And some good news - Cicada Summer has been officially set free into the wild.
Good luck, little book. I hope you thrive out there. You're small, but you're beautiful and tough. Let's hope you'll find people to pick you up and love you.
I heard something on the radio yesterday that made me fume. A politician (it may have been Big Kev) was talking about domestic violence. "X number of people suffer domestic violence every year. This costs the economy x amount of money." (my emphasis)
WHY is it necessary to assign a financial cost? Shouldn't it be self-evident that people getting hurt is a bad thing, and that we ought to do whatever we can to stop it? Have we really been so blinded by the fetishisation of economics that human pain needs a monetary value before we can acknowledge it? Why does that have to be the main argument for trying to do something to stop it?
My husband, who trained as an accountant, has pointed out that, because whatever solution the government proposes will cost money, they feel the need to highlight that not fixing it will also cost money. I concede the argument, but reluctantly.
And at least they are doing something. Which is good.
Meanwhile, the temperature outside is zero!! No wonder I couldn't get out of bed this morning. (Note for readers outside Melbourne -- for Melbourne, this is really, really cold.)
Last week my cousin and her partner from the UK stayed with us for a couple of nights, on their way between Torquay and Cairns. Phoebe is taking her surfboard around the world; she lives in Cornwall for the surf. They've done Bali and New Zealand, and the next stop is South America.
I wish they could have stayed with us longer. Partly because the girls adored them, partly because we did too, and it seemed that just when we'd reached the point of being totally comfortable with each other, it was time for them to leave. But also because I have a huge debt to repay.
When I did my Big Trips to Europe and the UK, I shamelessly abused family hospitality. I stayed with my aunt and her family not once but lots of times. I practically moved in with them. I gatecrashed the family caravan holiday to Wales (and went brown for the only time in my life, under the gentle British sun). It was gorgeous. My cousins had a donkey and a pony and guinea pigs, they played piano, they painted their own Christmas cards. They squabbled and made up. They lived in The Old Cottages. I felt as if I'd stepped into a Noel Streatfeild story.
Three of those cousins have now made it to Australia - Amelia is the only one who hasn't got this far yet (we think she's in Turkey). When I made my first trip to England, Amelia was 7. Now I have a daughter that age. And the more family members she gets to meet, the happier I'll be.
Always reassuring to find signs that someone is reading the books out there in the whirly old world (apologies to Martine Murray). A lovely review of Winter Of Grace from New Zealand, which says in part:
Winter of Grace is a realistic account of one young girl's journey of self-discovery - wrapped in the world of activism, friendship and love without being smarmy preachy.
It's well-written and takes into account (without being shy) the issues of a largely invisible section of our teenage society.
Which was exactly why I wanted to write it. My favourite bit of the review is where the reviewer's daughter (who read it first) says "I cried and cried." I love it when people cry. Especially if they're not related to me.
Also, someone has drawn an excellent portrait of Calwyn, Darrow and Samis from the Tremaris books, which inspired Alice to draw her own version. While we were discussing what Samis and the others looked like, Evie looked up from her own drawing and asked, in seeming amazement, "Did you make those stories, Mummy?" (She's heard them on audio.) "WOW! You're really clever!!"
Ahem. Thanks, Evie. She's just starting to grasp what it is I do for a crust. Alice is totally across it and often places orders for what I should write next. But I haven't made her cry yet. Hm.
I've mentioned before that it's one of the ironies of the writing life that by the time a new book appears in the shops, the writer has long since moved to the next project, or even the one after that.
For reasons beyond my control, I've been forced to interrupt the current WIP to think about the next cab off the rank. I had planned to try to write an adult (!) non-fiction (!!) book about Australia's relationship with Papua New Guinea, and I'd begun some general research (ie reading lots of books from the library). But gradually I started to wonder if this kind of book was what I really wanted to write. I don't know if I have the mental rigour and discipline for non-fiction. And it's a massive topic. Could I do it justice? What would my angle be?
Finally, like a snowfall settling on my shoulders, a decision drifted down: I would write a novel.
Instant relief. I can still explore the same issues that I find so fascinating - independence and colonialism, childhood and maturity, love and passion, the wild freedom of PNG, its violent beauty, the fraught relationship between the colonised and the colonisers, hyprocrisy, racism, dependence. What are the limits of love for a country that doesn't belong to you? What is the greater responsibility of a parent - to protect or to let go?
I can ask all the questions I want to ask, but in fiction I can ask them sideways. And I don't need to come up with all the answers.
I've just finished reading an advance copy of Cicada Summer to Alice. Once we'd started, she wouldn't let me stop, and when we'd finished, she pronounced it the second best book ever (after Martine Murray's Henrietta The Great Go-Getter) and demanded that I read it again immediately.
It's gratifying to have such a positive reaction, even from a biased source (though I should point out that I'm only her third favourite author, after Enid Blyton and JK Rowling.) The funny thing is that Cicada Summer has turned out to be an almost perfect book for her - the main character, Eloise, is like her in many ways, and the younger girl that Eloise befriends, Anna, has turned out to be spookily similar in personality to my younger daughter Evie. When my mum remarked on it I thought she was imagining things; but on reading the book to Alice, I've discovered that it is indeed so. Anna and Eloise interact in much the same that Alice and Evie do. Anna is volatile and sparky and cajoles the introspective Eloise out of her melancholy, and she also dreads being alone, which is one of Evie's hates. The deserted house, the secret summerhouse, the paintings the girls make together, Eloise's dislike of new people, her sadness and her reclusiveness, all hold a special appeal to Alice.
None of this was intentional. When I first started to write Cicada Summer, Alice was only four (she's now nearly eight) and her personality was only just beginning to emerge. Her sister Evie was hardly even a person, she was only eighteen months old and certainly not in a position to serve as a model for a nine year old character. But somehow the book and the child have grown to meet each other, at exactly the right time.
Like about one person in ten, I am left-handed. Apparently left-handedness is more common in boys than girls, but all the lefties I know are female — my sister (though neither of our parents is left-handed), my arty friend Sandra (leftiness is correlated with artistic ability, though sadly not in my case), and one of my daughters.
We lefties have suffered a hard time over the years. We've been bullied and persecuted, discriminated against and even associated with the devil. The Latin word for "right", dexter, gave us dextrous and dexterity; the word for "left", sinister, gave us well, sinister. In lots of languages, the word for left doubles as the word for unlucky, clumsy or downright evil.
Scissors, computer mouses, keyboards, musical instruments, notebooks and cameras all tend to be designed for right-handers. It can be tricky for us to learn hand-writing; we can't see what we're doing, and sometimes we curl our hands over the top of our pens. Left-handedness has been associated with autism, schizophrenia, stuttering, and learning disorders such as dyslexia, and indeed it seems likely that my leftie daughter may well have dyslexia.
The good news is that lefties also tend to produce a larger quota of high achievers, geniuses and creative artists and thinkers (hooray!) There's some speculation that the wiring in the brain that results in left-handedness also produces a tendency to think in visual synthesis (seeing the big picture and perceiving patterns in the whole) rather than linear analysis (methodically going through the steps one by one). Lefties are supposedly better at multi-tasking and solving lots of problems at once.
Not that this is necessarily helpful when you're a lefty struggling with a right-handed world. Just thinking about it now, I realise my hairdrier is right-handed, our stereo has all its buttons on the right-hand side, and so does the microwave. And of course, the car is configured for a rightie — all the important controls (accelerator, brake, lights, indicator) are on the right, while the left hand gets to deal with, wow, the radio and the windscreen wipers, and the left foot does nothing! When I was served tea at the hairdresser's the other day, she automatically placed the tray on the right side of the bench, so I had to lean over awkwardly to help myself. These are not things I brood about, I'm only just thinking of them as I write; these minor irritants are so much part of the fabric of a lefty's life, I take them for granted.
How I would love to reconfigure the world for a day, and have everything on our side for once! And it might be kind of fun to watch all the righties fumbling for a change…