Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ordered today on Amazon!

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

British creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson believes we're all born with creative capacities but we lose them the more time we spend in the world.

Here him speak at

Another interesting interview on the go at the moment is between Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh and author of 25 books, and Ramona Koval (The Book Show, Radio National) . He calls himself a Christian agnostic.

Interesting bloke ... not that flattering about organised religion but this is a nice quote hey?

"So the saints I'm talking about are the people who see power and challenge it, who speak against it even though it may end in them being crucified or killed, and there are always very few of them, but they make me shiver at the thought of their courage, and I hope occasionally, just occasionally, to emulate it."

Ok - that's my acknowledgement of this 'religious' time of year.

Season's greetings!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Old dogs, new tricks

VALE Louis Vuitton, pictured here, who - last weekend - had a fight with a car and he lost. I took him for an imaginary run on Monday when I got the news. We had a lot of fun. Bebe, THE dog of my girlhood and truly a girl's best friend, ran out from the bushes too and joined in the run. I feel ok. They are going to be friends in pooch heaven.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Learning from a 'made up' world

I have a relative who does not read fiction. She says there is too much ‘real’ stuff to learn about in the world so who has time for made up stories? I get her point, I really do, but I cannot tow her line. Made up stories, as she calls these, have kept me sane for years. Reading widely and voraciously is essential to my wellbeing. Now if that means I have some problem dealing with reality then, so be it. I do have problems dealing with reality. Deal with that!

I learn from my ‘made up’ sources though …

For instance, when in periods of brain drain where the "leetle grey cells", as Hercule Poirot calls them, are working overtime on claustrophobic matters, like the budgetary topics I’m working on for the mag currently, I really need easy reading. Hence, when Mrs P handed me a copy of John Grisham’s The Summons, last week I danced around for a minute and then snapped it up, knowing Grisham’s expert tale telling skills would carry me along without me having to think too much.

Still … a writer like Grisham doesn’t miss his chance to get across some theories about modern politics and society in the USA’s South and one can delve into that further if one wishes. I did not wish but I did FINALLY look up the term ‘antebellum’ which has come up a million times in books about the South. Now, with my growing interest in interiors and architecture, knowing what this word means takes on even more relevance.

To quote my favourite office researcher, Wiki: The Antebellum Period (from the Latin ante ‘before’ and bellum ‘war’) was the time period in America from after the birth of the United States to the start of the American Civil War. The Antebellum Age was a time of great transition because of the industrial revolution in America. It also was a time of growth in slavery in the American South. It was a phase in American history when America spread towards the west coast which among historians is generally referred to as ‘Westward Expansion’.

The term antebellum is also used to describe the architecture of the pre-war South. Many Southern plantation houses use this style, including the one I have pictured, the Parrott-Camp-Soucy House built in 1890 ~ Victorian Antebellum. Fantastic! And what a great prompt for a story or novel.

Now other books I have read recently, while fiction, have led me to pick up books of fact. One is The Essential Golden Dawn, an introduction to High Magic. Bet you did not know that The Golden Dawn is one of the most influential and respected systems of magic in the world. Over a century old, the teachings of this once-secret society are considered the capstone of the Western Esoteric Tradition.

Now I am no witch, I don’t even see a naturopath but I have an open mind and, more to the point, I love to know about the other-worldly things great men of history have been captivated by. This group, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, sound so bizarre I just have to know more. In this matter it is certainly a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn) was a magical order founded in Great Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which practiced theurgy (rites for bringing down to earth planetary and other spirits or gods and spiritual development). Apparently it has been one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.

Now I can’t remember what brought me to this book. I think Golden Dawn members were mentioned in a particularly dreary English novel I read a few months back. I think a few members were authors (including Yeats) and I decided to find out more. I can’t promise how much of The Essential Golden Dawn I will get through but I’ll bloody well enjoy trying.

Actually Algernon Henry Blackwood was one of the members, I remember now. Blackwood, CBE (14 March 1869 – 10 December 1951) was an English writer of fiction dealing with the supernatural, who was also a journalist and a broadcasting narrator. Hence I am also reading his book, John Silence, Psychical Investigator. See how it all works?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vicki Pollard sold this house

I swear to God ... I was walking home from dropping the car at the garage today for daylight robbery service (the bend over while we give it to you gold standard from Holden) when I saw that Vicki Pollard from Woodards Bentleigh is running around selling houses. I ask ya, "Would you buy a house from this woman?"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reading Science Fiction has changed my wardrobe slightly

I recently read a Sci Fi book called House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. I hadn't read Sci Fi since I was a teenager but I've wanted to branch out in my reading and a young lad in my writing class earlier this year was an aficionado. Plus, I have a library card. It's a failsafe doorway to varied, no cost reading.

Reynolds is no simnple fantasist, creating a Harry Potter like world that relies on nothing more than imagination and memories of fairytales gone. He has a Ph. D in astronomy and spent years working as an astrophysicist.

See this is what I like about my blog. I can remind myself that I got through this BIG book - 473 pages - because, as complicated and 'sciency' as it was, it had a good story at its heart, full of adventure and romance, just based six million years after man first walked the earth. That's all!

Anyhoo, he is apparently famous for his space operas. Now I had to look these up straight away. Wiki says: "Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing powerful (and sometimes quite fanciful) technologies and abilities. Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale." So now we know that.

I don't see myself reading a whole heap of this but I was intrigued to know more about some of the things in Reynolds' bio. One for instance, was his position as a 'Gollancz' bestseller. I looked up Gollancz and discovered it's a publishing company, part of Orion Books. It publishes a range of popular and critically acclaimed authors, including Alastair Reynolds, as well as a number of Terry Pratchett titles. Its Science Fiction and Fantasy Masterworks series, reissuing the great novels in the two genres, have been widely acclaimed. Since 2005, Gollancz has also published Manga. See, now if I ever decide to write a SF book, I know which company to approach.

There's also the matter of his Arthur C. Clarke Award. Apparently this is the most prestigious award for science fiction in Britain. Clarke wrote 100 books and more than 1,000 short stories and essays over 60 years. Among his best-selling novels are Childhood's End, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama and Fountains of Paradise.

One of his short stories ('Dial F for Frankenstein', 1964) inspired British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee to invent the World Wide Web in 1989. Another short story ('The Sentinel', 1948) was expanded to make the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he co-wrote with director Stanley Kubrick. They shared an Oscar nomination for the best screenplay in 1969.

See ... I learn something every day ... when I blog.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Not quite Oprah's Aha moment!

The temperature has dropped and I can open the sunroom doors. "Big deal" says you but, for a chick who filed 12 pieces for the February issue last week and wrote a complete proposal for a new project upon which her income relies, this is akin to celebrating rain in the Kalahari Desert. The sunroom was hot last week, my cheap-o fan working overtime, and a box full of cans of Zero Coke was not helping. My blood and my thought patterns seemed to slow down along with my typing ratio. Glad to see the back of that one I promise you.

So as I wrote my TO DO list this morning, cool fresh air tickling my bare shoulders (ah ... I am wearing new fave strapless working from home maxi-dress. The glamour!) I stopped in my tracks and thought, "Blog - you must write something there today". Knowing I have been patchy to say the least in my postings I began to wonder why I had started this thing in the first place. I remember last year I had a re-think of the blog and wrote myself a new mission type statement about it.

This is what is great about a blog when you have a mind like a sieve like mine. You can go back and research what you previously thought and wrote. Hallelujah! If I could do this with every area of my life ... stop, rewind and discover what I promised someone else I'd do, what I promised myself I'd do, what I even thought about something, how much easier would things be? I tell you it would make my filing system easier. I seem to change that every week or two so discover important, meaningful items that would have been pertinent to various tasks and activities LONG after their time has passed. Maybe I need a filing blog ... note to self.

So, almost a year ago, this is what I wrote:

My blog, I have been forced to remind myself, is a way of maintaining some writing discipline away from work constraints. It has a purpose but one known only to me. That’s ok. If anything, in 2009 I hope to use it more constructively as a place to explore some thoughts and as a workroom. This is, I suppose, my online shed. Maybe I should redesign it to look like one? I have a constant supply of sticky notes and paper scraps with words, events, websites, ideas scribbled on them. My blog should be the place I pull this stuff together, research and investigate the various threads and chart the results of this activity, similar to the way a home handyman might gather design ideas and bits of woods to try and knock something together.

Hmmm … sure did sound like a good idea at the time. I still have the sticky notes. Pussy Prue is sitting on two of them now. If I look back at some of my postings I find I have investigated some thoughts and ‘leads’ from things I’ve been reading and listening to. Because I do have a shocking memory and am prone to speed reading and multi-tasking this has been good because I’ve actually stopped and looked a little more closely at certain things, researching them for a post and, therefore, understanding them a little better. I will stick to this for now but try and improve the writing.

I presented the first chapter of my book at my writing group last week and the response was warm (they’re nice, nice people) but I dreamt that night that I had a beautiful, sweet and loyal dog that I kept at a caravan park and visited every couple of weeks. When there I slathered it with love and attention, then just jumped in the car and took off, expecting it to fend for itself. I think the dog is my personal, creative writing. I focus in for a minute, get absorbed in character and plot and so forth and then wrack off back into the ‘real’ world and don’t think of it again for ages. Every thing comes before my writing, even drinking alcohol, going grocery shopping and watching crap TV. I know this is not good. I’ve read Habits of Highly Effective People for God’s sake!

Question: Can I change this situation? Does it matter?
Answer: Only to me but, then, doesn’t 90 per cent of what happens in our lives only really matters to us anyway?

Ooooh … deep.

PS: Mrs Underhill Book Club on hiatus til New Year. Nominate a book for us to read over summer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Away from home and blog

I am ashamed, deeply ashamed, at how long I have neglected my Mrs Underhill ramblings. Yes I had three weeks holiday and yes I vowed to stay away from the computer as much as possible over that time but, really, it just won't do!

Too much has happened to bang on about ... 10 days in a miner's cottage in Daylesford (writing darlings, writing), a soujourn down the west coast and much local drinking, eating, movie watching, napping and wide-ranging exploring.

General discoveries included the fact that, when presented with tracts of time to simply write fiction in, it is not as easy to knuckle down as one imagines. On the flip side, however, once immersed in a story, it is amazing how much in life can come in useful for your characters and setting.

Also discovered was the unique charm of the locals at Daylesford's Farmer's Arms on a quiet Friday afternoon, the fact that the Lake House restaurnat is hugely expensive but fun to frolic in and the fact that, five kilos later, all such culinary frolicking (and boozing) must come to an end.

So here are a couple of shots ... of Daylesford and of the 17th John's Rod and Custom Picnic (which we attended this Sunday just gone). Say no more!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Watching, reading & seeing

My senses have been overwhelmed of late & my life as the luckiest woman in the world proceeds unabated. (Loud knocking on wood will be undertaken now!)

· I was up close and personal with a 10-day-old baby, born to one of my dearest friends. I swear she eyeballed me and searched for answers though they say she can’t see yet. (I also got to see part of animated film, Ratatouille, until newborn’s brother decided to throw up. Seems he doesn’t like flicks about rats.)

· I’ve sat in a darkened theatre and watched the costumes and conniving of The Young Victoria. (A pretty film but forgettable!)

· I’ve finished listening to Harlan Coben’s The Woods.

· I’ve read and loved The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

· I’ve discovered I can load complete audio books in both MPS and old fashioned CD format onto my MP3 player.(I've fallen asleep to it too many nights already.)

· I’ve discovered loads of old Stephen Fry podcasts about language and travel and movies and more.

· I’ve rediscovered the library and can barely squeeze around the bed because of the 'topple' (a new collective noun I have come up with) of books that have formed a high rise development along the bedroom wall. There is everything from books on the history of automata, self-operating machines or mechanisms, especially robots (Living Dolls by Gaby Wood) to a fast paced suspense thriller called Belfast Confidential (not to mention the ‘young adult’ book on CD, Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery, by Peter Abrahams - one of Stephen King’s favourite authors).

(Not to be confused with, the new shoe selling website I discovered along the way ...)

I am STILL slogging through the production cycle of the double issue of the magazine. I am still hanging out for my 10 days in Daylesford. I am still coping with eyes as red as piss holes in the snow. I am still the luckiest girl in the world.

AND I have a new mantra as I go into every new situation and part of the day: Enjoy everything. Yep, it's as simple as that. And as lame. You have to see it in action to believe it!

Note: Clown Illusionist (Animated Worlds) from 'Musical Machines & Living Dolls', the exhibit of mechanical instruments and automata housed in the new wing of the Morris Museum in Morris Township.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Forgive me if I’m still twitchy about tweeting

I was listening to a bit of Lindy Burn on the way to supermarket last night, admittedly shagged after producing about 14 pages of the double issue during the day (applause all 'round for that massive achievement). Maybe my fatigue prompted my worry at hearing the discussion about how a 'tweet' from journalist and blogger, Mia Freedman, about a narcoleptic Dachshund had inspired a war of words via The Australian newspaper. See here to read the original story.

Basically Mia made light fun of YouTube footage of a sausage dog collapsing asleep while running across a backyard. A journo at The Oz, whose son suffers from narcolepsy, took umbridge, was heart-broken and shocked really, and wrote a huge tome in response with the headline, Tweet this, Mia: the misfortune of others isn't entertainment.

The details of this actual story don't interest me that much. Not here and now anyway. What does interest me is the conversation between Lindy and her on-air commentator, whose name I never caught (bad journo, bad ... but I had to skedaddle and get the steaks and red wine - it's about priorities people!).

Basically the two women went on and on about the hoardes of journalists and 'commentators' who are obsessed/addicted to Twitter and how, once you start using it, you are so prolific and so speedy that there really is no time for thoughtful processes, for reflection and meditation, the weighing up of facts, the educated pursuit of ideas and opinions. Oftentimes, it seems, you Tweet before you think.

Oh I am scared! This is what I constantly bang on about. History is peopled with great minds, people who really took a step back from the hurly burly and thought about things. Are we on the brink of losing that kind of tempered and intelligent thinking, educated/informed analysis and commentary forever? It’s seeping into every sphere ‘til we have the best selling music artists (Britney Spears) saying things like, “I don't really have time to sit down and write. But when I think of a melody, I call up my answering machine and sing it, so I won't forget it.” Yeah, that’s how The Rolling Stones probably wrote their classics.

I am not one of the great thinkers. We all know that! But I kind of count on there being some others out there who fit the bill. If George Bush was in office still he'd probably be Twittering. It sounds like the kind of thing he'd get into. Then, with a couple of key strokes, he'd have the USA in some new type of violent scandal.
Of course I did find a poseur with his name on Twitter and his latest comment was: "i can write boobies on a calculator!" Probably not far from the truth.
Are thousands of journos and commentators obsessed by Twitter? The woman with Lindy said she personally tweeted constantly throughout the day, in her office while doing seven other things. Great! A new form of multi tasking but one that may further undermine the evolution of the human mind.

I haven't taken care of my mind. For God's sake, I'm blogging! Thing is ... soon I am going to be in the brain dead majority ... and I had such high hopes for mankind.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Not trying

Anyone who is anyone knows I love a little Dolly Parton. I am also a fan of actress, Allison Janney (Juno, The West Wing) so I felt a little pulse of glee when I checked in on an old favourite podcast American Theatre Wing and discovered Allison was on speaking about her career and her role in the Broadway version of '9 to 5'.

I LOVE living in Melbourne, Australia, but when I see shows like this come and go and know I will a) never see them in that location (NY) and b) never with that cast, I feel a little c) gloomy for a second. Of course no matter where you live, unless you have caravans full of cash, you'll never get to see everything in every place so a nice dose of shut-the-fuck-up is required when these thoughts trot on by.

One thing I WOULD like to see, though, is one of the plays that Janney was in a long time ago called 'Five Women Wearing the Same Dress' by the uber talented Allan Ball. (Stolen from Wiki ...) The play is a comedy set at a wedding reception in Knoxville, Tennessee where five bridesmaids have found refuge in the room of Meredith, the sister of the bride. The women come to realise, among other things, that they are closer friends with each other than they are with the bride.
Allan Ball - who has created my wonderous TRUE BLOOD just seems unable to put a foot wrong. How is he capable of turning his talents to so many different genres? Is it just because he simply tries?
I have been trying to "not chase things" and, instead, allow them to come to me. Of course this does not rule out actually doing work. Work must always be done and effort exerted, but chasing is a different thing. In my mind it is about sucking up, creating work, opportunities and maybe, unconsciously, obstacles before giving other people (and dare I say it, the universe?) the chance to put some natural opportunities in your path.
I am very excited about the writing/holiday break I have booked in for October in lazy old Daylesford. I find myself thinking of plot points and so forth for a little project in my head and this has not happened for SO LONG.
I am completely energy zapped currently from the toll of getting the double issue of the mag together and out the door, hence the paucity (good word huh? Sounds like a disease of the gut!) of this post. Yet, I feel great excitement about writing about non quilting topics.
Also, providing a little stimulation, was last week's attendance at The Man in Black with the sexy Tex Perkins. Ah, where would the music world be without the spirit of Johnny Cash?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

No group hugs please

Saw M.J. Hyland at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday. She's the author of three novels - This is How, Carry Me Down, and How the Light Gets In. She also lectures in creative writing in Manchester where she lives now. She's not an Aussie though she has Australian connections having, studied English and law at the University of Melbourne.

I'd only read How the Light Gets In which I won't go into now because I am meant to be writing about craft and Australia's indigenous population for the huge double issue of GC we're putting together. Suffice to say it was an amazing debut novel, very original and worth getting your hands on. You'll loan out your daughters to worthy causes before they grow into teenagers after meeting the central character in this book.

Anyhoo, M.J. (we're on first name basis now) was talking about trying to instruct her students on good writing and how hard it is now that they all have blogs and access to amateur publishing websites and the like. Argggh, the ongoing blog bashing that feeds my paranoia. (I am thinking this while rushing through writing this post hee hee.) I took some notes but not direct quotes. Suffice to say she felt they were publishing what I believe she termed as "shoddy shit" and receiving group hugs from family, friends and cyberspace pals in response and they were shocked when her slightly more biting critiques were put forward.

Her message here was that good writing cannot be produced in half an hour and that many of the students spin words like fairy floss, and just as quickly, for the Net but that revision and rewriting is the cornerstone of the real deal.

She tooks three years to write This is How (a copy of which I picked up in Readings special MWF bookshop at Fed Square) so she is clearly not one to be rushed. She also received a nomination for the Man Booker prize in 2006 for only her second novel so - yeah - Mrs Underhill will give her words some thoughts.

I don't normally write notes from a one hour talk like this one but, as a character in a project I am tentatively working on is a writer and a festival regular, I thought MJ's real life reactions would come in handy for dialogue. As I started this project almost a year ago and am only five chapters in I am already doing well on any three year plans I might have and can definitely NOT be accused of rushing.

PS: Hosting the Hyland talk at MWF was Michael Williams, Head of Programming at Melbourne's new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. He was bloody funny!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mrs Underhill Book Club kicks off with a bang and a snowball

I think it's safe to say that the first IN THE FLESH meeting of the book club went off with a bang and a riesling last night. Thank you to the three book babes who came along. Many topics, outside of Middlesex, were tackled, from the inane (housework) to the profane (adult women having sexual fantasies about characters in Twilight). The main thing was that, as well as a pop quiz about the book (thank you for having the author, Eugenides, on the show at one point and posting Q & As with him afterwards) we also discovered the delights of chocolate covered snowballs and a shared love of Yumis Tuna Mousse.

Yes - if you come along to a future meeting you will be able to taste such literary delights yourself.

So ... next book is Disgrace with the aim to finish around 3 October and then the aim to meet up sometime after that though comments from members 'in the ether' are more than welcomed. Chime in with interest via email or via the blog, - and we'll be chowing down on some good words soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life illuminated. No wonder I love books ...

Let’s say I list five books here for you and you can see why these bricks of paper and words mean so much to me, how they can alter one's life, dance in one's head and why I can’t see them going the way of the dinosaurs just yet:

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Meet Me at Mike's by Pip Lincolne
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Number one carries a plot outline (stolen from Wiki) where a South African professor of English loses everything: his reputation, his job, his peace of mind, his good looks, his dreams of artistic success, and finally even his ability to protect his cherished daughter.

This book is going to be the next one to be read by the Mrs Underhill Book Club. Try and finish it by 3 October. The ‘communal' reading of this book forges connections between old and new friends, stimulates conversation beyond work, kids, clothes and current affairs and allows us to see how other people’s heads tick.

Number two is a really gorgeous craft project book featuring the work of 25 different Aussie makers, spearheaded by Melbourne gal Pip Licolne.

This book took me to Brunswick Street Fitzroy yesterday to meet the author and have her bewitch me with her magical eyes. It gave me a chance to see how an open heart and soul affects those around them and showed me a new concept when it comes to the idea of business success.

Number three is written by one of those characters of history that you wonder whether the world is capable of producing anymore. Living in the 1700s, Walpole (son of Britain's first Prime Minister) built Strawberry Hills, a gothic mansion, folly type thing that he seemed to have built stage by stage, sometimes creating fa├žades out of cardboard and so forth from what I can gather.

This is part of a three gothic tales book I ordered on good old Amazon recently. It’s giving me the chance to read a learned and academic intro from an expert in the field of gothic literature plus be reminded of the mad, bad and completely outrageous minds that have gone before us.

Closing the last page on number four - The Little Giant of Aberdeen County – ends an intense reading period I’ve gone through in the last fortnight to finally finish a couple of books I was reading at once. This book is about a girl with a health condition that makes her grow to giant proportions. It’s about acceptance, herbal remedies, euthanasia, it’s about quite a bit. I kept picking it up and putting it down. As Keith Gessen from The Nation said about a Mrs Underhill Book Club book (Middlesex) recently, this one “is a book that's almost impossible to dislike even as you're bored by it”.

And, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, well that was described to me by the gal at Readings in St Kilda as a book that “scared the pants off her” – a great selling point to my way of thinking. However, it’s one that I again picked up and put down. It’s a bit about England after WWII, it’s a bit about class wars, and about old country houses and about poltergeists. What made it special to me though was that Sarah Waters was on the Book Show (Radio National) so I got to walk to the shops (listened to it on an MP3 podcast) and hear her talk about the research that went into it, the mountains of info she gathered about the period and the things that drew her to the topic. Pretty bloody entertaining while you’re walking around the IGA trying to decide which mayonnaise you’ll purchase!

So there you see it – why wouldn’t you make books a big part of your life? If you dive in and use them as more than words on paper, but as living organisms with tentacles reaching out into the world, you begin to live a much bigger life and tip toe through the heads of so many other earthlings … and you don’t necessarily have to even leave the soft drink aisle or even your bedroom.

Oh, did I mention I am reading an instalment of Stephen King's On Writing each night before I start my 'real' book? No wonder I get both no sleeping and no writing of my own done!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swapping thread for words?

So I have swapped the laptop for the sewing machine that I recently inherited. This weekend’s projects – an apron, napkins and a cushion cover. Don’t worry. It’s just a phase!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mrs Underhilll Book Club meeting # 4

Some of us recently finished reading MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides. I'm not going to instigate any discussion points right now although I really do need someone to explain to me why the brother's name was "chapter eleven". And I did enjoy looking up info about Tiresias who was the son of Everes and the nymph Chariclo; he was a blind prophet, the most famous soothsayer of ancient Greece. And I still have on my TO DO list the research topics of Edward Gibbon and the journals of Madame de Stael to keep me occupied. Suffice to say there are two things to be tackled right now:

1) Do any of the readers want to meet in the flesh for a wine and cheese discussion of MIDDLESEX? (Welcome to have it at my place.) Or shall we do it online?

2) Do we have a suggestion for the next book and some inspiring discussion notes to go along with it?

Email me here (or don't, some of you I am just keeping in the loop in case you are keen now and then to participate) or log on and comment on the blog:
Remember to feel free to pass this on.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This is Thriller!

So a couple of people have asked me if the previous post, WRITING AT NIGHT, was based on true events. While I have imagined eyes outside the sunroom - no - this has never actually happened to me and I pray to God it never does. I don't think my heart would re-start. I'll take it as a compliment though that it was rooted enough in reality. In fact it was a little exercise set by a friend after attending the Cleary Horror Seminar. I left it to the last moment, of course, so it was rushed and hammy but, hey, it was fun.

Speaking of Cleary, I had a constructive four hours of cleaning my office on Friday (internet connection was down and this job had been on the TO DO list for about three months so the universe gave me no choice) and I discovered notes from that seminar including books and films to follow up.

If you're in the market for an old fashioned fright then look into The Penny Dreadfuls. Apparently, when tracing the history of suspense novels and stories, much is owed to these nineteenth century British publications which, according to good old Wikipedia, usually contained "lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks, each part costing a penny".
As it goes the stories were mostly reprints or rewrites of Gothic thrillers such as The Monk or The Castle of Otranto, as well as new stories about famous criminals. Some of the most famous of these penny part stories were The String of Pearls: A Romance (which introduced Sweeney Todd), The Mysteries of London (inspired by the French serial, The Mysteries of Paris) and Varney the Vampire. I SO have to get my hands on that one. The library doesn't have it but good old Amazon does so come on down Mr Postman.

Also recommended by Mr Cleary was Polidori's The Vampyre. I can't get that at the library so I am purchasing a collection instead which sounds dead fascinating: Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, The Vampyre.

(On the vampire sideline for a second, I am slowly and steadily getting access (don't ask) to Season 2 of True Blood and, now that we have a new flash telly, the blood sucking, nipple biting, swamp stalking action is only going to be all the more gruesome and delicious. Already buff chests will fill the 40 inch screen and I'll have to have a flat lemonade and a cool bath afterwards.)

Then Cleary recommended looking at the story of Ed Gein (27 August 27 1906 – 26 July 1984) whose murderous ways inspired characters such as Norman Bates in 'Psycho', Jame Gumb from 'The Silence of the Lambs', and Leatherface from 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. Hmmm, I think I'll leave Mr Gein's story alone for now although it is interesting to see how screenwriters lift the stories from the daily news and transform them into screen nightmares.

The final Cleary recommendation, for those on a scary slope, was the script for the film, Don't Look Now. That movie was REALLY creepy. Don't think I could watch it again but apparently the author, Alan Scott, is a master so, while I haven't tracked down the document yet, I'll give it a red hot go (tips welcome!).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Writing at night

She’s tapping away at the keyboard in the light of a small desk lamp. An Arthur Conan Doyle book is on her right, something about a devil’s foot. She is typing, copying word-for-word. She does this when she cannot sleep. Somewhere, sometime, somebody told her to transcribe the works of great authors to help improve her work.

Her office is the sunroom. The wall beside her is all glass, with glass French doors opening on to the patio. It is dark, cold and wet outside. The moon is full.

We are outside, in the dark, and we are watching her. Our eyes crawl over her body, from the worn, grey slippers on her feet to her breasts hanging loosely beneath the oversized ‘Bada Bing!’ t-shirt she wears, a souvenir that came with her boxed set of The Sopranos.

Her typing slows down. She feels us. She looks out into the night.

She sees the shape of the huge potted palm on the patio. She sees her own reflection in the glass. Then she sees the person outside. He stands still, just staring in at her, his hands tucked casually into his jacket pockets. Their eyes meet.

Her fright is so great she stops breathing. No sounds come from her. Her hands grip the keyboard and a string of letters spew along the computer screen. He moves a little closer to the window, peers in and grins. “Boo!” he says in a low voice. Then he turns and walks towards the gate, just steps away. She is looking at him but glancing to the right as well. The French door is the least secure in the house. A child could force it in. Where is the phone?

She moves her chair back slightly, slowly. He places a hand on the gate, opens it and walks out. He leaves it swinging open behind him.

To exit the house that way one must walk down the drive way. To do this one must pass the rear window of the sunroom, the one crowded with a wild rose bush. She hears his steps at that window now and turns. He’s looking in again. “Boo!” he says and laughs. He raps hard on the window and she jumps and screams. She is up and running through the house, searching for the phone.

Triple 0, she dials as she moves back to the dining room, beside the sunroom. She wants to know where he is now. Has he gone back into the yard, back to the patio and that flimsy French door?

He is moving past the dining room windows, his steps pass on to the lounge room and then stop. She stands in the hallway where she can see the front door and the lounge room windows. On the other end of the phone the emergency operator answers. “He’s here, he’s here,” she cries into the phone. “Send someone now. There is someone here.”

The man leans in again, to the lounge room window this time, and raps once more. And then he is running away.

(Not for publication beyond this blog site)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who's afraid of a new laptop?

Holey Moley but I am slack. This is an ongoing theme. Another deadline has been and gone, another 40th has been attended (this time in Bangalow, NSW, near the glorious but oh-so-rainy Byron Bay) and a new financial year diary has been started. Oh how I love the end of the financial year ... such a good excuse to buy new stationery. Of course, the thing I need more in life is excuses to faff around with filing, new pens and stationery!

I also have my new – dribble dribble – HP laptop which is shiny and fabulous but which has not been hooked up yet. It’s been almost six years since the old Toshiba I’m banging on now first entered my life. The arrival of the new ‘portal to the virtual world’ is quite a watershed. The Toshiba was my big purchase to launch my life as a freelancer and a self employed gal. It got dropped on the floor and damaged in the first weeks while it lived with me for three months in a granny flat in Byron Bay and it has done some rounds since then but, in recent times, it has been anchored to the desk in my sun room and it has churned out the work that I realised today has culminated in a whopping 288 or so invoices. There is probably more but I did not have my handmade invoice system quite refined. So … what will a new laptop bring? Bloody digital TV viewing for a start! And what does that say about the development of my bumbling career? That I am more interested in watching telly than working perhaps?

So … Edward Albee was on the 7.30 Report the other night. I confess I did not even realise he was still alive. Came across as a very civilised (81-year-old) man. Hard beginnings - adopted by a family who seemed to have no understanding of him and for whom he felt little affection. You don't hear people admit to that often ... everyone these days is too busy talking about being grateful and bla bla. He did acknowledge that they'd provided him with a fine education and the worth of that could not be measured. My folks - whom I did feel a great bond to and who did not adopt me but had me forced upon them by the good Lord himself (or the bloke down below depending on who you talk to) - also directed their funds into my schooling rather than buying a home and other grand investments and I have always, always, felt that that was money well spent and put me on a path of abundance they could never have imagined.

Apparently Albee is in Australia to conduct script development workshops. Man how do you find out about such things and which lucky sons of bitches get to go? I confess I've only read Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Such a pleb I am!

Albee was particularly erudite on the topic of race relations in the USA. He once wrote The Death of Bessie Smith, based on a night in Memphis in the 30s when a celebrated blues singers bled to death after a car accident because a white hospital refused to treat her. I've just done my favourite thing and placed an order on Amazon for the play so stay tuned. I haven't read a play since The Little Foxes. Should be fun.

Should I mention the passing of Michael J? Everyone else is ... I'll just say that on Friday night Mrs Peters and I cut the rug to a bit of Jackson 5 in the loungeroom and I did do a memorial moon walk in the office last week, just to show my respect you understand. (And, of course, Farrah died and we all know the impact the hairy one had on me recently.)

Back to bookish topics, have you heard about BookCrossing where people leave perfectly good books lying around in public spaces to be read, shared and passed on anonymously to anyone, anywhere? I heard about it on The Book Show, of course.

Here's the organisation's spiel should you be interested:
BookCrossing is earth-friendly and gives you a way to share your books, clear your shelves and conserve precious resources at the same time. Through our own unique method of recycling reads, BookCrossers give life to books. A book registered on BookCrossing is ready for adventure.Leave it on a park bench, a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym -- anywhere it might find a new reader! What happens next is up to fate, and we never know where our books might travel. Track the book's journey around the world as it is passed on from person to person.

Cool huh?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Time travelling

I am so bad. I mean, how long was the last time I wrote here - about 800 years ago? So much has happened. So much does happen doesn't it? Unless you're locked up in an iron lung somewhere.

I mean almost a month has gone past since I bleated and blogged. I know I only do this for myself but surely I could be a more faithful and dedicated correspondent to me, my one and only reader.

Everyone says you have to keep blog posts brief. I make it a habit to listen to everyone and believe all that they say. So, in a snapshot, recent writerly connected activities include:
  • The writing of my final folio piece for my RMIT 'Introduction To Fiction Writing' short course (we also presented it in front of an RMIT big wig and now I must decide if I will enrol in Professional Writing and Editing next year and actually try and pen a novel).
  • A small piece by moi in Epicure, The Age, about the Henry Jones Hotel
  • The writing of a press release and the various hawking of it to get coverage for The Rehe Family Benefit we recently held. See Patsy Fox - aka illustrator Angie Rehe's - artistic presentation of moi above. Her pencil flatters and lies but it's nice to be immortalised like this. Angie I have blatantly stolen this from your site!
  • Interview after interview for the September issue of Get Creative magazine (find out about Biddy Bags here for instance)
  • The writing of a media release for Circa, The Prince


  • The finishing (finally) of Middlesex for the Mrs Underhill Book Club - so heads up book club members ... let's pull our arses into line to get some discussions happening. I need a vote on whether we stick to online only or gather for an 'on wine and on cheese' format. Get it? Genius hey?

As usual I am behind on everything and the emails and so forth are piling up. My attendance at the Cleary Horror Seminar has led to a group challenge to write a thriller horror piece - I have nightmares regularly so this should be a shoo in* - and the RMIT class has turned into a fortnightly Tuesday night writing class at The Victorian Writers Centre.

Life is kind and good to me, so much so that I feel forced to head up to Byron Bay the minute I close my computer from this deadline and flop there for my bestie's 40th. Spoiled? Me? So?

*PS: Shoo in = was originally a racetrack term, and was (and still is) applied to a horse expected to easily win a race, and, by extension, to any contestant expected to win an easy victory (Find out more at

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stuff this white girl is liking

The lad who has written STUFF WHITE PEOPLE LIKE is in town. I just caught the end of the interview with him on Jon Faine and I can't believe this blog of his, ironically listing all the crap we whities are in to, has gotten to book stage. The hysterical thing is that Stuff White People Like and Jon Faine are BOTH, I am aware (!) stuff white people like. Ha ha!

Are you aware of this website and book? The book's subtitle is 'A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions' meaning, of course, that people who think of themselves as unique actually share shed loads of identical tastes and wants. I'm not sure of the point of it all, wagging a finger at self indulgent wankers mostly, but I always laugh when I read it because ''self indulgent wanker' is the t-shirt I am currently having printed for myself. One glance at the list - attending writer's workshops, liking David Sedaris, going to Africa to feel really guilty - are all on my personal CV.

Anyway, on to other topics ... this week is deadline for our folio pieces for my (what white people like) RMIT writing class. I have (almost) decided to do a piece on a workplace for special needs people. If I like it I might post it here.

Over the weekend I caught up with the first three episodes of PUSHING DAISIES. While I don't think I'd become obsessed by it I do think it's worth a look, paricularly for its gloriously colourful art direction. It's all bold colours and 50s silhouette dresses. The lights are brighter, the smiles whiter and the buildings are crazier than in real life. The main character, The Pie Maker, has a pie shop called the Pie Hole. It is round and the roof is in the shape of a pie. Love it! The local morgue is red and white - very pretty - and the female lead, Chuck, played by Anna Friel, has one of the most beautiful smiling faces I have ever seen. You just instantly fall in love with her. She's like the 2008/9 answer to Simon the Likeable from Get Smart.

It also has the wonderful Kristin Chenoweth in it who is a big stage and musical star in the USA and originated the role of Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked, which earned her a Tony Award nomination.

Saying all of that I think it has now been cancelled in the USA, explaining why it has not been on free to air here but is in the video shop. Also picked up at Blockbuster on the weekend was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I am still in my (production designer) Ken Adams obsession mode. See this film for the design of the escape pod if nothing else. This is the Bond film that Ken got his Oscar nomination for.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Club update

It's not too late. Read this excerpt ... so good:

In front of me girls were entering and exiting the showers. The flashes of nakedness were like shouts going off. A year or so earlier these same girls had been porcelain figurines, gingerly dipping their toes into the disinfectant basin at the public pool. Now they were magnificent creatures. Moving through the humid air, I felt like a snorkeler. On I came, kicking my heavy, padded legs and gaping through the goalie mask at the fantastic underwater life all around me. Sea anemones sprouted from between my classmates' legs. They came in all colors, black, brown, electric yellow, vivid red. higher up, their breasts bobbed like jellyfish, softly pulsing, tipped with stinging pink. Everything was waving int he current, feeding on microscopic plankton, growing bigger by the minute. The shy, plump girls were like sea lions, lurking in the depths. -From Middlesex, page 297-

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Farrah Fawcett Effect

I am officially too lucky. There is no denying this.

Do you know what I did today? It is deadline week ... I am home all week and concentrating on the August issue of Get Creative which promises much entertainment for me as I interview quilters who are helping out survivors of the hideous Victorian bushfires and finding out tricks from crafty bloggers who make their blogs look crushingly artful.

I am tres organised this month which, lo and behold, meant I fricked around this morning and, after getting another little job off for another client, I did NOT settle down to concentrate on my writing. No, instead I watched the Farrah Fawcett documentary on the computer. I know! I am shocking!

Anyhoo I got all fired up about making the most of each day while I feel fit as a fiddle and DO NOT have anal cancer (how uncouth is that for the poor woman?) and, knocked off a quick story and then headed out in my new convertible with the roof down to lap up the wonderful winter sun we enjoyed in Melbourne today. I jogged my way around my fave track at North Road beach before heading home again to get back to the mag and knock off a phone interview with the good folk at Oxfam. In the midst of it all I got invited to see the Martin Short show next week at Crown.

So much sadness goes on around me, dear friends are laid very low with depression, there are deaths of young and old people in my close circle of friends and even my poor old muddah has to have a 'procedure' this week but I am in tripping off to writing seminars, eating great Lebanese food at Ablas (Abla Amad was born in Lebanon and arrived in Australia in 1954 at the age of nineteen. In 1979 she opened Abla's, a restaurant that has become a Melbourne institution) and planning for a birthday lunch with one of my besties (see one of her wonderful articles here) at the John Brack exhibition at the Ian Potter Gallery later in the week. I mean, seriously, how can the universe dole out such good with such bad?

Of course I have NOT done my RMIT homework which is bad of me and I have not had a good look at Project Gutenberg Australia (free ebooks or etexts that may be read on a computer using a simple text editor or viewer) but the key to happiness, so they say, is having someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. I am blessed on all accounts and all the things on my TO DO list simply mean I have that much more to look forward to ... which includes cleaning the tiles in the shower and scrubbing the stove top. Told you I was too lucky!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I develop little obsessions about things. I’ll give you an example. Lately, while walking and listening to podcasts on my MP3 player, I’ve been listening to old style radio plays of Agatha Christie classics. They’ve really been fascinating me. It’s intriguing to see what kind of world is created through sound effects to bring a script to light. Also interesting to conjure up characters in your mind just based on voices. I am enjoying it.

BUT, I cannot leave it there. Yesterday I rented and watched both ‘Evil Under The Sun’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. ‘Evil Under The Sun’ is a classic. You should see the costumes … divine … and the cast - se magnifique … Peter Ustinov, James Mason, Roddy McDowall, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, to name a few. The other film was less successful, downright awful really. It’s fascinating to be reminded of the role the brain can play as its own art director, set dresser and cinematographer. I think I could produce a better ‘Orient Express’ in my own head, certainly there would be less over-acting. Kids should listen to radio plays. Like books they really allow the imagination to soar.

My imagination will be soaring … fingers crossed … when I go to ACMI this week to do two days of Stephen Cleary's thriller and horror lectures. God knows what I am doing at this thing but how lucky am I to be able to go? For me this is the ultimate voyeuristic thrill ride. I am not looking to write, direct, produce or develop horror films, but many in the audience will be. How much fun to hear their ideas and get an insight into the creative lives of these people! Plus I get to hang with a writerly friend who may one day walk the red carpet, Oscar in hand. Hopefully she will remember the little people when the time comes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I am wasting my time

Patsy Fox’s blog is too good. She is meant to be drawer, not a writer and yet – read her stuff – she is hilarious. Of course she is hilarious as a real life raconteur too so I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am often described as pretty “funny in the flesh” too (fleshy and funny also) and yet, when I put pen to paper/key to board I am singularly unfunny. In a recent post Patsy discusses hilarious going ons as she tries to track down The Sartorialist while he was in Melbourne recently (THIS IS HER DRAWING OF HIM, I HAVE STOLEN IT FROM HER SITE). She then talks about the fun of simply doing ridiculous things. Maybe that is the case – I do not do enough ridiculous things.

On Saturday just gone I did catch a taxi home from Croydon North (8000 miles from home) which cost 85 freakin dollars!!!! Now that’s what I call ridiculous. Of course it’s also too embarrassing to share with others … which maybe is the problem. I am not willing enough to share my embarrassments – like the fact that, as well as the $85 price tag, I also had the driver waking me up from snoring as we arrived at my doorstep. Classy!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rose coloured glasses are a must-have fashion accessory for me. Recently a lot of things have been pulling on my memory threads, from requests to write a bio for a magazine I used to edit, to the beginning of a short story for my writing class, to time spent with a friend’s family at her 40th.
As I get older I am struck by how much I can re-write my history to be a much more pleasant place than I felt it was when I was younger. For instance, in terms of the job, I found myself thinking oh-so-fondly of the wonderful travel I did – flying in a glass fronted chopper in Vicenza or listening to Andrea Bocelli sing in an open air palazzo – and remembering some of the friends I made and have kept in touch with in the decade since. I did not think of the lifelong insomnia I developed during that period, the weekends I spent at the desk and the family losses I experienced when there.

When it comes to the short story I played with in class, I began to laugh at what a funny, eccentric and special man my Dad was when, the story in question, really only brought me embarrassment and further proof of how he was trying to ruin my life when it took place. This even led to a whimsical reminiscence of my long lost sister and a stroll through my mind's landscape to our happier times.

And the time spent at the 40th made me think about how people’s lives change dramatically, especially the lives of busy parents who go from having houseloads of blustering adolescents and argumentative teens to having sporadic connection with these offspring as adults and watching them from afar, almost as if they are strangers. I also saw dramatic, staggering effects of age on the good old human body. Obviously I drank to stop those images becoming long term memories.

A rich man died in Melbourne today, a bloke by the name of Richard Pratt. Already on the radio they are debating whether he deserves a State funeral – he gave mountains of cash away in philanthropy but recent times saw him come under a legal shadow in his business dealings – and the memories surrounding his life, the stories from colleagues and friends, are already being edited and polished to give off the finest hue.

We all have a history. We all have our own stories but do they change as time goes on and, if they do, do they become more or less accurate? In class last night we discussed genres. Many stories, upon reflection, can be written equally as well as a romance, a drama, a mystery, a work of science fiction, a poem or graphic novel. Which genre are we living in today?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does it make you a Twit?

Well I have looked into the Twitter thing ... never like to critique something until I have experienced it first hand ... and I would have to say I think it has a short use-by date. Surely people will realise, fairly soon, that faffing around with this kind of shite all day distracts you from actually achieving anything.

I am not going to sugar coat it. I have canvassed a few busy women in different age groups. They agree the arrival of such a 'phenomenon' is troubling. Concentrated thought, real learning, achievement and even, dare I say, relaxation cannot be achieved with this constant disruption. People bang on about "turning off " the chatter in their heads. Then they turn to this kind nebulous chatter come twitter on their laptops. Madness, I say! And I don't care if it makes me unpopular or middle aged. This is one of those things where I think I will be proved right.

It’s funny how things come onto your radar at around the same time. The week or so ago when I signed up for Twitter was also when I heard a repeat of a radio interview between Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM (I know … elderly) and the novelist known to most as John Le Carre whose real name is David Cornwell. He worked for MI5 and MI6 in the 1950s and 1960s, before leaving the secret service to devote himself to writing after the success of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (you may also know his book The Constant Gardener). This was one of those men whose knowledge is so sweeping, whose tastes so varied and references so learned and fascinating that you wonder just how and when they are able to be exposed to so much information – politics, music, literature, psychology – and, more astoundingly, retain it.

Will men (and women) such as this ever come again when the temptations of twitter and twat abound? I suppose I lack this kind of intelligence and education (and memory) and admire it too much. Perhaps that is why I am made nervous by the new, seemingly tedious, media mediums.

Certainly Twitter seems to be handy for marketing and everyone from Ellen to Kerri-Anne Kennerly is on to it. That should tell you something people. This is yet another selling tool. Don't be sucked in. And, if Ashton Kutcher's Twitter is anything to go by, it is also for people with no command of the English language. Seems a shame to be encouraging them when, surely, a scarlet letter branded on their arses would do the trick. Of course a 17-year-old just told me that Shaquille Rashaun O'Neal's Twitter is hysterical. Naturally I must now check it out. See how the illness permeates and pervades.

And, of course, you can Twitter me at TheMrsUnderhill but ... not for long. The minute you sign up you get emails from people wanting to be your followers. Now I have as strong an ego as the next egotistical, spotlight seeking, attention starved Baby Jane of a woman and swoon at the idea of finally locking in a posse of disciples but this is too much. They all seem to want to - surprise surprise - sell me something or get me to vote for them. Hmmmm.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mrs Underhilll Book Club meeting # 3

So I can’t say the first book club attempt, getting a group reading of Brideshead Revisited, was the biggest success every but it has promise. Ms LP and I are forging ahead. We are even considering moving away from an online discussion of the book (or adding to it) with some over wine discussion of it. Whatcha think? The book in question is Middlesex. We have two months to read it, aiming to come together to discuss remotely or face to face around 15 June. Feel free to let us know you’re on board. It really does bring a whole new layer to the reading experience.

And, to whet your appetite, consider that Middlesex is an epic tale of a hermaphrodite bound up with social history. Jeffrey Eugenides spent nine years writing it.

Read an interview from The Guardian with him at or perhaps hear him speak on this NPR podcast

Get on board the hermaphrodite train!

Write somone else's book

Have you ever heard of Fanfic? The term is short for fan fiction. I heard it recently during a radio interview with an author. Apparently fans and avid readers of certain books get so into the books, the themes, the characters and the fictional world that they cannot wait for the author to produce another book so they get just out there and do their own. Amazing huh?

I know the feeling of coming to the last few chapters or pages of a book and thinking, “I don’t want this to end” but, seriously, this is taking things to the nth degree. I think that fans start up their own fan sites for books and characters; they establish boards where they chat to each other and, in this environment, might also publish their fiction. The author I listened to sounded fairly dismissive of the movement, saying she obviously could not publish any of the writings on her official site and closed the topic down pretty quickly. Imagine if the Fanfic was better than your own? Too weird. The thing I wonder about is that, surely, what you love about an author and their books is the unique voice and imagination that individual brings to the work. But maybe their talents are sooooo good that having fans wanting to keep on and on and on with the narrative is the ultimate compliment … they just can’t get enough, literally.

I had, as usual, a little Google on the topic. JK Rowling is the progenitor of a tonne of Fanfic. Take a peep at and prepare to be awed. “Founded in February 2001, we currently hold over 50,000 stories and receive, on average, over 40 million hits per month” is what they say about themselves. The site runs novel writing contests and more. Authors create lives for the Harry Potter characters long past JK’s literary adventures.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009


You are what you do. That’s the quote I read from the book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, by psychiatrist, Gordon Livingston, M.D. This man has had a testing life. Won’t go into it here suffice to say he has lost two kids along the way and spent his working days listening to other people’s problems. It’s a nice book, a collection of essays. He does not sugar coat things. I’ll steal a quote from the foreword to say that he is “is at once stern and reassuring, hopeful but unwilling to proffer any guarantees”. He suits me. Anyway, take a peep at Psychiatry Online and don’t just take my word for it (

Every year that passes I ponder exactly what things I truly believe – deep down and without reservation. To date there has been one: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Now there is a second. At this rate I may truly be confident of about another two things by the time I am 60. In the words of UK comedienne, Catherine Tate, “Am I bothered?” I think not. The older I get the less I know. Full stop!

So recently what I have not been doing is blogging. Which is a shame because I often enjoy it, though not always, and it is a shame because it keeps my free-wheeling writing happening and, finally, it is a shame because two different sources ( and my fashion illustrator friend Angie Rehe) have both asked if they could link my blog to theirs. Now that is flattering to the Nth degree but a worry too. After all, the last time I blogged was in February. Hells bells, where has the time gone?

Not going to go into it here. I have my refreshed Ms Hepburn image to inspire me, a weekend at Hobart’s Henry Jones Hotel under my belt, an interview in The Age this Friday quoting me as an expert on all things crafty (with the always amusing fashion editor, Jan Breen Burns) and Easter is looming which signifies (she says with valiant ambition) a chance to catch up on the hum drum and the inspiring all at once. I AM WHAT I DO and not what I say I am going to do. I am going to learn about Twitter though I feel one more way of communicating in this world might make me drop off the perch forever (‘Perch’, get it? Bird – Twitter. Oh, will the hilarity ever stop?), I am going to tidy my office and discover the bills I should have paid eight months ago, I am going to try and tackle my BAS and I am going to look at the feedback my writing tutor gave me on my Penguin/AWW Short Story Comp entry piece. And then I am going to submit the damn thing just before the deadline.

I am what I do. I am someone who completes things. I may also be someone who goes see a flick – Last Chance Harvey or The Reader or the scary Uninvited. You don’t know!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mrs Underhilll Book Club meeting # 2

Alrighty then, let’s get this show on the road.

As mentioned on the 18th of Jan, we had delays in getting the book club up and running. Now let’s try and get the ball rolling with some discussion of the book, taking a ‘suck it and see’ approach to how and if this online dialogue will work or not. I’m going to kick off with a few points here and maybe that will prompt other members to comment on these topics too and then add their own:

I suppose the first thing to comment on is if we liked this book in a general sense?

Liked it or not, what were the things that swayed us one way or the other?

Across the board, what special themes or incidents would one like to discuss.

I am going to run an experiment by posting my feedback to these three points in the COMMENTS section of this blog in the hope that fellow members will ‘comment’ back. If you have any trouble accessing it, let me know or just email the answers to me direct if you have my details.

* A few notes on language and terminology:

I loved reading for bookclub because I was more scholarly in my approach. Hence, in Chapter one of book one I saw a reference to “men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman’s Day” (page 23 of my Penguin version). Newman, I discovered, was a vicar in Oxford who headed up a movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots.

In that same section is a reference to Oxford’s “Eight Weeks”. This, apparently, is a major annual rowing event.

I have to draw our attention to an observation on this book from TIME magazine that I found amusing: "Some of the writing matches Waugh's best (and there is little better); some of it is equal to his worst (sample: ". . . at sunset I took formal possession of her as her lover. ... On the rough water ... I was made free of her narrow loins.").

I did not discover what “Hogarthian page boy” refers to … does anyone know?

* * Before I sign off, on the 18th I ran some ‘biding time’ questions which I stole from elsewhere and Miss L P answered them thusly:

Q. A plot structure question: why is Lord Marchmain's death the novel's finale? Isn't he a minor character? Who cares if he dies?
A. Even he comes back to the Church on his deathbed. Julia can't deny her faith any longer - leaves CharlesQ. What shifts do you see - in theme, tone, style, plot structure, or anything else - between Book One and Book Two of Brideshead Revisited?
A. B1 – carefree, partic. Oxford days. B2 - sense of foreboding, era coming to an end.
Q. Besides Charles, whose side are you on as a reader, and which characters just aren't likeable? What do you think of Lady Marchmain, for example? Julia? Brideshead? Lord Marchmain?
A. Bridey, Charles father is a hoot and Anthony Blanche - he reminds me of a friend of mine!

Finally ... Ms L P suggested this for next Mrs U Bookclub read. "Can I vote for a book called Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides? Sounds amazing."
Votes please!

Additional Waugh reading might be enjoyed by some. He has an autobiography, A Little Learning.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book club members caught in heat wave

Please do not think that the bookclub is doomed. I do my work at home from my sunroom - it's 40 million degrees - I cannot be in the sunroom. Miss L-P has made some comments on Brideshead bless her. Mrs J is at teacher training and her daughter starts prep on Monday. Mrs R's little treasure, my own goddaughter, does the same. We'll get there though people. Please don't dispair and please DO put forward some book titles we can vote on for round two.
Ms L-P's comments: 1. Even he comes back to the Church on his deathbed. Julia can't deny her faith any longer - leaves Charles. 2. B1 – carefree, partic. Oxford days. B2 - sense of foreboding, era coming to an end. 3. Bridey, Charles father is a hoot and Anthony Blanche - he reminds me of a friend of mine!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do I look good in this blazer?

Man the shed has been busy. I think I have been the most industrious I've been in months. See what a week of sleeping and overeating can do.

Besides powering through paid work, I am 2122 words into my Australian Women’s Weekly Penguin Short Story Comp entry piece. I know this is dangerous to say out loud; akin to telling people you’ve gone on a diet then having to face them six weeks later when you've actually gained wait but, what the hell! I seriously have no intention of winning this thing. I am just really pleased to have got cracking on something. It makes such a difference. I do believe I will finish this thing.

I have been listening on MP3 to Marisha Pessl’s book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Holy Moly. This woman has more literary references than I’ve had glasses of chardonnay. (See /

The Washington Post described the book thus: ‘Constructing the novel as if it were the core curriculum for a literature survey course, complete with a final exam, Pessl gives each chapter the title of a classic literary work to which the episode's events have a sly connection: Chapter 6, "Brave New World," describes the first day of a new school year, while in Chapter 11, "Moby-Dick," a large man drowns in a swimming pool … Along the way, there are thousands of references to books and movies both real and imagined, as well as an assortment of pen-and-ink drawings. The book's young narrator, Blue van Meer, has a cross-referencing mania … Pessl is a vivacious writer who's figured out how to be brainy without being pedantic.’ The Post goes on to say: ‘But hunkering down for 514 pages of frantic literary exhibitionism turns into a weary business for the reader, who after much patient effort deserves to feel something stronger than appreciation for a lot of clever name-dropping and a rush of metaphors.’

Now you see this might be why this particular book makes a good audio example. Sure I don’t get the visual aids but, as I was watering Uncle Ian's garden in the north wind today for AN HOUR it made a wonderful distraction. This is not a book I could tackle under the doona covers. I would give up by page 20 most likely. But, walking the local oval? Bring it on.

God I love books. I am also fascinated by new writers. Recently, while pulling apart an old newspaper for the kitty litter tray I was distracted by a photo of Katharine Hepburn in an education section of The Age (bad journo, should have kept date and page reference). It was by a lass called Alexandra Patrikios and was about the modern teenage girl’s (desperate) search for role models. Do you know this chick is in year 11 in Ballarat???? How does one get the opp the write for ‘the paper’? Apparently, doing a quick google, she did work experience at the Green Guide last year. What a ripper.

I too held Ms Hepburn up as an icon when a youngster. In fact, living in my first share flat in East St Kilda I had a number of books and images of the legend around my room. And, dare I say, I might have fashioned a bit of a hairstyle in her honour.

Alexandra debates the problem facing modern girlies – to be Carrie Bradshaw versus (wait for this one, my favourite fear ridden topic) ‘myspace/facebook/ - or not to be.

It was a reasoned, nice written piece. Who cares! I am just so joyful that the girl in the street gets the chance to do this kind of writing in a public forum. I don’t think anyone even mentioned The Age when I was at secondary school but, then again, I persist that I was away the day that geography was taught. Hence I could not point out Sweden or Seddon on a map to you. I am just awed at the opps some kids have these days. Maybe I will go back to school – high school – and start my career all over. I wouldn’t even bitch about wearing a blazer now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mrs Underhilll Book Club meeting # 1

Well Book Club members, it's time for me to put out a plate of Melting Moments and offer you a hot cuppa. Of course, I have already heard from a few members that the Christmas holidays were a little crazy and they have not yet finished the book, hell one has not yet even come home. So, to stave off the inevitable for a moment and give us all time to catch up, after all this is meant to be an enjoyable pursuit, I will begin discussions about the book online and in earnest next week and hope that suits better. In the meantime, please consider the next book we will tackle.

Brideshead Revisited (1945), is an evocation of a vanished pre-war England. It is an extraordinary work which in many ways has come to define Waugh and his view of his world. It not only painted a rich picture of life in England and at Oxford University at a time (before World War II), which Waugh himself loved and embellished in the novel, but it allowed him to share his feelings about his Catholic faith, principally through the actions of his characters. Amazingly, he was granted leave from the war to write it. The book was applauded by his friends, not just for an evocation of a time now — and then — long gone, but also for its examination of the manifold pressures within a traditional Catholic family. It was a huge success in Britain and in the United States. Decades later a television adaptation (1981) achieved popularity and acclaim in both countries, and around the world. Another a film adaptation was made in 2008. Waugh revised the novel in the late 1950s because he found parts of it "distasteful on a full stomach" by which he meant that he wrote the novel during the gray privations of the latter war years.

Questions to mull over:

1. A plot structure question: why is Lord Marchmain's death the novel's finale? Isn't he a minor character? Who cares if he dies?

2. What shifts do you see - in theme, tone, style, plot structure, or anything else - between Book One and Book Two of Brideshead Revisited?
3. Besides Charles, whose side are you on as a reader, and which characters just aren't likeable? What do you think of Lady Marchmain, for example? Julia? Brideshead? Lord Marchmain?
(Qs adapted from

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Current goings on in the shed

Every shed is affected by the seasons. For me, as summer makes herself known, I am mulling over a lack of ready funds in the post-overseas trip and Christmas holiday period and thinking about new ways to make and/or save a buck.

Even in my magazine job I am tackling the topic of creativity on a budget, looking at 'frugal crafting' and interviewing folk both here and in the USA on the topic.

This month brings news again of the short story comp that the Women's Weekly does with Penguin. Deadline is in April. Is there motivation in the shed for writing and entering something for this?

Also in the shed this week some clearing up is going on as I make mental space for the RMIT creative fiction class I commence in Feb and for the new computer I hope to invest in when the money Gods again shine their benevolent light on us.

As well as the scent of the neighbours' freshly cut lawns there is a hint of new business with a meeting next week about a very exciting 'multi media' opportunity. Interestingly I have been thinking of late about my skills, trying to stocktake what they really are and wondering how one makes a living from being a good 'connector'; someone who sees opportunities to hook like minded people up and also often imagines new ways of communicating between groups but has no outlet for such a talent if you can call it that. (I confess I had even ordered a book from Amazon called Authentic: How to Make a Living by Being Yourself - Ding Ding, a chat over lunch yesterday with the always intriguing Mr C hinted that there may be a job in the offing requiring just such skills. Who knows?

On the lighthearted side of things: The BBQ has been getting an airing as Mr U and I kick back into some entertaining with little people coming in to the house over the weekend and a trip into the city galleries with them on the cards. There's a wedding coming up in Tassie which has just been diarised so accommodation must be found. Tips for cool Hobart hotels most welcome!