Saturday 30 July 2011

I do not consider myself

- despite yesterday's blogpost - to be a writer of short stories.
The topic came up again yesterday afternoon. I took Nicola Morgan's book "Write to be Published" along to the library. I had been telling a member of the knitting group about the portion which talks about "dealing with taxi drivers". Her day job can produce a similar reaction and she wanted to read it.
After looking at the book she asked me, "Does the author write short stories?" I told her I did not know. I had not read any. (Nicola if you are reading this you might let me know!) Why was she asking? The book is laid out in bite size chunks and it made her wonder.
Then she asked me whether I had written any and I said, "No, not really - just a couple." I do not suppose that is any sort of answer but it was the one I gave.
I have written two Tom and Lizzie stories. The first one appeared in 100 stories for Haiti under the title "And the first note sang". I came home from an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a friend becoming a nun. As Polly is not in the least bit nun-like it had been good fun rather than a solemn occasion. I sat down at the computer to do something entirely different - and wrote the story. It just happened. I have no idea where it came from.
Yesterday's story just happened too. I have no idea where it came from either.
I rather suspect that both stories were heavily influenced by reading the late (and great) Joan Aiken. Her short stories for children still have to be the best I have ever read.
As a child I was not particularly interested in short stories. If they were good in the way Aiken is good I wanted more story. If they were mediocre or poor in the way that I found Enid Blyton to be then my reaction tended to be "so what?". Even as an adult I feel the same way. I probably should read more short stories than I do. It would be good discipline but I am not a disciplined leisure reader. I have too much reading to do in my day job for that. I read for my own writing too - both the research and what is being written by others. When I read for pleasure I do not expect to be required to read something because it has won an award or because it is on the best seller list of the day.
That means I probably do not read enough short stories to write them well. Nevertheless Tom and Lizzie are there and they might want me to write more. I just do not know.

Friday 29 July 2011

Leaf Music

When Tom and Lizzie moved into their house in Harpcottle there was an oak tree at the very end of the long, thin garden. It was still a very small oak tree, not quite as tall as Tom’s harp. Tom looked at it but he did not touch it.
Musicians are generally not good gardeners. They have to keep their hands clean and cared for in order to play their instruments, especially something like the harp. That meant that Tom did not do any gardening. Lizzie did.
As soon as they had unpacked and settled in Lizzie grew beans and cabbages, spinach and tomatoes. She grew gooseberries, rhubarb and strawberries. She talked to all of them as she weeded and watered. She talked to the oak tree as well. It was a very special sort of oak tree, a Harpcottle oak. They did not grow anywhere else in the country. It was considered to be a great honour to own a Harpcottle oak and owners were required to take great care of them.
Lizzie was very careful of their Harpcottle oak but it did not thrive. Despite all the talking the oak tree never seemed to get any bigger, indeed it seemed to be getting smaller. Lizzie worried about this. She read books and looked for information on the internet. She did everything that was suggested even when one thing contradicted the other. She gave it fertiliser from Harpcottle hens and then dug it all out again when she discovered that fertiliser should only come from Harpcottle sheep mixed with Harpcottle hay. Then she discovered that the hay should only come from north facing fields and the hay she had given the oak tree had come from a west facing field. She was not sure how you told the difference but the book said it was important. That meant digging out the fertiliser once more and replacing it yet again. The oak tree grew smaller.
She went to the park at midnight and picked up conkers under a full moon, the most perfect she could find, ready to place them in a perfect circle around the tree. When she looked next morning she discovered that the conkers were full of oakworms and no good at all, indeed she had to stop the oakworms eating the last of the leaves on the tree which was now no higher than her knees. This was most annoying because there were plenty of perfect conkers under the oak trees in the park. She saw them there when she went for another walk late in the morning. It was late because she had slept late and that was because she had been to bed very late after collecting the conkers.
The oak tree seemed to shrink even more after that. Lizzie went back to the books and to the internet. It was no good pruning all the lyruncinapinnate leaves. She had no idea what they were and she was not at all sure that the writer of “A treatise on irregular leaf form diseases found in north leaning trees in Harpcottle” knew what they were either.
There was the Widdershins Winding Clock Cure in which you had to string two thousand and one conkers on a left hand string and wrap it anti-clockwise around the thirteenth branch while counting thirteen times. The problem with that was the tree did not have thirteen branches and, anyway, what were you supposed to count? Lizzie did not know.
Perhaps she could try gathering oak leaves from four hundred and forty two oak trees and putting them under the tree. Lyra T E Oakes insisted that it had worked for her in her manual, “The Harpcottle oak tree: growth, management and care of the tree in domestic settings.” Lizzie was not convinced but, just in case, she spent a week finding four hundred and forty-two trees and the most perfect leaves she could find.
She put them under the tree in the approved pattern but it was windy and the leaves would not stay. Mouse, the cat, thought they were something to play with and chased them around the garden.
By then the tree had shrunk to no higher than Lizzie’s ankles. The thought of losing a Harpcottle oak (and the inquiry which was sure to follow) was more than she could bear.
Even Mouse was beginning to look worried. She spent hours every day by the tree making strange little noises that Lizzie did not understand at all.
The day the Harpcottle oak shrank to not much more than the very tip of Mouse’s tail
Lizzie told Tom what had happened. He went pale. Lose a Harpcottle oak? He might lose his place in the Harpcottle orchestra, just as they were going to play the Harpcottle Harp Symphony!
“What it needs is Leaf Music,” he told Lizzie in alarm, “You should have given it Leaf Music. Everyone knows that Harpcottle oaks need Leaf Music. They cannot survive without them. All Harpcottle musicians have a Harpcottle Oak because they know about Leaf Music. All the Leaf Music is there!”
Tom flapped a piece of music manuscript paper at their records and CDs and music manuscripts.
“Now we will have to start at the very beginning.”
He rushed to get his harp and tune it. Lizzie rushed his harp seat outside. Mouse sat guard by the last cat hair size remnant of the Harpcottle oak making small purring noises to encourage it to stay there.
Then Tom began to play. He played the Leaf Music Morning Lullaby and the Harpcottle oak became a little bigger than the tip of Mouse’s tail. He played the Leaf Music Nursery Rhymes and the Harpcottle Oak became the size of Mouse crouching. He played the Leaf Music scales and the Harpcottle Oak became the size of Mouse reaching up to pat Lizzie’s knees. He played the Leaf Music Lilt which all young people in Harpcottle sang and danced at their weddings.
Tom went on and on. While he played the thirteen Leaf Music solos Lizzie rang Harriet Harpcottle the conductor of the Harpcottle Orchestra, to tell her why the Tom was not at orchestra practice.
Harriet Harpcottle promptly brought the entire orchestra around and they played the thirteen Harpcottle Oakleaf Sonatas and the thirteen Harpcottle Acorn Concertos. They went on playing and playing until they had played the Harpcottle Oak symphonies with Harpcottle Harmony Choir joining in the last movement of the last symphony, which is of course the thirteenth.
By then the Harpcottle Oak was so big that it shaded the entire garden. Lizzie wondered if this was not just a little too big so she went and made Harpcottle Oak Leaf scones and cups of tea for everyone.
While they eating and drinking she went and talked to the tree. She suggested it might be a little uncomfortable if it remained that big. Would, she suggested, the tree like a companion? If it shrank to a reasonable Harpcottle oak tree sort of size she would see what she could do about finding another Harpcottle oak. She would also find recordings of all the Harpcottle Oak music and play it for both of them.
“How big?” the tree rustled at her.
Lizzie thought about it and then said, “Big enough for a cat and a girl to lie under and listen to a boy play Leaf Music on his harp.”

"I know you think you understood

what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
Two days ago on this blog I tried to explain a very difficult concept. Nicola Morgan and I had been trying to carry out a conversation via Twitter and it did not work.
Twitter is fine. It is a great tool for idle chatter, quick messages, fun, bits and pieces of news etc. It does not work well for serious conversation.
By the time I decided to write the blog post it was too late. Nicola thought I was talking about one thing and I was actually talking about something entirely different. Ouch!
Thankfully for me Nicola has the robust good sense to realise that I was not criticising her writing or even her approach to writing. It works for her - and that has to be a good thing.
I hope we have it sorted out between us - although I know I still have not managed to explain to her what it is I am talking about. (Interestingly I have had several e-mails from people who do not want to comment publicly and they seem to understand. Strange, but true.)
I know people who want to write but do not know how to set about doing it at all. Although it is the advice they usually get I suspect it is absolutely pointless saying to them "just sit down and do it". It may be that they will never be able to do it.
There was however someone I knew who did want to write something for his children and his grandchildren. He felt totally frustrated by his inability to start. He thought there were things he wanted to say. He did not know how to say them.
"I don't know where to begin," he told me.
It was no use telling him "the beginning" because he did not know where the beginning was. He was not even sure what his first memory was.
In the end his grandson asked questions and recorded the answers with the recording device out of view so that the old man would not dry up. After the first couple of tries his grandson came to my father (a former teacher) for advice about how to ask the questions he wanted to ask. That helped.
Eventually they had hours of tape. His daughters are slowly transcribing some of it for the rest of the family.
I have seen some of it. Although he died some time ago I can still hear the old man's voice telling the story. Nobody believes anyone outside the family would be interested but this is "Grandpa" talking and there will soon be great-grandchildren old enough to appreciate it.
It too comes from the heart.

Thursday 28 July 2011

"Kangaroo Island is

at the bottom of South Australia - next to the bit that looks a bit like Italy" is how the location of the largest island off the South Australian coast is often described.
It is also described , in the old terminology, as being "about 80 miles wide at the widest point and about 120 miles long". Right.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago yesterday the first ship landed at what is now Kingscote. The intention was to set up a colony there. Kingscote was going to be the eventual capital of South Australia - until they discovered that there were problems with setting up camp on a relatively small island with water supply problems. The infant colony soon removed itself to a new location - which is where Adelaide now stands. Kangaroo Island remains somewhat isolated. It also has a somewhat chequered history.
My father was posted there in the mid-1960's. He was appointed as the headmaster of the school in the centre of the island and remained there four years. It was an "Area School" which meant that the children came in by school bus from the surrounding farms and other locations. There were eleven school bus runs and a spare bus. The longest bus journey went right into Flinders' Chase, the nature reserve at the far end of the island. It left the Chase at about 7:15 am and was, like all the other buses, driven by a teacher. New teachers were taught the school bus run by the children. The children were often remarkably independent compared with their city cousins. One nine year old even drove a small car (on his family property) to the bus pick up point some miles down the track. He had been doing it since he was seven.
The school itself catered for everyone through to all but the last year of school. If you wanted to complete your schooling you had to go to the mainland - and your parents had to have the financial capacity to send you. It did not always happen. The surrounding farms were largely owned by "soldier-settlers" - men sent to farm after the war because the government did not know what else to do with them. Most of them had never farmed before. They were often mentally and physically unfit for farming. Few of them managed to make a go of it - and the problems were compounded by very bad advice from a government department. There were still serious differences of opinion between the original settler families and the incomers.
Even before my father left it was clear that Kangaroo Island would have to change focus if it was going to survive as a community.
It has changed now. It has become a tourist destination instead. Of course there are still problems. There always will be with a location which is an island and where water supplies are limited but the local community has adapted and diversified and it now works together - although the first settler families retain their pride in being the first.
The rest of us can probably learn from the history and community of Kangaroo Island - if we can be bothered to try.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Who are you writing for and

how are you doing it?
There was a lively Twitter discussion last night (my time). In the middle of it Nicola Morgan said that she tried to write books readers want - that her mantra was to write more for readers than herself. Fair enough. It is one way of getting books published and, hopefully, sold in sufficient quantities to go on being published. I logged off for the night thinking about this.
It seems to me though that a writer is a bit like an actor. They both have to get the story across. While all of them will involve some awareness of audience (readers) surely an actor can go about this in many ways?
Certainly they can act a part to the audience. They can be, as Nicola seems to be, highly conscious of their audience/readers. This obviously has to work sometimes. It must work particularly well for writers of series. The crime writer Sue Grafton started off with A for Alibi, then B for Burglar. I think she has reached the letter U and plans to go to Z. She is contracted to do this. Her readers know her characters. They know what to expect. She is undoubtedly writing to her audience. Trying to pull off major changes simply would not work. She may kill the characters in Z but doing it before then will be a mistake. (Patricia Cornwell tried this and, in my view, it did not work.)
Ian Rankin, a much better writer, could pull off surprises with Rebus because his main character was much more complex but even he must have felt constrained by audience expectations.
Then there is the writer who writes with the audience always in mind. They are conscious of the existence of the audience. It can still, especially when writing for younger readers, make for good writing. There are obvious things you do not write into a book for children. You can also write what you know children want to read - write to them as an audience.
JKRowling obviously knew what children wanted when she introduced Harry Potter to the world. The curious thing about that however is that the adult minders in the audience were apparently not able to recognise what was happening on the stage. The books might never have been published had it not been for the child of one of the Directors of Bloomsbury asking to read more. That seems unbelievable now. Nevertheless Rowling is writing to an audience. She knows they are there and she has been able to use them.
But it seems to me that there is yet another approach. There is the actor who goes deeply inside the part, so deeply inside they almost become the part for a limited time. There is still a thread there to the audience. The thread will be as thin as a spider web but, as spider webs are, remarkably strong. too. It is, for me, the most powerful sort of acting there is - acting which binds the audience to the actor.
And it seems to me that there is writing like that too. There is the author with the story to tell. The author goes so deeply inside the story that it becomes part of them while they write it. The story is not one the reader merely wants to hear. It is one they need to hear and cannot be without. Those have, for me, to be the stories which last.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

I saw a beautiful book

yesterday. I was greatly privileged to be shown it.
It is never going to be published. Most people would not even call it a book. It is just four folded sheets of A4 size paper. Nevertheless it has a "front cover" and a "back cover" and a "title".
There are more illustrations than words. Each illustration has been drawn with extreme care and contains quite remarkable amounts of detail.
The font beneath the pictures is uncertain and uneven. There are spelling errors and an "S" has been reversed. The words are simple.
It begins with "Mummy I love you..." and ends "I love you Mummy". In between is a list of things "Mummy" did for him. "Hugs", "Kisses" and "Stories" are all there.
It is a work of art, a beautiful book. It is the only book Daniel will ever write that his mother will see. She died yesterday with his book in her hands.

Monday 25 July 2011

If an election was called

tomorrow than Labor (as they spell it here) would lose in South Australia. It would also lose a federal election.
For that reason alone we will not be going to the polls any time soon. Labor still believes it can turn the polls around and win the 2014 election in South Australia and the 2013 federal election. Politics, especially Australian politics, is such an uncertain business that this may happen.
But there is another reason why South Australia will not be going to the polls any time soon. We have a "fixed term". Parliament is elected for a term of four years.
On the surface this sounds like an excellent idea. It is said it gives "certainty". We know who is going to govern us for the next four years. Plans can be made and projects carried out accordingly. In short it is supposed to make the business of government easier.
It does not. Our state government won the election with a majority of the seats but a minority of the votes. The Electoral Commission is supposed to review and change the boundaries in order to even things out after each election. In reality all they can do is try and ensure that there are a fairly even number of voters in each electoral district. It is the way the system works and any other system would have other problems. In the interests of "democracy" the electoral system is unlikely to change. Both major parties believe the system can benefit them.
Put that with a fixed term however and you do have a problem. New South Wales had a problem prior to the last election. It also has a fixed term system and the government remained despite the fact that it was no longer capable of governing. They were dismissed in a landslide. Had they gone to the polls sooner they would almost certainly not have won but there would be a respectable opposition.
One of our politicians now wants to introduce a bill into parliament allowing for "recall elections". He is proposing that an election be able to be called if 150,000 voters (about 10% of the state's voters) call for one.
It sounds reasonable and democratic but it almost certainly will not get passed. Politicians will not, on the whole, see this as of benefit to them. Why should they? They do not want the expense of an election. They do not want to do the work involved. They do not want the uncertainty surrounding an election and the fear of losing their seats. An unpopular government will continue to believe it can turn the polls around and their opposition will continue to believe the government will slide still further and thus give them more chance.
It is all about staying in power or obtaining power. It is not about governing people.

Sunday 24 July 2011

I have been to Utoya island

It was part of a trip to Norway and Sweden to see some schools and youth organisations at work. Along with the rest of the study group I saw the facilities and walked down to the water. It was, like other places without traffic, a quiet place. It will never be quiet again. There will always be the memory of those who were murdered there. I could not visit it again.

There were some boys there making an ice-yacht ready for the winter. They were friendly. All of them spoke good English - although I think they were pleased I had bothered to learn a few words of Norwegian with which to be polite. Most people, they told me, did not bother with their language. Perhaps we should.

More than a thousand years ago my far distant ancestors sailed from Norway to Scotland - and stayed there. Maybe it was because of Norway's geography. It is such that it should perhaps be a fractured society. There are still many quite isolated communities. Communication is sometimes difficult, particularly in winter. Despite all that Norway has been an outward looking country too.

Norwegian aid workers, and there are many of them, tend to work in English. Norway has a proud tradition of helping out in complex humanitarian emergencies. I have seen Norwegian doctors, nurses, engineers and teachers off to everywhere from Albania to Zambia. Like other professionals who volunteer they have gone in, done a job and then left again - and almost always managed to leave behind a lasting, positive legacy for the people they went to help. Many of the Norwegians I have had contact with said very little about going to help. They just went and did it. I have often admired them, especially the two elderly doctors who spent three years working in Albania. Their lives were threatened when they tried to prevent some of the rampant corruption there so that their patients could get basic services.

I do not know any of them well enough to ask how they are. My friend Kari has left an e-mail message. Her usually excellent English sounded strained. Her students are too young to be involved but she was waiting to hear if any of their families were involved. I hope not because these are families who already have problems of another sort. If they are not involved though then other families must be. I wish I could help.

I cannot help them but today I am going to try and find something extra I can do for someone else. It is purely selfish. It might help me feel a bit better.

Saturday 23 July 2011

The Procol Harum song

"A whiter shade of pale" has been the Whirlwind's latest discovery among her father's music collection. She has been working her way through it and I have been getting comments about what she likes and does not like. Although she thought the words were nonsense this was a like. "It's sort of sad but like it's a bit happy too - and it has a proper tune."
We looked up the references to the song on the internet but they were long, involved and confusing. I turned to our friend Roger instead. There is very little Roger does not know about the music of that era and he has produced a sensible, intelligent and intelligible response. I will be interested to know what she makes of it.
Following her questions about the music she returned the last chapter and grabbed the next one.
"Hurry up and do the next bit. I want to know what happens." I am revising and she is being allowed to read. She will tell me if she does not like it. I will get told if it is "silly" or someone "would not do it like that". I will not be told about the actual writing. That is still beyond her.
There was another e-mail in my personal in-box this morning. Another agent has turned me down. She "very much enjoyed" reading what I wrote but it does not have the "competitive edge in an increasingly competitive market" although I "might get a different response at other agencies" and she would "certainly recommend" I try elsewhere. All very nice and I am trying to be grateful for the encouragement but it is not, of course, what I really want!
This is the third time this has happened. I know it is not many in the scheme of things. The first submission was turned down as not being for their list (and I knew it was unlikely but they were open for submissions) and they urged me to try elsewhere. The second try produced something very like this response.
I am still not sure what to make of this. Good but not quite good enough? Agents are apparently not known for being encouraging of poor writing so I am trying to be hopeful. But I wonder if there are other things getting in the way?
I have been looking closely at the books on the shelves in the children's section of the library. I have talked to children in there. They think there is room for "an adventure story". They tell me that what they are reading is sometimes "cool" but more often "all right" or "okay". I would like to be thought of as "cool" rather than "okay". I would like my writing to have a "proper tune". The question is, "Am I musical enough to do it?"

Friday 22 July 2011

We went to see

my father's brother yesterday. This is quite an undertaking. A much younger friend of his came and picked us up after he had finished tuning a piano in a neighbouring suburb. It is then a fifty-minute car ride to the nursing home.
It is the first time we have seen it as he has only just moved in. The arrangements to put him there were not made by us but we are very happy with it. My uncle is not. He hates it - or so he would have us believe.
It is a small place, with just thirty-nine beds. It is surrounded by well kept gardens. My uncle's room is large and sunny. There are French doors which lead to a small private garden. The room, and indeed the entire place, has all the facilities anyone could need and is a far cry from the more institutional like settings of some of the larger facilities. It is really more like a small and pleasant hotel.
While we there most of the residents were in the recreation room at a "concert". Someone had brought in an ukelele and they were "singing" songs like "A bicycle built for two" and "You are my sunshine". I have endured this before in other nursing homes. What the residents really make of it I am not sure. When I visited another nursing home recently there was a similar thing going on and, on seeing me, one of the old men told the staff member to turn the tape they were using off, "We'd rather talk to Cat." It was a compliment to me but I did wonder how the staff member felt!
I met two dogs there. The only time my uncle looked faintly pleased about anything was when one of these came and sat next to him for a short while. He cannot see well enough to read. He hates community singing. He does not want to go out in the bus with "all those old people". He does not want to try and make new friends or have a conversation with anyone. I suspect the latter is because his hearing is less than perfect. He has always had a tendency to mumble and it is becoming worse. Conversation does not come easily. He will not listen to the radio or the audio-books available to him. The staff have gone as far as to suggest they will get him some clay and find a wet area for him to return to his pottery. He still has the capacity to make small pieces and have them externally fired. No, he does not want to do that either. He does not want to do anything. There is nothing we can suggest or do which seems to help.
Entertainment in such places will always be difficult. If you are no longer able to read or hold a conversation with ease or can no longer pursue your hobbies then what do you do? What will I do if I ever reach that point? I have to confess I hate community singing too!

Wednesday 20 July 2011

I make no secret of the fact

I do not particularly care for Mr Rupert Murdoch or some of his family and staff. I have to confess I have never met any of the Murdochs but I have met a number of journalists who were and are, ultimately, employed by him.
I have also met any number of politicians from the far right to the far left. Like journalists and policemen the people who most ill-suited to being politicians often are the people who become politicians. Other people simply do not want the job.
One can hardly blame them. Whatever you did you would not be able to please everyone. You would rarely be able to do what you promised because the system does not work that way. There are constraints. Even the best intentioned people find themselves frustrated by the system.
Some are cunning enough to work the system to their advantage so that they are able to achieve more than others - or ruthlessly slash their way into the top jobs. All of them will also make mistakes along the way. They will make errors of judgment. They will do things and say things they will wish they had not done or said.
Like many other people I have also been observing the media even more closely of late. Support for our Prime Minister has plumbed new depths even though the media has been restrained in its criticism. There seems to be a belief in the media that the government should be allowed to "run a full term". There have been no calls for an election even though the government is technically a minority government held together by several independents - at least two of whom went against the wishes of their electorates.
There are reasons for all this of course. First of all many journalists, although not all, tend to support the current party in power. Second, they cannot afford to be too critical because their sources of information would dry up. Third, their ultimate boss believes it is advantageous for him to have this government in power rather than the alternative. He has brought down governments before and he could do it again. Friends in the UK say Murdoch could still bring down the government there. If he is going to go he will take the government with him.
It is then doubly strange that Julia Gillard, with exceptionally low popularity ratings, should choose to question the integrity of the Australian media now - especially when it has given her a remarkably sympathetic press so far.

"Yes, he is the one who smokes,"

she reminded me. The six words were enough to worry me. A friend 'phoned last night. Her neighbour had just been rushed to hospital. His wife had gone with him and my friend had gone in to look after the three children until his wife got back.
The children are apparently much too young to understand what might be going on and were, fortunately, asleep. Whether their mother will sleep well for a long time to come is less likely. Her husband has apparently been "coughing blood" for some time. He refused to go to the doctor. Last night he "collapsed"...fell on the bathroom floor and hit his head. As is the way with head wounds there was a great deal more blood. His wife called for an ambulance and my friend got involved as the family has no relatives here.
She has spoken before of this man. He is apparently a heavy smoker. He likes his beer. He is somewhat overweight. His wife's efforts to try and help him stop smoking, cut down on his drinking and lose weight through healthier eating have apparently not been appreciated. He has apparently told my friend's husband "nobody has the right to interfere". His argument is that tobacco and alcohol are legal so they "cannot be that bad for you". His one concession has been not to smoke in the house.
My friend was wondering whether someone we both know was away on holiday or whether she might be available to care for the children today. No, she is still away, My friend has other responsibilities - and a job to go to. There are school holidays this week so I suggest the holiday programme might take the four year old as well as the other two for a few hours in a real emergency. Fortunately it is not a state school and the same degree of red tape is unlikely to apply. It will give their mother breathing space to try and sort out some other arrangement if necessary.
Perhaps it will not be necessary. Perhaps it will just be a small problem, easily fixed and the family will go back to their normal lifestyle. It would be nice to think that. It is also unlikely.
It is much more likely that, if he survives, there will be days or weeks in hospital. There will be many other appointments. There will be medical bills and other financial implications. There will be other stresses and strains. "Daddy" will not be available and "Mummy" will not always be there either.
It is all very well to suggest that "nobody has the right to interfere" but the problem is that his behaviour has interfered with the rights of other people. Now there will be all sorts of other people involved as well. They will, out of necessity, interfere.
I have never so much as tried to smoke a cigarette. I am also conscious that for years I had to endure smoke laden staff rooms and staff meetings. I am allergic to cigarette smoke. My eyes and nose water. I cough. I feel as if I cannot breathe. None of that made any difference to my colleagues. They had the "right" to smoke and I was expected to endure the consequences.
Attitudes have now changed and I wonder why young children should be expected to endure the consequences. I hope their father will recover. I wonder what he is thinking this morning. Is he thinking about his children or is he thinking about the next cigarette?

Tuesday 19 July 2011

My father's brother

is now in a nursing home. It is some distance out of the city but close to where he once lived.
He hates being there. I can understand this but there really is no choice. He should really have been there long before this.
He has been declared "blind" and, unless in bright daylight, he cannot tell the difference between night and day. He has mature onset diabetes and heart failure. He has had a number of trans-ischaemic attacks (small "strokes") which have damaged the frontal lobes of his brain. Several times recently he has become confused as to where he is or what he is doing. I suspect he is in the early stages of Alzheimer's but he has never been a particularly verbal or talkative person so it is more difficult to observe than it would be in some people.
My father is three years older and, at present, mentally acute. He still reads philosophy, theology, psychology, gardening, engineering and other non-fiction. He enjoys a good murder mysteryand recently finished a biography of Charles Darwin. He will probably spend part of the day in his workshop where he is currently mending an antique chair for our friend Polly. He may be 88 but he still likes to do things for other people. My uncle was never particularly interested in doing that.
Yesterday one of their cousins 'phoned. He was going to be travelling past the nursing home and wanted to know what the situation was before calling in. I explained. He has promised to call in despite an uncertain reception. Then he said,
"You know I think the real problem has been that your father has always looked out for other people and your uncle has tended to look out for himself."
I thought about that during the day. It is true. My father is typical of his extended family. They all had the example of my great-grandmother. She had a large family (11) and she also cared for the community in which she lived. She was a practical sort of social-worker in the days before the profession existed. People turned to her for advice and help. She expected her children to provide similar assistance - and they did. The next generation (my father's) also had the example and carried on the tradition. The tradition has carried on through my generation and the next. The next generation already talks of making sure their children care for others.
My uncle is an exception to this. He is not a happy man. I do not think he has ever been a really happy man. The opportunities were there for him but he never took advantage of them.
A friend of mine called in yesterday. Her request will involve a little work for me but I actually felt relief rather than irritation at being asked. I have come to the conclusion that it may actually be easier to look out for other people.

Monday 18 July 2011

The role of the print news media

is under scrutiny at present, indeed the role of the media is under scrutiny. There have been some high profile casualities and there may well be more yet. Most of the problems have so far been in the United Kingdom where "The News of the World" is no more and Murdoch is endeavouring to save the rest of his media empire. There may yet be more problems for him in North America.
So far Australia has seen little of this. The leader of the Greens, Bob Brown, has called for an inquiry into the media here. It would suit the Greens. They sometimes (but by no means always) get a little rough press. On the whole however they have been well served by the media. Brown is the leader of a minority party but he and his team get plenty of media coverage while getting little media scrutiny. Most Australians see the Greens as "harmless" and out there to "save the environment". The Greens actually have a range of policies that would not bear close scrutiny. As they now hold the balance of power in the Senate they will be anxious to deflect scrutiny in any way they can. They may well succeed.
Australian politics is not, on the whole, well served by the media. The Press Gallery in Canberra has long been left-leaning. Labor governments, while not immune from criticism, tend to fare better than Coalition governments. A very senior member of the Press Gallery once explained all this to me very carefully. He explained how any neutral or right leaning journalist was liable to be frozen out of the information flow which is the life-blood of all journalists. He seemed to believe that this was generally a good thing because the role of the journalist was "not to report the news but to interpret it". I had the idea it was the other way around but he advised me that I was wrong. "The media's role is to inform the public but that has to be done in certain ways."
Certainly our Australian Broadcasting Company, which is government funded, makes no secret of a leftist agenda. The former presenter of "The 7:30 Report" Kerry O'Brien got away with it for years and little has changed since.
Recently there was a brief report on one television news service of a new study into the role of forests as carbon dioxide sinks. It is obviously a very important study conducted in North America and Australia. The findings (by the CSIRO), that approximately 25% of CO2 emissions are soaked up by our remaining forests, surely have to be of some importance. Despite that I have not seen the report mentioned anywhere in the print media. It has not been debated anywhere. There have been no calls to increase the rate of afforestation. Indeed there are suggestions that afforestation is not the answer - because that would call into question the entire climate debate - and the issue must therefore be ignored.
In a country which also requires compulsory attendance at the ballot box the influence of the media on public opinion is something which really does need to come under scrutiny. We are not being informed.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Naming a living being

is a responsibility. Giving a child a fanciful name like "Peaches" or "Harper Seven" may seem like fun to the parent but is it fair to the child?
I think I may have said elsewhere on this blog that I once knew a man who was christened "Sean". It is a perfectly sensible sort of name and even common in some places. Put with the surname "Lamb" however and it becomes a target for ridicule. Mr Lamb changed his name on reaching his majority - and rightly so. Nobody should have to live with a name they find offensive or which causes them embarrassment.
But most of us live with our names and they tend to shape our personalities as well. It comes as a surprise to find that someone is not who you think they are. I had a great-aunt. Everyone called her "Doll" or "Aunty Doll". She was the unmarried sister who dutifully cared for her parents. It was not until I was in my teens that I discovered she had been christened "Minette". There were members of the family who did not know her actual name until her funeral. Nobody ever called her "Minette". I often wonder how she felt about that.
Someone else I know is called "Margaret" but her father, a lover of Greek legends, called her "Persephone Marguerite". She is now in her 80's and has never been known by her actual name.
We were talking about this recently and she said, "A bit late now. I feel like a Margaret".
When I glance at the "hatched, matched and dispatched" columns in our state newspaper I often wonder at the names people give their children. There are the trendy names which will date people. There are the unusual spellings of those and other names - sometimes out of a desire to make the name a little different and perhaps sometimes out of ignorance - Sean, Shaun, Sheawn, Shawn and Aaron, Aran, Arran, Auron and even Arren. There is Charlie instead of Charles and Jack as a name where it was once a diminutive. Girls fair no better - and indeed sometimes worse than the boys. Isabel gets a wide variety of spellings, some of them quite traditional but others such as Izzabel which are clearly not - and one child was recently named "Izzy". I feel sorry for her - but maybe she will grow into it and like it. There are other people who never grow into their names or are always known by a diminutive.
You do need to grow into your name. I have been Cat for a very long time. I am Cat to most people and I comfortable with that. I feel like a Cat.

Saturday 16 July 2011

The "Writers' Week"

at our biennial Festival of Arts used to be held in a variety of locations in the CBD, mostly in and around our State Library. Many of the events were held in "the lecture theatre", a small room with tiered seats.
I first attended some of those events when I was sixteen. I would not have known about those events or dared to attend them except that the late Judith Wright somehow arranged for the headmaster of my boarding school to release me into her care. There were people she wanted me to meet. Her view (and mine) was that these things were more important than the school sports' day in which I was naturally not participating. Yes, perhaps I should have been at school and "barracking" for my house but I was, quite frankly, not in the least interested.
I do not think the other students were in the least bit envious of my good fortune. They were not interested in reading. They read what they were required to read and that was it. The school library was a tiny room. It held mostly out of date reference material. The teachers, apart from my English teacher, taught only from the textbooks.
So I sat in the lecture theatre and listened to authors. I sat on the steps of the lecture theatre and talked to authors. As a sixteen year old I did not understand all that I heard but, looking back, I know I did learn many things. I was extremely fortunate to meet so many authors, many of whom encouraged me.
Writers' Weeks are not the same now. They are held in two large tents above the parade grounds. The visiting authors are kept apart from the audience. They are brought in, displayed and then perform. They answer questions for a limited period. They sign books. They leave - usually for a round of school visits. Writers' Week is now about publishers, book launches and readers. The old camaraderie has gone and been replaced by something else. Perhaps it is more accessible to readers and that may be a very good thing but the authors say something is missing.
Perhaps we should call the week Readers' Week rather than Writers' Week.

Friday 15 July 2011

Phone hacking is

apparently an easy thing to do. I will add very quickly that I do not have the least idea how to go about it - and I certainly have even less desire to find out.
Phone hacking is akin to burglary in my book. It is an unwarranted intrusion into (and theft of) your private life. I believe it is equally easy to hack into e-mail and I feel the same way about that as I do about phone hacking.
I am well aware that everything I write on this blog is open to public scrutiny. That is fine. I have chosen to take that path.
I have more than one e-mail account and none of them are open to public scrutiny. One of them is an ordinary sort of account where I get messages from friends or about writing or knitting. I would be angry if someone hacked into that - not least because they would be stealing and not just from me but from my friends. I am well aware however that what I say there is monitored - if I mention certain words in relation to one another in the same message then that message may be read by others.
I know my other e-mail accounts are monitored more closely than that. They are work related and my work sometimes involves people working in sensitive areas or sensitive situations. The monitoring does not alarm me because (a) I have nothing to hide, (b) the people I work with have nothing to hide and (c) we all know it happens. That does not mean I like it but I can live with it. Unlike hacking monitoring is done to preserve information rather than disseminate it.
The news media has always taken the view that people in power or people with public profiles have to accept public scrutiny of their private and personal lives as well as their public lives. I disagree. I do not care what the Prime Minister eats for breakfast. It is not the Prime Minister's job to endorse a breakfast cereal, bread or marmalade. I do care that the Prime Minister does the job a Prime Minister is elected to do.
It would be better for everyone if the media concentrated on making sure that people are held to account for their public rather than their private lives.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Does your appearance

- as an author - matter?
Dan Holloway was talking about this on "Help I need a publisher" yesterday. It has caused quite a lot of discussion.
My father occasionally grumbles about "fancy dress" - by which he means things like religious or legal attire. Each time I remind him that he would not be impressed if a judge sat in a court room dressed in dirty jeans and a t-shirt with holes in it. He agrees. The conversation subsides - only to be resurrected later.
However my father has always been concerned about clean fingernails, clean hair and clean shoes if going out. He also, despite the above comments, believes in dressing appropriately for the occasion.
And I think that is the thing that matters for authors. You need to dress appropriately (and behave appropriately.)
In my comments to Dan I said I have seen (and met) a great many authors in my lifetime. Dan spoke of the poet Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg once came to an Adelaide Festival of Arts Writers' Week along with Lawrence Ferlinghetti. They were two of the "big names" that year. I was introduced to them by the poet Judith Wright. What Judith really thought of them I was never sure. Ginsberg and I spent twenty minutes waiting for Judith late one afternoon. We sat on the steps of the old State Library lecture theatre and discussed Australian poetry. He was dressed in bib and brace overalls, a t-shirt and strings of hippie beads. Ferlinghetti, dressed in jeans and another t-shirt but without the beads, took me off to the pub where the writers were hanging out and bought me a lemon squash so he could grill me about the Barossa Valley. Ginsberg was interesting but I much preferred Ferlinghetti as a person - and not just because of the lemon squash. I was not particularly impressed by Ginsberg's beads. I thought they were ridiculous. (I was only about 18 at the time.) The way they dressed seemed, to me, to be indicative of their attitude to their audience. Ginsberg would have taken no notice of me at all in the general scheme of things. It was only because I had been specifically introduced - and he had been given something of mine to read which he presumably liked - that he bothered with me. Ferlinghetti was more of a people person and it showed.
All the children's writers I have met have been fairly conservatively dressed - some of them have been very conservatively dressed indeed. People like Ivan Southall and Colin Thiele sometimes used to wear a collar and tie. That is less likely now but, back in ancient times, they did that sort of thing. We had some writers for children at our local indie bookshop last year. They were all dressed in "casual" but neat dress. Nobody was wearing anything outrageous.
I would be wary of a writer for children who was outrageously dressed - unless it was intended to illustrate something from the books. Even then I think I would look for an underlying neatness, cleanliness and appropriateness of clothing that said, "I care enough about my audience to present myself well."
I think that is the thing. If you are an author then you need to respect your readers if you want their respect. As such, if I ever reach the giddy heights of being the author on display, I will endeavour to dress appropriately.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

I have two sisters

and a brother. One sister lives here, about two kilometres away.
My other sister and my brother live in different states. We do not see them often but my father chats to them by 'phone at least once a week. He will sometimes chat to his grandchildren as well. They are grown up now and have very young children of their own. My father likes to monitor the progress of his great-grandchildren.
However it is a different story with my sister who lives here. It is possible to go a fortnight or more without hearing from her. She will then 'phone late in the evening or call in announced at mealtimes because she "knows" she will find us home. When she does this she will often have some scheme in mind. It will always be well-intentioned but equally almost always it will not be something my father wants or wants to participate in. He always gives in because he hates to upset anyone, most of all his children. Something like this happened last night. It involves a different exercise regime, a change in the diet he is currently happy with, a visit to the doctor to have medications which have been working well changed. He is too afraid of her to argue.
I know why my sister has done what she has done. Like me she does not want our father to get "old". He is after all only 88. His parents both lived longer.
My sister would reverse the ageing process if she could - indeed her current scheme is designed to do just that. I wish it would work. I know it will not. Life does not work like that. I wish it did. This plan has to be the most unrealistic yet.
I can say nothing at all because my father is mentally competent - just compliant with my sister's suggestions. I will be accused of interfering and not wanting the best for my father. I have to live with him. I will have to live with my sister at a short distance. I will also have to live with the consequences.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Minimalist food and maximum

expense - or so it seemed to us.
My father and I do not eat out very often. It is not something we can afford to do but, even if we could, we would object to paying for (almost) nothing.
We went out with friends yesterday. They had discovered another small "French" restaurant in a nearby suburb and they wanted us to try it.
We had doubts from the time the invitation was made. Our friends spend a great deal more on entertaining themselves than we do. My father however does not like to disappoint people so he agreed (and then told me) and we were duly collected and whisked off to the "wonderful" place.
We recognised the name when we arrived. They were once in a shopping centre some distance down the road.
The place is small - it seats about two dozen people. The owners definitely come from France. French was being spoken in the kitchen. Someone was being scolded. Madame D came out to welcome us and take us to our table. Thankfully she used English and her accent, after years in Australia, was not so strong that my father could not understand her. His hearing loss makes it harder to understand accents these days.
Menus were passed out. My father and I looked at one another. Yes, an expensive place for a "light" lunch.
And it was light too. I asked for the "cheese and spinach quiche with salad". My father had a similar dish. The salad consisted of three lettuce leaves, two wafer thin slices of tasteless tomato and a teaspoon of alfalfa sprouts. The quiche was an individual one and would have fitted into my hand with room to spare. It was almost cocktail size.
Yes, the plate looked attractive enough but this was the bare minimum of food they could have got away with.
I remembered with some sadness the other wonderful and even smaller French establishment our friends had taken us to. It had been half the size. One woman did everything. Her food was magnificent. The portions were a good size but not so large you could not clear the plate. The salad was salad. The last time we went there were seven different salad items. She made use of what was in season. She explained the choices available to her customers. Running her tiny establishment was not merely a business for her. She wanted to display the best of simple French cuisine and she did so with pride. It never made a lot of money but it kept her and her schizophrenic son until, exhausted, she retired.
I know that, for the sake of being sociable, it is necessary to eat out occasionally. I also know the food industry is a large part of the economy. It is necessary and many people enjoy it.
My limited experience however suggests that "cheap and cheerful" can sometimes also provide better food. I object to paying large sums of money to go hungry. I would rather use a little of it to cook my own and donate the rest to those in need - or find another tiny restaurant which is run for the love of sharing food with others.

Monday 11 July 2011

Yesterday our Prime Minister

announced the long awaited details of the so-called "carbon tax" and the "price on carbon". I know there are certain readers of my blog who will be expecting me to comment so I will make an effort.
First up? The Prime Minister, politicians of all persuasions and the media have the name wrong. It is a tax on carbon dioxide. It is not a tax on carbon.
Second? It will not make one bit of difference to the problem of pollution. It may even add to pollution.
Third? It will make a difference to the economy and the difference will be a negative one.
The whole thing reminds me of "Mixed Biscuits" - a dog which appears in one of Elizabeth Goudge's novels. "...he was not a tidy eater". The tax is gobbling down money and spraying small amounts over the side of the plate for the tax payer to clean up.
It is a desperate attempt to look as if the government is doing something about the environment because they are dependent on the support of the Greens in order to stay in power. The Greens now say they have a "good deal" but that it "could be better". The reality is that they have less than they wanted or could have had if the government had been honest with the electorate and said they were going to introduce the tax at the last election - except of course they may not have won the election. Most of the so-called "independents" are so frightened of losing their seats at an election that they are clinging to power for as long as they can and will do whatever the government asks of them while pretending to negotiate good deals for their electorates.
Now, I am all for looking after the environment. My father and I do not own a car and we try not to use other people's cars or even public transport unless it is really necessary. We try to buy locally and responsibly. We recycle. Our house was built to maximise the use of the natural environment. We try to be responsible in our use of water (including our own rainwater) and electricity. We do not go overboard with any of these things but we are conscious of our impact on the environment and we will put an extra pullover before we think about using heating. No, we do not make ourselves uncomfortable but we do think about what we are doing.
I think that may be the problem. The so-called "carbon" tax has started at the wrong end. It has started with "500 big polluters" - it was to be a thousand but that had to change under pressure. There are all sorts of "exemptions" and "compensation". It is going to be extraordinarily complex. It is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to administer. There are already indications that there will be economic consequences and that many people who already try to be environmentally responsible will be hit while those who make no effort to be will be rewarded.
The reality is that this tax is nothing more than a means of shifting money around and trying to con people into the belief that the government is being "environmentally responsible". I doubt the Opposition would have done any better either.
The problem is that, if we really want to do something about the environment, then everyone has to change. We have to change the way we live. We need to use motor vehicles less. We need to grow more of our own food. We need to shop locally. We need to turn off the heating or the cooling unless it is extremely cold or hot. We need to dress according to the weather. New housing has to be built in accordance with the climate and not the fashion.
Those sort of things could set an example to the rest of the world. We still would not make a huge impact on the world's carbon dioxide levels but we might be able to say, "We think this is the way we can do it."
As it is now the rest of the world is going to laugh at us. We cannot even get the name right.

Sunday 10 July 2011

The ABBA litfest is

up and away - and great fun it is too. I have said it there and I will repeat it here. It must have taken a lot of organisation.
It looks simple on the surface. Send out a few e-mails to members of ABBA. Tell them the general idea. They write their bit and up it goes. Simple! Perhaps. It would have been a lot more work than that.
There have been some posts about doing the research in order to write. The emphasis is on historical fiction. Of course research has to be done there. How can you possibly write about Romans or Greeks, Egyptians, Aztecs or the Victorians without doing some research?
If you write something and get it wrong someone is sure to tell you.
Cynthia Harnett, author of the Carnegie Medal winning book "The Woolpack" spent about two years researching each book she wrote. She did not write very many. The Woolpack is a masterpiece. I read it as a child and it added to my determination to go to the United Kingdom one day and see some of those things for myself. (When I eventually did get there events conspired against me and I saw far less than I wanted to see but I did see a little.)
There were other authors of historical novels I enjoyed too but Harnett's were the most detailed and they were detailed in an unusual way. They described every day life not just great events.
It is perhaps even more difficult to do that and make it real, believable and interesting.
But it is not just writers of historical fiction who need to do research. All writers need to do some research. The late Dick Francis, writer of apparently light-weight racing mysteries, must have done a considerable amount of research for at least some of his novels. They have themes apart from racing so that we learn something about film making or glass blowing or using an artificial limb. Susan Hill uses her Simon Serraillier novels to air other medical issues, as does Elizabeth George. Getting the law right is also an issue for many novelists.
And so even I do research. If I want to get something published I have to have the facts right. It is a constant surprise - and yet not a surprise - how much research needs to be done in order to make sure that what you right can be believed. How do you get away from a fast moving bushfire that is almost certainly going to trap those in its path? What is it going to feel like?
Finding out something about that was very difficult.
I have consulted maps, railway timetables and regulations. I once read a book about lighthouses. Even setting something in the almost-present-day requires research. Is what you want your hero/ine to do possible? How do you make it difficult enough to raise the tension to the right level but let them get there in the end?
Reading about other writers, published writers, doing research at the ABBA Litfest has been reassuring. It also makes me wonder whether creative writing courses do or should include a subject called, "Research Skills for Writers". There is a lot to learn.

Saturday 9 July 2011

I have never read

"The News of the World" - at least I do not believe I have.
The hall of residence I lived in while a student at university in London bought the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian for students to read if they wished to do so. It was my morning habit to rapidly read the major stories in each one. Occasionally I would have time for a little more - such as the editorial - but not often.
Most of my fellow students, also from overseas, did not bother to read the papers at all. The few UK students would glance at them but, like me, there was not a lot of time for reading newspapers. We were not like under-graduates. We had to get to lectures, schools, hospitals and the like. We were not there for student life. We were there to learn, research, write a thesis etc.
When I had the opportunity however I found the standard of journalism a good deal higher than it was where I had come from.
Despite the present turmoil with the News of the World I suspect that journalism in the UK is still a good deal better than it is in my home state.
We used to have three newspapers from the same stable in this state. There was "the Advertiser", "the News" and the "Truth". The Advertiser was a broadsheet back then. The other two were tabloids.
The Truth, our version of the News of the World only rather worse, was the first to go. It had specialised in gossip and gossip was becoming more freely available elsewhere. The News went next. It was the late afternoon paper, sometimes with a second edition if something worthy of a new headline broke. Like the Truth it would be padded out with much gossip.
At that point Murdoch made the Advertiser a tabloid - and down graded it still further so that it is now rather like a cross between the Truth, the News and the old Advertiser. It is not a good newspaper - but we get it because my father prefers to read about local issues rather be forced to look at the television news.
We also get "The Australian". This is our national newspaper - although there are actually state editions which allow things like the publication of a name before the courts in one state but not another etc. It is probably the most serious of our newspapers. It carries some articles from other international papers owned by the Murdoch stable. There is an attempt at some serious analysis of the state of affairs across the country.
Is it as good as the best of the overseas papers? I think opinions would vary on that one. It is a better paper than the Advertiser but that is not in itself a recommendation.
My father has been reading newspapers for almost eighty years. He has seen a lot of newsprint in his time. He is of the belief that we are often ill-served by the news media. The strength of that belief has grown over the years.
My own job provides me with information from an enormous variety of sources. I am often not free to say anything about the information given to me. Nevertheless I am aware that all too often what I learn from people who are immediately involved is very different from the stories given out by the news media.
I wonder about the folding of the News of the World. Around two hundred people have lost their jobs. Most of them will be innocent of any wrong doing. Circulation was going down and the days of the paper were probably numbered anyway. Murdoch used it to get his global empire underway. It has no value for him now. He will probably turn the Sun into a seven day a week paper and pick up some readers from the News of the World there - after all it has a similar readership.
Murdoch is possibly the most powerful man in the world. He controls far too much of the world's media not to be powerful. He has overseen the demise of more than one Australian government despite the fact he no longer lives here.
If the Sky deal goes through Murdoch will not suffer at all from the folding of the News of the World - indeed it will be to his advantage. I just hope the Sky deal folds too. We should be governed by the governments we elect - not by a media mogul.

Friday 8 July 2011

"Reading Mills & Boon is

potentially harmful to your health..." - or so it says on page three of this morning's paper. Apparently someone called Susan Quillam who writes romance and is a "relationship counsellor" has come to this conclusion.
I have not come across Susan Quillam's work but I did once try to read a Mills and Boon book. I was bored by the end of the first page and went no further. It was not for me.
But, it is a genre that many people enjoy. I understand it is read mostly by women but I believe there are some closet male readers as well. Of those readers I suspect that the vast majority of them know very well that "real life" is not "like that". One reason for this will be because many readers of Mills and Boon are apparently older readers. They know that the world of Mills and Boon, like so many other fictional worlds, is not real.
There is also an art to writing Mills and Boon. It is not a matter of sitting down and writing boy meets girl, falls in love, marries and lives happily ever after. There are guidelines which need to be adhered to and ways in which aspects of the story must be handled.
I once talked to a New Zealander about this. He was a television news reader but he supplemented his income (not nearly as high in those days) by writing Mills and Boon books. He would turn out about six a year. He could write them on a sort of production line which turned out uniform but unique products - if that makes sense. I came to the conclusion it is a different sort of writing - something I could never handle.
Writing those slim books was not harmful to his health. I doubt they are really harmful to the health of the vast majority of those who read them. They are probably like chocolate or icecream - and some people can eat more of those things than others.
It is not going to make me read a Mills and Boon - but I hope those who enjoy them will continue to do so.

Thursday 7 July 2011

I have just had a fright.

It was one of those heart stopping moments you do not want to begin the day with.
As is my usual custom I was reading down the summary list of death notices in the paper - and came across a familiar name. What? Nobody had told us! This was not possible!
I rushed to the full notices on the next page - and breathed a sigh of relief. The name, although quite an unusual one, was not our friend but a very elderly woman.
Even as I breathed a sigh of relief however I was conscious that people will miss that woman. The notice made it clear that she had a family, a family who cared. She had been married. She had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even a great-great-grandchild. It was also obvious they loved her.
Not so another old lady who has recently been found in Sydney. They estimate she had been dead for eight years. Nobody had bothered to check. There are all sorts of excuses from all sorts of people but the bottom line is - nobody cared about her. Nobody cared enough to check on her welfare. The neighbours thought she had gone to live with other family. The power was cut off without anyone checking inside the house. The water use was queried but nobody checked. The mail had been redirected prior to that - because she could not handle her own affairs. She had argued with the person the mail was redirected to and they did not contact her. Her pension kept piling up in her bank account. There were any number of people who should have expressed concern and did not.
I have been responsible for the welfare of a number of elderly people living alone. My degree of responsibility has varied from just dropping in once a week to doing shopping, going to the chemist, collecting mail when they are away, feeding their pets or watering their pot plants. There have been two elderly people for whom I have helped to arrange entry into a nursing home. Neither wanted to go but both knew it was the only option. They were not difficult to get along with but their families did not visit. Instead the families descended on their deaths and argued over who would get what. I was not even invited to their funerals.
Perhaps it will also be the same with the old lady who lay there for eight years. Perhaps there will be relatives somewhere who will descend on the estate and take what they can. They will not even be required to appear at the inquest. They will not be found to be at fault. There is nothing to say that you must care.
I am going to be terribly, terribly selfish and say - I hope someone cares enough to find me long before eight years are up.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Paying to prove your

innocence is never right. It is an even worse idea in the Magistrates' Court. Apparently the idea is that if the police decide to prosecute you then you will, guilty or innocent, be required to pay your own costs in the Magistrates' Court.
I do not know why our state government thought this would be a good idea - apart from believing it would "save" $1.6m a year. It will not of course - but it will cause endless complications and miscarriages of justice.
Our Magistrates' Court deals with minor offences - driving, petty theft, minor assault, disputes, possession and other offences are dealt with there. There are limits on the penalties a magistrate can impose. They also hear the preliminaries for cases which will go to a higher court - District, Federal, Supreme etc. Initial applications for bail are heard there.
I do not know what percentage of cases are defended in the Magistrates' Court but I suspect there are relatively few. Representation by a member of the legal profession will be greater than that, especially where someone is looking at a custodial sentence or the loss of a licence to drive when their livelihood depends on it. Legal aid is available to some and automatically available to indigenous Australians.
It leaves a group of law abiding Australians potentially without legal representation. They may be found not to have broken any law but they will still be left with court costs they may not be able to pay and should, if they have done nothing wrong, not have to pay.
The proposed amendment to the law has been added to the Budget. The amendment has gone to the Upper House and it has been rejected as not being a "money matter". It has been returned, amended yet again, to the Lower House. It will be reviewed tomorrow.
If, despite being opposed by the Opposition and the legal profession, it becomes law then justice in this state will be ill-served.
There is disquiet in the Attorney-General's department as well. They were asked if it could be done, not whether justice would be done.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

The inconvenience of not having

a car was made clear to me when my father arrived home yesterday. He had been to the supermarket to collect some light bulbs. He had gone on his "gopher".
When he set out it was "grey but fine". I had already been out and back in "grey but fine". He thought he might make it before the rain came. I did not.
He did not. He got caught in not just rain but hail. He was wearing his waterproof jacket but not his waterproof trousers or his gloves.
When he returned I sent him to change everything and have a hot shower. He seems to be fine but I was a little concerned.
"But I wanted it because Sam is coming this afternoon and he won't mind changing it for me."
No, Sam will not mind in the least. He is a very nice boy. That was not the problem. I wondered why I could not be trusted to buy light bulbs.
My father, quite sensibly, bought an "economy" pack of three. Sam arrived and, while the kettle boiled, put one in and discovered it did not work. Is there something wrong with the wiring? No, another faulty bulb. The economy pack is not an economy pack. It was also much too wet and too late to return the economy pack to the supermarket. We are therefore stuck with using another bulb (which does work) from the economy pack and not being able to return the pack.
All this depresses my father. He would once have driven a car to the supermarket. (It is a twenty minute brisk walk away even for a fit person.) He would also have climbed on the step-ladder and put the bulb in himself. He can do neither now.
I never did learn to drive a car so I am used to being out in all sorts of weather - which is not to say I necessarily like it. I have never climbed ladders.
All this makes me understand why people want cars. They are expensive but oh so convenient.

Monday 4 July 2011

Apparently I am writing "history"

although I did not particularly think of it as that. I have lived through the times I am writing about. It is not so very different from now - although different enough.
Yesterday a neighbour introduced me to one of her visitors with the words, "This is Cat - you know the one who writes to the papers - oh and she writes other things too." The visitor, waiting for her partner to inspect the solar panel installation on the neighbour's house, started to ask the usual questions.
Eventually I gave her a very brief outline of the plot of the last novel. She listened, nodding and then said to me, "It sounds great, really exciting, but why didn't they just use their mobile?"
It brought me up with a jolt. I had not told her what year the action takes place. She assumed it was the present day.
I explained that the action takes place in 1969. There are no mobile phones.
"Oh, you're writing historical novels!"
I suppose I am. If I set the story in the present day the plot would have to be different. There would be mobile phones. There would be e-mail, Skype, long distance telephone calls would be common place etc
I considered whether I should set the story in the 21st C. It is based on a real life event told to me in the course of doing some research about something else entirely. I wondered if it would be better to bring it into the present day. The answer had to be no. It would be possible but less probable.
When I wrote another book, the one for the Whirlwind, her father said to me, "She tells me there are no computers in it." For the Whirlwind it was a novelty that a book written now should have no mention of computers. The action takes place in the 1950's. There is no need of computers.
I like using a computer. It allows me to work from home and care for my father. I like e-mail and Twitter and I post the occasional note on Facebook. My cousin 'phoned from London last night and talked to me for almost half an hour as we sorted out a problem with his father. Friends and neighbours have Skype. News can circle the globe in a matter of seconds.
It is possible to write hugely successful novels using all these things but the plot has to fit comfortably into the landscape. My landscape was different.
So, am I writing "history"? Perhaps I am. What I am trying to write is the story.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Classes for men

will shortly be run by a friend of mine. She lives with four males and has decided that the classes are essential to her sanity, if not theirs.
The first class will be in the difficult subject of identifying and understanding the use of doormats. These are the flat brown objects at the front and back doors of her home. In damp or raining weather you stand on these and rub the soles of your shoes or your football boots with a backwards and forwards motion. If you are wearing football boots you may only do this on the back mat. You must then remove your football boots (and the muddy football socks) in the laundry and replace them with the slippers which might be found in the pile of assorted footwear, footballs, basketballs, hockey sticks and lone golf club held together by fishing line.
The second class will be in the even more difficult subject of recognising and understanding the use of the laundry basket. In her home this is a large round cane object that sits by the door. It is intended as resting place for muddy football shorts, socks and guernseys. It will also accommodate all manner of other dirty clothing.
Unfortunately the use of this object is complicated by the fact that the object in question has a lid. It is necessary to remove the lid in order to practice throwing clothing into the basket. Additional training will be given in recognising the difference between the floor and the basket.
(Another complication is that males do not always recognise dirty clothing. Additional classes will therefore be held in recognising dirty clothing and removing it from the body.)
My friend thought she would start with these tasks before moving on to even more difficult and complex tasks.
I do not envy her. I will also be surprised if she succeeds.

Saturday 2 July 2011

I spent most of yesterday reading

"legalese" - the sort of language lawyers use in an attempt to confuse everyone, including themselves. I had a headache by the time I had finished.
I could scarcely be bothered with the pieces of the paper I had not read and should read. There has been a recent change in editorial practice and the writing is worse than ever. There are also many more American words and phrases than before. I have seen both "Mom" for "Mum" or "mother" and "math" for "maths" or "mathematics" recently.
There are also more and more abbreviations creeping into mainstream writing. "His bio had everyone ROFL"? My father threw the paper down in disgust. He does not like "bio" and he had no idea what "ROFL" meant because he does not text, twitter or even type.
My father knows that language changes. Two years ago he bought a Macquarie dictionary for his own use. He thought he should have something which would include some of the new terms. He felt it should be Australian. His assessment of that dictionary - much praised by others - is scathing. He prefers to leave his desk and walk to the other end of the house to where my much used two volume Oxford is shelved. It is less convenient than having a dictionary on his desk but it is also more likely to give him the information he needs.
I own many other dictionaries, many of them dual language dictionaries in everything from Arabic to Welsh - no X, Y or Z so far. There are also medical, legal, architectural, engineering etc dictionaries. I often meet words I do not know. When that happens I will consult a dictionary. I then forget them again because they are not part of my education. My father rarely needs to know a word in anything other than English although he still remembers some Latin.
I also have a dictionary of abbreviations but my father refuses to use that. English, he says, should be written correctly in books and newspapers. Texting and tweeting may be used by the generations below him but he believes they still need to know how to use English.
I use some of the modern abbreviations but they do not have me "ROFL". I have never rolled on the floor and laughed anyway. There are more comfortable ways to laugh.

Friday 1 July 2011

I had to go through the cupboard

in which we keep the mugs and glasses yesterday. I wanted a couple of glasses in which to put marmalade. Yes, most of the marmalade is going into the jam jars we collect through the year or that people return to me. However, I also needed two presentable glasses for someone to use as part of a display she is doing.
Naturally the glasses I wanted to use were right at the back of the cupboard. I had to haul out other things before I could get to them. I also removed a few things in the process.
We have a set of mugs. They match the kitchen crockery (Willow pattern). We bought the crockery when we moved into this house and put the mismatching crockery from the old house into boxes for the local charity shop. It sold. I found the mugs some months later - in the local supermarket.
We also have a collection of mugs. My father has three which are entirely his. The one he uses for his breakfast coffee is labelled "Dad". There is a chipped one he takes to the shed which says "Grandpa" and the new one, given to him by a friend of mine, which says "Real men like cats".
He uses that for his bedtime milk drinks.
I have an extra large mug. It has the advantage of being so big I do not have to fill it too full and it means that spills are less likely. It has a picture of a cat holding a computer mouse on it. My sister found it somewhere and I am rather fond of it.
There are also other mugs with cats on them. One of my father's friends has a mug of his own here. He is also extremely fond of cats and his has cats printed all over it. The Whirlwind found one in the charity shop which has a cat chasing a clockwork mouse. It is the one she uses when she is here. There are other cat mugs - all of them given to me. I also have two with sheep on them and one with knitting on the outside.
There is another mug which says "Heartbeat" - the television programme we have never seen. Dad's cousin uses the large plain brown mug.
There are other mugs, too many mugs. I could not use most of them. The handles are the wrong shape for me. My father does not like most of them. He really prefers a cup and saucer - somewhere to put the teaspoon because, unlike me, he has sugar in his tea and coffee.
Right at the back of the cupboard there is a mug with a picture of the local church on it, a building of great historical significance for this state. The mug belonged to my mother. Nobody has used it since she died.