Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the fifth day of Christmas

... my true love gave to me:
The Idiot and the Odyssey by Joel Stratte-McClure
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
The Unusual Life of Edna Walling by Sara Hardy.

One of my lovely colleagues also gave me Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope and, while I remain a little sceptical - he simply can't be that pure of heart, he's a politician - most of me is just as sucked in as Oprah. So I look forward to reading his story.

Nice haul, and it isn't even Christmas yet.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Falling apart

...when I hear of people taking a year off to write, I worry that a year might not be enough. You must fail as a writer for much longer than that, I think, before you know what failure is and what use you might make of it. I didn't realise, when that first book fell apart, that every book falls apart. That this is the gig. You sit there and watch your word-count drop, and you hold your nerve. I have survived this process now many times.

~ Anne Enright being encouraging (I think) in The Guardian

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh no!

"Australian poet Dorothy Porter died in Melbourne this morning from complications due to cancer. She was 54.

The writer is best known for The Monkey's Mask, a crime thriller in verse about a lesbian detective that was published in 1994 and won The Age Poetry Book of the Year in the same year."
(The Age)

Best reader of her own work I ever heard - and one of the best poets.

Too dreadful.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The forgotten heroes

Note to book publicists, feature writers and documentary makers: just because something happened a while ago, that doesn't make it "forgotten".
In the past couple of months, I've seen that description applied to the Anzacs of World War 2, naval veterans of both World Wars, HMAS Sydney, RAF crews, and in the week of Remembrance Day, not just John Monash but the entire Western Front.
Monash. One of our most famous and revered military minds. I find this astonishing.
Yes, the Howard Government obsessed over Gallipoli on Anzac Day and failed to organise Remembrance Day celebrations in Fromelles (mind you, I doubt John Howard, for all his failings, forgot the Western Front, either).
It’s perfectly reasonable to question both the Gallipoli campaign itself and its glorification. But to claim, as Jonathan King did in The Age last month, "it has taken the Commonwealth 90 years to realise the significance of the Western Front" is stretching the point beyond breaking.
The Western Front was the Great War in everyone’s mind, for its duration and for generations afterwards. It is so utterly seared into our collective memory, the photographs and poems absorbed on an almost visceral level, the diaries and letters amongst the literary canon, even though so many who came back who never discuss it.
But who exactly has forgotten?
Not me. Not anyone I know. Not anyone who has ever read one of the trench poets or seen a Frank Hurley photograph or read a war diary.
I grant you, the First World War campaigns in Serbia, say, are unfamiliar to many and don't feature largely in the collective imagination.
But the Western Front?
What nonsense.
I can't count the number of books on the Western Front sitting on my bookshelf: some may be obscure but many are certified best-sellers. Some of those are written for young readers. Not everyone has a precious copy of CEW Bean but countless people have copies of Carlyon or Adam-Smith – or indeed Sassoon and Graves or even Hemingway. Who do you think reads all these books and watches the movies, documentaries and TV series? Millions of people, of all ages. And they all remember.
A monumental national effort went into commemorating the dead in Europe after both World Wars; both here, in the form of the Shrine and the War memorial in Canberra, but also in the places where the bodies lay. Do you imagine the hundreds of thousands of people who remember our dead or fractured grandfathers and fathers and uncles (and grandmothers and aunts), don’t actually realise they served in the mud of Flanders and France and Italy?
You can’t really think we’re that stupid.
Next it'll be "Weary Dunlop, the forgotten doctor of the Burma railroad".
Or "Tobruk, the forgotten battle that turned the tide of war".
There are myriad ways to remember and commemorate. Turning a cemetery into a tourist hotspot like Gallipoli in April is not the only possible form of acknowledgement. Turning life and precious ritual into a History Channel voiceover is absurd and alienates those who have not forgotten – and will never forget.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Recent reading

My inner life - such as it is - has returned to normal now that the US election is over and I don't have to spend every spare moment worrying about Sarah Palin.
So I've been catching up on some reading:

Lighthousekeeping - Jeanette Winterson has climbed down from her self-conscious now-watch-while-I-do-some-amazing-writing thing and is back in fine form. Perhaps she just has to do that voice. Perhaps she's a one-voice wonder. Who knows? When she gets it right, there's nothing like it.

The Collector of Worlds - The new translation of Ilya Troyanov's novel based on the life of that famously enigmatic explorer, Richard Burton. I hoped, from the first few pages, for insights into Burton but in the last pages was forced yet again to accept enigma as a fact of life. It's compelling, suitably exotic and Orientalist, slightly frustrating and as fabulous as Burton's life demands - and beautifully written.

Olive: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit - Mort Rosenblum. Unlike all those stupid pop history knock-offs (Dust, Flea, and for all I know Belch or Sandpaper) this is utterly fascinating, as indeed you would expect, because the story of the olive is the story of the Mediterranean region and the future of the trees and their precious produce critical to everything from the EU subsidy program to peace in the area around Jerusalem. And I'm a bit olive obsessed at present.

That said, I might now catch up on some writing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Taste test

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
~ Francis Bacon

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The morning after

On the other hand, maybe change is incremental - or relative - or selective - or something.
A giant rainbow-colored flag in the gay-friendly Castro neighborhood of San Francisco was flying at half-staff on Wednesday as social and religious conservatives celebrated the passage of measures that ban same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.
The across-the-board sweep, coupled with passage of a measure in Arkansas intended to bar gay men and lesbians from adopting children, was a stunning victory for religious conservatives.

(New York Times)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sanctuary

This is where I write.


Well, to be precise, this is where I should be writing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In the garden

It’s raining.
Right into our new water tank, connected in the nick of time yesterday. Not much, granted, but if it does this for a couple of days, as predicted, I’ll be happy.
I had the feeling (and it’s only October) that it was never going to rain again.
So things I have learned this winter and spring:

• There is no such thing as a rabbit-proof plant*, with the possible exception of bearded iris**.
• Slaters like beer, just like snails, and die happy. Sadly, they also like seedlings.
• Very small kittens can take on very large rabbits and win.
• If you buy a bunch of spring onions at the supermarket, even if they’ve been in the fridge for a while, and stick the leftover ones in the garden, they will just keep growing.
• Parsley, even when not moved as seedlings, can go from baby leaves to bolt in about a week. Who wants to molly-coddle their parsley? (On the other hand, I do have a self-sown one flourishing in the driveway gravel – gardening is so random sometimes.) And ringtail possums love it.
• Raspberries will flower in the first year.
• Pear trees will not (and not much in the following year, for that matter, but I do have one centimetre-long Buerre Boscs so far this season). Cross-pollinators don’t always flower at the same time, but it somehow worked anyway.
• Roses are actually tough as old boots.
• Broccoli can be too – but when being eaten, not growing.
• Never think “Those cherries are coming along nicely - I’ll put the bird netting on at the weekend”. Your tree will be stripped by then.
• Sugar cane mulch actually stops water getting through to the soil.

Pleasant surprises• All the alliums seem ridiculously happy in my veggie patch: red onions, garlic, leeks, chives, garlic chives, ornamentals – all booming.
• Broad beans are going nuts, in spite of being badly mauled by slaters.
• Broccolini, as opposed to broccoli, grows like the clappers and tastes sublime, though it can be very hard to find in the first place.
• The rhubarb inherited from my dear late great-uncle (who could grow anything) divided into three crowns and thrives in his honour.
• Waving poppy seed heads around in the air one year creates poppy heaven the next (only I think they might be opium, so too many more and it’ll look like Afghanistan).

And I know it shouldn’t really be a surprise, but you’ve never tasted food as good as food you’ve grown and picked just before you eat it.

* Allegedly rabbit-proof plants include rosemary, grevillea, lavender, correa, borage, comfrey and succulents of all sorts. I’m a witness to the fact that rabbits will eat any or all of these, even when there is plenty of other green stuff around. Correas are simply pudding.
** Irises, however, are not sheep-proof, as I have learned to my cost in my country garden, but that may not concern too many gardeners.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lately I've been...

I'm not reading anything except media at present.
I've tried - I have about five books on the go but have stopped even bothering carrying them around with me.
In the evenings I do crosswords. I've never done them before, always been hopeless at Scrabble, because my word-searching brain cells seem to operate in the opposite way.
But I'm worried about my memory fading, and apparently having a hard job and reading a lot and writing in patches isn't enough to save you. You have to do groping for facts kind of thinking. SO I do crosswords, although I find I am far too literal for many of the clues.
If I can't work it out, I check the answers the next day, and invariably find that the answer has, in my view, nothing to do with the clue.
Seriously: is "hopeless" another word for "incurable"? Not in my book.
How exactly are you supposed to know when you're supposed to be literal and when you're supposed to be lateral?
It must just be a crossword world kind thing. Takes some getting used to.
But I can't read about Captain Cook or the collection of Aboriginal artefacts post-contact at present because I'm too obsessed with Sarah Palin. In a morbid, car-crash kind of way.
I tear open the paper every morning to read about her latest debacle, saddened as the campaign progresses that she is now so tightly managed that we will never again have the pleasure of seeing her interviewed.
I couldn't tear myself away from the VP debate, hoping for something more dramatic than a refusal to answer any question she didn't understand. Sadly, our hopes were dashed.
Loved Slate's conversion of some of her more mind-numbing statements into poetry, and the attempt to graph her sentences against basic logic, let alone grammar. Laugh? I nearly ...
The whole thing has been hilarious from start to (almost) finish, and yet deeply sobering when I remember, as I often do, that these are the people who elected George W Bush - twice. Hanging chads aside.
All the media comment at the time of her nomination focused on the ways in which she would bring the evangelical vote back to the Republicans. No-one seemed to acknowledge that it was really a play for that slice of voters that both campaigns and media like to pretend isn't really there: the rednecks. When they talk about race, when they talk about class (always the middle class, as if it's not those below middle who are really badly suffering - talking about the poor or the working class, after all, might be construed as socialist), when they talk about the Bible Belt or the South, what they are really after and/or fear are those terrifying trespasser-shooting drill-baby-drill tabaccy-dribblers who don't give a damn about anything that happened since the end of the Civil War and the fight against the Navaho. She portrays that as the real America, is if most people in the country are still out on the frontier. They aren't. They are in Chicago and New York and LA and Houston and all those thousands of huge cities. They are not rednecks. They are urban poor, urban middle-class, urban voters, leading urban lives and working in factories and offices and construction and even - God help 'em - in the finance sector. Even the vast majority of people in rural areas are not rednecks.
Why they all think that a few ignorant losers are somehow more genuinely American than the bulk of the population is beyond me. It's not an elephant in the room, it's a herd of bison - that's what the rest of the world fears, and it's clearly what Obama fears, why McCain chose Palin and why he possibly now regrets it - and that's why Palin is scary.
The more certain it becomes that Palin won't be elected, the more optimistic my view of human nature. But I am not breathing easily yet.
I'm not one of those people who sees Obama as a Messiah. I don't really believe he's any less self-obsessed or cynical than Hillary or McCain, just a little younger so he has a bit more cynicism to learn.
But I have been around politics enough and from a tender age to know that nobody can put themselves forward without a high degree of both political nous that comes with learning the hard and conniving way, and a level of narcissism.
That's a given.
He won't change Washington irrevocably and nor does he even seek to change that US-style God-given world sheriff with a Bible in one hand thing that leaves the rest of the world shaking its collective head. I'm truly amazed that the presidential debate actually accepts that it's somehow evil and "socialist" to talk about spreading the wealth around, or continuing the profoundly unhealthy and deeply weird role of insurance companies in basic health care.
But never mind.
Within that context, he shines.
So Sarah Palin, and the twit who decided she was a good get for VP, will hopefully be little more than a cheap joke in around 20 days' time.
On the flipside, we have all become Tina Fey fans, which has to be a good thing.
Then we can all get back to our crosswords and books.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rock on


I am making a garden in a building site.
True, it's a 40 year-old building site, but that adds an extra layer of both challenge and excitement. There are sections of bush, with a thin layer of quite nice topsoil on top of a thick layer of clay and then solid but easily shattered rock. That is, it's solid if you try to dig it, but shatters into a thousand fragments if you try to use it for anything sensible like garden bed edges.
But the area around the house is a 1960s building site and rubbish tip. The people who built the house (three mudbrick buildings, very gorgeous) made the bricks here themselves, having carved three house sites out of the clay and rock.
I don't know how they made the bricks. The clay is full of shards of riverstone, which they sieved and then obviously piffed over the side of the house sites. Along with bottles and bits of failed pottery and car batteries and sardine tins and for some inexplicable reason plastic ivy leaves which I find, by the handful, every week.
So I am either gardening on steep banks littered with shards and old rubbish, or in solid clay. In the middle of my vegie patch there is a car axle sticking up out of the dirt. I don't know why. But it's concreted in, so it's staying there.
Gardening here is what we might call a Valuable Learning Experience. I am now, for example, possibly the world's greatest forensic digger-upperer of old beer bottles (besides professional archaeologists, of course). There was a fashion in the '60s for including beer bottles in mudbricks. Our cottage has a wall made of sherry flagons, which makes you want to fire up the fondue set. There are bottle buried everywhere.
Today I was digging a hole to move the olive tree, which is in the shade and bent almost horizontal by the force of a pink hebe.
Never heard of such a thing as a venerable olive tree threatened by a wee sweet hebe? You've never seen this hebe. It's a Monster Hebe. It's the King Kong of hebes. It's the size of an elephant and I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I know they are usually about a metre high at most. This is the size of the MCG. And pink. Of course. I hate pink. This hebe is like a Barbara Cartland Mardi Gras Float.
Anyway, so the olive tree must be rescued. I dig a hole for it. For once, I am not digging in an area that is stony, so it must be solid clay. Though I have dug it into a raised bed a while back so it's not too solid. Clink. Not one but two old beer bottles in one hole (you have to extricate them very carefully so they don't shatter, and this is a skill I have had to develop over the last year).
Also in the soon-to-be-a-hole is some black plastic. And the cuff off a once-white shirt. That's all in the process of digging just one hole.
The ground full of rocks is worse. Some of them are just the size of a matchbox, but enough to turn the spade blade. There may be dozens in a square foot of earth. And needless to say I also piff them all elsewhere, which I will no doubt live to regret.
Other rocks are the size of a dog. Mind you, once you've got those buggers out, you have a mighty decent-sized planting hole. But no soil to backfill.
Yesterday I was planting correas on one of the banks and in the end resorted to scraping a hole in the stones, filling it with compost and planting into it. The Derek Jarman method.
If I'd thought about it properly, I could have made a gravel garden like Beth Chatto. People keep telling me to turn it into a rock garden but I can't stand those Carefully Managed Rocky Bank Gardens. This garden just happens to have rocks, that's all. And stones. And beer bottles lurking beneath the surface.
Come to think of it, Derek Jarman probably would have quite liked that. He'd probably be perfectly happy about the car axle. But I hate to think what he'd make of the hebe.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Famous Fifty

Children's author Enid Blyton has been named the best-loved writer in new Costa Book Awards poll to discover the UK's "most cherished" writers.
Blyton, who wrote more than 700 stories over a 40-year career (The Famous Five, Secret Seven, Malory Towers, Noddy), and has sold over 600 million books in total around the world, came out top and continues to be a phenomenally popular author. Despite her death in 1968, around eight million books are still sold worldwide every year, including more than a million Famous Five tales.
Fellow children's author Roald Dahl came second in the poll, thanks to gems such as James and the Giant Peach, The Witches and Matilda.

So, the top 50 best-loved authors in the UK are:
1. Enid Blyton
2. Roald Dahl
3. J.K. Rowling
4. Jane Austen
5. William Shakespeare
6. Charles Dickens
7. J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Agatha Christie
9. Stephen King
10. Beatrix Potter

(Read the full list of 50 here.)

C.S. Lewis came in at number 11.

If we draw a kindly veil over the fact that Dan Brown came in between Maeve Binchy and Emily Bronte, there are a few lessons here:
1. The books we love as children - the books that introduce us to reading as a mania - stay with us forever.
2. That remains true even when those books don't appeal to our adult reader eyes (and indeed may not bear too much close scrutiny on re-reading).
3. Some recent polls about books seem to have been influenced by recent movie releases or big-splash book launches - I'd suggest this list is not, perhaps because it's focused on authors.
4. The list of works here can be divided into those driven by plot or character (I'd suggest only Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens balance both). 20th century plot-lovers seem to have the numbers.

Lucy Mangan in The Guardian explores the allure of Blyton:
I myself can barely bring myself to talk about my Enid Blyton years. Who wants to let daylight in upon magic?
...For hundreds of thousands of us, Blyton was the wedge that cracked open the pleasure-filled world of reading and allowed us in. Our rational adult sides reject and mock Kirrin Island and all the adventures played out there; our inner children remember it rightly, and gratefully, as the promontory from which we caught our first glimpse of the promised land.

As George would say, ripping!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The twats

Random House Children's Books in the UK has yet to make a decision when it will reprint Jacqueline Wilson's My Sister Jodie after deciding to remove an offensive word from future reprints of the book.
The publisher said it had received three complaints over the use of the word "twat" in the title aimed at children aged 10 and over. It is to be replaced by the word "twit". It has sold more than 150,000 copies of the book since publication in March.
In a statement, following the decision to remove the offensive word, the publisher said: "We are very sorry if anyone is offended by the language used in Jacqueline Wilson's My Sister Jodie."

As someone who ensures a fair sprinkling of piratical swearing when appropriate in books for young readers, I feel fairly sure that if young Dame Jacky says "twat" she means twat, just like every kid reading her books.
Next they'll be replacing the very British "bollocks!" with "dash it!".
Then to avoid offending three of her literally millions of readers (or more probably their parents), we can all go back to being Enid Blyton.
Dash it all.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back in Auckland. Flew in over the sea and stared fondly at what I took to be Waiheke Island, my old home. The plane banked and I realised I was looking in completely the wrong direction and we were coming in from the south. That infallible geographical sense of mine.
So I'm in a town I know and love - or think I know, as it's already, in 18 months, changed perceptibly, as cities do. There are still roadworks everywhere, as indeed there always will be, still not appearing to make any difference to the hellish traffic. There is torrential rain, followed by sun, followed by more rain.
But there is no Mahinarangi Tocker. I've been sleeping in her empty room, pulling weeds out of her garden, talking about her with those who miss her the most, surrounded by her pictures - her smile - on the walls, on the fridge.
There's a theory she might have come back as a tui. There were three watching me closely in the garden this afternoon. I have my suspicions. Fly high, lovey.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ch-ch-ch

Very odd. I had a gardening blog. But it's vanished.
Granted, I had neglected it, just like this one, for a month or so, due to technical problems with both my brain and my laptop/modem/router (but I won't start on that).
Then last night I went to post on the gardening blog and it's gone.
Not just the blog, but the entire website of which it was part.
Vapourised.
Now, this is a site which I helped set up in a previous life (and only about 2 years ago) in New Zealand, where I was the editor of the magazine - the site was the online version.
New Zealand Lifestyle Block - NZ's "premier magazine for the small farmer". It was fun. Each month I got to choose between a cute piglet and a cute lamb for the cover star, instead of grinning humans who are, frankly, deeply boring month after month.
Yet in spite of working there for years, editing the damn thing, and blogging for them (by request) for another year I got no hint at all that this was happening.
I heard a rumour last month that the mag had been sold by ACP. I can't see any press releases to that effect on the ACP website, nor indeed any sign that the company ever founded and published the magazine.
The URL redirects to a completely different site/blog which has no mention of the previous site, and no advice to the painstakingly developed online community of bloggers, image posters or readers that it is gone.
No archive. No sign of life at all.
Maybe I dreamed it. Maybe any moment Bobby will step out of the shower and I'll realise it never happened.
Anyway it's all gone, including those precisely crafted posts of mine (needless to say I don't have a copy), and that precipitates what is probably a necessary change to this blog.
I'm changing the focus of this blog. This might help (technical problems aside) with my block about blogging recently - having too many to sustain just makes me feel grumpy and not want to go near any of them. So now this blog will cover all of it: writing, reading, thinking, collecting, technology, gardening and other random stuff.
Once I've bashed the bejesus out of the modem and router, or whatever drastic action is required at this desperate stage, I might even be able to post properly.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Nose. Grindstone. Or else.

Right. I’ve set myself a deadline. I have to shake off this lethargy, this soul-bleaching feeling that I don’t have headspace to write.
It’s not writer’s block. It’s just a head full of stuff.
Doris Lessing knows. She reckons now that winning the Nobel Prize for Literature was a "bloody disaster", and she has now stopped writing, according to the BBC.
"It has stopped, I don't have any energy any more."
Lessing said she now spends most of her time now being photographed and giving interviews.
"This is why I keep telling anyone younger than me, 'don't imagine you'll have it forever.'
"Use it while you've got it because it'll go, it's sliding away like water down a plughole."
Good advice. A plug hole is a very scary idea.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Haere ra, Mahinarangi

I guess I need to write this down.
My friend Mahina Tocker died today.
I've been in denial since her asthma attack last week but it's not working for me now.
She's gone.
I won't go on about her many talents and awards - there'll be plenty of that in the next few days, I'm sure, as people get their heads around it.
That won't be easy. It seems quite impossible, that someone so boisterous and generous and loving - and yes, crazy - could be just ... gone.
There are already tributes here and here. There'll be more.
But the first time I saw her was on stage at Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne. I suppose it was about 1990. That's the night she met Irena, who has been sitting by her bedside for the last week (O, my love!).
I remember other things besides the concerts and the songs.
I remember her telling me in all (deadpan) seriousness when I moved to New Zealand not to worry if I should come across a moa, because they hated the taste of Australians.
I remember her hammering on my front door because she'd found me a weta - a very small, very dead weta to be sure, but my first.
I remember her coming to all my book launches and crying with pride, buying copies for every kid she knew. She told CK Stead all about me, she said, which is a bit like telling Lucien Freud you have a friend with a talent for watercolours.
Playing percussion with a Post Office document tube.
Farting on stage and blaming some poor guy in the front row.
Endless streams of late night emails and messages, especially around trans-Tasman sporting events.
My favourite of her published poems, My Girlfriend's Bad Haircut.
And her singing harmony, with Charlotte Yates, as if lightness and love could change the world. And in many ways they did.
I always thought she had the voice of an angel and I have never in my whole life wished so deeply and profoundly that there might be a heaven after all.
Go gently, girl. Sing up a storm up there (though you might want to go easy on the poo jokes).
Rest. Peace.
Arohanui, Tox.
Farewell.
(I just can't believe I'm saying that.)

[A day or so later]
More tributes at kiwifolk and here and there was even a minute's silence in parliament. Silence being, somehow, deeply appropriate.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

No danger

Clearly I am in no danger of dying of blog-related stress, a new disease that has apparently claimed its first victims in the US. Two men dropped dead of heart attacks, due to the stress caused by having to keep their blogs updated.
So I’m not slack. It’s a preventive health measure.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lately I've been

Listening to...
Amy Winehouse (fabulous, and made me dig out my old Etta James cassette - yes, I said cassette, which just shows you how old it is. And that was a reissue.)
Cat Empire (still not sure whether or not I love it)

Reading...
Geraldine Brooks' new novel, The People of the Book. It's not as brilliant as March nor as compelling as The Year of Wonders. The voices aren't as strong, and they are, after all, her forte. But she's still my current hero.
(Next up, Anne Enright's The Gathering)

Writing...
A little. Not enough.

Eating...
A gazillion tomatoes from the garden. Best ever.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

History in the making

A big week.
The first week in Parliament for our new government and we're off with a bang, with the extraordinary and intensely emotional apology to the Stolen Generations.
I watched it on the big screen in one of the public spaces at work, with about 100 other staff, bawled my eyes out and will never forget it.
Will never forget, either, these years of shame and anger under Howard; his hectoring of the reconciliation convention; that march across the Harbour Bridge and the apology written across the sky.
Mind you, I did think the apology was supposed to be about much more: about colonisation and dispossession and two centuries of squalid treatment. But let's not quibble just now.
May never forgive Brendan Nelson for attempting to diminish the impact of the words. Tosser.
(That's my level of politicial engagement nowadays - which makes me realise that blogging is little more than an online form of shouting at the telly.)
Perhaps one day our collective gaze will grow wide enough to take in the detention centres, the other great source of shame and international embarrassment.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Writing

It doesn't start with the blank page anymore.
It starts with File/New.
But the feeling is still kinda nice.
Although fresh stationery will never lose its appeal. I still need a new notebook for a new project. Even if I then randomly scribble in any notebook I can find.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bad, bad blogger

Yes, I know. I've been neglectful.
I could promise to be a better blogger from this day forward but frankly I'm not sure whether I can live up to any New Year's resolutions of any kind.
I simply must write another book or two this year. That's the main goal. I have a couple on the way and I've barely glanced at them for months. So I won't make any grand pronouncements today, as I have in the past, about turning over new leaves or sharpening pencils.
After all there a million things I need to do at the same time as writing books. Or, conversely, there are a million things that suck out my brains and leave me no time or headspace for writing books. These range from having a day job which was supposed to be stress-free but isn't, to doing the washing.
Somewhere in amongst it all are a couple of stories trying pathetically to come out of the darkness and onto the weird backlit stage of the laptop. Via my mind.
A rocky road at the best of times.
At any rate lately I've been doing a raft of things rather than write books, such as building a garden (well, at present it's more about tearing apart an old one - I keep hoping to come across Mary Lennox and Dickon behind a wall of ivy), and staring absently-mindedly into the air.
I suppose something will come of that one day.
Right now there's a sulphur-crested cockatoo on the window sill, so I might watch him eat cherry plums. Instead of writing a book. Or blogging.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The tribe has spoken

I was a bit sad that my pirate books didn't get on the list for the Premier's Reading Challenge here in Victoria, since every other kids' book known to humanity seems to be on there. Maybe next year.
But I just discovered by accident that Ocean Without End was on the list in South Australia, where clearly dwell some sensible people of exquisite taste.
I'm even more chuffed to find that it was been selected by young readers in Western Australia to be on their 2007 WAYRBA book awards list.
And then you see a review from a young reader like this one, and it's all worth it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Lit crit(ical)

As we breathlessly wait for word on whether my home town has been accorded the official label of City of Literature, The Age has run a timely editorial on that idea, and its flipside – the need for greater focus on reader development and literacy.
In Melbourne, a city of many readers and many dogs, the light of literature has shone strongly and steadily throughout its history as a beacon of knowledge, enlightenment and ideas, illuminating where we have been, where we are and where we are going. There are more bookshops in Melbourne than in any other Australian city, and there are more books, magazines and newspapers sold in Victoria than in any other state or territory. This city has a proud and honourable tradition of fostering fine publishing…
The pleasure of reading, something once taken for granted in the best sense of the phrase, has become harder to achieve; in the age of email and text messaging and other forms of instant gratification, reading a book takes time and space in a hectic world full of distractions. Literature is slow food versus the take-away chook leg…
If reading comes down to basic skills, so too does language. Spelling, punctuation and elementary grammar skills are as essential to the written word as clarity and accuracy. Yet all too often it is blighted by the nomadic apostrophe, the spelling mistake, the dangling participle. These may be mere rivets in a superstructure, but without them, the edifice crumbles. For a city of literature, literacy in all its forms can never be ignored.


And so say all of us.