Tuesday, July 29, 2008


A fair bit has been happening since last I beamed in. I miss my little blog when I’m away. I see so many of these damn things in my day-to-day work and I often wonder over their amazing popularity, with the writers if no one else. The crafty community bloody loves them. You can’t stitch a new apron without photographing it and posting it and discussing it. Who am I to criticise though? At least with their blogs they’re actually making something. I find myself banging on about some duck dish I ate somewhere or an Austrian white wine I recently sipped. Weighty stuff, for sure.

Nonetheless I think the charm of ‘blogland’ is that it’s ultimately just for us. And, for me, someone who has devised and divined so many communication tools for so many other people over the years, it’s like I get to take 30 minutes and build my own little mini magazine, complete with photos and a too-personal letter from the editor. I just need access to designer fashions, a town car and someone to deliver coffee and I am the Miranda Priestly of my own tiny domain. True, in this Miranda’s domain I can hear that the washing machine – best known as Mr Simpson – has just finished his cycle but, for a moment, it all washes away. Ha! Get it? Washes …

Anyhoo there’s been the October magazine deadline, the Crime and Justice Festival, the visit of the mother-in-law (sadly stereotypically disappointing) my three day strike (where I tried to do as little work as possible, not enter a supermarket, write only for creative purposes and see the Get Smart movie), dinner and a Maeve Binchy inspired movie with Mum and a beautiful, very Melbourne, night on the town for Miss R’s birthday that involved drinks at the Carlton Hotel in Bourke Street followed by dinner at Punch Lane and more drinks, hiccup, at the bar at Florentino. Heaven.

Oh and did I mention I finally pressed SEND on version three of the 45,200 word corporate history I have been writing? Praise the lord! Let it be over.

The Crime and Justice Festival was an interesting foray. Definitely those grounds are a wonderful place to meet and discuss ideas. Melbourne’s winter does give them a slightly bleak aspect but it was fun to walk around pretending to be one of the young women “in moral danger” that the Good Shepherd Sisters cared for a hundred years ago. Hopefully their rooms were slightly better heated than the one that housed the Peter Temple lecture,

So … he had read my blog. How ghastly. I think I know how it happened … unless he is an obsessed googler about himself. Let’s just say lessons have been learned. He was terribly gracious about the whole thing however. And, I have to say, his talk was very witty and his readers love him. In fact, there was so much obvious respect for him amongst the audience and other writers who spoke at the event that it was quite touching. Like he was a cricketer I’d hit a few balls with in the playground and now he was batting for Australia and on the telly every other day in summer.

Both Peter Temple and Michael Robotham (another Australian born ex-journo and now successful crime author) couldn’t express more clearly and energetically how bad they thought journalism was for the soul and the skills of the would be novelist. Thanks guys! Nevertheless, Temple had some great advice which I have been trying to act on rather than mull over; a turn up for the books in itself.

I am now terribly excited at the thought of the upcoming Melbourne Writers Festival for which I have bought an embarrassing array of tickets. I think, however, that immersing oneself in workshops and all day classes on any topic is absolute bliss when you’re someone who does not have the time/money/inclination to be in full time study. It feels so decadent and it takes you worlds away from Mr Simpson’s cycles and supermarket foraging.

I really could go on for ages … don’t you know … but I have to prepare for my tax meeting today. Could life be more thrilling?

I’ve had some very nice feedback about this blog in recent weeks. I am touched by one and all because I know everyone has better things to do than read the rants of a woman in a sunroom sporting striped pyjama pants and un-brushed teeth at 10.25am in the morning but … there you go!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Bicycle tyres on the hot green surface
You're wearing a safety vest in the middle of the day
You're riding in a velodrome for fuck's sake
What do you need with a safety vest?

The grass is all I can smell
It's been cut recently and bits stick to me
There's an absence of loud noise this afternoon
Just the machine-like sounds of crickets and some Dad calling to his child
And you, of course, on that bloody bike, passing me again and again

You've started doing a few tricks now
Weaving up and down the side of the velodrome
You've also started making eye contact when you pass
You must be in your late 30s, early 40s
That's got to be your daughter pedalling behind you
For God's sake! It's time I go home

- by Me - 25/1/08

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Justice for crap writers

So it's deadline for the magazine again .... and I go to ground to get the little treasure written. One day I will have to count the total amount of words I write in one issue; one day when I have been sacked and have the time to do that kind of thing.

So, just to keep my blogging hand in, may I say that I am COMPLETELY looking forward to attending the Crime and Justice Festival at the Convent in Abbotsford this weekend. What a reward at the end of a slogging week.

One of the sessions I am sitting in on is with crime writer, Peter Temple. He is South African born but has lived in Australia for a long time. I know this not because I have to google him but because he was one of our principal lecturers at RMIT when I was studying journalism. Even now, as I write about him, I feel ill. After all, is that the correct spelling of 'principal' in this instance?

He was the only lecturer who ever genuinely tested me, who I ever really tried for. He humiliated and terrified us and the red pen marks that covered essays after he'd marked them looked like he'd cut his wrists during the session. Often he probably wanted to.

It was not just me either. He wrote sarcastic and downright mean comments on many people's work. For me, once, he gave me 10 per cent and wrote 'charity mark' next to it. Bless him.

Unfortunately he is one helluva writer. If you see his novels - The Broken Shore for example - pick it up. It's got nothing to do with whether you like crime genre. You just have to like good writing. It makes me sick. Why can't he be lousy? It would make it simple then to hate him.
Instead I look back on my studies with him and am very grateful. I envy his talent but know a large part of his success lies in his commitment to perfection and attention to detail. This commitment can be tough to live with when you're 19 years old and just discovering the joys of beer in various sticky pubs around Swanston Street but, in the long run (yawn yawn), apparently it is essential. At least, in later years, I discovered a little weakness the great man did have. It gives me relief to know he is indeed human. We all end up with a little red pen on some aspect of our lives.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

the other side of the story

You know one of the reasons the eulogy topic pops into my head in terms of my father is because there are always a number of ways to see and describe a person or thing. It just depends on where you are standing.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Dad's funeral is that the young, hip, modern priest took our honest account of the old fella and really honed in on the, admittedly numerous, negatives. If he used the term "flawed" human being once he used it a thousand times. Said priest has since left the business, so I hear.

Still, my recent scribblings about an alternative eulogy in no way paint the entire picture of the man who raised me. And, to be honest, I would never write the other side of the Dorian Gray portrait here. But someone who has done that - in a form so wonderful I could never achieve - is writer, George Bilgere.

Listening to Writer's Alamanac (www.writersalmanac.publicradio.org) on podcast over the weekend, this poem was read. Go with it for the beginning, really feel it then watch as George presents a subtle knife and quietly gives you a slice. He brings it back to the positive but, for my money, this is one helluva great presentation of the two faces of a family, the two faces of a story. In George's case the positive light seems like it might have been fictional. For me, thank God, it was anything but ...

Like Riding a Bicycle
by George Bilgere

I would like to write a poem
About how my father taught me
To ride a bicycle one soft twilight,
A poem in which he was tired
And I was scared, unable to disbelieve
In gravity and believe in him,
As the fireflies were coming out
And only enough light remained
For one more run, his big hand at the small
Of my back, pulling away like the gantry
At a missile launch, and this time, this time
I wobbled into flight, caught a balance
I would never lose, and pulled away
From him as he eased, laughing, to a stop,
A poem in which I said that even today
As I make some perilous adult launch,
Like pulling away from my wife
Into the fragile new balance of our life
Apart, I can still feel that steadying hand,
Still hear that strong voice telling me
To embrace the sweet fall forward
Into the future's blue
Equilibrium. But,

Of course, he was drunk that night,
Still wearing his white shirt
And tie from the office, the air around us
Sick with scotch, and the challenge
Was keeping his own balance
As he coaxed his bulk into a trot
Beside me in the hot night, sweat
Soaking his armpits, the eternal flame
Of his cigarette flaring as he gasped
And I fell, again and again, entangled
In my gleaming Schwinn, until
He swore and stomped off
Into the house to continue
Working with my mother
On their own divorce, their balance
Long gone and the hard ground already
Rising up to smite them
While I stayed outside in the dark,
Still falling, until at last I wobbled
Into the frail, upright delight
Of feeling sorry for myself, riding
Alone down the neighborhood's
Black street like the lonely western hero
I still catch myself in the act
Of performing.

And yet, having said all this,
I must also say that this summer evening
Is very beautiful, and I am older
Than my father ever was
As I coast the Pacific shoreline
On my old bike, the gears clicking
Like years, the wind
Touching me for the first time, it seems,
In a very long time,
With soft urgency all over.

"Like Riding a Bicycle" by George Bilgere, from The Good Kiss. © University of Akron Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. – I stole from http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2008/07/05

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Families remind me of fathers

I spent four days in Byron Bay recently (well Bangalow to be precise - AKA God's country). The main reason was to be there for Mrs R’s birthday but I also had a meeting about a website I am writing the text for. Nice work if you can get it.

Mrs and Mrs R have possession of my goddaughter, my best (small) boyfriend and, now, my new favourite poochy friend called Louis Vuitton. I am proud to say that, while Louis was named by his four-year-old owner, it was Mrs R and I who came up with his surname while we were in New York. We felt that, because he was a tad plain at the time, he needed a little help in the élan department.

I am now proud to report he cuts a fine and gorgeous figure although he did smell remarkably similar to a jar of duck fat I picked up from the Essentail Ingredient not so long ago. Don’t ask me why. Regardless I am in love and, while I will respect everyone’s privacy in terms of photos, a few ones the witness protection programme would allow are shown here.

Spending some time within a little family unit got me thinking about my own family. One night recently when sleep wouldn’t come I got to thinking about how much I regretted not eulogising my father at his funeral. I could never have done it; too much of a blithering mess. As I get older, however, he begins to loom larger than life as quite a pisser of a bloke and someone who, though very traditional in so much of his attitudes, was quite odd in his own day-to-day ways.

So here, for my own benefit, are a few of the best things I remember about him, 10 years too late perhaps:

1. He was the man who had the common sense to drive off on me one day when, aged around 15 or 16, I came out of the hairdressers with a style that involved a flat top on top, shaved sides and a bob at the back. Help!

2. He grew up in Ireland on a farm. Farm people are not meant to hold animal life too dearly. Dad put a notice in the paper when our rabbit died. He was the one who killed it. (Admittedly it had myxomatosis.)

3. He had gout but he didn’t say much about it. He just cut pieces out of his shoes where they pressed on the sore areas.

4. He brought us home a sheep for a while. We lived in a suburban housing estate. The sheep was black; we called it Teddy (as in Teddy Bear). He used to walk it. On a lead. Around the block. I was in my early teens. No I was not embarrassed!

5. Dad loved grooming. Born in more recent times I think he might have been a good stylist or hairdresser. He was a big bloke and, in my day, he always wore overalls (ironed sharply by Mum, of course) but he’d stand in the doorway of the bathroom and talk to my sister and I as we did our makeup. He often commented on what we wore, how our makeup was done, even what perfume we chose (“smells like a brothel in here” was his most common observance there). My favourite photo of him involves him sitting in the backyard in the afternoon sun quietly plaiting the hair on one of my dolls.

6. Dad wasn’t much of a reader. He left school at age nine and used to sit in a tree, smoking, and watching the others kids walk to class. The only thing I ever saw him read were those old school cowboy books in paperback. Yet he supported and encouraged me in any of my pursuits. Once, when some mad woman got me involved in a Sylvia Plath poetry reading, Dad drove himself and Mum into Greville Street to a tiny airless bookshop to listen while I stood, like a wanker, in front of a buch of poor sods, to read from The Bell Jar. My God! What a man.

And people ask me why I don’t have kids.

When writers write back

An amazing thing happened after writing about Jack Kerley’s book, The Death Collectors. I went onto his website out of interest (I am of course always fascinated by people who have successfully thrown off corporate life to become novelists) and left a comment and the lovely man sent me a really detailed response. Bet bloody Stephen King doesn’t do that!

Here’s a little of what he said … “Although I never sold ice to Eskimos, I did write lyrics for singing hot dogs. I think that's in the same basic category. I've also freelanced … Years ago a fellow was a thousand bucks or so in debt to me (back when that was real money). I went to his office to hear his latest sob story, then glanced through the window at his fleet of snow-white service vehicles and mused how someone with a can of spray paint could find creative release in his parking lot. Got a check two days later. Never underestimate the power of malevolent musings.”

Now you see that’s not advice they dole out at journalism school! Naturally I am now reading his first novel, The Hundredth Man, alongside Peony in Love (about love, death and ghosts in 17th century China). I like to mix it up a bit.