Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Letter to Charlie #1

I have heard that bloggers often write to their babies. Once a month or so they write a letter to their baby, and post it on their blog. That sounded like a good idea to me. There are a number of things I’d like to tell Charlie. So, here is the first letter.

Dear Charlie,

You are 9 months old. No, as a matter of fact, you just turned 10 months old. Yesterday. Can you belive it? Me neither.

I apologise for not having written sooner.

You are unbelievably cute. You have two little teeth in the centre bottom, and two more teeth either side up the top. They are eye teeth, I think, although some people might call them fangs.

I saw you push your tongue against the bottom teeth, feeling them. I thought how strange that must be for you, a new presence in your mouth.

You like it when I say, “bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, flyyyy!” and toss you up in the air. Each bounce is steadily higher, there is suspense building up, and then when I say, “fly!” I let go. You get some air. You don’t always enjoy that really. It’s more the suspense that you like.

I have noticed that you sometimes grin when you don’t understand what I’m saying. When I say something like, “Can’t forget to buy laundry detergent or we’ll have nothing left to wear!” in a joking sort of voice. You give me a friendly grin. And then a troubled look skitters across your face. I think it’s because you don’t actually get the joke. You know, from my tone of voice, that it is a joke, and so you smile politely. But you’re hoping I won’t ask a question that requires you to admit, "I don’t know what laundry detergent is. What do you mean?"

Charlie, do not be troubled. It’s my fault. I have never explained to you what laundry detergent is. Why should you know?

(Or maybe you are genuinely troubled that we might run out of clean clothes. If so, forgive me for underestimating you.)

In the last few days you have begun the deliberate dropping of items over the edge of your high chair. You do this in a very cool, sophisticated way. When you’ve had enough of your cream cheese sandwich you hold your hand out to the right and let it drop. You continue facing me as you do this. Sometimes I catch it as it falls, but mostly it just lands on the floor.

Charlie, that was cute for a while, but enough now. It’s messing up the floor. When you’re full, just place the sandwich neatly on the high chair tray and brush your hands together. Thanks.

I’m not sure if those bloggers' babies answer these letters, but I’ll assume you plan to reply.

If I can put the effort in.

I have quite a few questions, but I’ll just ask one for now. This is my question:

Well, I’ve noticed that you do not find many things humorous over time. One day it’ll be a real laugh-riot every time I pick up a pillow and say, “Quack!” The next day, you’ll be, like, “Yeah, I heard that one before.” Staring, bored, maybe a slow blink, so I feel like a bit of a fool with the pillow in the air.

But there’s one thing makes you laugh consistently. Ever since you were, what, two months old? Ever since then, every single time I sing, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, you put your thumb in your mouth and grin. Now and then in the course of the song you giggle. By the time I get to my gentle fade in the last line of the song, you’re killing yourself with hysterics.

Think it’s a real hoot, don’t you?

So, my question is this: what’s so funny, Charlie?

Much love,
Your Mum


Today I decided to transcribe every word that Charlie said. As a first step in deciphering his language. At breakfast time, I ate Special K with strawberries, and Charlie ate mango-flavoured rice cereal with banana. Between mouthfuls, he said the following:




[Deep sigh through the nose.]

[angrily] Um!

[with resignation] Um.

[with interest] Um!

[unexpectedly] Eeyaha nutting!

The telephone rang and I gave Charlie a drinking straw to keep him entertained. At this, he murmured, “Um.”

I answered the phone. “Yes, hi,” said a brisk and friendly voice. “Is that PMM Media?” I apologised and said that it was not. “Okay! Thanks! Bye!” said the voice in the same brisk, friendly tone.

As I returned to Charlie I realised he was genuinely chatting to himself. Syllables were running together like strings of lanterns.

But I’d left my notepad by the phone. He was quiet again when I sat down and I offered more banana.

After breakfast, we played with various things. I played with the musical toolbench and Charlie played with the box of Kleenex. I recall that, at this time, Charlie said, repeatedly, “Yeah!” with intense excitement. Also, repeatedly, “Yeah,” with a kind of depressed resignation (something like the sound that crows make around these parts).

I moved on to playing with the plastic dump truck while Charlie played with my bedside chest of drawers. Now, I recall, he said, repeatedly: “Yay!” and “Yay.”

It was a time of affirmation and celebration.

We went for a walk and, from his pram, Charlie said, “Ji Ji” and “Hm”. He began to fall asleep. “Don’t fall asleep!” I said, alarmed. “You have to wait until we get home and fall asleep in your cot so I can write a novel!” But Charlie regarded me a moment, and fell asleep again.

I went to a convenience store, bought an exercise book and three different coloured pens, and took Charlie to a café. He slept in the pram for half an hour while I worked on ideas for a short story.

The story is for an anthology called Does this Book Make me Look Fat? It’s being edited by Marissa Walsh. I wrote a story for another collection of hers last year. That one was called, Not Like I’m Jealous or Anything. Some of my favourite young adult writers, including Susan Juby and Ned Vizzini, also contributed to that one.

We came back home, ate lunch, and the new babysitter arrived. She is here now, with Charlie. I am in my study. I am supposed to be writing a novel. But I am writing a blog. I should say what my next book will be, and what I am working on now. A lot of people e-mail and ask me those questions.

So, I will start another post now, and answer the questions.

Charlie is playing down the hall right now. I can hear the babysitter’s gentle murmur and now and then Charlie says, “Yee.”

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor will be released in the US and Australia in October, and in the UK next year. It’s a revised version of I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes. In many ways, it’s the same book, but there’s a lot of new material about a girl named Listen Taylor.

I rewrote Pancakes because my American editor was intrigued by the character of Listen. Listen Taylor, twelve years old, was already very important – her Spell Book is central to the plot – but she was also very quiet. My editor wanted to hear her voice. He wanted to know why her friends were so cruel. And what exactly she thought about the Zing Family Secret.

When I started to write more about Listen, an unexpected thing happened. Other parts of the book began to shift. For example, Listen’s older brother became her father. Her mother ran away to Paris. Some of the other adults disappeared, some of their actions stopped making sense, and some of them became more complete.

The result is a different story, and one that is aimed more at young adults. At this point I’d like to finish with a clever line about how Listen has flipped Pancakes. Or has added maple syrup. But that would be just too sweet.

What I am Working on Right Now

Right now I suppose I’m working on this blog. Writing it, anyway. As soon as I’ve posted this, however, I am going to write a novel for an hour and then I’m going to work on cleaning up the study. I’m supposed to do nothing except write while the babysitter is here, but you should see this study.

Wait. You can see the study. I can take a photo and put it here. The crazy world of the web. It really makes you think.

And then, once it’s cleaned up, I can take an After Shot and post that too. Although that will be less interesting. Just carpet and bookshelves.

When I am actually writing, I am working on three things. The first is a young adult book in the Ashbury-Brookfield series. It’s going to be a ghost story. Soon I will write a post and describe it, but at the moment I feel sleepy from chocolate and apple-and-cinnamon tea. The second is a book about a seventeen-year-old girl who receives extracts from a self-improvement book in the mail. She doesn’t know who’s sending them. They arrive, mysteriously, every few years, until she’s thirty-five years old. That one will be called The Effort of Pleasure or else a title which uses the word Zebra. The third is a five-book series about the Kingdom of Cello.

The Other Day

The other day we had breakfast by the fire downstairs. Charlie had yoghurt with orange juice squeezed on top. Then we hung out for a while. I watched for tired signs. I saw one: he put his head down on the floor and closed his eyes. It’s not in the books but surely, I thought shrewdly, surely falling asleep is a tired sign?

Charlie slept and I worked outside in the patch of sunlight on the lawn. I read a library book and took notes for my ghost story.

I met my parents down by the water at Thelma and Louise. We sat at the table outside in the winter sun. The café sent out coffee for Dad and hot chocolate for Mum and me. They sent a paper bag full of marshmallows, and some warm croissants. The table paint was scratched. Charlie in his pram watched us carefully. He ate his avocado sandwich but all the time his eyes moved from Mum to Dad to me. Eventually, he tilted his head to the side, and Mum did the same, and this made him grin and relax.

Then Mum and Dad took the ferry into town. At the winter sun table, I was talking to Charlie with my back to the water, and then I turned and there they were, my parents. They’d walked onto the deck of the boat to wave to me. I waved back vigorously, and at once they spun around and headed inside out of the wind.

That New Tunnel

I’ve driven through that new tunnel a few times. It doesn’t feel so generous any more. Now that they charge a toll.

And there was that episode with the ten thousand fines. Ten thousand fines sent out by speed cameras. People were ringing the radio station saying, I’m sure I didn’t speed! In the end they cancelled all the tickets. But still. The atmosphere has changed. Driving into the tunnel you sense something hushed and fearful. Brake lights flare up ahead. Cars seem to cower along.

Another Day

Another day, the rain and deep purple clouds and wind, but still I walked to my friend’s house, and Charlie wore his jacket and hat, and two blankets pulled around his shoulders, and I buttoned the stormy-rain cover over the pram. It was a brisk chill walk with ice sprinkles of rain. And when I arrived my friend opened the door and at once I was overcome with the warm smell of baking. It brought tears to my eyes. ‘I don’t think they’re my finest hour,’ said my friend. ‘I forgot to separate the dry ingredients.’ Then she brought the baking to the table, along with coffee and chocolate, and this friend, she is bright and beautiful, and she has had many fine hours, but those warm raspberry muffins, those were her finest hour.

The Last Few Weeks

In the last few weeks I have met the extraordinary writer, Rachel Cohn. (Her books are some of my all-time favourites – all her characters are still running around inside my head.) We had coffee at Bathers Pavilion in Balmoral. She taught Charlie how to make an elegant popping sound with his lips. She taught me how to wind down the windows in my new car.

Also, in the last few weeks, I’ve read Rachel Cohn’s latest books, Cupcake, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (which she wrote with David Levithan, another favourite writer). Both books kept me awake most of the night and both made me laugh and laugh and cry.

Also, in the last few weeks I’ve been to a coupla parties. One was out at Bronte, a moonlit garden party. It seemed to me that gentle laughter and seamless chatter drifted from group to group. Also, it seemed to me that there were several famous children’s authors there and that everyone was beautiful and lantern-lit. There was a baby asleep on the couch, just through the sliding glass doors, with cushions on the floor in case she woke and slipped. Charlie was in my arms. I was especially glad to meet the authors Justine Larbalestier (who wrote the Madness or Magic trilogy) and Randa Abdel-Fattah (who wrote Does My Head Look Big in This?) and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy and Realm of Possibility). Justine pulled faces at Charlie and made him smile in amazement.

There was another moonlit party too; this was by the harbour at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Someone mentioned Charlie in a speech. He was referred to, in this speech, as a baby. I don’t think he minded. Also at this party, Charlie reached out from his pram and tugged on the edge of a white linen table cloth. A heavy glass candle slid sideways, and almost toppled down onto his head.

This wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know the candle was there. The angle of his vision was wrong.

Once, in the last few weeks, I saw the neighbour emerge from his house. This was around midday. He pulled his hood up over his head and disappeared into the rain.