23 June

2011 (aged 44)
Evie's seventh birthday. 'Mummy, were you surprised when I was born and you had a puppay instead of a human baby?'
'Yes, Evie, I was very surprised.'
2009 (aged 42)
We try to explain Holy Communion. Alice: Why would anyone want to eat Jesus? That's ludicrous!

Alice to Evie: Do you want to play vets?
Evie: I don't know. I'm a bit tired, being five all day.
2004 (aged 37)
Evie was born, at 11.16am at the Royal Women's Hospital. The cord was wrapped around her neck and they had been monitoring her heartbeat very anxiously for a couple of hours beforehand. I suppose I should have been frightened at the sludgey, uneven throb from the monitor, but when they told me, if you don't push this baby out in the next ten minutes, you'll have to have a caesar, it just seemed like a challenge I would have to rise to. I pushed, and she slid out, small and pale, and they rushed to grab and untangle her, and they gave her to me. She had a scratch on her cheek because her arm had been squashed up beside her head. Unlike Alice, who yelled and glared furiously around at everyone in the delivery room, Evie was sleepy and serene. A perfect little baby.
2002 (aged 35)
Trying to dress Alice, she crawls away & has to be enticed with her new GLITTERBALL!! Michael waves bye bye; Alice waves after he's gone.
1998 (aged 31)
(New York) Awake and ready ages before DC who wants till snooze till 10 and is right in holiday mode. Finally managed to prise him out then set off on tour of Seinfeld sites - primarily Tom's Restaurant, aka Monk's. Walked through Central Park then DC's turn to choose activity so we went to Virgin to shop for CDs!! Stayed there for hours getting tired and grumpy but didn't complain.
1996 (aged 29)
Consumed bucketful of margaritas with MT, discussed casual sex... He said, how could he know now I was putting him in my novel that I wasn't saying things like that just to see what he'd say? Which is crediting me with a lot more cunning than I actually possess!... Oh dear I'm really not up to working this morning - feeling quite seedy.
1993 (aged 26)
and there is dancing but dancing isn't everything
1987 (aged 20)
Had lunch with B; planned to open an ideologically sound bookshop with a baby upstairs. The new Cure album is brilliant.
1986 (aged 19)
Resolved to be good and wrote a timetable. Went to EVERYTHING!!! B turned up for lunch. Apparently he was shocked by my revelations of 3/6, had thought I was a paradigm of virtue. Oh well.
1985 (aged 18)
Candide rehearsal till 5.30 then home feeling whacked. Chatted to DT 3 times!!! Tea in front of Countdown.
1983 (aged 16)
English essay due (I hope - blame Rachel)
1981 (aged 14)
Rather depressed. Cried under slightest provocation in English. My stupid rainfall graph looks like a contorted rabbit.
1978 (aged 11)
I had a rotten day! These are the rotten things that happened - 1) Miss Wilkie made me rewrite a Social Studies letter. Now it's not a letter. It's a list. 2) Miss Osborn was away, so there was no library, no library lesson, no books. 3) We got unfair Maths homework. A few good things happened but not much.
1977 (aged 10)
I did my poem book. I dropped a duster out the window and Mr G teased me. We played keepings off and kicking.
1976 (aged 9)
Daddy is going to Port Morsbey for three days and I woke up early to say goodbye. Olny worked on Chitty; no school work. Chitty looks marvalous I made the windscreen.


The One True Reader

Sometimes, on school visits, I'm asked if I've written any novels that haven't been published. And this is the story that I tell.

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel called Alison and Jordy. It was the story of a couple of diffident twenty-something friends who couldn't quite manage to translate their liking for each other into romance. These two characters were, of course, based on myself, and a friend and workmate of mine who I really, really liked, but was never sure how much he liked me back.

Anyway, I was going off on an overseas trip and I gave the manuscript of this novel to a mutual friend to read -- a very unusual thing for me to do, by the way, as I am very protective of my works in progress and never show anything to anyone. However... while I was gadding about in Scotland and New York, this friend, absolutely without my knowledge or permission, gave the manuscript to the real life 'Jordy'.

(At this point all the girls in the audience usually gasp with horror.)

When I discovered that she had done this, I was completely mortified. Now 'Jordy' would find out how I felt about him! I would have to front up to work every day, with him knowing that I harboured this massive crush! How humiliating... how embarrassing... How could I ever look him in the eye again?

Well. The day I arrived back in Australia, 'Jordy' turned up on my doorstep. Not long after that, he confessed that he, too, harboured certain feelings that he'd been too shy to express... And we've been together ever since.

(At this point all the girls in the audience go awwwww!)

The manuscript of Alison and Jordy is still in my bottom drawer. It has never been published, and I daresay will never be published. But that doesn't matter, because, even though I didn't realise it at the time, it was written for just one person to read.

Happy (almost) anniversary, Mikey.

(And thank you, Sandra!)


Whither the Children's Book?: My Two Cents' Worth

In her excellent, thought-provoking post, Misrule discusses the state of the children's novel.

Obviously I must admit to some bias here. But deep down, I believe that the perfect children's novel is perhaps the highest work of art to which the writer can aspire. It's even possible to argue that the children's novel can discuss bigger, (purer?) issues than the YA novel, because it's not yet caught up in all the messy, personal business of identity formation and burgeoning sexuality. The children's novel routinely deals with death and grief and love and pain, and the deep delight of being alive.

The really good children's novel plants seeds in the rich and hungry soil of a child's imagination. The really good children's novel is a uniquely satisfying reading experience.

Off the top of my head (by no means an exhaustive list, but from a quick scan of my book shelf), here are some the children's novels that 'built' me - not just as a child, but as an adult reader:
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken
Skellig, David Almond
The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy M. Boston
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper
Arthur: The Seeing Stone: Kevin Crossley-Holland
Charlotte Sometimes: Penelope Farmer
Down In The Cellar: Nicholas Stuart Gray
A Wrinkle In Time: Madeleine L'Engle
The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: CS Lewis
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe: Penelope Lively
Anne Of Green Gables: LM Montgomery
Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Treasure Seekers: E. Nesbit
Playing Beattie Bow: Ruth Park
Tom's Midnight Garden: Philippa Pearce
Swallows and Amazons: Arthur Ransome
Harry Potter: JK Rowling
Marianne Dreams: Catherine Storr
Ballet Shoes: Noel Streatfeild
Charlotte's Web: EB White
And I've left off heaps of books that I loved, and still love -- these are just a handful of the books that I think offer some special nourishment to the reader - a taste of philosophy, an introduction to ethics, a poetry of language, a richness of imagery, a model of courage or truthfulness, or a glimpse of the sheer breadth of the world out there, before and behind us.

Many, but not all, of these titles contain an element of magic, or the uncanny, or a crossing from one time into another. (Adult writing which enters this territory tends to be thrust dismissively into the 'spec fic' basket... but that's a topic for another time!)

But perhaps what the really good children's novel does (and I'm thinking aloud here) is open out the boundaries of the child's world a little. It pushes and pulls and stretches, it exercises the muscles of imagination and empathy. But it's not just 'teaching' something - it is art, a thing of beauty and value in its own right, and without them, the world would be a poorer place indeed.


The Elimination Challenge Update

Well, faithful reader, we have not been rigorous about disposing of one item per day, but the elimination challenge is underway!

In the corner of my bedroom is a bag of old clothes (mostly too small for the children, but also including a never-worn dressing-gown of Michael's). A pair of ancient jeans and a skirt I've worn every summer since 1994, transparent with age, have been consigned to the rag box. A box of 21 good-as-new but unbeloved books wait on the dining table to be donated to a charity book sale. A towering pile of magazines has been dumped in the recycling bin. Some random hats and a pair of holey sneakers have also bitten the dust.

It doesn't sound like much, but it's a start.


Gen Z Have Already Taken Over

 Scene: our house, before breakfast. Michael and Kate idly watching Evie's fingers fly over the computer keyboard.

Michael: You know, I think she can type faster than me.
Kate (wanders over to look): Nah, it's okay, she's just typing gibberish... (looks more closely) No, wait a minute -- she's typing backwards!!

Dna ehs saw. Yrev ylkciuq.


10th June

2011 (aged 44)
Very grumpy. Yelled at the children and succeeded in making their moods as bad as mine.
The dishwasher has died.
These facts may not be unrelated.
Rang C for a coffee.
2010 (aged 43)
Evie has decided to be a vegetarian. 'Because the animals should die when they feel like it, not get eaten by us. It's not fair.'
2008 (aged 41)
Evie: This can be a skirt. It can. Did you know Diddy is a transforming blanket? 
2005 (aged 38)
Go for walk to creek. Evie eats tan bark. Alice says, 'What a beautiful noise that is, with a woof-woof here and a tweet-tweet there.'
1998 (aged 31)
(Glasgow) C hungover. Spent most of the morning writing an air letter to MT. Shops all shutting early in preparation for the World Cup match - Scotland v Brazil - David v Goliath. J came over and we drank red wine, ate haggis and taties and watched the game. The city shut down for the duration and probably the whole country did too. Sat up doing tarots.
1996 (aged 29)
Working on Aust Council grant application which is making me feel sick like an exam!... Now I'm formulating ridiculous notions about kissing MT after k.d. lang on Wednesday. I should know better than that, but I can't help it. But in a way it is enough to have these feeble plots and schemes. The crush is still ON - bit of a worry... Asked if I could put him in the novel and he said yes but now feels under pressure to say funny things.
1995 (aged 28)
intense physical awareness - the space between them
the dissolution - the dissolving into dark, at last the dim red glow flanking the screen fades
but it's not made up just of evasions, silences, omissions, the elisions from frame to frame, there is substance there as well
1993 (aged 26)
People are looking at me today. I can't work out whether it's because I look good or because I look ridiculous.
1991 (aged 24)
Well, I'm on the plane and have just eaten a surprisingly delicious meal -- they were right about being a vegetarian -- I got blackeyed beans, dolmade, sprouty salad and strawberries!
1990 (aged 23)
C's brother is being held hostage on a yacht full of American millionaires which he accidentally sailed into Cuban waters. The Sun rang C & asked her, 'Do you think he deserves the treatment he's getting?' C said, 'What do you expect me to say, yes?'
1987 (aged 20)
I was sick in bed with a cold yesterday and D brought me flowers - isn't he wonderful?? Nothing in the world could have cheered me up better. 
1986 (aged 19)
Woken at 8 by C, vr pissed off cos had to wash up all glasses etc from Wine Soc bash last night... P sat at our table and hasn't noticed I'm pissed off with him! How dense can you get?? All men are bloody thick or bastards or both!
1985 (aged 18)
I love it, I love it, feeding Prince of Wales tea to cultured boys in my room at 2 in the morning and quoting bits of 'The Leopard' to each other. That boy is a FIND!... How long can this go on??
1983 (aged 16)
Midsummer Night's Dream rehearsal 4 - 7.30!! History questions; practise Speech
 1981 (aged 14)
Interform sport. WE WON THE HOCKEY!! First winning team I've ever been on!!
1977 (aged 10)
I don't think TB likes me any more. We played poison ball and netball. I miss E, and she hasn't written for ages. Maybe she doesn't like me either?
1976 (aged 9)
2 wrong in maths and 3 ticks for my story. It was called 'Caught in a Storm.'.


Do You Hear The Bells?

I've been indulging in a Penelope Lively binge. I've written elsewhere about The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, and while that remains my favourite Lively, the three books I've read in the last week or so all share a common theme with the story of James and his battles with Kempe's recalcitrant spirit. In these three novels, all written in the early 1970s, some element from the not-quite-buried past irrupts into the present day, with dangerous consequences. This is absolutely my favourite kind of story, and it's the kind of story I hope I've written in Crow Country (albeit transposed into an Australian setting).

In Astercote, a sleepy village is galvanised with fear and paranoia when a hidden treasure goes missing. In The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, a re-enactment of an ancient ritual calls up unsuspected power and peril for the ignorant performers. And in The Whispering Knights, for a slightly younger readership, three children who make a witch's brew are dismayed to find that they've accidentally unleashed a very old and very frightening being, who threatens their whole village.

The English countryside is a strong presence in all these books. There is a sense of history bubbling beneath the landscape like a current -- invisible to the naked eye, but immensely powerful, and ultimately uncontrollable.

'... There's a funny feeling about this place sometimes, and the wood specially.'
'Oh,' said Evadne casually. 'The bells, I suppose you mean.'
Mair stared at her. 'Do you hear them?' she asked in astonishment.
'Not now. But I used to years ago when I was younger. About your age, I suppose -- no, younger, I think... You have to be in the right state of mind to hear them. Kind of open, receiving things from all directions, not thinking too much -- dreaming in the daytime, not knowing if its Monday or Tuesday, or morning or afternoon... that really only happens when you're a kid.'
In Lively's novels, the children spend long, idle (unsupervised!) days wandering the fields and woods, fishing, lying in the sun reading, exploring cliffs and quarries, brewing up magic spells in deserted barns.

I wonder if kids, these days, still have a chance to dream in the daytime; if their senses aren't so crowded with electronica and organised activities, that they're still open to receive those faint signals from beyond. Can any of us still hear the lost bells of Astercote?


The Elimination Challenge

I had a brilliant idea for a blog the other day, but I'm not sure I have the guts to follow through with it (also, someone else has surely done it already).

I looked around my cluttered house and thought, what I would like to do is get rid of one thing every day for a year, and blog about it.

Oh, the first days - weeks, even - would be easy. The ill-fitting op shop skirt bought on a whim - GONE. The lumpy clay object that Alice made at kinder six years ago, gathering dust on a window sill - GONE. The manky old shampoo bottle that Evie plays with in the bath - GONE. Outgrown clothes, neglected toys, the jar of dried beans that's been in the back of the pantry for three years.

But then things might start to get a little tricky. There are books I could sacrifice. There are stuffed toys I would gladly see the back of. I could probably tip out the big fruit bowl full of accumulated crap and buy myself a month right there - scraps of wool, pencil stubs, tram tickets. But when all those easy items have been removed, what next?

What could I live without? Do I really need four vegetable peelers? Eight saucepans? A cupboard full of ancient lunchboxes and superseded drink bottles? All those frocks? All those BOOKS? Those essays from Year 10?

If I was brave enough, I'd go through every room of my house and apply the classic tests: is it useful? Is it beautiful? Do I love it for some other reason? (Because it was made by a child, or inherited from an ancestor, for example - the only possible reason for hanging onto Nana's old perfume bottle in my sock drawer.) And I wonder, at the end of it, what would be left. And I wonder how much resistance I'd meet from the rest of the family. Michael would be into it -- he's a great one for chucking out (sometimes a little too enthusiastic, if the truth be told). But the girls would HATE it.

What I really need is a catchy name for the exercise: My Year of Paring Down? The Simplification Test?

Yeah. That's what's stopping me.