Friday, October 24, 2014

Morning stories

7.30am
Avery comes in wearing Una's school hat and a white singlet and nothing else. 'I'm pretending to be a wife,' he says. He takes the hat off and holds it like a bucket. 'Would you like some of my compost?' he offers, speaking in a high voice, his lips puckered.
'Hello wife,' I say.
'No I'm pretending to be a wife,' he says. 'I'm Avery.'
'What's a wife?' I ask.
'I don't know.'
'Are they good?'
'No,' he flops backwards on the bed. 'They're bad guys.'

11am
After protracted negotiations, I buy Avery a home made lemon curd ice-cream in a waffle cone (I know!).
But when it comes, he is upset, because he doesn't want a cone.
I say, 'Do you want me to put it in a cup?'
He says 'In a cup with a straw and a stick and a spoon.'
Frustrated, hot, I say, 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
Sad, he tells me, 'It's the only language I've got.'

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Conversations with the living

Tonight Avery asks, 'Are we new?'
I say, 'You're pretty new.'
'No,' he says. 'Are we new.'
I say, 'There's been nobody like us before.'
Avery says, 'Robots are people and people are robots.'

I talk to my dad on the phone. He has gone from the hospital into aged care. He says, 'when I went into the hospital I thought my time was up.' He says, 'I still think it might be actually. I can't get out of bed, or move around like other people. I'm stuck here.' I ask him to hang around till Una and I come visit. He says my brother's already told him to hang around a bit longer than that. My sister is coming from England next week. There's so much to hang around for in that strange halfway place that's like living and dying all at once. I say, 'But if you need to go, go.'

On the day we get our 5 month old schnauzer, Swoosie, desexed I let Una, 9, stay home from school because it's Fred's last day on school camp. On the way to pick Swoosie up, she says what if Swoosie was already pregnant? I tell her about the cat we used to have, Janeway, who we had desexed when she was pregnant. 'They just take it all out. But they're not really kittens. Just embryos, just clumps of cells.' We talk about abortions and how sometimes women can end pregnancies if they're young, or don't want the baby. Una asks if women can get desexed. I tell her usually it's the man who gets the operation, because it's easier for them. We talk about whether a dog and a cat can have babies. No, but I tell her a donkey and a horse can. We wonder if a cat and a tiger could. She asks if two women or two men can...you know. I say, 'they can't make a baby together.' She says, 'I know. But can they have sex?' Yes, I tell her. She says, 'I wouldn't mind being a lesbian, but I think the hard part about it would be finding other people who want to be lesbians too.'

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fierce Night

Avery had bad dreams last night. He says 'I had a fierce night.'
He dreamed he was in his room and he was stuck. 'I cried out Daddy! I growed and growed and growed. I cried out Daddy and he said, Ssh, I'm coming, I'm coming. He came into my bedroom and I had a good dream then.'
Avery is scared of giants. He asks me if I am a giant.
I say, 'I am quite a small grown up.'
I say, 'There are no giants, really. Not really giants.'
And he says, 'Yes there are. There are.' And he doesn't believe me about dinosaurs, or dragons, or zombies either.
He pretends he is a zombie.
He tells me the problem with being a zombie is that brains are quite sticky and they get on your hands. I can see how that would be a problem.
He says, 'A is for me. A is for me.'
He says to Lili, 'My mummy loves me. Watch.' He turns to me. 'Mummy do you love me?'
'Yes,' I say.
He turns back to Lili, 'See.'
At creche I whisper in his ear, 'I love you.'
He ducks his chin into his shoulder. He says to Dawn, 'She loves me.'
I say to him when he lies in bed at night ready to go to sleep, 'I will sing you three songs.'
He says, excited, 'I'm three!'

Monday, September 08, 2014

This House of Grief

Sometime in the mid 90s, when I was around 20, there was an accident in Hobart. A woman was driving her mother and her two small children in Hobart. She had an epileptic fit at the wheel and drove into the docks. Two young men, around my age, dived into the greasy water after them.

The story was that, when they reached the car, the two women in the front seats of the sinking car urged them to save the children. The young men managed to get the kids out and swim them to safety, the car sank and the driver and her mother were drowned.

I knew people who knew those two young men - it was Hobart and we were about the same age, so this was inevitable. I heard that the young men were cynical about the media or the public calling them heroes. They had saved the children, but they hadn't saved the women. Perhaps they felt they had, at least in part, failed, or perhaps they were angry that more people hadn't come to their aid. I remember hearing that the women had wound down the windows to let the young men get the children, which is what caused the car to sink. But what else could they have done?

This memory played through my mind constantly as I read This House of Grief by Helen Garner, the retelling of the Robert Farquharson trial. On Father's Day in 2005 he drove into a dam with his three boys in the car, claiming later to have passed out during a coughing fit. His very strange behaviour after the car goes into the dam (he freed himself, flagged down a car and insisted on being driven to his ex-wife's house) is bewildering. But Garner wonders aloud often in the book if it is a myth that parents will always put the lives of their children before their own. Are our survival instincts more selfish than that? You can see why the other story played on my mind.

The book is easy to read, large font, wide margins and Garner's effortless, addictive prose. And the book is difficult to read. More than once I sat breathing, the book closed on my lap. The catharsis when it comes is swift and devastating. It took me three days to read the novel and for the whole time between reading, when I was parenting and shopping and preparing food for friends, when I was sitting in bed with my husband and three kids on Father's Day which was the middle of these three days, I carried a cold, grey dread. Pictures of my own three children, not so very dissimilar in age to the three boys, kept flickering in my head. It was with relief that finally, in the last two pages, I sobbed.

In some ways this is the slightest of Garner's extended non-fiction. She purposely avoids the trap of becoming enmeshed in 'a side', as happened in both The First Stone and Joe Cinque's Consolation where she ended up with a great deal of access to one version of events and shut out of another. Garner seems less intimately involved, more able to detach herself. She carries the weight of the case, but is unburdened by the sense of responsibility to the 'truth' that dogged her in the aforementioned earlier works. In fact there are moments of palpable relief when she reminds herself that it is not up to her to decide if he's guilty or innocent. But she still brings herself in to the story. She toys with possible versions of events - she wonders at one stage, for example, if the boys were fighting, relaying her own anecdote of the sort of blind momentary rage that clouds us when we're actively parenting (or, in her case, grandparenting). She seems to be the only one who allows that Farquharson could have both loved his boys and killed them. The possibility that it was Tyler, the middle child, and not the eldest, Jai, that unbuckled the infant, Bailey, is a shadow that flickers through the last section of the book, barely attended to, but clearly shocking to both Garner and myself. She stays on the surface of the material, not allowing herself to get dragged down into it. This is clearly self-protective, if not also deliberately protective of those more intimately involved in the case than she.

Sometimes Martin will come across me in tears over an article in the online news, usually over the death of a child. Don't read it, he'll say. He says, I never read that stuff. I don't know why I do, except, as Garner points out at the end of This House of Grief, these small dead children, they belong to all of us.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Avery on the prospect of giving up the dummy

 Why do you like your nunny? Cause I like it. Cause I can bring it to Penny and Olive’s house. I just like it. Write Mummy loves me I love her. 
Is it sweet or savoury? Sweet. Warm. 
Will you be sad when you don’t have a nunny anymore? *Nods.* 
How can I help you not be sad? *Shrugs.*

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Writer's Blog Tour

Thanks to Snazzy Delicious, I mean Sarah Dollard, for tagging me in The Writer's Blog Tour.  I love a bit of fellow-writer sanctioned procrastination. I mean, isn't it great that we are all supporting each other by drawing attention to the community of ideas in which we all dwell? I kind of want to be Sarah now, but I will keep pretending I am me for long enough to answer these questions.

What am I working on?

Horyzons, Latitudes, Meridian, Altitude. I am working at Orygen Youth Mental Health, writing psychological interventions for young people with psychosis and depression and for their carers. Amazing project that came into my life at a time when I was my own wellbeing journey. Now I'm learning a lot about wellbeing and mental health and really enjoying collaboration after being basically self employed since 2000. If you're going to go back to the workplace after 14 years, I highly recommend working for psychologists who specialise in positive psychology. Amazing flexibility too. And super! I am almost old now (40 this year!) and super is a thing. Status: ongoing

The Endsister. Online novel being delivered chapter by chapter on the weekends, published on Storybird. Lots of fun. Ghost story. Several protagonists ranging in age from 4 to middle-aged. Status: My happy place.

80s Dark Pastoral semi-autobiographical political coming of age novel. Great working title huh? Catchy. This is the Bill Henson novel I always sort of wanted to write about art, children, politics, sexuality, the gaze, suburbia, pedophilia and the nuclear (in every sense of the word) family. It is also probably the most personal thing I've written and also the one requiring the most research. Australia Council endorsed: I have a grant to travel to Tasmania to write it. Lookbook here. Status: Mind-mapped. Flights and accommodation booked. Back up at the ready. (Cover me, Alison. I'm going in.)

Also sort of in process (but the opposite of in progress):
The Shallow Drowned: a "New Adult" novel about a girl who works in a childcare centre on an island cut off from the rest of the world who has lost her cat and her boyfriend, goes on night time adventures looking for both, accompanied by the ghost of a girl she thinks might have hated her in high school. Atmosphere up the wazoo, but wha happen? Plan one day to make it part of a crime trilogy about violence against women with a poet-detective protagonist (see, I think poets could make good detectives. Outsider. Observer). Status: Potentially awesome. Abandoned for now.

Old Scratch: a novel about a group of children one new year's eve playing a very scary game who call up an entity called Old Scratch while their parents watching from the porch. Tried to write this as a children's novel but the mum tried to take over. Publisher politely told me it would make a good short story (cry). Plan one day to return to this, maybe as an adult novel. Status: Abandoned for now. Perfect reader, possibly only me.

The Changing Light. A book about two 12 year old boys and their girlfriend (who is a friend who is a girl) who (spoiler) dies. It's really about how young boys becoming men are conditioned by society to respond to grief. It's also just about the sadness of the end of childhood. An idea I've been pushing around for about 10 years, was going to write this after Undine, but then Undine became the first in a trilogy because of reasons. Tried writing it as middle fiction, then YA with flashbacks, back to middle fiction. Status: Argh. 

Phew, are you still reading along? NEXT QUESTION!

How does my work differ from others in my genre?
I am not sure I care! I do think Australian YA has always been different to commercial YA in other territories, more experimental, character driven, raw and real, able to tell an emotional arc without relying on heavy issues or "concept" narratives. I'd be proud to be considered part of that tradition. But some people tell me I'm a grown up writer in denial.

Why do I write what I do?
The short answer is I write to work out what I think about stuff. It takes me a long time. This is why I am not a journalist and probably why I need to wallow around in the long form of the novel. For example, the Dark 80s Pastoral is based on some of my complicated feels about Bill Henson, which I blogged about in 2008. 

How does my writing process work?
Sometimes it doesn't. See above. Sometimes I plan, sometimes I write without a plan. I think I am best with a half plan with lots of space to move around inside. Usually I write from beginning to end, but that wasn't the case with Only Ever Always. Sometimes I write the first page last.

The next novel I write (the 80s dark pastoral) I plan to observe my process with curious compassion and learn more about myself as a writer.

You're it!
So now to the tagging! Two of these tags is sanctioned and the other not because she is on some remote tropical island with a new hairdo. Because of this her penance is being tagged.

I asked three people who are intertwined with three different parts of my life.

Eliza Osborn is a freelance writer turned novelist originally from South Carolina, where she spent her childhood riding horses and reading books. She has lived in Colorado, Florida, and Tennessee (and roamed around southern Ontario, Canada, for a month one summer in high school). Eliza now resides in Youngstown, Ohio, with her daughter (who she homeschools) and her husband. She is currently writing a serialized novel, THE MYSTERY OF DOGWOOD CROSS at Storybird.com

Chris Miles writes and designs things. He has written for the best-selling Zac Power series, and two of his non-fiction books for younger readers — Who’s on the Money? and Stuck on History, both published by Black Dog Books — have been listed as Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Books. His short fiction and other writings have appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Materiality, Crank, Antipodean SF, Visible Ink, The School Magazine and the Black Dog Books anthologies Short and Short and Scary. He works as a website designer and developer, and in his spare time he indulges his love of Doctor Who, LEGO®, Dungeons & Dragons and anchovies. He is a dog person (though not literally). Spurt: a balls and all story is his first novel for teenagers.

C. S. Pacat is a friend who I first encountered as a student. She is a rising star who is already famous on the Internet and about to take the book world by storm, having sold her trilogy to a bunch of open-mouthed fannish publishers who clearly love her as much as I do. Because she's on a desert island, I shall let this quote, nicked off Goodreads, stand in for her bio. 

“I like writing that is restrained and invisible. I don't mean that I like things to be simple and easy to decode, the opposite. I like writers who deal with ambiguities, biased viewpoint and subjective truth; I like the writing to be clean but everything behind the writing to be complex. I like to feel that there are things going on in the spaces and behind the lines.” C. S. Pacat.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Storybird: the Endsister

One of the best things about being a writer is that every now and then an email lands in my inbox from an interesting person involved in an interesting project asking if I want to get involved.

Last year, I got an email from Molly O'Neill, who I knew on the Internets, and also through Greenwillow, the US publishers of Undine and Breathe. She had a new job, working with Storybird. I was familiar with Storybird, Martin had an account already and had used it with the girls. It's a site where kids can make their own picture books, using art supplied by illustrators, writing their own text. It's got a really active community and they've done an amazing job with keeping it positive and friendly, looking after their very young users security. As far as social media for young people go, the thing I like about it is that it's centred around meaningful work and creativity. It's about sharing stories, accessing a feedback loop, and creating not in a vacuum but in a community.

Storybird, Molly told me, were rolling out a longform publishing platform that they wanted to test with a few sample authors, some already published and some keen Storybird users. Would I like to be part of an experiment, writing a serialised story that would be published on Storybird week by week? I was invited because Molly knew and liked (shucks) my writing and also because they knew there was a big Australian userbase already on Storybird. And–

Who cares? DID SOMEBODY SAY SERIALISED STORY?

The next step was to sign a non-disclosure agreement. So I have been waiting MONTHS to break this news.

They asked me to pitch an idea. I had a look through my computer and remembered a story I sketched out ages agot. I wanted to write something Fred (11) and Una (8) could read. I wanted to write an old fashioned ghost story and an 'ensemble' type family story of the Noel Streatfeild oeuvre, but also with a contemporary fresh twist like Hilary McKay's Casson series. I wanted the sort of novel I could write to the background tune of family chaos.


After Molly wrote to tell me they'd accepted my pitch (hoorays!), they asked me to choose an illustrator. I pored over the images on Storybird and eventually the earthy, whimsical images by Victoria Usova seemed the perfect fit to the book I was holding in my head. It was funny getting character illustrations from her before I started writing, she helped give me a stronger sense of who they were and how they were connected to each other.



The novel is called The Endsister. (Loyal Eglantine's Cake readers might remember a poem I posted on this site with the same name. It's still there if you want to go looking, but I am not going to link to it because it is ever so slightly spoilery.)

I did quite a lot of thinking and planning before beginning in April, but I've also tried to keep it loose and open. I am writing it week by week, listening very carefully to the chapter as it tells itself in my head, then on the seventh, sitting down and writing in one go. It is the most productive and enjoyable writing I have done probably since Avery was born.

Then I read the chapter aloud to Una and Fred before posting it, which gives me a chance to notice awkward phrasing, or missed words.

Then I press publish.

The story quietly began going up four weeks ago, at the time of writing this post, I've just submitted chapter five to the moderators. There's been a steady stream of readers and commenters, it is both exciting and scary to have access to that sort of immediate feedback and, gulp, data.

They've just launched all the titles officially, here's their blog post about it. So finally I get to tell you all about it!

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments or on Twitter and I'll answer them in a future blog post.