My new outdoor office

A water view and decking beneath my feet

You find me this afternoon, dear reader, writing from my new outdoor office.

I’m mid holiday, we’ve finished the pergola and the decking.

It’s 35 degrees and hot so I’m in my wet bikini (imagine me slim please) with a large glass of icy water which I hope will be replaced by a St Clair Savignon Blanc within the hour.

I am a third of the way through my reading list for this year’s writers’ festival.

I’m chairing the bloggers’ forum and for once feel a tiny bit qualified to be amongst the literati.

Of course all the bloggers on my panel have also written books.  Show offs.

Apart from appearing as an extra in my very own version of The Renovators, this week I’ve been going along to the “advanced” storytelling course led by Brian Finkelstein from The Moth.

It’s the advanced course because I did another course this time last year with Margot Leitman, not that I consider myself advanced at all.

I was a bit nervous this year.

Last year, well I was a n00b wasn’t I so it didn’t really matter if I was rubbish… but now… I’m “advanced”.

There are expectations.

And everyone else is so good, including my partner in crime when it comes to storytelling – Feline.

Still, four more lessons to go before we begin the show at The Blue Room.  There’s hope.

In fact I’m hoping to get inspired by the fabulous Ira Glass who is in town tonight.  I bought my tickets MONTHS ago and they’ve been pinned to my noticeboard winking at me ever since.

Ira is the host of This American Life, my favourite podcast, in fact I’m listening to it as I type.

He is another fabulous storyteller.

I wonder if I’ll get to meet him?

Should I take my radio to get him to sign it?  My ipod?

A sad little groupie, that’s what I am.

Still it could be worse.

I could be a fan of Justin Beiber. (is that how you spell his name?)


Angels are the new vampires

I’m in Dunsborough with most of my family and some friends and as usual it’s the normal round of sleeping, drinking, eating and reading. 

Oh and playing cards.

My daughter has worked out that I’m a soft touch as long as she intends to buy a book so today we went down to the town to check out the bookstores.

What are you looking for?  I ask sweetly.  Something with vampires?

Duh, mum, no.  She scoffs.

Angels are the new vampires.


So now I’m reading the book she was reading on the way down which is indeed about angels (Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick) because I reckon in two years time we’ll be going to Angel movies.

David Sedaris

I went to An Evening with David Sedaris to see and hear David Sedaris.

I’m never sure what to expect at author evenings… do they read… what do they read… how do they incorporate questions…

In this case, David read a few short stories, and included some new material, threw in a few choice diary entries and answered questions.

I was sitting on my own and by that of course I mean I didn’t sit next to anyone I knew – clearly I wasn’t on my own.

His Majesty’s was full and I was in the last row of the Dress Circle which was irritating because my colleague – a big Sedaris fan only got his ticket that night and ended up with a much better seat.

I am never booking through BOCS again.

You agree with me right?  That’s annoying.

But maybe they sensed his deep passion for the work, I don’t know.

I knew “the work” through This American Life – a podcast I adore.

His short stories occasionally feature and they are always pithy and amusing.

He looks just as he sounds.

Short of stature.


Older than me.

My favourite martian ish.

He wore a white shirt, dark trousers and brown shoes (at least I think they were brown… I was a long way back), and stood behind a heavy wooden podium.

Can someone have a short voice?

We-ll it’s kind of Woody Allen ish.

So maybe yes.

He described doing book signings and how he likes to ask people random questions so that they can have a conversation rather than the “rehearsed in the line” stilted comments and adoration, for lets face it, you are hardly likely to wait in a queue for a book to be signed if you didn’t really like the work… or the author.

Anyway I went to get a drink before the show and I was behind this girl who was holding a hotel bottle of shampoo.

She was telling her boyfriend that David gave it to her after she told him her story.

I guess being bald, the shampoo was rather redundant and she did have long hair… but after hearing David’s comments about book signings I’m guessing it was payment for the story she told him.

A story that he liked.

A story that he might write down in his diary and read out at another evening somewhere around the world.

A great story.

What did you tell him, I nearly asked, but then the bartender asked for their order and the moment slipped away.

Now THAT’s irritating.

Good show though.

I enjoyed watching him writing notes on his work as he read… I imagined ticks where the audience laughed…

If you’ve seen it – I’d love to know what you think of the single celled organism story – because of all of them I think that will be the one that stays with me.

The story is about single celled organisms who are ignored by all the other cancer cells and germs and they think it is to do with their name so they try unique cells and all sorts of other permutations but nothing works.

And a cancer cell sees them arguing over their name and says that noone will talk to them if they don’t speak the language, but the single celled organisms don’t understand what he’s saying and so don’t pay any attention.

It seemed a rather conservative stance.

But as another colleague who was there (very smart person) said she thought it was an observation rather than a moral tale…

Which of course made me think of petri dishes and conclude that it was very clever indeed.

On the way home I plugged in my ipod and listened to This American Life where David Sedaris wasn’t featured.

Discomfort books

Jennifer Byrne from the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC1 says her comfort book is Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk.

She read it when she was a teenager and it resonated.

It’s the story of a Jewish teenager  in the 1930s, living in New York with dreams of becoming an actress – she falls in love with this glamourous songwriter – look I could go on but perhaps Wikipedia has a more fulsome description…

…are you back with me?


Anyway many readers – in particular young teenage girls are completely disillusioned by the ending.

This is because Marjorie doesn’t fulful her dreams of becoming an actress, preferring to follow her dreams to marry this charming writer – who is a wastrel and a bit of a bastard if you ask me.

He skives off to Paris and she follows him, eventually finds him and when he asks her to marry him… turns him down.

She then goes back to New York and marries someone else, has four kids, goes prematurely grey and lives happily ever after.

Jennifer says she found this book very empowering as a teenager.

Here is this young girl with big dreams living in New York, a working girl.  A girl forgoing the hunt for a husband in order to be a broadway success.

Maybe you have to be a teenager to see that.

I read a completely different story.

I read about a young girl, very beautiful but with not that much acting talent in a co-dependent relationship with a cad and who is more concerned about marrying said cad than her acting career.

Eventually she becomes worldly wise, realises the acting thang just ain’t never going to happen and realises that Noel is a complete loser as well.

Maybe it’s because I’m a grey-haired (though dyed a fetching brunette) mama from the burbs reading this and not a young 17 girl full of dreams.

Or maybe as a 17 year old you can’t see the old and cynical tone of Herman Wouk’s world?

For me, this book is about acceptance.  Acceptance of your limitations and those of others.

Have you read it?

What do you think?

Justine and the fairy of last minute ideas

justine larbalestier

Last weekend I spent a quite a bit of time at the Perth Writers Festival.

I got to host a couple of children’s/young adult sessions which are my faves because a) the books are short and I can read them quickly – especially the picture books and b) I love teenage fiction.

This year I met Leigh Hobbs (Old Tom), Carole Wilkinson (Dragonkeeper trilogy), Barry Jonsberg (The Dog that Dumped on my Doona), Justine Larbalestier (How to Ditch Your Fairy) and Tristan Bancks (Coolhunter series).

All very different in their own ways. 🙂 

I liked how Leigh doesn’t draw what he says – and apparently there is a chicken in every book.  Carole began writing at the age of 40 which gives me hope.  Barry’s not afraid of a poo joke, Justine blogs (and you know how I like that) and Tristan seems genuinely interested in everyone he meets and I think that’s a rare thing.

They were fun sessions, and along with some of the other sessions I went to, opened my mind to new ideas and books – which is what you want right?

As always I hit the bookstore limiting myself to only three this year – hey there’s a global recession okay – not to mention a towering stack of unread and overdue library books by my bed: Justine’s “Magic or Madness”, James McBride‘s “The Color of Water”, and James Woodford’s “Real Dirt”.

In many ways an odd mix for me.

The Color of Water I picked out because I met a family friend who recommended it (interesting that family friend always refers to friends of one’s parents no?  I guess family friends of your own would just be… friends) . I also saw James speak at The Moth – the live version of my second favourite podcast (and be warned one day I’m going to make my own version for this little blog).  

I loved James Woodford’s book “The Secret Life of Wombats”.  Have you read that?  “Real Dirt” is his memoir, and while I’m not a big fan of autobiographies or biographies or non-fiction for that matter, as I loved Wombats, I thought I’d give it a go.  Also I liked the first line.

So that’s two memoir/biography books!

And as I enjoyed the fairy book I thought I’d check out Justine’s Magic series… (and I read it in about two hours and will get the rest… I especially like the door that goes between Sydney and NY – I could use one).

Getting Teens to Read

I’ve been trying to expand my teens’ horizons when it comes to fiction.  Dippity reads A LOT of fan fiction and re-reads her faves, Hugamuga tends to stick to his few faves and whatever the school forces him to read (not much).

My strategies in the past have included:

  • Reading the beginning of the book aloud to them and then stopping at an exciting bit… FAIL
    When I read John Marsden’s Tomorrow series to my son, I didn’t even get to the exciting bit before he asked me to stop.  Years later when his mates said it was good he read it, and then ALL the series and the next. 
  • Getting the audio book versions out from the library and playing them in the car… FAIL
    They just get the audio books and listen to them – not reading the books – which is okay… but you need electricity. 
  • Renting the video/seeing the film… FAIL
    Once they know what has happened they don’t want to read the book, and I’m much the same, interesting it doesn’t happen the other way about.
  • Buying the books for myself and laughing at the good bits and then leaving them around the house… OCCASIONAL WIN
    This worked for Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series which I bought in the US and raved about the whole trip, and for Magic and Madness, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s “Does My Head Look Big in This?” and Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” series, but not for others. 

Do you have a strategy that has worked at your place?

As Sebastian Barry said during the Writer’s Festival – Young adults are like dogs – you’ve got to let them come to you (your writing), if you approach them… they may bite.  So true.

Back to the fairy thing

Anyway I was going to tell you about the fairy of last minute ideas.

Justine’s book  – How to Ditch Your Fairy – tells the tale of a teenage girl who has a really lame fairy.  In her world nearly everyone has a fairy, and the fairy gives you a usually fairly lame but very specific superpower.

For example her fairy is a parking fairy – wherever she goes, she finds the perfect park.  Useful perhaps if you drive.  She doesn’t.

Her friend has a much more useful Clothes fairy and always finds perfectly fitted clothes at huge discounts – how I wish I had THAT fairy.

So when Justine asked me what my fairy did I had to think.

In the end I think I’ve got the fairy of last minute ideas because I’m quite good at coming up with good ideas at the very last minute.

It would of course be MUCH more useful if the good ideas came at the start of a project so that I had time to really do some good with them but hey… I’ll take what I’ve got.

Justine didn’t disclose what her fairy might do, but given her bad luck run when it comes to sporting injuries, I’d say she definitely had a writing fairy – a jealous writing fairy that was determined she wasn’t going to be distracted.

I wonder what your fairy might be?

PS:  If you missed the festival, some of the sessions are podcast here:

Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

Here’s the massive coincidence.

The last two books I’ve read have been The Islands by Di Morrissey and Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.

(I know I’m supposed to have been reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – the Booker Prize-winning novel – but I just can’t get into it)

Now on the face of it these two novels have nothing in common.  The Islands is soap opera in book form and Careless in Red is detective fiction.

I read The Islands first.  It was a review copy that came into the office and I was looking for some light reading for the holiday break. 

Anyway it was Christmas and I wanted to invite some good friends of ours – now divorced – to our Christmas dinner.  Which I did and it was all very nice.

The day after Boxing Day, the male half of this couple flew out to Hawaii to have a holiday with his girlfriend.   The Islands is about Hawaii.

Then I sat down and read Careless in Red. 

Now technically I shouldn’t have been able to take this book out of the library.  It had been reserved and mistakenly put back on the shelf. 

The librarian had been giving me a lesson in self check out when it came up flagged as reserved which she over-rode I guess because I was a good student… or something.

Anyway I got the book with a “Please read it first” from the librarian (first of the seven I had taken out) and so dutifully I did so.

Get this.

Part of the action takes place in a small Cornish town with the same surname as the female half of this couple’s boyfriend!  In fact he could even come from that village.

How spooky is that?!

I thought it was spooky.

And both the books had a surfing theme running through them.  What’s up with that?

So to the review of Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.  

This is another Inspector Lynley novel and I love this series.  He’s an upper class Earl who works for New Scotland Yard or did until his upper class pregnant wife was murdered randomly by a twelve year old boy.

To cope he takes himself off for a walk along the Cornish coast and finds the body of a young man at the foot of the cliff.

Of course he is dragged into the investigation along with the fabulous Barbara Havers, his former partner at the Met. (and by that of course I mean the Metropolitan Police not the Metropolitan Opera)

It’s full of intrigue and inuendo.  Red herrings and plot twists, all set on the wild Cornish coastline.

I imagined Echo Beach style surf shops, Irish cliffs (okay I know they are probably very different but they are the ones I imagined) and plump, tasty Cornish pasties.

I always enjoy Elizabeth George’s books and this one didn’t disappoint.  She’s like a modern day Agatha Christie but her novels are a good deal longer.

And I like a good doorstop of a mystery.

The Islands by Di Morrissey

When you pick up a Di Morrissey book you are not expecting high literature, or even medium-high.

You are expecting a rollocking saga with beautiful women and unreachable men set in an exotic location with a nod to the local culture.

In this novel that is exactly what you get.  Young Catherine, off on a gap year – or what passes for a gap year back in the 70s, meets and marries a dashing US naval officer and ends up in the married quarters in Hawaii.

Stifled by the other navy wives and their strict, conservative lives, Catherine seeks freedom by meeting the locals and learning a new skill – photography. 

It doesn’t take long before she finds herself tempted by an enigmatic surfer.

This is the type of book you take with you on holidays – preferably in Hawaii.  You sit with it at the pool and while away a couple of hours while sipping on your fruit cocktail and gazing over your spray tan to the other beautiful people lounging in the sun.

You are wearing big sunglasses and probably a floppy straw sunhat.

It’s not challenging but it is a pleasant enough way to spend some time.  

It’s a bit like watching the Bold and the Beautiful I imagine.

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer’s series is written for teenagers and is essentially about fitting in and peer groups but it’s so much more.

Touted as the new JK Rowling and with the first movie coming out on November 21st, this series mixes high-school with the supernatural.

Bella moves to Forks in Washington state to live with her dad, the local police chief.  A town where it continually rains.  On her first day she notices some extraordinaryly beautiful students, students who appear aloof or maybe shunned by the rest of the student body.

One of them Edward seems to perversly adverse to her.  Glaring at her.  Trying to be assigned to another class.

Apart from the mysterious Cullens, moving to Forks also gives Bella the chance to re-establish old links to a childhood friend, Jacob, who lives on a nearby Indian reservation.

I’m not sure if Forks is a real place.  If so, I’m sure it was not chosen for the weather alone.  The whole series is about making choices – choosing which fork in the road to take.  Does she align herself with Edward and risk eternal death – or is that life – or does she fall for Jacob’s charms despite his somewhat bestial nature.

The other thing that Stephenie does in her novels is relate each one to a famous love story.  For Twilight it’s Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.   For both characters it’s all about pride getting in the way of their relationship – not to mention the prejudice shown more it must be said by the extra characters.

In New Moon the story line follows the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet with Jacob cast as Paris, the man Juliet might have settled for had Romeo decided not to pursue her.

And in Eclipse it’s the story of Wuthering Heights.  

There’s nothing subtle about these comparisons, Bella is continually referring to the books as she compares her life to the heroines in these classics.  

Normally this would annoy me – it’s a bit too obvious – but in this case – teenage fiction – I don’t mind it so much.

I wonder if Stephenie hopes as I do, that kids reading her books might also be interested to read P&P or Wuthering Heights – I know I’m tempted to pick them up again.

I loved this series.  I really enjoyed the whole vampire/werewolf fantasy element but more than that I just enjoyed a good story told well.

If your kids bring this series home, don’t be put off by their weighty nature, see if you can sneak a read after they’ve gone to bed.

My daughter – Dippity – is totally obsessed.  She and I are Jacob fans… if you’ve read the series who do you prefer?  Edward or Jacob?

Breath by Tim Winton

I think this is Tim Winton’s best novel.  He has lost his earlier pretentiousness.  His writing is spare, evocative and compelling. 

The tale is told by a paramedic in his 50s who attends an accidental hanging.   He knows it’s accidental because of events in his youth, and so you are drawn into this tale of coming of age.  Of a young boy becoming a teenager, who with his friend become acolytes of an enigmatic surfer.  A surfer who encourages them to risk everything for the rush that comes with living on the edge.

The rush that cuts through everything to make you feel alive.

It’s also the story of friendship, and of chips that we carry with us from childhood.

I felt a little creeped out by the book.  You want to like your hero right?  Instead I felt repelled.  But perhaps it was more that I was repelled at how easily he slipped into character traits that were less than seemly.  Maybe slipping into them is easier than we’d like to think. 

Groover thinks the book describes Tim.  I don’t like to think of him as that creepy myself.

Maybe that’s why I feel disturbed some hours after finishing it.

One other small niggle:  I hate the way Tim uses Angeles and Sawyer for the town names.  I find it a distraction and it gives me the irrits. 

I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Have you read Breath?

List of reviews

SMH article

The Australian