Monday, June 23, 2014

Upcoming Appearances

Thanks to the State Library of New South Wales, with the support of the Copyright Agency, I am going to be touring Northern New South Wales, as part of their wonderful 'Going Places: Authors on Tour' program.  I will be speaking at Murwillumbah Library (Saturday, 28 June, 11 am), at Lismore Library (Tuesday, 1 July, 5.30 pm), and Byron Bay Library (Thursday, 3 July, 2 pm).  These are free events and I would love to see you there.  More details are here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Saying Hello to Latin America

The excellent publishers of the Latin American edition of 'A Corner of White' asked me to record myself saying hello to readers and telling them about the trilogy.  I tried 27 times.  Here are a few samples.

Take 1

video

Take 5

video

Take 12


video


Take 19

video



Take 27

video


UPDATE
Charlie shows me up on his second take.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K99wRieYorQ&feature=youtu.be



Monday, March 10, 2014

The Colours of Madeleine


Oh, look, I'm just always here blogging.  It's too much, you know.  It's like I can't stop talking.

Ha ha.  I haven't been here since 2011. I  can't believe it.  I knew it had been a while, but I honestly didn't know it had been that long.  Time!  It's crazy these days.  I'm very sorry.  I think part of the problem is that months go by and then how can anything be significant enough to justify breaking the silence?  It's like when you run into a friend you haven't seen for years, and there is too much to say, which translates into having nothing to say.  If you'd seen the friend all the time you might say, 'I had to get a new car battery this morning' and 'I'm finally over that ear infection', but as it is, you only say, 'Oh yeah, I've been great.  Busy.  You?'

Anyway, I do want to blog again one day, but this is not a real post.  This post is only for three reasons:

(1)  To tell you that I am blogging somewhere else for the month of March 2014 


This blogging takes place at a website about books for young people called Inside A Dog.   I hope very much that you will join me there.  Here is a link to my first post.


(2) To tell you that I have written two new books.  



One came out a year ago, so this is timely of me, mentioning it now.  Ha ha again.  The other one only just came out, so that's more like it!  A Corner of White is the first in the 'Colours of Madeleine' trilogy, which is set partly in our world and partly in the Kingdom of Cello.  Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England.  She begins writing letters to Elliot Baranski, a boy who lives in the farming province of the Kingdom of Cello, through a crack that has opened up between worlds in a parking meter.  The Cracks in the Kingdom is the second book in the trilogy.  Madeleine and Elliot must work together to locate Cello's royal family - who have been abducted and brought here to our world - at the same time as they try to find a way to break open the crack and find a way to travel between worlds.


(3) To show off about the two new books.  


A Corner of White won the NSW Premier's Literary Award (Ethel Turner Prize) and the Queensland Literary Award (Griffith University Prize), and was shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards. In the US, it was a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, has been named a finalist for the Nebula Prize (Andre Norton Award), and was a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Horn Book Fanfare Book, and a Los Angeles Public Library Best Book of 2013. Paul Gagne of Scholastic Audio Books produced a superb audiobook of A Corner of White, filled with perfect performances, and it was chosen as one of Audiofile Magazine's YA Audio Books of the Year.


The Cracks in the Kingdom, Book 2 in the Colours of Madeleine trilogy has already received three starred reviews: 'Madcap, whimsical, smart and even heartbreaking, but Moriarty never drops the dozens of balls in the air. By turns coming-of-age and wild adventure ...this volume complicates the characters, expands the world building and sets things up for a grand finish ... Even better than the first' (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

I hope you have all had a wonderful three years.  I look forward to chatting again.  By the way, I owe some of you replies to beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking letters.  Thank you for those, and please know that I am thinking of you and will reply.

See you all again in five or six years.  Ha ha.  No, seriously, that could easily happen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Blue Plastic Chair Leg

What if you decided to set up a little stall on a street corner. And you found strange things around your house, many of them broken— or actually, you made strange things out of the broken items around your house. Craft out of egg cartons and glued-on glitter, maybe. And let’s say you placed all these objects in your stall.

And then people came by and said, ‘oh, that’s nice,’ about your strange broken pieces, and you were silent. Now and then you said, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thank you so much. You are kind.’ Then, a while later you brought out another strange little piece and put that in the stall, and the people wandered back and looked, and didn’t say much. Or maybe they said, ‘This is nice. I made something like this once,’ and a long time later you came back and said, ‘Did you? How about that.’ And so on.

But then, let’s say you went home and just left the stall there. Months and months went by. Years even. And now and then the people would come back and they might call out, ‘Hello?’ or they might say nothing. They might say to themselves, ‘Well, I’ve seen all these before.’ And the strange things at the stall would be getting rusty. Rain-damaged. Spiders spinning webs and laying eggs in the shadows.

Until people stopped coming by at all. The corner would be empty. The whole street empty. The stall leaning sideways, uncertain, dusty. Tumbleweed, I guess – if this is some old country ghost town that we’re talking about — tumbleweed blowing down the street. Or old plastic bags floating by on the grey breeze, wrapping themselves around telegraph poles, then floating on — if it’s more of a contemporary setting.

Well, how could you ever come back?! How could you return to your strange little stall and bring new strange pieces, and expect any people to come and look again!

You couldn’t. Not really. And certainly not until you’d finished your next book.

The only reason I’m here now is because a friend pointed out that my latest post on this blog refers to upcoming events in August and September of last year. And, he said, if you don’t update your blog, people will read that and think you’re referring to this year.

It was a good point.

So here is a thin blanket. I’m just quickly cross-stitching a thin blanket, which I am going to place over the stall, to hide the old and rusting objects.

*

What’s been going on. Well, I’m nearly finished the first book of The Kingdom of Cello. It will be a trilogy: the first book is set partly in Cambridge, England, and partly in the Kingdom of Cello. There’s a girl called Madeleine and a boy called Elliot.

Also, not long ago, on a cold, bright night, I went to the Sydney Opera House for the Premier’s Literary Awards. Dreaming of Amelia (or The Ghosts of Ashbury High) was shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Award. I was honoured to be on a list with these wonderful writers: Michelle Cooper, Cath Crowley, Kirsty Eagar, Belinda Jeffrey and Melina Marchetta. And I was so glad to be on the same table as the lovely winner, Cath Crowley, whose Graffiti Moon is beautiful, dreamy and hilarious.

*

I was never good at cross-stitch. In fourth grade, we had to do a cross-stitch pattern on a piece of white cloth, and Mrs Mackenzie chose mine to show the class how bad cross-stitch could be.

Nobody knew it was mine.

‘I don’t know whose this is,’ Mrs Mackenzie said, ‘because whoever did it was too ashamed even to write their name on it.’

A gasp ran right across the classroom.

Actually, I’d done it maybe seven or eight times. Each time I tried it looked terrible! So I’d pull out all the stitching and try again. I did this over and over, and each time it got worse, and meanwhile the white square kept getting greyer and more smudged. Crumpled and food-stained like an old tea towel.

I tried one more desperate time – undoing it all, and starting again — this was at Little Lunch, and I got some of my raspberry iceblock on it. The bell rang and the cross-stitching was half finished and worse than ever. But it was too late. We had to hand them in. Forgot all about putting my name on it.

*

What else has been going on? Well, I saw the movie Mrs Carey’s Concert, and it’s a documentary. I was so interested, and so moved. All the chaos, and the chasms between what teachers say and what students understand them to be saying, and then all the beautiful music. It’s about the Sydney girls’ school, MLC, and how they have a concert at the Opera House every two years, and the whole school participates. That school, it seem to have an extraordinary number of talented musicians with smiles that light up rooms. Also, a gathering of bad, wild, giggling, beautiful, defiant girls.

*

That cross-stitching episode. The one where the teacher held up my work. Well, the whole class was hushed and shocked. And so was I, but only mildly. Mostly I felt interested. A detached curiosity. The distance between the truth and what teachers believe! How wrong teachers can be!

Even when they’re speaking in their low, slow, impressive voice with flashing, angry eyes.

I mean, she was right that it was terrible work. But the whole thing about me being too ashamed to put my name on it. Seriously, why would I have deliberately left off my name? What would be the point of handing something in without a name?

*

I just realised that MLC —the Sydney girls’ school that featured in that documentary movie— well, I spoke at that school last year! It was good, I remember that. But do you know what, it’s one of the 'upcoming events' that I refer to in my latest blog post! So, that’s interesting.

*

Not long ago, I was asked to bring a blue plastic chair leg inside the house. It had been lying in the garden, this small chair leg — and I was asked to bring it inside and wash it at the kitchen sink so it could be used as a telescope.

Anyway, while I was washing it a dark shadow flew out of the end of the chair leg.

‘What was that?’ I said, thinking, just a leaf. But my friend cried, ‘It’s on your back!’ and then the next instant, ‘Where’s it gone?!’

That’s a bad time. That’s a terrifying time in anybody’s life. When your friend explains that a giant huntsman spider was just sitting on your back, but now she can’t figure out where it’s gone.

*

The other day, my mother called to say there would be wild winds in the night. At 4 am, she said, wild winds. People are supposed to make sure that there’s nothing lying around in their yards, she explained, ready to fly away.

I thought of my back yard and all the junk and toys. I imagined the wading pool flying through the air and shattering a neighbour’s window. This was about eleven o’clock at night, and cold, and to be honest I didn’t want to go into my backyard.

But I put my jacket on over my pyjamas, and went out there, and started bringing in the broken toys and junk and pieces of cheap outdoor furniture.

I stamped on the cardboard box which Charlie and I had been filling with dirt the other day. He wanted to make snowglobes out of dirt, he said. The first step, he decided, was to fill up this cardboard box with dirt from the garden. He named us ‘clerks’, and what clerks do is, they make snowglobes out of dirt. His job was to pat the dirt down in the box, and mine was to dig it out of the garden. He was pretty bossy. The whole time I was worrying about the next step — about what would happen when the cardboard box was full — because I knew it would be my job to turn that box of dirt into the snowglobes. I just knew it. Luckily, we got distracted by lunctime, and after lunch we had new job titles and descriptions, and essentially what we had to do, was to empty all the dirt into the wading pool.

Anyhow, so I stamped on the box and put it in the recycling bin, and carried all the broken toys and pieces of plastic furniture and the dirt-filled wading pool— I carried them all into the house from the dark and gusty yard, and all the time I was thinking about flying shadows. That night, the wild winds never came.


*

The giant hunstman spider turned up later that night on the kitchen wall. I got it with the fly swatter. I thought: I have just one chance here. And I hit it hard and fast, and I got it. Then I felt sad and ashamed. Thinking about how happy he’d probably been, that spider, living in his plastic tube home, not harming a fly. Well, maybe a fly now and again. But still! Next thing it had found itself in the chaos of a human kitchen sink! Poor little guy. Big guy, I mean.

*

What else. Well, I just made a tuna pasta bake for Charlie’s dinner. Just now. Downstairs. It’s in the fridge, ready to put in the oven later. At one point I thought the recipe said to add eleven and a half cups of cheddar cheese. I was, like, what?! But I looked again and it was just one and a half cups. That makes more sense, I thought. So then I chopped up some butternut pumpkin and some eggplant, and I’m going to roast that in the oven, and that’ll be my dinner. After that I had this weird urge to make an apple crumble. I haven’t made one in years. But there were all these apples in the fridge, and I suddenly really wanted to make an apple crumble. I looked up a recipe and it was talking about putting ginger in the crumble and I was, like, ginger is totally good for you! My mum was just saying the other day! As for apples, well, don’t get me started about those. That whole scaring away the doctor thing? Anyhow, but in the end I decided I’d better not make an apple crumble. I’d better come back upstairs to work.

*

That paragraph I just wrote. The one about the tuna pasta bake and, etc. I’m thinking, if anybody comes along to my stall on the corner, and they see that paragraph, well, they’ll pick it up and turn it over and put it back down. Then they’ll go, “Oka-a-a-ay,” in that way people do, and then they’ll move on.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Speaking

On September 10, there will be a one-day ‘Teen Writers’ Masterclass’, for 12 to 17-year-olds, at the National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour. It will be run by Anthony Eaton, Susanne Gervay, publisher Linsey Knight, and me. The details are here.
Also, I am speaking at the Abbotsleigh Literary Festival tomorrow, at MLC next week, and at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on 31 August.
Thank you.

Sponge Cake

My friend came to visit and she said, I’ll make a sponge cake, and she did. Her children played with Charlie, a game with the giant plastic candy cane from last Christmas. They were sliding it down the bannister. Also, they all painted pictures, and we pegged the paintings to the security door at the back of the house to dry in the wind.

They left behind a quarter of the sponge cake, and all of the children’s paintings, and one of these paintings — a rainbow of colours by my friend’s three-year-old - was so good, the colours blending so beautifully, subtle yet bright, gently symmetrical — that I wondered if I should save it, and use it as a thankyou card the next time a distant relative sent Charlie a present.

On the phone, later that day, I told my mother about the sponge cake — how perfect it was, how glad I was that there was still some left to eat - and my mother was filled with excitement. ‘In my whole life,’ she said, ‘I’ve only ever known two people who could make sponge cake! And one of them is dead!’

Later still, I looked at the little boy's rainbow painting, and a memory came to me — how I once said to a friend, ‘Should I get coloured contact lenses? I’d like to have green eyes,’ and my friend said, ‘If you did that,’ he said, ‘if you got coloured contact lenses - that would be the greatest lie you ever told.’

I threw the rainbow painting away and I got Charlie to do his own splashed, blotched, leaking swirl of clashing colours, to send as a thankyou card to his Great Great Auntie Ivy for the remote control monster truck.

Dwarf Magnolia

We were walking down the hill and there was a notice pinned to a tree that said, ‘This weeping bottlebrush has been scheduled for removal’. The reason for removal was its ‘advanced state of decline.’ The council planned to replace it with a ‘dwarf magnolia’. The tree hung so low, and was so grey, and no wonder it was weeping.

It might have been the same day

It might have been the same day, walking down the hill, and I’d just collected Charlie from pre-school. He said, ‘I lost my voice at pre-school today,’ and I said, ‘Did you?’ and he said, ‘Yes, but then I found it in the sandpit.’

'The wind blew the cover of the sandpit aside,' he said. 'And there was my voice.’

Fanfarlo

I went to see Fanfarlo at a place called the Gaelic Club, and we were waiting near the back, and someone with a big camera said, ‘Can I photograph you for the -?’ and we couldn’t hear what he said, but we said, okay, fine, and smiled. Then we saw him approach another person, who shook his head, no, no, and another, who also shook his head, no, and another after that.

In the girls’ bathroom there was a boy at the sink applying mascara, and a blonde girl beside him was helping him, and they both turned to me and laughed, and then there they were on the stage, in the support band. Its name was Guineafowl. I felt a strange connection to them, since I’d just seen them applying mascara. I felt proud of them too, they were good! Then another support band called Wim, and they were good too! Then we were waiting near the back of the room, and down the stairs behind us came running footsteps, and then right in front of us, a row of small people, with smiles and bright eyes, and my friend said, ‘I think that’s the band,’ and we moved closer to the stage. So I felt a connection with them too, having seen them running right by with their bright eyes. They were wonderful! I loved them!

And I always listen to their CD when I’m driving out to Castle Hill, so each song at the Gaelic Club took me straight back to that journey — this one I’m overtaking a truck on the M2, this one I’m just switching my headlights on as I head into the Lane Cove Tunnel, this one I’m merging onto the transit lane and Charlie is saying, along with the music, 'the sky is too quiet, the sky is too quiet', with his own quiet pride, and I am saying, after a moment, 'I think it says the sky is so shallow.'

So, now, when I’m driving out to Castle Hill and listening to my Fanfarlo CD, it takes me straight to the Gaelic Club, and there I am close to the stage, and then in turn I am taken directly back to the M2, to the Lane Cove Tunnel, to the transit lane, to the too-quiet sky.

Canyon

We were walking through a canyon - through a street with houses set high on either side of us. Charlie shouted, once or twice, for the echo. He likes echoes, shadows, reflections on water, people who have his name. He shouted, ‘hello!’, once or twice, then he gave up and began speaking to me in his ordinary voice. Only now he was adding a soft, fading repetition to the end of each sentence. ‘I’m getting tired – tired – tired. Can you carry me – carry me – carry me.’
I laughed. I said, ‘Ha, you’re doing your own echoes.’
He said, ‘It’s not funny – funny – funny. Why can’t you carry me – carry me – carry me?’
I said, ‘Well, I’m carrying all the groceries, I can’t carry you as well.’ He walked along moodily for a while. ‘You could put the bags down – down – down,’ he said, ‘ and carry me – me – me.’
‘You’re three years old,’ I said, ‘you don’t need to be carried.’
‘Yes I do - do - do. My legs aren’t working – working - working’.
‘You do that echo well,' I said, laughing again.
‘Why are you laughing – laughing – laughing?’ His voice was angry except for the echoes, which faded gracefully, indifferent. ‘I’m not being funny – funny – funny.’ He looked up at me, troubled. ‘It’s just that we’re in echoland – echoland – echoland.’ And he kept it up, never once smiling, until we got around the corner and out of echoland.

Monday, May 31, 2010

31. Blue Balloon

Last day of May today, a wild and rain-drenched day, and we were at the doctor’s again. She said, ‘You’re becoming my most loyal patients,’ and she said, ‘You don’t do rain by halves in this country, do you?’ and she joked, ‘See you again next week!’ She looked in Charlie’s ears and said, ‘Best I’ve ever seen them.’ Charlie and I both smiled.

On the way home, there was a sunbreak in the rain and when we turned a corner, a bright rainbow, and I thought, well, that’s almost too much – maybe I shouldn’t mention that rainbow on my blog - it’s just too much. But there it was. Then we passed a construction site and Charlie said, ‘Look! There’s a digger! Did you see it?’ and I said, ‘Well, no, I missed it, but I’ve seen diggers before.’ Surprisingly, he accepted that, and we drove on.

*

A few weeks back, we drove home from a party through the rain with a blue balloon.
The balloon pressed its head against the ceiling, then it leaned sideways so all I could see in the rear view mirror was blue.
Outside the car at home, Charlie reached for the balloon.
‘I’ll bring it inside,’ I said.
‘Give me the balloon,’ he said.
‘No, no.’ I was holding it tight. ‘I’ll carry it inside for you – or tie it to your wrist’, and he breathed in, calmly, ‘Just give it to me.’
We were standing on the footpath in the rain beside the open car door. I started talking. I said, ‘If you let go, this balloon will fly away,’ and he said, ‘Give it to me.’
I said: ‘Do you want—are you sure— ? If it slips out of your fingers, even for a second, it will go into the sky, and it will keep on going up, and you will never ever ever get it back. Do you understand?’

He reached out his hand. Bright blue balloon between us like a maypole, waiting to see what we would do.

I was thinking: he will lose it and he’ll cry, and he won’t understand that I can’t get it back for him. Like those sticks he used to collect in parks and when one snapped in half he would hand it to me and say, ‘Fix it.’

I was thinking: he might be able to hold onto it - he's three, his grip is getting stronger.

I was thinking: you have to let them make their own mistakes. It’s not a terrible loss, a balloon – maybe this is the best way to lose, feel loss, learn to move on—

Charlie reached his hand out, I gave him the balloon.

He lifted it up, opened out his fingers, and let it go.

Then, while my face gasped, his lit up, and he went wild with excitement. The balloon was skidding up into the sky, and Charlie was jumping up and down on the spot, laughing, watching it, chattering madly – ‘it’s going on a holiday!’ I heard him say. I looked up too. I started to see what he meant.

*

Afterwards, I wondered what happens to helium balloons when you let them go – whether they end up in orbit, millions of lost balloons in outerspace, or curve their way back to the ocean and get eaten by the whales. I did find some sites that said balloons may be choking the creatures of the sea. But then there was a study claiming most balloons will keep on rising until they reach a height at which they shatter. Then they’ll break into hundreds of tiny pieces, fall back to earth, and decay at the same rate as an oak leaf.

I suppose that when you let go of something, you have to try to do it the right way, the way that makes it shatter like glass then fall to the forest floor and disappear.

*

At the time, though, I was caught up in Charlie’s excitement — the balloon was going up but it was still itself, still blue — and I started to think about my Cello books, how I want there to be a girl, and she's sitting on a sloping roof in Cambridge, England, reading a book about Isaac Newton. Isaac and his falling apple, his glass prisms, his rainbows, and his fascination with things impossibly small, or impossibly large, or impossibly far away - while, at the same time, in the Kingdom of Cello, a boy in a dark grey woollen hat is walking across the white, white, snowy fields –

The balloon was going up, up, up, getting smaller, smaller, smaller, and we were laughing in amazement at the distance of it – that it could go so far, so fast, and get so small!

'Look, Charlie,' I said, 'you can still see it, it’s just a tiny speck but you can see it!' But then I turned and realised he'd stopped watching, he was heading for our front door to get in out of the rain.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

30. There is Only One More Day in May

I had lunch with a friend the other day and she was asking me what I’d been up to, and I said, well, one thing is, I’ve been blogging every day in May.

'I had to,' I explained. 'I made an announcement that I’d blog every day in May.'

I could tell she thought that was strange.

‘That’s strange,’ she said — that’s how I could tell – ‘Why would you do that?’

I didn't know, but I have just now remembered. It was:

1. to celebrate ten years in publishing and the release of The Ghosts of Ashbury High in North America on June 1;

2. to form a symbolic bridge from the Ashbury books to the Cello books; and

3. to cast a spell in order to let go of something — to let go of something that had started with an unkind review but had gathered itself into much more — a bird on my shoulder! — which I think was really fear.

Now, some people might think that a celebration, a bridge, and a spell are a lot to ask of the simple act of blogging every day. They might point out that it’s fairly standard, daily blogging, and that actually a lot of people do it in November!

Note, however, that November only has thirty days.

So, I am confident that all three items above have been— or, at least, that they will be achieved by the conclusion of tomorrow’s post.

Furthermore, it turns out the spell is going to have both retrospective and prospective effect! That is, it will apply to all the fears I have ever, or will ever, have. (So I won’t need to keep coming back to this blog and saying, listen! listen! I’m in trouble! – although I do hope to come back sometimes and say hello.)

In addition — and I hope you will be glad to hear this news — the spell is going to work on your fears too! Sweet and beautiful readers of this blog, I am so grateful to you for listening, and especially for your comments. They have been unimaginably generous, and yes, you people are treasures. (Also, two people I know have also been blogging-every-day-in May, one an old friend, the other new, so obviously, the spell should work for them, too, if they wish to take up this offer.)

Now, if you ever find yourself thinking, ‘hang on, that spell can't be working — I feel afraid!’ you just need to write a two-minute novel in questions on the topic of your fear/anxiety, and then you turn that novel into a paper aeroplane, and throw it as far as you can, and the spell will be rebooted, and you will never be afraid again.

So, that’s good news.


*

The other day, my neighbours gave me a jar of maple syrup — it can be tricky getting good maple syrup in Sydney, and the neighbours had just got some from Vermont, so they poured some into a little jar and gave it to me.

Living in Canada left me with three new addictions: snow, blueberries, and maple syrup. I don’t think the neighbours even know that!

On one side of my house, an angry dog and a broken fence; on the other side, unexpected, perfect gifts. Sometimes you just have to know which way to turn.



*

In other good news, last night my mother called and said she’d found a solution for my lower back pain! She said she was talking to a friend at Tai Chi about it – about my lower back – and turns out what I have to do is, I have to go into a pet store, any pet store, and ask them for this cream that people rub onto dogs and horses for their muscular problems.

This friend of my mother’s swears by it. Her husband used to have trouble just getting out of his chair and, as for a short walk to the shops, that was agony for him! 'But then he tried this cream, this dog and horse cream,' my mother’s friend explained, 'and now he gallops.'

Saturday, May 29, 2010

29. Road Trip: The Way Back Home

My friends and I rode bikes around the Western Plains Zoo, the children strapped into seats behind us. I was deeply moved by the field of rhinoceroses. Charlie liked it for a while, especially the meerkats, but he had a cold, his crankiness had manifested itself into a cold. He just wanted to be in the motel room really — you could open cupboards, drawers and curtains, fill glasses at the sink, jump on the beds – it was a giant playhouse. ‘I want to go back to my holiday,’ he said, every time we left the motel.

*

By the time we drove home three days later, his cold had gone to his chest, he was feverish and slept almost all the way. He was sleeping while I filled the car with petrol, sleeping while I pulled over to check the map, while I changed the music, stopped the music for quiet, saw another snake, more dead kangaroos, sleeping while I drove around trucks. He slept while I collected towns and villages for the Kingdom of Cello, and while I thought about how ostriches bury their heads in the sand but apparently they don’t.

In a busy town, I stopped at an intersection, and glanced left. There was the colourful playground with the lime green helicopter — the one he had wanted me to turn back for on the way to the holiday. The one he had promised to show me on the way home. I had taken the main highway after all so I could get him home faster. It seemed sad for a moment: that here we were beside that playground, stopped at a long red light, and he was asleep.

I looked in the rear view mirror at his sleeping face, the high pink in his cheeks, and he twitched suddenly, opened his eyes, blinked hard, yawned, turned left and said with quiet satisfaction: ‘There.’

So I pulled over, and he played in the colourful playground for an hour, and he seemed much brighter after his long sleep, and then we drove home.

Friday, May 28, 2010

28. A Two-Minute Novel in Questions

Have you guessed? That there was a review? That, having learned over the years not to mind bad reviews, because my books are not perfect, and some people will notice that, and everybody’s different, and you-can’t-please-them-all, and some will misunderstand, some have different tastes — and fools all of them! but who cares? — having learned, in fact, not to read reviews at all — that still, one slipped through, slipped underneath my skin, and ended up standing on my shoulder!, where it stands now (I think), and leans in when I write, with its weight and its claws?

What if this review — a lengthy review! in a literary journal! by a woman! — what if this review said, amongst other unkind things, that Amelia was sexist! that it privileged the male and silenced women?! What if it assumed a jeering, sneering tone, and gave away the ending, all of the endings!, before concluding that, unfortunately, young people might read this book?

What if I read this review and laughed — paused, afraid a moment, considered it, dismissed it — and laughed again — but what if it kept finding its way back? Breaking down the fences? What if, even though it is a profound misreading, a misapplication of the theory, and can be countered at every turn — what if, despite this, the poison found its way into my head – like you’re stupid, or you’re plain – which is the way sometimes with untruths?

And what if it collected other voices — all the sneering voices of the past, especially my own (that voice from adolescence) — and what if it tangled these voices together, tightly, like a web, so that I could not write a word ?!

Are my metaphors getting themselves tangled here?

Well, but am I not tangled in confusion?!

Because shouldn’t I laugh (again), and flick it away? Talk about an issue that matters? How can so many generous reviews and comments — many that understand exactly what I set out to do with that book — so many beautiful readers! how can they all be erased by a single page of unkind words?!

Why am I doing this at all?! Did I not advise my defamation clients that: one hundred people might have seen this now, but if you sue then a thousand more will see it? What if nobody has even seen that review? What if this post is like a two-headed dragon laying hundreds of tiny dragon eggs?!

Is it revolution or foolishness to write this? Shouldn't you close the curtains on that spotlight? Aren't you supposed to hold it close - closer - never give your sadness away?
But is it cowardly to be silent?

Did I tell you that I googled this: ‘are bullfrogs —’ but google interrupted, thinking that I wondered whether bullfrogs might be:

poisonous
endangered
cold-blooded
edible
- or good pets?

That actually, what I wanted to know was whether they were bullies? And turns out they are — in the following way: that they sometimes eat the children of other, smaller frogs? And doesn’t that put things in perspective?

By which I mean to say, am I stretching the concept of a bully here?

Isn’t there a sliding scale, a continuum? From gentle mockery to critique to bad manners to cruelty — and wherever it falls, what do you do? Do you absorb it, turn away, or swing back? Stand tall, leave the school, roar, tell the teachers, say No!? And what do you do if it keeps coming? What if there is smirking and ‘the truth hurts, doesn’t it?’ even though it's actually not true?!

And if I met that reviewer, would I laugh, raise my eyebrows, be charming, indifferent, poisonous, cold, or would I laugh? Would I point out the errors, would my voice rise up in anger if I did? Should I strike back using words as weapons, or as tools, or paper cuts — or just as paper tigers?

Isn’t it a waste of time to write this? Did you know that Isaac Newton couldn’t cope with criticism? That he tried to ignore it, but couldn’t bear the foolishness, and often wasted several days responding in acerbic tones? That he sometimes announced he was giving up science since the critics drove him mad?! Did you know that he invented Calculus? Did you know that someone else said that they’d invented it? That an impartial Report detailed this dispute, and found, conclusively, that Isaac was the one — that this report was followed quickly by an anonymous review, praising the impartial Report?
That the impartial Report and the anonymous Review were both written by Isaac himself?

(Do you realise I am not here in any way suggesting that I am comparable to Newton?)

Also, there is this, that perhaps the bird isn’t really there? Have I mentioned that I once saw an ear specialist, who tested my ears and said that, no, I was not slightly deaf — that what I had was an illusion of deafness?

But what if I feel as bruised as an apple that has fallen from a shopping bag?!

What if the bird leans in and tells me that whatever I write, it will be judged, misjudged, misread, and misunderstood?

What if I find myself (absurdly) compelled to defend my own feminism?! To refer to the fact that I grew up yearning for stronger girls in books, that I studied women’s literature, and gender and the law, that I’ve read all the theory, that my novels have strong, complex girls in the lead roles?!

That when I was in fourth grade, we were told to write letters to the Australian armed forces, requesting information on careers (strange!), that my letter said I’d like to be a pilot, that the reply said, ‘Actually, there are no lady pilots, but here’s some information on nursing,’ while all around the fourth grade boys opened envelopes filled with aeroplanes?

That an aunt once laughed at me and said: ‘There will never be women commentators on the radio; their voices are not pleasant to the ear’?

What if, when I was twelve years old, a teacher, talking about public speaking, mentioned, in an off-hand way, that she did not like the sound of my voice, and that it could be a disadvantage for me in public speaking? So that, for the next year or so, I tried to speak as little as I could, if at all?

Why do women silence other women?

And will this be enough to let it go? The bird, or the poison, or the tangle of voices? Whatever we decide to call it?

(Well, isn’t it a fact that they’re almost gone now anyway — that this blogging has just about worked? And am I not at this moment thinking, 'don't do it! don't publish this!' while another voice says archly, 'yes, you will!"?)

This has taken me longer than two minutes, hasn’t it, and it’s tricky, isn’t it, to write in questions?

Unfortunately, young people might read this book. What a thing to say.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

27. Road Trip: the Fountains in Orange

Goanna in the centre of the road — a snake shifting suddenly, long, long coils of snake — birds swooping overheard — and, ‘Look!’ I kept saying. ‘Look, Charlie!’ until I stopped saying it, because each time he would miss it. 'What? What? Where is the bird?!' – getting angrier – 'Where?'

Signs with pictures of kangaroos and wombats, 'Look out for kangaroos!' I told him, and he said, 'Where? Where?' and I said, 'Well, we just have to look out for them — they’re not —' then he noticed one of the signs himself, and said,
'That’s not a kangaroo' — withering — 'that’s just a a picture of a kangaroo.'

Once, he tried to point something out to me — a colourful playground with a lime green helicopter — but then the lights changed, and I drove on through that town. He didn’t believe that I’d seen it. 'Look, LOOK!' he said, and I said, 'I know! I saw!' And he said, 'No, you didn’t, you were looking ahead!' I said, 'No, really, I saw it. In my peripheral vision.'

We were back on the highway by now, and he was saying, ‘Turn around! Turn around so you can see it!’ But I wouldn’t. Eventually, he sighed and said, ‘Never mind, I will show it to you on the way home,’ which was unexpected - I didn't even know he understood the concept of the way home.

The journey home would be three days from now, and he was likely to have forgotten by then, and even if he hadn't, he would probably miss it, and all that was setting aside the fact that I was planning on taking a different route home.

'Okay. Good idea,' I said.

*

The drive to Dubbo is about five hours, but it took us eight because we stopped in parks, and for milkshakes. Charlie was in a mood, to do with me having brought the suitcases along on his holiday.

Every time we stopped, he would climb out of the car, sleepily, moodily, and ask, ‘Is this my holiday?’

There was confusion at a park in Orange, where they had fountains, and a couple of birds in cages. ‘This is my holiday,’ he informed me. ‘See, that’s the zoo.’ He was furious when I told him it wasn’t. I asked a man in a suit, with a pleasant face, if there was a café nearby.

At once, the man exclaimed, ‘Yes! Yes, as a matter of fact there is a café near here, and it’s a very lovely one, too! It’s in a nursery, it’s called Anything Grows, and it’s just half a block from here!’

It was exactly as if he’d been wandering the paths of these gardens, this tranquil park, by the cages of parrots and the fountains, waiting and wandering, waiting for somebody to ask for a café. I wondered if he knew, or loved, or was the owner of the Anything Grows Café.

In the last hours of the trip, I saw dead kangaroos, eight or nine of them, on the side of the road. I didn’t point these out to Charlie.

But, 'Look at the beautiful sunset!' I said, and he said, 'That’s not a sunset, that’s a sky. That’s just the sky.'

'Do you kow what a sunset is?' I said, and he became very quiet. After a moment, he said, 'What’s a sunset?'

I explained, I tried to explain, but he lost interest

*

Then we arrived at the motel, and friends were waiting for us, a barbecue already laid out on the picnic table, their children dark shadows in the darkening playground.

I said, 'this is your holiday,' and 'look, there’s a frog' – a green frog in the stairwell — and he said, where? where? where? and I stopped him, crouched him down, turned his head, pointed it out, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah. It’s a frog.’

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

26. In which I am suddenly Ranting! and going on! about Rain, Reviews, Bullies, and Blankets

Rainy today.
Yesterday, after Charlie’s afternoon sleep, he just wanted to sit on the couch with me for a while, holding his threadbare yellow blanket. He told me he likes to put his fingers in the holes in his blanket, and I said, I wish I had a blanket because then I could put my fingers in the holes too. That pleased him, and we spent some time imagining that everybody had a blanket; we went through all the people we know, and imagined each one with yellow blankets. Then he said, imagine if everybody was a yellow blanket. And he said, imagine if everybody was a tv, and then, imagine if everybody was a light so we had to come in and switch them on! And then he said imagine if everyone was a kiss.

*

I finally read The Consolation of Philosophy by Alain de Botton, a few weeks back, and then I had a beautiful, lulling sense that I now understood philosophy. All of it.

It was like the time that I listened to that Beginners French CD, and believed that I was fluent in French.

They both – Alain de Botton, and the narrator of my French CD – they both had gentle, authoritative voices, voices that coax you along, murmuring, ‘You see?’—voices that hold out their hands so that butterflies of fact can gently rise and just as gently land inside your ears before slipping gracefully into your brain.

I came to my computer, wanting more of this wise and gentle man, this Alain de Botton, and googled him, wondering what else he could teach me in his thoughtful, soothing voice, and the first thing I found was that, recently, somebody had published a negative review of his work, and he had responded:

I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.

*

Here’s something I think: that in many ways, young adults are brighter than adults, but adults often think the opposite.

It’s something that I notice in certain reviews of young adult fiction.

There are adult issues in this book so young people will not be interested/will not understand, reviewers say.
Are you mad! Do you think that young people don’t want to know about the world that they live in?! Do you think they are not affected every day by adult issues?! That they aren’t getting prepared to take them on?!

Or else: No young adult would ever say this/behave like this/ do this.
Actually, young adults will do and say and behave in as many ways as adults do. They’re just as various, only younger.

Once, someone wrote in a review of one of my books: No young person would be able to write as well as the characters in this book.

I just laughed at that. I kind of wished that it was true. But the fact is, young writers are often better than adult writers. I get e-mails from young people that can make me cry and laugh in a paragraph - that have imagination, imagery, and intelligence all sewn up. I’ve read the blogs of teenagers and thought: ‘Why? Why am I writing for young adults? They do it so much better themselves.'

The only reason they're not writing the books is that they're too bright, and they're moving too fast. They don't stop for long enough to finish novels.

My youngest sister was playing her DS brain game the other day, and she got depressed because the DS told her that her mental age was twelve years older than she actually is. So that made her my age. That meant she was stupid. On DS, the aim is to be younger. DS knows how to respect the young!

I felt kind of disrespected though.

*

I’m thinking of the writer I met the other day who mentioned a review: this book should be pulped, and so should the person who wrote it.

One of the many things I like about Justine Larbalestier’s blog is that she has a rule: no disrespecting living authors.
Sometimes I think reviewers are disrespectful because they’re insecure. When you review a book, you’re setting yourself up as a person in position to judge – that troubles some reviewers: maybe they suspect they’re not in that position. So they have to puff themselves up like bullfrogs — talk about how well-read they are, use esoteric language — or stomp all over the book’s head.

Or else, they might be disrespectful because they think it’s good writing — to mock, sneer and jeer is entertaining. It’s a cheap, easy way to entertain.
Actually, it’s bullying.

*

I’ve been thinking about bullying, too.
The kind that involves insults, I mean.
A while back, somebody commented on this blog and said that her high school headmistress had once said to her: ‘You will always be the plainest person in the room.’ (The commenter added, ‘It’s true, too, I am.’)

It’s been three weeks since the boys in the park called him ‘stupid’, and Charlie still says to me, now and then, ‘I’m not stupid, am I, Mummy?’

Personal insults! You often believe them. They can get right inside your head. And the same goes for the sneering, jeering voice that bullies often use.

So, I’ve been wondering how you’re supposed to deal with bullies. I found a website on the topic, that said, ‘Stand tall’ and ‘Eat more healthy snacks’ and ‘Have a shower before you go to school’. It also suggested you say in a loud voice, ‘No! Stop that!’ before walking or running away.

So, there’s that approach.

There’s also the school of thought that you see in movies, that says the answer is to fight back hard. Take secret lessons in karate! Practise boxing with your dad out the back! And then, the next time you see the bully, knock them unconscious.
They’ll look at you with fresh admiration (once they come to) and you might even end up as friends.
But what happens if you just make them madder? And what about when you get arrested?

Neither approach would help with a headmistress who tells you you’re not pretty — that kind of thing, you don’t even know that it is bullying at the time.

So, I don’t know. I don’t know how to deal with bullies. I’m thinking, the only solution is to ask them. What would make you stop? That’s what we have to do: ask the bullies.

*

I read somewhere that Alain de Botton apologised for his response to that review — or at least, for putting it online (he’d meant it just to go to the reviewer).
It was intended as a verbal punch, he said.
The reviewer had suggested that de Botton, personally, had been mean-spirited in his book, and he wanted to impress upon the reviewer how much that had hurt.
He must subscribe to that ‘fight back hard’ school of thought.

But writers are not supposed to fight back at all! They’re supposed to accept reviews with dignified silence.
It’s so entrenched, this rule, that when a writer does hit back, there’s an embarrassed kind of sympathy, or scorn, or disapproval.

I don’t know if responding is the right thing to do. I doubt that angry threats are the solution. Even calm, reasoned responses are, mostly, a waste of the writer’s time: even though the writer is the expert — the one who knows the book better than anybody — nobody else believes that. The writer is too subjective, too caught up, and the book belongs to the public sphere.

More to the point, vicious or unkind reviews are just not seen as bullying.
They’re seen as critics doing their job: and critics should be free to say exactly what they want! That’s how criticism works! It’s how things get better! It’s robust and open discussion! Freedom of speech!

I think, actually, it’s not. Viciousness never made a writer improve. This book should be pulped, and so should its author. I doubt that that improved the writer’s writing.

The only solution that I can see here is a revolution.

I don’t mean critics should praise everything, or that we all have to get yellow security blankets, or that everyone has to be a kiss.

I just mean, if you criticise, do it with respect, and without sneering, and without getting personal. Have some freakin manners. That’s all I mean.

(And if you’re a schoolteacher, never tell someone that they’re plain. What a thing to say.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

25. On Writing in Letters and Notes

I saw Sarah Jessica Parker being interviewed by Oprah once, and she was talking about her five-year-old son. She said, ‘Oh, having him around, we just learn something new every day.’ And Oprah said, ‘Really? Like what?’ Sarah Jessica didn’t know what to say. I think she’d been expecting Oprah to say, ‘I can imagine!’ or ‘Yeah, kids are dynamite, aren’t they?’ or ‘We could all do with that sort of wisdom these days — maybe he should run for president!’ That sort of thing. But no, it was just, ‘how so?’

Poor SJP.

It’s strange, I wouldn’t remember either. Charlie skates such a fine line between genius and dreamlike madness. The things he says slide out of my mind as they happen.

Luckily, though, I sometimes write them here. If Oprah ever asks me, ‘How so?’ about Charlie, I won’t falter, I’ll just give her the link.

*

One thing I remember. He started playing shops one day and he said, ‘Do you want to buy something?’ and I was feeling a bit whimsical, I said, ‘Well, do you have any happiness?’ and right away, he said, ‘No. But we’ve got apples.’

*

That little story — the happiness/apples one — it feels like something I could sell to a minister of religion, doesn’t it. To use as a human interest anecdote, and they’d get a quiet, grateful laugh from the congregation, and then they’d stretch it out into a metaphor for something spiritual, bridge it over to the bible, lose the congregation, drift off into abstraction.

*

With Feeling Sorry for Celia, the first Ashbury book, I didn’t intend for it to be epistolary. There were a lot of letters, sure – between the girls, from imaginary associations, notes on the fridge from the mother – but these were all embedded in a third person narrative. After a few pages of writing, though, I noticed that the narrative was getting thinner, like a diminishing lattice pastry, and I thought, why is it even there?

I thought: I’m going to see if I can do without it!

It was kind of an exciting moment. Stepping out of the narrative. Setting out on my own! Breaking loose! I took away the pastry shell and the pie kept its shape!

This happened in the computer room at Cambridge. For a moment I felt I had done something revolutionary, then I remembered that epistolary novels have been around for a bit.

Anyway, after that, I became addicted to the format. Partly, it’s because I like to take things to pieces, write into the fragments, and see what shape they start to take. Partly it's because I've always loved an unreliable narrator. Letters are neither reliable nor static; they’re designed to fly through the air and gently fall into the recipient’s lap like a gift, or hit the recipient in the eye. If a teacher asked students to write letters to a neighbouring school, as part of an assignment, you couldn't trust the students to be honest or to be themselves. When you have six students writing letters, you get multiple, intersecting, unreliable narrators.

In Amelia/Ghosts, there are exams, history, and blogs, and I think that, for their own reasons, these are even less reliable than letters. When you write an exam, you're conscious that you're writing for authority, and being graded. (So when Emily says that watching Riley and Amelia act was like having sex with strangers, she suddenly remembers she’s in an exam, and feels compelled to add that she’s not that kind of girl.)

Most of all, though, I like the spaces in between. Once, when I was a lawyer, I was going through a box of documents for a case, piecing the story together. There was a long, long chain of dull, procedural letters and documents, typed, stamped, formatted, in high-brow legalese. Then, suddenly — startlingly — a small hand-written note. The ink was pale blue; the script neat and curling. It had been written by an elderly woman, a minor character in a huge, complex, corporate case, and her note said, ‘this has made my life something of a disaster’ and, ‘perhaps I could prevail on you to help?’

Immediately after her note, the typed documents were back: dry, formal, remote. There was no response to the woman. That silence— that’s where the real story was.

Monday, May 24, 2010

24. On Dreaming of Amelia/ The Ghosts of Ashbury High

Charlie has a new friend: it’s a baby hyena; it was lying in our backyard; it’s small and round, a lot like a kids’ rubber ball.

‘I wonder if there are any other animals in the backyard,’ he said, and handed me the blue-and-yellow plastic tube - the telescope - to check.

‘There’s a polar bear!’ I said—and he gasped, ‘Really? I love polar bears!,’ and took the telescope from me, looked through it briefly, and at once shook his head. ‘No, that’s just a regular bear, not a polar bear.’ Authoritative. Disappointed. He put the telescope down, and returned to his chat with his hyena.

*

Amelia/Ghosts started when I was eight months pregnant — just back from Canada, staying with my parents out in Castle Hill, a suburb in the north west of Sydney. The horizon is lined with the Blue Mountains. Often, my mother says, ‘Look how blue the mountains are today! I don’t think I’ve ever seen them quite so blue!’

The idea for the book came from: a teenage couple I saw crossing the road near the Castle Hill cinema; a girl who stopped me in the street one day and said, ‘Excuse me, where is here?’; and the ghosts who live just beyond my parents’ backyard.

I wrote it while I was living in Neutral Bay—it’s a fifteen minute ferry ride from the city, and we moved there just before Charlie was born.

It was a whole different writing experience. Used to be, I’d write for a few minutes then spin my chair away from the computer, get up, and go out for a coffee. Used to be, the plot unfurled while I lay in bed in a half-awake state every morning.

But now there was a baby, and—unexpectedly, from the day that he was four weeks old — just me and the baby. Unexpected! The shock still clatters in my head like the jingle sticks at Charlie’s music class!

Anyway, I wrote it while Charlie was sleeping, or while a babysitter came by for a few hours, three afternoons a week. As soon as I got him to sleep, I ran to my computer to work. As soon as the babysitter arrived, I either ran to the computer, or I ran up the hill to the café to get air, to plot with coloured textas, to read gothic novels, and literature on the gothic, to research convict history, and to read about drumming and woodwork.

These were the smallest spaces I ever had to work in—it felt like reversing into a narrow parking space while traffic is rushing towards you.

Before writing each character, I listened to his or her song. Toby’s song was Closing Time by Leonard Cohen. Lydia’s was Trapeze Swinger by Iron and Wine. I didn’t have a song for Emily, because I didn’t think I’d like her taste in music.

*

Whenever I had time to think, I tried to gather all the characters and plot strands into my head, and see if I could braid them together. Once, I was walking up the hill to the café, watching the road, mind wandering, and I thought, sternly: Look away from the road. Think about Riley. So I did, I looked away from the road, and thought of Riley, and as I did, I sensed something was wrong — something odd about the road — and just as I turned sideways to look, a cyclist crashed into the side of a taxi cab and flew through the air.

Her collarbone was broken in three places. The taxi driver said it was her fault. She said it was his. I was the only witness. And the facts that mattered — the moment that counted — was the moment I had turned from the road.

I sensed something was wrong, I said in the courtroom, there was an oddness at the edge of my eye. The judge was unimpressed.

*

It was the best time I ever had writing a novel. I’ve never felt so close to my characters, nor been so excited about the ideas that I wanted to explore. I wanted to write about Amelia and Riley, two new students who have come to Ashbury High. It was my way of putting the ‘bad’ kids from Brookfield in the same room as the ‘lucky’ kids of Ashbury. I wanted to write about the terrible things that can happen to people when other people, misguidedly, try to help them; the fact that no ‘troubled’ person will ever be the passive, grateful recipient of charity that the idealistic want them to be; that people are always complex and active with plans of their own.

I loved the first person accounts I was reading of Australian and Irish history; I loved the mischievous drift of gothic literature from solemn to self-parody and back again; I loved the idea of a spectrum of flawed motherhood, and of truth, of past falling into future, of hope blending with imagination; a spectrum of betrayal and forgiveness — the things you can forgive, the things you can’t.
And also I wanted to write about ghosts.


*

Mostly though, I liked the way my days worked when I was writing this book.
I spent mornings playing with Charlie in parks or at the beach; and most afternoons, writing. In the café, I drank fruits-of-the-forest tea and ate dark chocolate rocky road.

There were difficult days — days when he wouldn’t sleep and he’d call from his cot, and I’d call back, ‘You have to sleep! I have to pay the rent!’ — and days when I was too tired to write or think; and the whole three years that I was writing the book were shadowed with the shock of that loss.

But, also — at the exact same time — the three years were alight with happiness and wonder; a baby turning into a person.

Writing while a baby is sleeping in the next room — or while he is playing downstairs with a babysitter — is the happiest writing I have done.
I've been very, very lucky with babysitters, and in a way, the story of the writing of Amelia/Ghosts is the story of them. So this is where I'll finish.

There was A, the original lovely babysitter, an English girl with a gentle voice, who rugged him up in blankets, and pushed his pram up the hill; when she flew away we met E, who became more than ‘babysitter,’ she’s a part of the family, and has been with us ever since — a finance student with a perfect instinct for children and what they need, she takes him to the soccer field to kick the ball around; she gave him gum boots so on rainy days they go on long puddle walks; she noticed that the wheels of his trike were on back-to-front and, the following week, arrived with a wrench, and fixed them for him.

Along the way, there has also been C, a New Zealand opera singer, who filled the house with her rendition of the Hokey-Pokey (it was around this time that Charlie started getting a confused, discontented look on his face whenever I sang, and eventually asked me to stop), and took him on ‘adventures’ to find motorbikes, spiders, and boats. There was also T, the only boy, who had imaginary sword fights with him; another C, who let him dig in her garden, and pick cherry tomatoes from her vine; G, who makes caterpillars out of egg cartons; and M, who arrives with charcoal, paper, and giant coffee-table art books.

*

One of my favourite memories is this: I was in my study working on Amelia/Ghosts; my study window overlooks the backyard. Charlie was sitting on the back patio with his opera-singer babysitter, and I could hear the murmur of their voices. I had just been downstairs to get a cup of tea, so I knew what they were doing out there. They were rescuing a beetle: a beetle cocooned so tightly and comprehensively in a spider’s web, that you couldn’t tell it was a beetle at all. They were slowly, methodically, untangling it. In the end, they set it free.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

23. On putting the jug of water on the floor, instead of on the desk, so I won’t spill it over the computer

Do you ever write a text or e-mail, and then a voice in your head says, urgently: Don’t send that! – you’ll regret it – whatever you do, don’t send that! While another voice is raising its eyebrows archly: I’m going to, you know! And so you send it. Your heart thudding.

Also, in the future, do you think that mobile phones will split into pieces when you drop them, and fry when they get wet in the rain? Will computers crash when you spill coffee on them?

Getting up suddenly – remembering something I had to do downstairs — the jug of water on the floor flew sideways. A gushing flood of water over cords and electrical outlets and tangled modems and wireless routers. The rush and shock of it!

I got them all up out of the way. Turned off the power at the wall. Put some towels down, opened the window. It was all fine in the end. Not such a big deal. But at the time!

*

Charlie running alongside me down the hill, saying, ‘Go, go, go’ and instructing me to do the same. Then he pauses, glances up at me: ‘I just have to stop and swallow the water.’ After a moment I realise he means the build-up of saliva. Most people, they just swallow that.

At breakfast, eating toast, he remarks, friendly, ‘I don’t like the black crunchy bits.’ A lot of people, in that situation, they'd tell me I'd burnt the toast.

A while ago, I put all his soft toys – teddies, puppies, snowmen, cows – in a bag and hung it from the living room door handle. I wondered when he would notice they were missing. Days went by, and then the bag caught his eye. He looked inside, busy and curious, then nodded, once, and murmured to himself: 'Everybody’s in here.’

Saturday, May 22, 2010

22. Smiling, distracted

Windows over darling harbour, tall ships, a submarine, and the yacht that a teenage girl just sailed around the world.

There were four writers – two men, two women – and a group of girls, all around the table. They were beautiful listeners, the girls. Once, a few of them smiled, distracted, but it was only that a dragon was passing behind the glass.

‘I wouldn’t dress up in that,’ said someone, ‘if you paid me a million dollars.’
I would. It was a sparkling, colourful dragon suit. It was magical! I would like to wear it to a cocktail party. I would wear it to water the garden!

But only if someone was likely to look over the fence and say, 'Look at you! You're a dragon!'

‘Once you have written your novel,’ said a writer, ‘it is no longer yours.’ He was talking about criticism, and how you have to learn to take it. He told how a reviewer once said, of one of his books: this should be pulped, and so should the person who wrote it.
Which was fine, he said. He didn’t mind that.
I would have. I would have minded a lot.
Another writer said that she had read that very book and loved it.
‘I’m glad that some people liked it,’ he said, ‘but—’
‘Not liked it,’ corrected the writer. ‘Loved it.’

It was good to hear what the other three writers had to say. They were all sensible and smart, and made me want to read their books.

Someone asked about names. Do you need to get the names of your characters right before you begin. Someone asked about character development. Then someone said: look, is there a publisher—is there one particular publisher you can go to—who will—who is most likely just to publish your book, and get it right?

It seemed to me to be a perfect question. What is all this talk of criticism, character, dialogue, and polishing! Just tell me where to go to be a writer! It was oddly soothing, the question, like saying: I see there are many coloured doors that I could take in life from this point — please stop describing the various paths to the doors, and tell me. Just tell me. Which one — which one goes direct to happiness?

Everyone was quiet for a moment.

Eventually, one of the writers said: You will get rejected. Probably several times.
You will knock on the wrong door. You will be unhappy. Maybe over and over.

I didn’t mention the writer I once met whose first novel was accepted by all five of the publishers he sent it to. That's unusual.

Later, the youngest writer at the table said, ‘Writers these days are getting younger.’
And the other female writer — who was older — said briskly, ‘And older too.’
‘I didn’t mean—’ said the young writer, ‘I’m just saying — that they are.’

I hope writers these days are getting younger. I took the ferry home thinking: I hope I’m getting younger.