Thursday, March 29, 2007

Page 69

A little while ago, Marshal Zeringue (isn't that the best surname? No author could come up with a name that great) asked me to apply the page 69 test to Breathe, which I did and you can read my response here.

For those of you who don't do hyperlinks, the gist of the page 69 test is: is it representative of the rest of the book? would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on? I don't think I specifically answered that second question in my response but hell yeah. It's about SEX isn't it? (Yeah, now you're linking). It's fascinating reading the responses by the way. Most people do seem to find that page 69 says something meaningful about their book. I wonder if that would apply to any page.

Marshal's website also gave me the idea for six word stories, I've been writing heaps - they're fun but quite tricky. Here's a sci-fi one I wrote in class the other day: "Came to earth. Met a girl."

More news on the 6 word story tomorrow. (I have an idea for a little competition).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When I was one I was just begun

I just realised Eglantine's Cake, on the 8th March, turned one year old.

Happy birthday Eglantine. I should have baked you a cake.

Coco and her dolly

This one was for a little girl called Ellie who recently turned 4. Martin & Fred found Ellie at the park round the corner one twilight.

Great news: kids in childcare are independent, social and playful - also know as disruptive

Day Care likely to cause disruptive beahviour

Well, duh. Stick 'em with their peers and they learn stuff, and it's not the stuff Baby Einstein wants to learn 'em, that's for freakin sure.

But what's so bad about disruptive anyway? I constantly struggle with the issue of words like disruptive, compliant (it rubs me up the wrong way), even the word one really calls what I do, what adults do, good or bad 'behaviour'. It's a way of talking about children and animals - it's a way of objectifying them, of somehow feeling that we have jurisdiction over their emotions.

Fred is wild and chaotic. If she was an element she'd be fire. Fire can be contained, and it's beautiful and essential and without it we'd die, but it burns and it can just as easily break containment and burn out of control. But even then, in the destruction there's renewal, there's regeneration. And you don't smack fire for being fire. Yes, she's disruptive. But disruption can be a strength as well as a weakness. I feel it's my duty as a parent to teach her how and when to use it for greater good. Yes, she needs to learn that there's a time to sit down and shut up and that some battles are pointless and a waste of her energy and talents. She also need to learn how and when to apply the kindness, compassion, bravery and empathy that she also has in spades, and she needs to learn that her imagination is one of the things that makes her human (not to mention fun and funny). So what if running wild with other kids (which seems to be at least 50% of the childcare day - or I hope it least) makes her disruptive. Oh my god, could she be having...FUN? Stop the presses. Childcare may be linked to fun.

I am so over these articles and studies about whether or not child care is good or bad or indifferent. It is. Childcare is. Until the average houseprice in Australia comes down by a lot, or fully paid parental leave extends to four years per child, child care just is. So stop fartarsing about with your studies and fix the problem of lack of choice, lack of places in quality centres and lack of supportive encouragement for parents to choose the work balance they think suits their family best.

End rant.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Three New Men in Fred's Life

1. Ralph Covert
Ages ago I stumbled across the Australian Ralph's World site (I think via the now defunct kiddley site) and clicked on the link that said 'sign up for the mailing list and get a free cd sampler' because I am not allergic to free, and then promptly forgot that I'd sent a whole bunch of intimately sensitive personal details through cyberspace. So flashforward to weeks, possibly months, later (I really have no real grasp of the passing of time) and a lovely big envelope arrives with a poster and a cd sampler.

Ralph's World is music for kids and it's GREAT! Burn the wiggles down, Ralph's World rocks! Fred loves it, Una loves it, I love it, Martin loves it. The five songs on the sampler have been in high rotation since they arrived. It's kind of poppy and folksy. Ralph Covert (I think that's his name) has a rich, sonorous singing voice which I could listen to all day. They're good for singing to, they're great for dancing to and all the songs are winners. Recommended. Martin said he saw a CD in Borders in Melbourne Central but you can buy them online too (there are heaps).

2. Mr Beast
Mr Beast is a picture book by James Sage, illustrated hilariously well by Russel Ayto. It's one you need to read a few times to 'get' what's happening - Mr Beast is actually the main character's dad, pretending to be a deliciously scary beast. It's great because you need to look at all the visual clues for the story to make complete sense, but they're not glaringly obvious - it's a book both Fred and I have really engaged with. It's a relationship a lot of kids can probably relate to - lots of dads seem to take on this 'pretend/safe scary role' in play. Fascinating really.

3. The Stinky Cheese Man
I first fell in love with this book when I was about eighteen and used to hang out in the picture book sections in Hobart bookshops and read all the books. The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales is metafiction, which means it's a book that constantly draws attention to the fact that it is a book, for example the table of contents is part of the story (it's what falls on chicken licken's head). There's quite a lot of metafiction in picture books, it's a genre that lends itself well to a discussion about the conventions of the book and subverting the relationship between reader and text, inviting children to 'enter the text' as if they actually might fall into bookworld (like Lauren Child's Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book) and change the story. Metafiction is a great way to introduce kids to the power of stories. It also gives characters that are usually stuck in their own stories a chance to narrate their own version, to express their point of view, which I think could be empowering for kids. There are also some really funny rewritings of familiar stories (like the ugly duckling who just grows up to be a really ugly duck). I thought Fred might be a bit young for it and a lot of the metafiction elements goes over Fred's head, but she really wants to wrap her brain around it, so we've been reading it over and over. It's long, but she doesn't care and I don't really either, it's clever and funny and written in a romping style which makes it eminently readable.

Both these books are from our local library. Love the library.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Reviewing? Or just a good bitch?

There's a bit of a blue happening over at the Sarsaparilla blog at the moment. To summarise, Kirsty put up a post about television reviewing in general but in particular reference to Ian Cuthbertson who writes for The Weekend Australian Review section. Basicaly she says he's not up to scratch because of his contempt for both television and its watchers. The comments generated by Kirsty's whinge quickly became split into two camps and turned into a bit of a 'journos vs the academics', which actually makes strangely compelling and amusing reading, if occasionally slightly undignified (a few times I felt sullied just reading it).

Anyway, it made me start thinking about television reviewing. I think there's two types of television review actually. There's the more considered and thoughtful engagement with the material and context (the kind of review I think Kirsty was hankering after), which is akin to other kinds of thoughtful reviewing - book, film, theatre music etc. But then there is a more informal commentary (really most suited to the more relaxed medium of television) in which the reviewer becomes your friend on the couch dissing popular culture with relish because one of the things Australians love is a good bitch and one of the safest contexts in which to do it is in front of the television. We see it, for better or for worse, as cathartic. We even call bitching 'venting' as if something dire might happen if we don't let it all out.

What's interesting about this though, as the Sarsaparilla post and the comments show, is that while Australians love a good bitch, we often don't deal with direct confrontation very well. When we bitch there is a usually a certain tacit complicity of agreement (whether you agree or not), which only enhances the pleasure of the bitch. Bitching isn't fun any more if someone actually calls you a bitch. I saw Kirsty's post as a bitch too, on the same continuum, the bitchiness of the reviews she was reviewing lured her into similar behaviour - serious critique doesn't usually allude to penis size. But my point is, it's not very nice to get caught bitching (in fact it's pretty mortifying) and that's what's happened here. Kirsty's been caught by another clique, equally articulate, equally righteous in their indignation. Sarsaparilla have to close their ranks - what choice do they have? Of course they have to support their writer. Everyone's defensive, everyone's feeling exposed, the moral ground is shifting and everyone's fighting to keep it. And perhaps this makes Kirsty's point for her - this is why commentary as bitching ends up not working out so well, because it divides, rather than creating an open forum and a thoughtful exhange of ideas.

I'm okay with my television commentators sitting back and having a bit of a a point. I agree with Kerryn Goldworthy's point that Australia is a small industry and no one's really so uber famous and untouchable that being called Stoopid in a national weekend paper wouldn't be a bit ouchy. (I'd be pretty upset if I read a review of Undine in a major Australian newspaper saying it was stoopid.) There is a difference between harmless bitching (say, talking a bit snidely about the singing untalents of Aus idol contestants, since they put themselves on that line) and nasty bitching (like, say, saying in a national newspaper that someone on Aus idol has a fat arse or has an IQ smaller than a potato*). Actually an even better example is talking about Steve Irwin as a torturer of animals who deserved anything he got before he died and talking about him as a torturer of animals asking for the animal kingdom to enact its revenge hours after he died, as Germaine Greer did. There's a line that need not be crossed, and most people are smart enough to work that line out. (I'm not in a position to comment whether or not Ian Cuthbertson crossed the line since I haven't the faintest idea who he is.)

I do agree with Kirsty that there is a culture of derision in television commentary. But I think that culture of derision, of undervaluing the audience, of seeing them as 'the masses' and therefore somehow collectively stupid, goes way down deep into the whole industry. From the production of hugely cynical shows like Oprah, which plays on sentimentality and people's feelings of self worth, loneliness and lack of community to make a lot of money (okay, I'm saying that out my ear and I can't back that up with evidence, but this is my blog and I can generalise wildly if I want to) to 'reality' television that bears no actual resemblance to reality to that programming mentality that sticks the best shows on at some indeterminate time after 10pm on an indeterminate day, fiddling about with the order of the episodes to the hour after hour of Simpson repeats... We actually gave up on television with the concurrent emergence of reality tv and the release of every television show ever made on dvd - we still watch television, we still LOVE television, we just watch it on dvd. We rely heavily on word of mouth and criticism (usually user generated on Amazon or similar sites) to make our choices.

If you are going to pop into Sarsaparilla, read the post by Meredith on roadside memorials: All you hear is time stand still in travel. A beautiful and moving post, the kind of cultural commentary I adore.

*the iq of a potato of course being 3.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'm in (professional) love

Anna Walker is the illustrator who's doing the cover illustration for my Aussie Chomp. Her stuff is soooo beautiful!! I love her.

Now I have to think of a title.


Edited to say that Poo isn't the title. It is merely me being writerly and also expressive.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


All my usual commenters have gone a bit quiet. Did I scare you all away with my post about butterflies eating rotting meat and dung?

I had another alternative universe day, working in the office doing an honest day's work (well reading manuscripts and bugging a very busy Elise with over-enthusiastic, I'm out in the world without my children fueled conversation, which is about the closest thing I get to being high these days.) Read a couple of great possible buy-ins (novels published overseas that might be published here), each of them reworking an old story - one vampires and the other fairies. Really original and funny stuff.

Yesterday after uni, I walked through Carlton and Fitzroy to Brunswick St to catch a tram (for those of you who don't know Melbourne, Brunswick St in Fitzroy is where the young and so-groovy-they-might-injure-themselves go to eat and be seen to be seen) and I found myself hankering for day's gone past. Not just the spontaneity of being able to go out after 7pm without it feeling like an ordeal, but also the peer group readily on hand, lots of similarly spontaneous people able to meet us out for drinks or come round to watch a video or just hang out with. All this spare time ballooning around us all. I mean, I know we did degrees and worked and stuff, but still, there just seemed to be a lot of emptiness in all that. I miss it. I think I am only just starting to realise that we won't get that back for years, if at all and of course the new peer group will be entirely new. Don't get me wrong. I love having kids. I've made lots of interesting and some really close friends because of it, and there's something truly magical about those nights when the kids mill about on the lawn while you kick back with a glass of champers. But there's always a part of you wondering if you're going to pay for it later if the kids don't get to bed until 10. I miss being in the city and deciding at the last minute to stay out, see a film, go to a bar. I miss having the energy to do these things! It's not like Martin and I can't get a babysitter or that I couldn't do these things by myself. But it's always a juggle, always a plan. I miss 'no plans'. I miss the freewheeling.

Anyway, just a moan really. I always knew I was going to lose some of this stuff when I had babies. And as much as I love them, as amazing as they are, sometimes I have to mourn the things I gave up, the me I lost, when they entered my world. I wouldn't be being honest with myself if I didn't.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Daily Grind

Life is feeling a bit routine at the moment which is why I have been blogging less. Not so much time to lie around sucking down peeled grapes and thinking about blog posts. Martin is getting back into the swing of uni and is panicking about being a maths student again. Because of his timetable we're in a bit of a trap that every day we both need to be doing busies and we're forgetting to bring the fun in.

I am in the process of refining my thesis topic - apparently melancholy and childhood is a wee bit expansive. So I've decided to concentrate on Neil Gaiman's kid's books (Coraline, Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish), probably also talking about The New Mother and Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass because Gaiman recognises them as influences, and well, because I love them. It feels like a good approach because I wanted to write about books I admire and an author I thought I could learn from. As a baby writer many years ago, I was often thwarted by a quest for atmosphere. I would have some fantastic idea for a story but in the early stages I would become frustrated about not being able to permeate my writing with a particular mood (and that mood was probably always melancholy). I love that Gaiman writes melancholy books but not melancholy characters, his main characters act fueled by their own spirit and agency. He is also great with humour and has a nice light touch with the absurd and the surreal.

I am having a rest from my junior novel (aka Seed or Rosie) and concentrating on my YA chick lit, working title is The Indigo Girls. I've been using a book called Odd Girl out: the hidden culture of aggression in girls to help get into my character's heads (recommended by Kate Constable), since my three main characters are all on different rungs of the social ladder and the construct of "popularity" and desirability is something that comes up. I highly recommend the book. It's a) a fantastic vicarious read because it uses a lot of case studies; b) I found myself remembering all sorts of things from school and just feelings of being a teenager (not in a negative way, although they weren't all good memories); c) it reframes a lot of stuff that people assume is 'normal girl behaviour' as bullying, which is actually very reassuring and d) it does give you some sense of how to deal with it in your own kids as a parent or teacher. I actually also think the book is also relevant to boys and the nuances of their relationships, more than the author gives credence to - or certainly the mixed group of friends I had as a teenager, though of course there is a different potency in boy-girl relationships. Frankly, boys are capable of being as bitchy and underhanded and clandestine as girls, but because its 'girlish' behaviour I bet it's really underestimated as a form of boy bullying both in terms of the act and the consequences (ie boys feeling threatened and damaged by it - I'd argue that boys are just as scared of social isolation as girls, even if they don't quite crave the same intensity of closeness). I'd love to see the study expanded.

Anyway, it was a good read for me at the moment because Fred's peer group have started with the 'You're not my friend' and 'you can't play with us' stuff. I know Fred is occasionally a perpetrator aswell as a victim, since she does it with Una (from what I've observed she doesn't do it with other kids her own age yet but who knows what happens at creche. But I get the feeling she is rehearsing these fluid notions of friendship at home in a safe environment with Una and us and that it will be a few months before she brings it into her peer environment). The book doesn't really talk about how to deal with it at this level, which I think is an oversight as patterns of friendship and therefore bullying start here. We found a lovely book at the library called Together by Jane Simmons who also writes books about a duck called Daisy. I love her soft illustrations and the way she conveys character and movement. The book deals with the issue in a lovely, gentle way (two dogs are best friends, till they realise that the like different things and they say those terrible words, 'You're not my best friend any more', then learn that their friendship is more important than their differences and being friends isn't about being the same).

I tell ya, one of the best things about being an adult is not being scared of your friends anymore. And speaking of which, I'm off to Kate's to bitch talk about my characters.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


"There is another world, but it is inside this one."
Paul Eluard, French surrealist poet

Apt for me today because I am researching insects for a short story, hopefully the basis for a novel sometime in the future. Check this out, an amazing artist who recreates wallpaper and carpet designs with real bugs. And did you know that in 2002 the ceiling of the royal palace of Belgium was covered with more than a million jeweled carapaces of asian beetles, including the chandalier? Here's a picture:

And here's an interview with the artist, Jan Fabre.

Did you know butterflies will 'puddle' (feed) on dung, urine, slugslime, sweat and carrion? Kinda changes things, doesn't it? It's not all nectar and milkweed and pretty wings.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Labour Day Musings

So it's one of those stupid public holidays. Stupid because Martin doesn't actually get it off (which I shouldn't complain about since as a student he gets about 5 months of holidays a year...and that isn't an exaggeration) which means that I'm home alone with the kids. Everyone else in the world is at the beach or otherwise Away. The library is closed. There's not even a mail delivery and I love mail. It's grey and blah outside. And what's labour day? It's not one of your chocolate, present giving, hip hip hooray holidays. In fact I had to look it up on Wikipedia. It's a celebration of the 8 hour day (I think it's the 8 hours rest and 8 hours play that we're actually taking a holiday for). Does anyone actually pay attention to that fact? When more Australians are working longer weeks and apparently suffering for it, according to this report by Relationships Forum Australia.

Martin used to work for a rapidly growing I.T. company (actually I worked for them briefly too) and on the one hand they were very right on about work/life balance...he was able to drop down to four days a week and because I worked from home he scored 6 weeks of paternity leave when Fred was born. But then he shifted departments (with no pay rise) where everyone worked long days (they were all on over twice his wage and none of them had children, but they expected a similar commitment from him). He even got officially reprimanded for reading a novel at his desk in his lunch break because it didn't set the right tone (of course what he was supposed to do was go out to lunch at a fancy restaurant with his co-workers at his own expense, shame on him that he took sandwiches from home). Work culture now is changing...for the worse. Yeah there might be free pizzas on Fridays and you might be able to sit on a beanbag in your weekly staff meeting or wear boardshorts to work. But it used to be that only people who earned high figures were expected to work long days and bring work home, people who had something more personally invested in the company they worked for, a personal stake in the success or failure of the company. Now that's across the board, from entry level to executive level. Everyone's holding up the entire company on their shoulders. I was talking to a friend about a girl at her old workplace who was basically made to choose between her boyfriend who lived in the country (who she only wanted to visit on the weekends) and the company she worked for, who expected her to socialise with her workmates on the weekend. Work is infiltrating rest and play time (which is why companies are putting ping pong tables and rec rooms in their offices - voila, play at work and stay longer), no matter where you are on the food chain. Instead of creating more flexibility, technology means that you never really leave work, because home is another site of work. Work is fragmented, rather than simply being in chunks with a solid knock off time, it's scattered through out the week and the weekend, so part of your brain is always on call (that was Martin's experience anyway).

I think there is a time in your life where work dominates. It's exciting, you're learning new skills and there's something about shared output, common goals and a greater purpose that can be invigorating - you're part of something bigger. If you don't have family obligations (like a two week old baby who hasn't learned about night and day), long hours can be part of feeling that sense of urgency and self-importance, it can be fun to work back with others or immensely satisfying to be the last person to leave the office. However it's a matter of agency and choice and I think that choice is deteriorating, along with the notion of the eight hour day.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dry, so dry

Every now and then Martin and I get despondent about the price of houses in Melbourne, both to buy and rent, and start thinking up possible solutions to our dilemma. A few weeks ago we drove down to Geelong (a small city/large town an hour out of Melbourne). We both really liked the feel of it, like Hobart and Melbourne's lovechild, nice waterfront and city centre, though it has some yucky industrial parts (as does Melbourne of course but easy to avoid them where we live). Geelong has lots of primary schools, a really great looking girl's high school as well as several co-ed high schools and a number of well priced private schools. It's close to surf beaches (not that I surf, but I like open, wild beaches) and national parks.

Then yesterday we drove up to Castlemaine, an old goldmining country town about an hour and a half north of Melbourne. It has a very young, groovy feel, lots of nice cafes, bookshops, schools and architecture and even its own arts festival.

In both these places we could afford to buy a nice three bedroom house with a big backyard and I have no doubt that we'd have a nice lifestyle, nature, good schools for the girls, more space at home for me to write (at the moment I write in the main open plan living/dining area). But the thought of leaving Melbourne's inner north, despite the horrendous rising rents, let alone the prohibitive cost of buying, makes me feel sad... But then it's also increasingly hard to see a future for ourselves in Melbourne, especially if we want to keep adding to our family.

(image from

Anyway, it's not till you drive into the country that you realise just how dry Victoria is. It's kind of scary but also sort of beautiful in its own way, if you can learn to look at it. All the creek beds are stone dry. We drove back to Melbourne through Daylesford where it was noticably greener. Dunno why.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More photos

New publicity shots, taken by Spin Images

A little something I made for a one-year-old friend, Daisy. The mouthlessness is completely aesthetic and not at all because I can't embroider. I made another one for a four-year-old friend Eliza but had to wrap it in a hurry and didn't get a picture. Fred, bless her 100% cotton socks, has dutifully requested one for her birthday. Sorry about the quality of the pics but Fred doesn't stand still. She's also nude and I thought I better edit out some nudity for the sake of her future self, the one who one day might be embarrassed by her youthful propensity to spend most of the time airing her skin.

And Una, dressed by mousepocket. Thanks Zose, we love them. I have a return parcel that will be winging its way Sydneywards soon. Fred, cretin that she is, refused to leave hers on and be photographed because she knew I wanted her to (plus see above). I need to leave it lying around sometime and say 'Whatever you do, don't wear that and don't let me take a picture of you.' Or tell her about her New Mother, with glass eyes and a wooden tail, the one who comes to live here if she is naughty.

Monday, March 05, 2007

It's a....


Yes, I am pleased to announce that the postie just popped by with a little parcel for me - my very own first copy of DRIFT! Hooray!! The cover looks even more beautiful in real life and a little thicker and weightier...312 pages. Breathe and Undine were each around 245.

Oh yes, it's an exciting moment. It's real. I made a thing.

Can't bear to read it though. I open it tentatively, scared that I've made some critical error on the first page, or as if something terrible, some kind of flat, papery monster, lurks inside the covers waiting for me. Ooh, look. Watery images in the internal pages. Pretty.

Fred was fairly impressed for about 22 seconds. Una thinks the postman is daddy. Ha ha.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Painting day

And one of Fred's photos. She has just mastered cutting one-handed with scissors, so we now live with a thousand small squares of paper.