Dear Mr. Turnbull

It won’t come as a surprise to many readers that I think Donald Trump is a cretin.  About a month ago I was feeling my usual sense of outrage about the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, but I was expressing this upset in a series of Facebook angry face icons, and article shares with like-minded lefties on my newsfeed.  The problem is, it wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to do more than be a social media activist – and marching at rallies is not my thing (too much walking!)  Writing is my thing though: so I decided to mobilise my anger and tell someone that matters how I was feeling: the PM of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull and my Federal Member, Tony Smith MP.

Dear Mr. Turnbull,

I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling outraged and disappointed by the US political decision to ban refugees and immigrants from various, predominantly Muslim, countries.  I am relieved that, for the time being, the judicial system has halted the travel ban, and that a US federal appeals court has turned down the White House’s emergency request to resume the travel ban executive order.

It’s a troublesome reminder of how dangerous and prejudice the Trump administration is promising to be.  I am frightened by this explicit discrimination based on religion and the underlying tone of it harks back to some very dark times in world history. I don’t believe the rest of the world can sit by, mincing our words, trying to placate a bully.

It is easy for me to be a keyboard activist.  To use the sad face and angry buttons on Facebook every time I see an article that disappoints/angers/WTFs me. But for me, it is now not enough to agree with my peers about how horrible the whole sorry affair is, or to share petitions, or shake my head and laugh at Trump memes.

So I am writing to you as the most senior representative of the Australian people, and ask that you convey what your constituents are telling you.  That many of us; millions of us, are opposed to the actions of the US administration and we urge them to reflect on their history and role as providers of safe passage and opportunity for generations of refugees and migrants.

I would also ask the Australian Government to reflect on our own local pedigree of being the ‘lucky country’ and land of opportunity for many.

Let me be very clear: I am not opposed to Border security.  My father enjoyed a long and respected career as an Australian customs officer.  I get it.  I’m not saying ‘come one, come all don’t worry about the process.’  I understand there are very real threats to the safety and security of the community.  I believe that with appropriate checks and timely processing of asylum seekers these risks can be mitigated, and it is our global responsibility to offer sanctuary to the people who genuinely need it.

I don’t think your job is easy Mr. Turnbull.  I don’t think that Mr. Trump is open to a fair and respectful discourse about the subject.  I understand there is bureaucracy, and power hierarchies, political ramifications, and alliances that you need to consider.

But it is unethical and dangerous for you to be complicit in a so called ‘safety measure’ that specifically targets the Muslim faith.  You own party touts to believe in the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association.

You recently said it was not your place to “run a commentary on the domestic policies of other countries.” You must understand this decision reaches far beyond the shores of the US.  It is your responsibility as a leader to speak up about issues and conflicts that affect a global community.  It is your role to try and assert your influence and to speak on behalf of citizens who don’t have a hotline to the decision maker’s office.

Given my own personal opposition to the discriminatory and inhumane approach to refugee and immigration intakes, I am putting my money where my mouth is.  In addition to this letter requesting your action (cc’d to my Federal member Tony Smith MP) I am making a donation to the Unicef Syrian Refugee Fund and to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.

Thank you for your time.

Last week Tony Smith MP responded to my email, and he acknowledged the points made in my letter. His office called me more than once to make contact; he wanted to assure me he had read every word.  They were cordial, patient and pleasant to talk to.  I feel lucky to live in a country where I have both the access and the means to be heard by members of my own government.

Tony towed the party line, and stated that the domestic policies of the US were not something the Australian Government should or would comment on or interfere with.  He also acknowledged the points I made about Australia’s Border Security policies: he respectfully disagreed with my position on this; acknowledged my opinion, but stood by the current policies for offshore processing of asylum seekers.

I’m publishing this letter now because, whilst I am still not satisfied that our Government is meeting its ethical obligations of acting against injustice, Tony’s response proves that you can reach the decision makers in Canberra if you try hard enough.

Maybe you might like to express your thoughts on a particular issue that is important to you.  If you do, follow this link and Contact your PM.

And if writing is not your thing, and you too are concerned about the global refugee crisis, why not send a few quid to the organisations who are doing their best to rescue those in need of liberation.  Unicef, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

In short: If you see something, say something. (Seriously: say it.)

 

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The Dry by Jane Harper

the-dry

It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse…

The body in the clearing was the freshest. It took the flies slightly longer to discover the two in the farmhouse, despite the front door swinging open like an invitation. Those that ventured beyond the initial offering in the hallway were rewarded with another, this time in the bedroom. This one was smaller, but less engulfed by competition.

First on the scene, the flies swarmed contentedly in the heat as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet. Outside, washing hung still on the rotary line, bone dry and stiff from the sun. A child’s scooter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometre radius of the farm

So nothing reacted when deep inside the house, the baby started crying.

And so begins the exceptional Australian crime debut from Jane Harper.  With a quintessentially outback flavour, and some common characteristics of a crime thriller: family secrets, teenage mistakes, country town prejudices, a gritty cop with a hidden past; the novel is never pedestrian or cliché.

In the small drought stricken town of Kiewarra, the community is reeling from the shocking Hadler family murder-suicide.  The thought that a decent bloke like Luke Hadler could have been driven to such despair and murder his wife and young son exposes just how fragile anyone out here in the dry really is.  He was one of them.

Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke.  A city cop who moved away from the town as an ousted teen, Falk has intentions to stay just long enough to pay his respects, but Luke’s parents urge him to investigate the case.  Whilst the townsfolk are convinced this is an open and shut murder-suicide, pieces begin to unravel causing Falk and the local police investigator to doubt the facts before them.  Soon Falk finds himself trying to untangle two crimes that occurred twenty years apart; with Luke at the centre of both.

There is much hype surrounding Harper’s The Dry.  It won the Victorian Premier’s Literacy award for an unpublished manuscript in 2015.  Rights have been sold in over 20 territories.  There is to be an adaptation into a Hollywood film.  And all the accolades are deserved.

The storyline is a genuine who-dunnit – a classy crime debut that makes you feel scorn and secrets of a small town community, and scratch the sweat and grime of the outback heat from your skin.

In short: Incredible Australian writing; atmospheric, gritty and a proper mystery to the end.

 

 

 

According to Yes by Dawn French

9781405920575What would happen if you lived your life according to yes? If every time you would typically say ‘no,’ you turned the answer on its head and said ‘yes.’ Would you be happier? Get yourself into trouble? Break the law, or live with satisfaction?

Would you turn a harmless flirtation into something more complex? Would you allow decadence to make way for gluttony? Would you become broke? Or perhaps more wealthy because you took a risk. Could saying ‘yes’ all the time possibly give you a true sense of freedom and contentment? Would it allow you to be who you truly seek to be?

In Dawn French’s new book, our heroine, 38 year old Rosie Kitto, decides to live her life examining this exact concept. It’s a new approach for this eccentric and vivacious character. She has been scarred by saying and hearing ‘no’ for a long time, and looking to heal, she takes a plunge and moves away from her home country and some old ways of thinking.

She moves to the centre of wealth, Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Where the filthy rich hob-nob and exist with decorum and class. Where behaviour, appearance and sophistication matter. It’s a dangerous environment for a quirky, outspoken and wind-swept Brit, wearing bright red brogues.

Employed as a Nanny to the Wilder-Bingham grandchildren, Rosie encounters her exact opposite in Glenn Wilder-Bingham – the family matriarch. She is emotionless, clinical and coiffed. Cold and judgemental in her interactions with the family, and outright hostile to the new Nanny, Rosie.

The dynamic between polar opposites Rosie & Glenn is entertaining enough, but then add curious twin grandsons, an alcoholic divorcee hiding his own secrets, and a likable grandfather with a cheeky streak and the plot becomes pretty gripping.

This is a super easy read, with great pace, laugh out loud humour, and sometimes squeamish moments where Rosie chooses ‘yes’ whilst you are screaming ‘no!’ Yet even as she takes some unthinkable risks (particularly of the shagging nature) and is somewhat irritating in her laissez-faire attitude, she remains unwaveringly likeable.

There are some really funny and honest moments between Rosie and the twin ‘chaps’ which reminded me of my own parenting fails. Like when you know you shouldn’t laugh, but when ‘for fucks sake Mummy’ is just too hilarious coming out of a three year olds tiny mouth. French develops her young characters with particular finesse.

This is a perfect summer read, and Dawn French is fast becoming one of my favourite voices in comedic and dramatic fiction.

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In short: Yes!

The things I’ve learned 

I often look to the new year lamenting the things I didn’t get around to, the resolutions I failed to keep.  That fun run never registered for, the volunteer work that never eventualised, that novel draft still an incomplete hodge podge of scribbles shoved in a bottom drawer.

Last year I told myself I would write this year; write well and write often.  With just three blog posts to my 2015 name you can see how that promise to myself went.

So I’ve decided to reflect on the things I have learned, experienced and observed this year, rather than dwelling on my terrible commitment to unrealistic goals set during the drunken summer evenings of 2014.

In no particular order, here are my key takeaways from 2015:

  • Sweat rash is a debilitating condition.
  • I should take a break from Facebook.
  • Blondes do have more fun.
  • Boxing is gross regardless of gender.
  • Medicine balls are most springy when ricocheting off ones nose.
  • The smaller the world gets, the less we love each other.
  • Magic Mike XXL is a cinematic masterpiece.
  • Effective leaders seldom care what others think of them.  They concern themselves with good strategy and doing right by their people.
  • Toilet training is expensive.
  • Frankfurt book fair is the Disneyland of word nerds.
  • I heart Justin Trudeau.
  • Being de-commissioned = boned.
  • Shopkins everywhere!
  • Three year old kinder = participation obligation.
  • Diets will be the death of me.
  • Thermomix is a cult.
  • It matters how you explain world events to your kids.
  • Music can be medicine.
  • I will always snore while having beauty treatment, resistance is futile.
  • Kale chip are not chips.
  • Time hurts all wounds.
  • Blogging on an iPad is shit.
  • Jon Snow lives… Please… Doesn’t he? 

The lesson that sticks with me most from this year is something a dear friend told me as she considered some of life’s tough stuff. I’ve thought of it often throughout the year, and reckon it makes sense of things that are often too complex to understand.

Some people go through life like a swim in the ocean. It’s exhilarating, refreshing and enjoyable. To surf above the waves, salt drying on your eyelashes, sun on your shoulders, laughs in the breeze. Every so often, a big wave comes through, a bit darker than the others, and it pulls you under the water.  You bob up for air, sometimes frightened and effected.  Each new swim will remind you of that moment but, for the most part, you carry on splashing around in the surf.

Look under the surface though, and there is someone near you being dumped over and over again. Each wave is dark and pounding on them.  They may look like they’re swimming along with everyone else, but listen for their gasps between each wave. Your friend may not be swimming strong. Are they smiling or struggling? Reach down and give them a lift above the waves – they might not be showing it but they’re about to slip under.

And if you’re under the water with a lung full of salt put your hand up – even just for a second… Someone who loves you will notice and try to pull you to safety.


In short: look out for your mates and avoid Kale chips at all costs.

Tween Flashback – Last Days of Summer

As an aspiring young adult writer, I am so often drawn to the genre. Occasionally it reminds me that my scrappy notebooks and storyboard ideas are like soooo not going to cut in in this space.

I mean there are some seriously wonderful authors out there who just speak ‘young people.’

So as I delve into my latest book, I am at the same time thinking of my own tween years.

*Cue dreamlike harp flashback*

It’s 1989, and the Warrandyte blue light disco is in full swing. I’m 10 years old and totally rocking it in a black and gold satin bubble skirt, complete with sleeveless denim jacket, bandana wrapped around my knee and superbly crimped ponytail. My fringe is teased with so much hairspray it looks as though a funnel web might emerge. And my Ma made me a scrunchie from the same material as the black and gold bubble skirt. Eat your heart out Joey Jerimiah!

Kids are hugging the walls of the community hall, a sad looking DJ stands behind a couple of lights that are actually torches covered in red and blue cellophane, and my best friend leans beside me in her layered denim skirt, with slap bands on her arm.

Kelly and I look at each other. There is a very good chance we will become famous tonight. Probably The Bangles will phone our parents to see if we can come on tour with them. You see, we have perfected our dance routine to Eternal Flame. When everyone sees it… well… you know…

We scope out the canteen (I have enough money for a Fanta and two Redskins) then we rush to the DJ and request our song. After two hours, and Kelly’s 14 visits to the DJ to demand our song (she has always been persistent) my tongue is furry and orange, and the boys are still standing as far away as possible from the dancefloor.

And then we hear that familiar twang of a soft pop anthem. We grab our third wheel, a girl who we forced to rehearse with us every lunchtime in the library, and we take to the ‘stage.’

We’ve done jazz hands in the air, drawn our fingers across our eyes rhythmically and about to launch into the best part; ‘Say my name, sun shines through the rain…’ when our audience is distracted by some new arrivals. Let’s call them the Minogue sisters. Everyone rushes to say hi, to ask what they are doing there, and Kelly growls ‘keep going,’ as her back-up singers attempt to abandon the routine.

The Minogues are impeccably dressed in matching fluro, fingerless gloves, LIPSTICK, and of course they can sing and dance too. So when everyone is on the dancefloor, following their lead and being ‘sisters doing it for themselves’, my dreams are shattered. They are so so good. And like, so much better than me. But I just want to be near them, to absorb some of their radness, and learn from their wisdom.

*dreamlike harp chords return us to reality*

So this was actually meant to be a book review, but here I am reflecting on a pretty significant core memory. Where I was reminded that despite my best intentions, there was someone more talented and popular and worthy of my childish envy.

last days of summerAnd as my little YA novel struggles away in a half scribbled notebook, with vague chapter outlines and more research to undertake, I open Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. My dreams are shattered again. There is no way I can ever write a story like this, not even almost as good.

Together with Green, Zusak, Marsden and Rowling, Kluger becomes the Minogue to my dance routine. I’m so jealous of how rad he is, and want to absorb his talent through his words. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that a colour coordinated scrunchie and heaps of practice to perform probably won’t make me famous.

In short: what just happened? This was supposed to be a book review.

And the year rolls on

out of frameThere’s this song I’ve heard occasionally over the past year, and it makes me think of you every time. I’m not sure what it is and why it conjures your face, but it definitely has a general Lu Lu vibe about it. Don’t worry, we all still want to shag Matt Corby, but he makes us cry now as well.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since you left us. We weren’t ready. We’re still not.

The funny thing about a whole year is that sometimes it seems like such a long time, but then it’s all so fast as well. It seems like I have blinked and woken up to a day that I don’t want to be reminded of. It has crept up on us all with speed and menace.

So much has happened in the last 365 days.

Day one without you, and I ran. It was a cold morning – the air was sharp and I ran to try and push the grief away, until my body and my lungs ached. To feel alive and to feel sore. I ran until I puked. And then I cried till I was dry.

Your funeral was beautiful and terrible. A procession of firies honoured you by laying an evergreen branch on your casket. Handsome uniformed folk, paying tribute to your memory. The bagpipes played, and along the racecourse straight a guard of honour formed for you and your family. If only you knew what an effect you had on all those people sniffling in the autumn sun.

I quit my job after you died. Gave up bossiness, and business-class and books to find something that meant more and gave me more time with my little family. I even had an interview for a CFA job with District 13. But I fucked it up… to much riding on it I suppose. I eventually found something else, and even though payday can’t come quick enough, I now get to share chicken nuggets and spaghetti Bolognese and bedtime and kinder duty and quiet moments on the couch with the ones I love the most.

Gav and Sally organised a fundraiser for Ella. It was monumental. There was trivia and an auction and donations and games. I walked out on stage dancing with Gav, grabbed a microphone and hosted part of the evening in what was the most exhilarating and heartbreaking experience I’ve come to know. There were 400 guests and a waiting list, all contributing to Ella’s future. Because we all needed a reason to carry on, a project to manage the grief, and an opportunity to remember the good you gave to us. I wish you could’ve been there. But on some level I suspect you were, because Gav and Sal and I all dreamt vividly of you that night.

You won a National Emergency Medal for your work on Black Saturday. Gav and Ella graciously accepted the accolade on your behalf in the most bittersweet of circumstances. And they glowed with pride.

On New Year’s Eve I stood alone in the front yard, gulping champagne and watching fireworks from a distance. Each bang and crackle hurt my eyes, and I sought comfort in a woman who has known the pain of loss herself – too often. And it helped, a tiny bit, resting in her arms.

Ella turned 12, graduated primary school, started high school, and moved to the country with your Mum. She is extraordinary your daughter. Together she, your Mum and a funny little brown poodle have formed a new team, and they are a force to be reckoned with.

Your nieces started primary school, Eva perfected her hula-hooping, your nephew Hudson was born, and a song was dedicated to you in front of a sell-out crowd at a folk festival. Three nights in a row. The drummer cried each time.

The thing is Lu, there have been ordinary and remarkable days over this past year. But no matter what sort of day it is, there are these moment that sneak up on you. Like a kick to the crotch they get you quick and hard. Get you breathless and gasping. Missing you.

I miss your smell of soft perfume, and cigarettes and lollies.

I miss your vague text messages that always came a day too late.

I miss fighting for mirror space between all of us girls, trying to put on our makeup.

I miss touching toes with you on the couch.

I miss our cheeks sticking together during a hug.

I miss seeing you and Gavin hold hands.

I miss watching you stroke Ella’s hair absentmindedly.

It’s unbearable not knowing where you are. Or knowing that you are nowhere. It’s like you’re just out of focus on the edge of a picture, I keep looking expecting it to become clearer.

And yet the year rolls on…

The White Devil by Justin Evans

white devilWith a tarnished reputation, expelled American student, Andrew Taylor is sent to finish his studies at a prestigious and historic boarding school in England.

Steeped in tradition, Harrow School, has all the ingredients to make you feel uneasy: age old-secrets, hidden tunnels, aristocracy, hallways lined with faded photos, and of course rumours of a student ghost.

The plot itself gathers you in, and the writing style is enjoyable, perfectly paced, and wonderfully descriptive, while still leaving splinters in your brain that you have to interpret yourself. Once you’re hooked it doesn’t take long for the goosebumps to appear. Strange occurrences emerge, Andrew begins to suffer vivid and disturbing dreams, and a student dies on campus.

Andrew bears a striking resemblance to a former, famous pupil of Harrow, Lord Byron, and there is no doubt that his enrolment has stirred something supernatural and malevolent within the walls of the school.

What I like about this tale, and what is typical of a clever ghost story is that there is an underlying unease and tension, even during the lighter moments. (There is a backstory of a student romance, adolescent sexuality and a tired alcoholic tutor/mentor.) The history and architecture of the school itself is fascinating and frightful, and that the main characters have their own controversies and secrets that, in a way, haunt them more than any ghost can.

Moments of terror are written in a fast and punctuated pace and you can’t help but rush through them with a skip in your heartbeat and a bite to the lip.

The haunting is genuinely menacing but also enticing; our ghostly friend is seriously pissed off about something; and new student Andrew has definitely captured its attention.

In Short: Secrets, sodomy, scholars and scares.