Start to Write (Right!)

For my whole life I’ve described myself as an aspiring writer.  One day I will write a great Australian novel.  At the moment, all I can manage are some irregular blog posts about other writers who I envy unhealthily.

Except this week something weird happened in the cosmos that made me think; maybe I could actually START a story.

At a work ‘getting to know you’ session a group of us were asked to choose from a series of scattered photographs on the floor an image that best represents us.  I looked on the ground and found this:

shredded paper

When I introduced my picture I explained, ‘One day I want to write a novel, but this is as close as I’ve gotten so far.’

That afternoon I received an email from a publishing friend who drew my attention to a writing course.  ‘It’s happening this weekend, it’s not expensive, and they have a few spots left.  You should enroll!’

I took this as a bit of a sign and registered for the course.

It was called Start to Write.  And so I did.

Run by Allen & Unwin’s Faber Writing Academy, something felt right when I walked into the classroom.  Shelves and shelves of amazing books, and not a corporate motto or inspirational ‘goal’ poster in sight.

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What I loved about the Faber Writing Academy (apart from the super elite sounding name) was that within 15 minutes I was exercising my fingers and my brain by writing.  Writing just like that…no hang ups, no procrastination, no structure planning or chapter outlines.  Just brain dumping onto the page demonstrating hardly any skill! What we all spewed out was quite terrible, and shall never see the light of day.  But it was an exercise in creativity. And it was food for the soul.

Paddy O’Reilly led the course and enveloped us with encouragement and good humour.   We read other published works, and interpreted their merit.  We read each other’s work and enjoyed the language and construction of sentences, dialogue, and character.

And during the course of the day it seemed like everyone had their own moment of clarity.  Translating our favourite family anecdotes into a short descriptive story sparked an intangible energy.  We all had a little buzz.  A shifting in our seats.  It made me think faster and bash typos quickly onto the screen.  We all identified moments in each other’s stories that meant something, something that the writer should grab onto.  Should think on a little more, and maybe somehow weave magic from that a-ha twist in the tale.

I’ve always been one to structure my work.  I imagined my journey of writing a novel as one that involved story-boards, chapter outlines with post-it notes, smoking endless cigarettes, glasses askew, labouring over a keyboard with research papers at my side. The ending clear in my mind right from the beginning.  But I don’t wear glasses. And I’ve never bloody started.

Paddy said she writes in the dark.  Not knowing what is coming, but just letting the words flow.

I think I need to do the same.  To give this a proper crack.

From a (genuinely) aspiring, and ACTIVE novelist.

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Halloween Reads Part II

the woman in blackThe Women in Black by Susan Hill

Why wouldn’t you stay overnight in a dead person’s mansion, trapped in by swamp waters, candles for lighting, and piles of old papers to read through the night? Seems unsettling enough and then you layer in the rumours of a haunting; the woman in black, who curses children of the local township.

 

 

 

 

heart shaped boxHeart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

The debut novel from Stephen King’s son, the tension and thrills during the first ¾ of this story make it difficult to sleep. Every innocent household sound is frightening; particularly the crackle of a radio. Judas Coyne hears about someone selling a ghost on the internet, and when his purchase is delivered it arrives in a heart shaped box. The foreplay in this book is gripping, astounding and breathtaking. The climax leaves you feeling kind of ripped off. Worth it for the initial fun though!

 

 

lexicon_uk_hb_big

Lexicon by Max Barry

This one is a bit of a Sci-Fi thriller, and extremely unsettling. Two years ago something terrible was unleashed in an Australian mining town called Broken Hill. Thousands died. Few people know what really happened. Part X-Men, part zombie apocalypse, you’ll tangle with linguistics and be rattled long after reading.

 

 

 

The-Ghost-of-Miss-Annabel-Spoon2-300x242The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blaby

A scary looking picture story book that has beautifully bleak illustrations capturing the ghost of a sad young lady. She haunts the town and the folk think something must be done about her unwanted presence.

 

No matter what hour, she lurked looking sour,

Be it midnight or mid-afternoon.

Her dresses were shabby, her mood always crabby.

Her name was Miss Annabel Spoon.

With deliciously clever rhymes and a warm ending, this is actually a great ghost story for primary aged children.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood  – A Traditional Tale

In a dark dark wood, there was a dark dark house

And in the dark dark house, there was a dark dark room…

You know what’s coming but right? As a child though,  the tension is tantalizing.

 

funny bonesFunny Bones by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

A big skeleton, little skeleton and their pet dog skeleton venture out of their cellar at night with the hope of finding someone to frighten. The trouble is, everyone is in bed so they have to satisfy themselves by scaring each other. It’s a bit scary, but in a fun and giggly way.  More nostalgia for me here, with classic line art, block colouring and simple repetitive text. The Ahlbergs seriously knew how to write kid’s books.

Over 30 years on, and this one is still relevant.

 

Halloween Reads Part I

Those of you who are regular readers will know my love of a ghost story.  I really do have a bit of an obsession with creeping myself out to the point where my heart palpitates if I’m alone in a darkened hallway.

So, what better time is there to share my slightly unhinged reading habits?  Here are a few of my favourite supernatural and spooky reads…

Me and Mog book cover

 

Meg & Mog by Helen Nicholl

Frog in a bog, bat in a hat, snap crackle pop, and fancy that…

Colourful line drawings of witch Meg and her stripey cat Mog are perfect for little ones at Halloween. If the bright colours and simple illustrations don’t take you back to primary school in the 1980s your childhood was certainly deprived.

the witches

 

The Witches by Roald Dahl

As a child was there anything more thrilling as seeing an old lady wearing gloves, boots and scratching her head? She was most certainly a witch and thought you smelled of dog poo. My favourite Dahl book by far.

 

 

thesmallhand

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Imagine standing in an old garden looking out across a manicured expanse with a huge water fountain at the centre. A tiny child’s hand slips into yours. It’s icy cold. You look down and no one is there. Goosebumps much?

 

 

seance

 

The Séance by John Harwood

The book that spurred my love of the ghost genre. Set in Victorian England it is a creepy homage to the ghost story traditions of old. Orphan girl Constance is left an unusual bequest from a distant relative, but it comes with a warning:

Sell the hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there.

If none of these classics take your fancy, stay tuned for Part II…

 

Book to Screen: The Gone Girl Guest Review

As a book nerd, I’m always uneasy when a tale I love becomes a movie.   I’ll admit I was really sceptical about the Gone Girl film adaptation, however, upon seeing the trailers and hearing the first critiques, I definitely had to see it.

But I am not a movie nerd. I wouldn’t know the first thing to look at when reviewing a film. So I decided to examine the flick through someone else’s lens: Director and Producer, Regan Wood from Hit 66 Sound & Screen This is his guest review:

Ben Affleck really does have a bum for a chin. Now this may not be the first thing you notice about the film Gone Girl, but as his jaw line does play a part in the story, it will certainly not be the last. In fact, your last thoughts will be the most difficult to predict.

As the bulk of the tale is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, cloaked in a conundrum, it’s hard to mention any details for fear of revealing the more important plot points. You have no doubt seen the trailer: Nick Dunne’s on-the-rocks marriage is put on hold as his wife, Amy, goes missing with signs pointing to foul play. It’s not long before the neighbourhood, spurred on by a spiteful media, begin to suspect the husband of committing the act himself. But like I said, to dig deeper would deprive you of discovering the twists and their counterparts, yourself.

What I can talk freely about is the cast. Whatever you think of our new Batman, he does put in an experienced and worn-thin turn as the suburban husband. If fact, his solid calm and unclear ends, mirror the very pace and sculpture for the film. The bit players, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, normally seen as comedians, fill out a committed and melodramatic cast. But it is Rosamond Pike, the preverbal Girl ‘Gone,’ who is the stand out. And, once more, for your own good, I will not brandish any details but to say if she does not receive an Academy nod come February, the system is seriously corrupt.

The real star here is Director, David Fincher. Clearly and wholly the most talented lens man working in Hollywood today. Gone Girl shares DNA with Fincher’s 2006 film Zodiac. There is a stillness and an emptiness that, with the help of Trent Reznor’s haunting score, is punctuated with sharp unease and the sure threat of violence. As a film maker, I have studied his technique avidly, but have neither the capacity nor the patience to recreate it. As this is his sixth book to screen adaptation, authors are no doubt writing tomes with his deft hand in mind.

So, without spoilers or much else really, Gone Girl is worth every cent of your ticket price. It is classically made; no CGI, no explosions, no 3D. This alone is reason enough to spend the 160 minutes soaking in it’s painful and razor edge grip. Go in without expectation. Whatever twists you do predict, and there will be a few, nothing will prepare you for the poisonous hollow of an ending that will stay with you well into the week.

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

lost n fI recently had to tell my toddler that our beloved family pet had died. I was dreading the conversation, knew it would be coming soon. Our gentle beagle boy was very old, lived a rich and utterly spoiled life, but was riddled with tumours, and we expected it to be any day.

How do you explain death to a child without frightening them? Without confusing them, or, if I’m honest, inviting questions that I had no idea how to answer.

When I told her, I said ‘I have some sad news.’ Told her that he had died last night and that it was ok for us to feel upset because we will miss him.

“Will he go to the vet?”

“He went to the vet darlin, but he was too old to fix.”

“Will we still see him?”

“No.”

“But I love him.”

And that was it. As a child, she was able to articulate in four words, the unfairness and grief of losing someone you love. As adults, we wrap grief in complexities, in conditioning and expectations of how we should feel. We then add remorse… or worse; guilt, and then try to follow a process that allows us to cope. But ultimately, aren’t we thinking the same thing as my little girl? But I love them. It’s not fair. I want to see them again.  

That childish insight is exactly what makes the book Lost and Found so breathtaking and so engrossing. Death through the eyes of pragmatic seven year old Millie Bird. Millie examines death with curiosity and naivety, and when her own father dies, and her mother abandons her in a shopping centre you will want to bundle her into your arms and take care of her.

It’s clever, it’s authentic, and it’s heartbreaking.

Soon Millie crosses paths with two older characters who are struggling to make sense of loss and love, just as much as their little counterpart.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty seven when he farewells his beloved Evie, and his son kisses him on the cheek, leaving him in a nursing home. Seeking something else, he escapes the home to go in search of meaning and purpose.

Agatha Pantha is eighty two and has confined herself to her house since her husband died. She is eccentric and belligerent, hurling abuse at passers-by and complete strangers. Until she spies a little girl, obviously living alone in a house across the street.

The writing is perfection. You will slip comfortably into the Australian landscape, as Davis sets the scene with the nuances of our urban and rural culture. You will see Millie in your local shopping centre, see Karl clutching a coffee mug in a café you have visited, and hear Agatha screaming insults from a familiar home on a tree lined street in the ‘burbs.

Davis has created a tale that is both hilarious and healing. It makes you ask questions. It immerses you in each character, their memories and their discoveries.

Whilst the concept of loss is woven into each chapter, there is also an underlying theme of humour, self-reflection, and the intricacies of human interaction. It’s as much about living as it is about death, and at the heart of it all are three lovely characters; unlikely friends who take you on a moving journey to find Millie’s Mum… and something else.

In Short: Read with a lump in your throat and a smile on your lips.

Grieving for Dummies… or anyone really.

It’s been over two months since my last post, which has, of course, broken my resolution to write frequently and regularly. But I’ve been finding it hard to write something new. Something to push my last post down from the top of my feed. Somehow it doesn’t feel right to post a new reading recommendation that would sit atop my more important words for my late cousin. It seems flippant to bang on about a book that’s a ‘must read’ and relegate ‘Words for Lori’ a little lower on the page.

I’ve been trying to think of something to write that contributes to the below, which was written in grief, just before the funeral of Lori. A little time has passed, and the grief feels different, but it is still stubbornly there with no sign of abating.

And then I got this text message:

Phone message (3)

A reading recommendation from a group of bereaved parents (one of whom is my best friend, hence the explicit language.) They said the book has helped them with the unimaginable grief of losing a child. “It’s actually really therapeutic and funny too.”

The thing is, I already knew about the book. Lost and Found by Brooke Davis has caused a huge stir in the publishing world (which I am a part of). The author, Davis, was the talk of London Book Fair this year, and the rights to her debut title became the subject of a huge international bidding war.

In real life, the author’s mother died in tragic circumstances, and writing this book was inspired by her loss. In June, during her first media interview with Australian story, she said:

“There’s this idea that grief has a beginning and an end and with it comes all these buzzwords and concepts about stages of grief, like anger and denial and acceptance and closure.

 

“That way of announcing how grief should be makes everyone feels like they’re doing it wrong. And there’s no wrong way – it’s all right.”

So now I am reading her book.  I’m about halfway through, and it is utterly breathtaking…  (Review to come)

It’s made me think more about grief though.  Did you know there is actually a Grieving for Dummies book?  That may sound facetious, but I actually understand the demand for a title like that.  It’s hard to get a handle on grief, and to accept that it will be with you throughout life.  It doesn’t go away, it evolves. The pain of it, perhaps, becomes bearable with time.

Well, that’s my understanding of it anyway.  Yours is most likely different. 

When I was in high school, I had a friend whose father had passed away when she was much younger.  Occasionally she would miss a day of school, and I’d ask her if she was sick. “I’m just grieving for my Dad,” She’d tell me with clarity. Huh?  Didn’t he die, like, ages ago?

Looking back now I amazed that she was so mature, calm and at peace with her grief.  (She obviously has a remarkable Mum!)

And when I heard of the girls who recorded their late sister’s voicemail greeting, just so they could listen to her voice, I thought: ‘god, how torturous.’  But then I found myself trying to remember that same girl’s laugh, her voice, and our conversations: so is the recording in my mind really any different?

In our culture, we are taught about coping.  We value resilience, and courage, and a stoic nature.  We express our sympathy with floral tributes, and poems in the newspaper. In the media, a carefully placed tear on an interviewee’s cheek gets a zoom in.  If the grief becomes too confronting – think sobbing, snot, swearing… let’s break for a commercial while *subject name* gathers themselves.

Personally, I pride myself on keeping it together. So I was mortified at Lu Lu’s funeral when I FULLY snorted (think Daddy Pig) into the microphone while crying through a poem reading! (At least she would have found it an amusing sound!) But why did I feel like I had to ‘cope’ in front of a crowd?

It seems jarring when exposed to another cultural expression of grief on TV. Of screaming, and chest clutching, and falling to the ground while a body, wrapped in cloth is carried above an armful of relatives through dusty streets. Why does it seem so chaotic? Because their grief is not subdued or organised? Perhaps that is the truer way to demonstrate respect for the lost. To show it and let it consume you physically. I know in moments of sheer desperation, behind closed doors I have fallen to the ground. Overcome.

I have wanted to scream in the streets about the unfairness and sorrow. But I’ve been conditioned this way. So I don’t.

So I’m not surprised that Grieving for Dummies exists, because we try to identify the right way, the dignified way to mourn our loss. And everyone’s way is different, and it can be confusing.

The sneaky thing about grief is that it is often tied to other, more paralysing, emotions: guilt, remorse and regret. Until you process and move on from those hurdles, the healing really can’t begin. And don’t be alarmed when grief catches you unawares. In a moment you weren’t expecting to feel it, and there it stabs. Take a breath. Be kind to yourself.

cupcakeFor me, it is grief that makes me find a quiet spot, and share a cupcake with my memories on January 2 every year.  It is grief that makes me hate certain Beatles songs, and love others.  It is grief that gives me nightmares, or warming dreams of childhood games with all my cousins.  It is grief that makes me sip tea from the same special cup each weekend. It is grief that makes me love the smell of Nutrimetics lipstick, and it is grief that makes me hold my breath when looking at a dog collar hanging in the cupboard.

It is grief that makes me write this post, and read that book.

 

Post Script:

In the text message, ‘VSK’ refers to the organisation Very Special Kids, which provides respite and end of life care for families children with life-threatening illnesses.

To read more about Brooke Davis, see the ABC news article I have referenced here.

Saying Goodbye… Words for Lori

On Wednesday 7th May 2014, I told a friend a silly story of my childhood. Of Wizard of Oz Games with my cousins, where I played the Lion because I liked to say ‘put em up,’ ‘put em up.’ Where Carrie played the witch because she was the most skilled method actor, and where Sally played Dorothy, because… well because she was the boss. Each and every time we claimed our roles, and knew our lines. Got into character. And there you were, trotting along on your hands and knees down the stone driveway – the ever-faithful (and speechless) Toto. You were always the ever-faithful, quiet one. The amiable. The kind.

On Wednesday the 7th May 2014, we lost you Lu Lu.

As children we played till the sky grew dark, and our Mums grew cross. Born in ’82 there was just nine months between you and Regan and eight months between Carrie and I; we were closer than just cousins.

You were a sweet toddler, and a warm child with tomato sauce on your cheeks, Cheezel dust on your fingers, and a hyper colour T-Shirt slung over your bathers.

With just one boy in the family, you were often relegated to play the role of Prince Charming or my boyfriend – despite your desire to wear the high heels and fur coats too. While our ‘dating’ play seems a little strange now, at the time, the game meant little more than being ‘grown up’ eating our spaghetti bolognaise at a big table, WITH A CLOTH, and a FLOWER and a CANDLE! During the meal I always pushed your Mum’s spaghetti to the side of the plate, and you did the same to my Mum’s dish. Another Mum’s recipe was simply never the same.

In our twenties we saw each other often. My fondest memories are of us eating deep fried anything, watching terrible horror movies adding our own narration. Bumming smokes, and drinking Bacardi, solving the problems of the world in the cold winter air.

On one of our few ‘kid free’ nights we celebrated a birthday in the city. An apartment on Southbank, a meal of Chinese dumplings, a bucket of cheap wine, and a ghost tour of old Melbourne Gaol. The tour guide (a b-grade actor dressed as prison warden) was interested in our welfare and our experience at the Gaol. Wanted to make it authentic, and spooky and scare our girly pants off. That, and stare at our boobs. You showed your naivety then Lu Lu. While Carrie and I laughed into our palms and briskly tried to escape his weirdness – you asked more questions. Wide eyed, spooked and intrigued. Thankfully you also wore a scarf!

We giggled in fits, as you and Carrie tried on a Ned Kelly mask, staged a bag snatching, arrest, and murder – all in costume (meant for school excursion visitors) until we were politely asked to move on by our pervy, but clock watching, guide.

One of your favourite quotes; just for shits and giggles, explains many of our actions and activities. They weren’t ground-breaking, or law-breaking or trail blazing or unique. But shit… we had some laughs.

When Ella took us all by surprise and entered this world on my birthday, you gave her my name as her middle. Unselfishly, you wished me a happy birthday, while I sat awestruck at your new baby girl, your calm and your love for that little mystery bundle, who had become your everything in just a moment.

The kindness and warmth you demonstrated as a child never waned. As a young woman, you believed in justice, in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and in seeing the good in people – even when they didn’t always deserve it. You were a devoted aunty, niece and sister. You were compromising, gentle, thoughtful and clever.

The last time I saw you, you were pretty, and smiling, and serene. We waxed lyrical on a hot summer’s night about your sister’s happiness, the CFA, destination weddings, our girls, and our futures. You were loved that night, on that special occasion – although I forgot to tell you so.

If I had that evening again, I would have not rushed a goodbye hug. I would have kissed you twice, and held your slender fingers, and told you that you were beautiful, and to take care of yourself, get some rest, and I’ll see you soon. And I would have made sure I did.

I am so sorry Lu Lu. Sorry that I let inconsequential shit get in the way of a phone call or bad Thai takeaway and simple ‘how are ya?’ I’m sorry I didn’t understand just how unwell you were. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you how much I wanted you to get better.

I’m sorry that I can’t help plan your hen’s night and make you wear a penis tiara. I’m sorry that I can’t make fun of you in a wedding speech, and I’m sorry I don’t know Gavin well because he was so special to you. I’m sorry that you won’t see Ella as a young woman because I know she will make you proud, and I’m sorry you won’t lament your wrinkles, or hold a grandchild, or have too many candles to blow out on a birthday cake. But most of all, I am just sorry. Sorry that your body was too tired and worn out. Sorry that you have gone and we can’t have you back. Sorry to say goodbye. So late.