issue 6 of Kill Your Darlings.

The other story, Lost and Found by Kirstyn McDermott, is a story of the restorative power of child's play, and the strange territory somewhere between real and pretend that we all (but especially children) navigate daily (think about this the next time you hand over money for things - how easily the world comes unstitched). As regular readers of this blog know this is one of my very favourite themes, so Kate Eltham has done a brilliant job as guest curator and matchmaker.

A Necessary Labour and Lost and Found are available for the bargain price of $2.99 and you might want to check out some of the other issues too, some of my very favourite authors are on there.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Last Day of Earth

The sky is a terrible colour to make the two girls cry,
but I sign that it is colour of lemon juice.
Other happy yellows I can remember
jonquils in winter daffys in spring
a plastic sippy cup passed between them as babes
the liquid gold of sun in winter entering a room.

Anyway, it’s a day and what is there to do
but go to the outside laundry
take the wet clothes from the machine
and hang them out to dry,
bring in yesterday’s sheets.
I shall teach you my children
how to survive the end of the world:
first you take one corner, then you take another
and you walk together like this,
it’s a dance.

Tiger doesn’t want to help, misery gutsing,
but Sibbi, the youngest, likes the work.
You sleep in the sheets, I sign to Tiger’s face. You sleep here,
you can help. I am not your slave.
We stew tea, eat the last of the bread.
When will Daddy be home? Sibbi signs.
I press my thumb in my palm, dip my finger: Later.

I fill the kitchen sink with water
look out the window at that awful shrinking sky.
Tiger stands beside me, picking up a towel.
Sibbi squirms in under my arm.
I draw them to me and we take it in turns to
name the colour
with our fingers:

Dandelion, duckling, bananas, best dresses.

Sicky-bub, I think. 
Urine stain 
weeping pus
Tomorrow it will burn.

I sing them to sleep in cool clean sheets.
Everything I have ever made,
I have made with these hands, even their names.
Even the song of their names.
When finally they drift off
the silence I live in is complete.
I wait for their father to come home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Profit and Loss

"You taught me language; and my profit on't 
Is, I know how to curse." 
Shakespeare, Tempest

my own words
splinter from my
daughters' tongues
the curse I taught them
profit and loss

I have given them spears
they will hunt
the little birds

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


She comes home and a man says
you can’t live here anymore.
Before she has a chance to look inside
at the furniture poised for flight
(coffee tables on ballet feet tiptoing about,
all the silly wingback chairs looking for a way out)
he shuts the door.
Three children play watchfully at the garden’s edge
and they are almost her children –
oldest girl with dust-brown hair,
middle child with starfish eyes
round morphing toddler made of both his sisters,
his hair cut in a perfect bowl
with blunt scissors.

She has stayed too long staring, the man appears
at the window and shoos her away,
curious neighbours have begun to gather.
She looks around and doesn’t recognise a soul.
She waves herself on, ‘Never mind,’ she calls,
‘My mistake.’ Are the children sorry to see her go?
Who knows. The oldest scoops the youngest up,
the baby wraps his arms around his sisters neck.
They keep playing, in murmuring whispers,
their serious game. She walks up the driveway.
They disappear into the outsized ornamental grasses.

As she walks up the road it as is if she is dragging
something conspicuously heavy behind her.
The faster she walks the more it’s there
until it grows its own shadow.
Oh, she says, taking a breath, It’s you.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Elise in Emptytown

On Oakwood Street Elise walks down
to meet her friends outside the shop,
flips open cokes and drinks them down,
there’s no one home in Emptytown.
She’s made for more than this she hopes.
For now she doesn’t say a lot.

She’s not fifteen, knows nothing much
of science, maths or poetry.
School drags on and stays the same. Such
a pain. Sometimes she longs to touch
the boy beside her (any boy).
She lives for friends and loyalty.

On Saturdays her parents drink
they start up early afternoon
Dad begins: ‘You know, I think…’
opening beers over the sink.
Elise can’t have the girls around.
Not Beth the gossip, staring June.

Elise walks down to meet her friends
They loll and watch, they wait for boys
discuss the ones they like. “Depends!
Girls, do you want boys? Or men?”
Elise likes Tom but doesn’t say.
She’s easy lost inside the noise.

Weekends, down the hill they come.
What secrets in Kasey’s house, or Beth’s?
People say June’s dad left her mum,
and Emma’s dad, he’d prefer a son.
There’s no one home in Emptytown.
Her fists are clenched. She holds her breath. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Solitary Dung Beetle and the Vast Milky Way

A beetle tumbles its elegant wad
guided by the galaxy’s streaky rim,
diffuse directional cue or distant god?

Head down, moving steady but backward,
kicking the ball along with his hind limb.
a beetle tumbles its elegant wad

in straight lines. He stops to climb aboard.
and looks to the stars. (Do the stars observe him?
Diffuse directional cue or distant god?)

He knew a god once, when he was a word
drawn on walls: scarab beetle, painted twin.
A beetle tumbles its elegant wad

and considers the whole universe, plaid
patterning of the stars, high and pale and thin
diffuse directional cue or distant god?

But time stops for no beetle. Plod plod plod.
Before sky goes dark and stars grow dim
(diffuse directional cue or distant god?)
a beetle tumbles its elegant wad.

Based on this article, linked to on twitter by @bluemilk