Thursday, 29 October 2009

Easy as falling off a log

I was prowling the secondhand book stall at a local fete on Sunday. I was very strong and didn’t buy anything, but I couldn’t very well go past without even looking, could I?

So I’m cruising along checking spines and the two ladies cruising the other side of the table start discussing Matthew Reilly.

“You read any of his?” asks one, gesturing at Ice Station.

“Yeah, I read that one set in North America.”

“I’ve read a few, but they’re pretty bad.”

The second lady laughs. “I’d like to be that bad, if I could have his money.”

I’m not sure if people outside of Australia are familiar with Matthew Reilly but he’s a young guy who self-published his first book, sold enough to get noticed and has gone from strength to strength. He’s not “literary” but he sells like hot cakes, and good luck to him.

The first lady didn’t seem to understand the point her friend was making.

“Well, it’s easy, isn’t it?” she said dismissively. “Anyone could write them. I could write a better book myself. It’s just a matter of finding the time.”

Wow, I thought. My first real-life experience of what so many authors have talked about – this popular perception that writing is so easy anyone can do it. As long as you’ve got the time to “waste” on it, anyone can sit down at their computer and knock out a bestseller.

I’m still gobsmacked thinking about it. How can people take so much hard work for granted? Just because reading a book is easy doesn’t mean writing one is.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The travelling drought-breakers, Part 1

Hi, Sydney, I’m home! I brought you a little souvenir from my holiday – bucketloads of rain. No, really, I insist.

Apparently there was so much rain in some parts of Sydney last night that shopkeepers were sweeping it out of their shops this morning.

Yes, the drought-breaking duck family has arrived. No, no, don’t thank me. I’m happy to provide this public service. They were begging us to stay in Bendigo. They had the best rain for three years while we were there.

But I should start at the beginning.

Did I mention the heavenly firehose that dumped on our car all the way to our friends’ farm? Yes? Think of it like those bottomless cups of coffee you can get, where every time your cup looks like it might just be thinking about being empty, the waitress comes and fills it up again. We had our own personal stormcloud, just like that. Continually topped up and stuck to us like glue.

Whenever there was the tiniest break in the weather the kids would venture out. Go around the corner to herd cows? The heavens would open. Squelch through the boggy paddocks just 100 metres to look at the creek? Downpour plus hail. And so cold it’s a wonder nobody lost their extremities to frostbite.

But there were friends and games and good conversations. Not to mention puppies:

Demon Duck spent most of her time sitting out on the verandah in the freezing cold loving on those puppies. When we left she cried for the first half-hour because she missed them so.

And then we were across the border into Victoria, first stop Glenrowan, the place where Ned Kelly, a famous bushranger, was finally caught after being besieged at the local inn. Glenrowan is a small place, and it seems to me that the only reason it still exists is to service the tourist industry. There’s a ginormous statue of Ned Kelly in the main street and a rather peculiar “show” that recreates the showdown at the inn. You move through a succession of rooms peopled with somewhat creepy dummies, some of which move a little, while the events are narrated.

What an interesting experience for the children! we think. Bringing history alive! So we fork over an exorbitant sum of money and lead the ducklings into the first room.

Fortunately we are the only ones enjoying this educational experience at the time, since as soon as the lights go out Baby Duck starts to howl. Darkness + ominous music = total meltdown. I know the next room is well-lit, and I’m still smarting from the tourist-gouging admission price, so I refuse to give in to his pleas to leave.

The next room is better – a bar scene, where Ned and the rest of the gang are discussing their woes and planning the next move. There are even cute dogs, and pretend mice “running” along the bar. He is reasonably calm by the time we move outside for the shootout.

Unfortunately – this is starting to sound like a game of Fortunately/Unfortunately, isn’t it? – unfortunately we are then ushered into a tin shed and “shot” at. It’s dark and the sound of gunfire is loud, the smell of gunsmoke strong. Cue more sobs.

Then it’s on to a dark room containing an open coffin with Ned’s body in it. By this time I am wanting to shake the man who sold us the tickets for not warning us that the show might not be suitable for small people. I’ve seen it before, but that was seventeen years ago and my recollections are very hazy.

We finally make it out, but not before the body in the coffin has moved and another body has dropped down through a trapdoor in the roof as Ned is hanged. “Such is life,” were Ned’s famous last words, but I doubt Baby Duck will take anything educational away from this experience. As a public service, I give you the warning the man should have given us: overpriced but educational for older kids, too scary for more sensitive little souls.

We troop off through the rain and check out the museum, then pile back into the car and shake the mud of Glenrowan from our feet, en route to Bendigo, where we find a very comfortable family room at a motel and eat a yummy Chinese dinner.

Holiday statistics for our first day in Victoria:

Rainfall: epic – did anybody bring an ark?
Other waterworks: two out of three children reduced to sobbing wrecks.
Accommodation and food: good.
Are we having fun yet: the day is redeemed by a stop at a marvellous adventure playground on the way to Bendigo.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The long and winding road

… still hasn’t led back home, though we’re starting the trek back to Sydney tomorrow. We’re in Melbourne now. Great place, but we’re freezing our butts off.

We’ve seen some interesting places, and I’ll do detailed posts with photos when I get back. In the meantime, here’s some fascinating things I’ve learned:

-- Captain Cook (who claimed the east coast of Australia for Britain in 1770) was married for 16 years, but only spent a total of four of them at home with his wife. Makes the Carnivore’s business travel look good! He was also 6 foot 3 (the good captain, that is, not the Carnivore, who is the runt of his litter). He must have been a giant in those days.

-- Ballarat must have looked like a wasteland during the gold rush of the 1850s, with poppet heads everywhere and every tree cut down to line the tunnels and shafts of the mines. “At great labour and expense a forest was taken underground” said one historian. There’s a phrase to spark a story! “The Underground Forest” would make a great fantasy title too.

-- The most amazing fact? The ducklings can actually live without TV for a whole week. Who would have thought???

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Boat trip

The animals went in two by two, hurrah! hurrah! Sing along, everyone! The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo …

Our road trip is turning into a boating holiday. Yesterday the heavens opened and bucketloads of water fell on us. No, not bucketloads. Truckloads. Especially when it was my turn to drive. And I just looove driving in the rain. The equivalent of Sydney Harbour dumped on our car. It rained so hard we could hardly see and other cars were pulling off the road all around.

But at last the flood washed us up on our friends’ farm, safe and sound, if a trifle waterlogged. And they have puppies! All is right with the world. We are sitting inside watching the rain fall, while the ducklings play with their friends and we drink lots of cups of tea and veg out.

I checked the internet before we left for ideas for games we could play in the car. Oh frabjous internet! We had Car Bingo and Who Am I? and a very amusing game called Virtual Hide and Seek.

“We’re going to play virtual hide and seek,” I said.

Drama Duck touched my shoulder. “Found you!”

It was fun. You have to “hide” somewhere in your house, and the others “find” you by asking questions with yes/no answers. Your hiding place doesn’t have to be somewhere you could actually fit, so you can hide in the cutlery drawer or the toilet or inside your brother’s money box.

Another game that went on for a long time was Fortunately/Unfortunately, where everyone takes turns to say a sentence starting alternately with “fortunately” and “unfortunately”.

“Unfortunately Mum fell down a giant hole and there was a cannibal at the bottom.”

“Fortunately he wasn’t hungry at the time.”

“Unfortunately Demon Duck fell in too and there was an axe murderer after her.”

“Fortunately he’d forgotten to bring his axe.”

During the course of the game most of us got turned into zombies, several people died and got brought back to life, I had my brain replaced by a sock – but “fortunately the sock was full of amazing circuitry so I became the smartest person in the world” – volcanoes erupted and there were several earthquakes. In short, a good time was had by all.

Also we listened to Roald Dahl read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Enormous Crocodile, so the hours passed quite quickly.

Tomorrow we’ll hit the road again, heading into the wilds of Victoria. We’ll decide in the morning whether to take the car or a canoe.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Not on the same day

“I believe you can have whatever you really want in this life, in one form or another, sooner or later. But you can’t have it all at once and you can’t have it forever. No life has the room for everything in it, not on the same day.” -- Barbara Sher
I would love to be able to tell you that I found this quote through my reading because I’m just such an intellectual, but in fact it was one of many wise sayings on my desk calendar this year. It really resonated with me. It’s practically an anthem for modern womanhood. Can we have a career? And children? And still find time for meaningful intimate relationships and keep fit and be fulfilled as a person all while keeping the house spotless and eating nothing but healthy home-cooked meals?

I was thinking about it again the other day. I did end up taking my courage in both hands and dragging my offspring into the wilds of seedy Kings Cross, Sydney’s red light district, to see the Linde Ivimey exhibition. It was a four-hour round trip, of which 15 minutes were spent in the actual gallery looking at the exhibition. The rest was train travel (hugely exciting!), walking (not so popular) and waiting for trains (involved trains so still good – even potential trains are apparently exciting). Not the ideal ratio of travel to exhibition-viewing from an adult’s point of view, but just about perfect as far as the ducklings were concerned. Maybe a little long on the exhibition viewing. Luckily the boredom of the 15 minutes was alleviated by the existence of a large fishpond in the centre of the gallery and – the real clincher – a ten-week-old puppy lurking in the gallery office, which they sniffed out within seconds of stepping through the door.

I was describing the experience later to a dear (childless) friend who often visits art shows and does other adult-type cultural things which are only a distant memory for me. She asked if I ever went to the Archibald show any more, which we used to do together sometimes BC (Before Children) and I thought of the Barbara Sher quote. You can have what you want in one form or another. I can still go to art shows – just not the way I used to. No more taking my time contemplating each piece, but it’s surprising how much you can cover in 15 minutes, even with small people demanding you admire the bug-eyed goldfish and trying to sneak off into the restricted areas of the gallery.

But it felt so good just to go. Look at me! I’m a real person, doing real-person things! And it certainly doesn’t hurt to expose the ducklings to elements of culture that aren’t tailored for kids now and then. Though the response was unanimous: the sculptures were "weird". But the puppy was cute.

Oh, and the train ride was fun, too. Did I mention how very exciting train travel is? You can sit upstairs! And you can sit downstairs! Then upstairs again! All while talking at the top of your piping six-year-old voice for the edification of the entire carriage.

So maybe I can’t have everything I want, just the way I want it. But the fun part comes in discovering new ways to enjoy things. “No life has the room for everything in it, not on the same day.” But any day that includes some art, a puppy and three happy children is a good day in my book.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Floating round the net

School holidays here. Brain is broken.

Can’t come up with a coherent post, so here’s a few things that have caught my attention recently:

Natalie Hatch with a great intro to hula hooping. Have fun! Lose weight! Embarrass yourself in public! (Oh, wait, that was just me, hula hooping in the park today …)

Carrie Ryan with a thoughtful post on book banning (thanks to writerjenn for the link). My favourite quote: “if the only way you can keep people believing what you want them to is to deny them access to other points of view, then not only do you not trust those people but you certainly don't trust the strength of your own message".

Amazing art from Linde Ivimey. On show in Sydney at the moment – hoping to get there to see it in real life. I first read about these sculptures made of bones just before I started Man Bites Dog. I was so intrigued I had my heroine creating similar sculptures. Looking at them makes me want to get back to work on that novel.

My Best Kite. Cool website with easy-to-follow instructions on how to make a range of kites out of stuff you probably have lying around at home. Very handy for school projects and amusing kids in the holidays!

Peadar O’Guilin, sff author. Stumbled across this blog last week. He has links to some short stories and sample chapters of his novel The Inferior in his sidebar. Enjoyed the stories very much and was so intrigued by the sample chapters I’ve ordered the book and can’t wait for it to arrive so I can continue reading!