Category Archives: Author Talks

My Sydney Writers’ Festival 2019

Ring the brass bell!!! Yesterday, I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which has long been my “me day” where I liberate myself from all other responsibilities and earthly shackles and return to my tribe.

That said, I must confess that I missed the last two years and wasn’t all that bothered about it at the time. I get frequent lung infections, and I suspect this was the greatest indication that I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. However, I made some adjustments. Now,  my energy levels have soared I’m swinging from the chandeliers again and going gang busters working on my book. Indeed, I’m back.

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While Sydney Writers sounds like  lot of fun, maximizing your experience takes a fair bit of organization. Moreover, for me that’s compounded by my disabilities, chronic health issues and also sorting out the kids.

Traditionally, the nitty gritty all began when the program appears as an insert in the Sydney Morning Herald. This arrives on a Saturday morning and you spread the program out across the kitchen table pen in hand while your drinking coffee and spilling your breakfast all over it. I always start off with a quick scan to see who’s on. Of course, there are the big name events, some years they appeal but just as often, they’re not my cup of tea. I’m usually there as a writer more than a reader and I’m not into political stuff. I mainly used to attend some of the workshops they put on, but I’m not sure if they’re available anymore. In the past, I’ve done workshops with some of Australia’s most successful writers including Jackie French of Diary of a Wombat fame and  Andy Griffiths who writes the Treehouse Books with  Terry Denton. I felt incredibly blessed and the cost was very reasonable.

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After you’ve identified what’s on, the next step is to choose which day or days you’re going to go and personally I try to squeeze as much as I can into that day. However, you still need to factor in those much needed meal and toilet stops and especially in my case, allow plenty of time for getting lost. I should know by now that I always set out in the diametrically opposed direction. Yet, strangely I still trust my gut and my folly continues.

It seems strange that a writers’ festival which conjures up visions of imagination, creativity and striving towards your writing dreams, requires so much left-brain thinking just to find your seat. However, finishing a book for publication is much the same.

My Sydney Writers’ experience is also impacted by my disabilities. My disabilities which can be quite invisible and unobtrusive of an ordinary day, but add travel, crowds, an unfamiliar environment and extensive walking and they come into play and can totally flare up like an enraged zit. There’s this cognitive and physical load and the more aware I am of how these come into play, the more I can prepare around it and have a better experience. I always use my walking stick in such situations and I have a companion card, which entitles me to a free companion. I often find some curly issues crops up and it’s helpful to have that person on hand. This year, I realized that I was needing to pick my tickets up from the box office and with queuing being difficult, I rang the night before and spoke with Emily who had my tickets waiting at the desk and I could just get a volunteer to pick them up for me instead. She also helped me with a few other issues and I really appreciated her understanding and compassion. It helped me feel more empowered and on top of things, rather than overwhelmed and incapable.

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So, yesterday Thursday 2nd May was my day at the Sydney Writers’ Festival for 2019. I’d initially flagged yesterday because I’d wanted to see Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark and his daughter, Meg was talking about her first solo novel, Fled . They both write historical fiction and this is the genre I’m heading towards with my book project so my interest was also personal and as a writer, as well as a reader. I attended a literary lunch at Pearl Beach a few years ago when Tom and Meg were promoting the first book of their Monserrat Series. Tom also writes about Irish History and wrote a very helpful book called Three Famines, which really helped me get my head around the Irish Famine, which affected many of my ancestors.

However, when I went back to book my tickets, I also noticed that crossword guru David Astle was speaking about his latest book Rewording the Brain. While this book was heavily weighted towards cryptic crosswords which are totally above my pay grade, given that I have hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), I’m interested in serious neurological research and discussions. Indeed, in the past I’ve seen Dr Norman Doidge who wrote The Brain’s Way of Healing Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing. So, after a very difficult choice, I went with David Astle.  Lastly, I was thrilled to find that Graeme Simsion author of the The Rosie Project which has evolved into a hilarious gripping series was talking about the final book The Rosie Result. Don Tillman, the lovable main character of the series,  has become a poster boy for the Autism community so life “on the spectrum” also featured during the session, which tied in very well with the morning’s session and my brain was nicely enriched by the time I arrived home.

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Before I touch on these sessions in more detail, I’d like to walk you around the venue because that’s a bit of a talking point as well. While the Sydney Writers as I know it, was at Walsh Bay on Sydney Harbour last year it moved to Carriageworks in Redfern, which is the refurbished Eveleigh Railway Workshops, which were constructed 1880-1889. By the 1900s several thousands worked here, building and maintaining locomotive engines and carriages for the expanding rail network. These are signs of its railway past everywhere, including the train tracks out the front.

David Astle, Rewording the Brain

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We’re now heading into our first session with David Astle, Rewording the Brain. I’d actually planned ahead and had bought all three books the day before from my local bookshop and thanks to some late night swatting and the train trip, I’d managed to get through about a quarter of the book. Phew! This session was not one to go into half mast, especially when cryptic crosswords have personally remained forever true to name. Moreover, despite being something of a word smith myself, even I noticed the lexicon in this session was rather learned. Indeed, a dictionary might’ve been in order. However, at least they didn’t bring out the dreaded match sticks. These puzzles appear in the book swearing at me. Indeed, for seasoned crossword puzzlers David’s initials on a Puzzle” D.A. have often inspired terror. Even I had to think, which is a good thing and no doubt primed my brain for the day ahead.

Rewording the Brain addresses how crossword puzzles, and cryptic crosswords  in particular, help boost the power and agility of your brain. Recent studies have shown that puzzle-solving and wordplay are among the most effective ways to boost the power and agility of your brain. A cryptic crossword a day can help keep memory loss at bay.
Why? The answer lies in the art of teasing out a clue, a discipline that calls for logic, interpretation, intuition and deduction as well as the ability to filter nuance and connotation. All these challenges and more are found in the cryptic crossword. And all are invaluable in increasing your brainpower and improving your memory and cognitive capacity 1.

I can only live in hope. I took down pages of notes and before I knew it I was talking to DA himself as we walked towards the book signings.

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In addition to priming up my brain, I also had secret business. Yesterday, was also a close friend’s 50th Birthday. However, this was no ordinary, extraordinary birthday. Dr Kirsten Harley has been living with Motor Neurone Disease for about 6 years ago and crunch time came in December when her wishes to be resusitated were swung into action.  Kirsten had major surgery and has spent the last 5-6 months in intensive care at Macquarie University Hospital and will be heading home soon. Kirsten loves crosswords and while she’s asked family and friends to do 50 of something in honour of her birthday, I decided to do one thing. I thought I’d ask David Astle crossword guru to write her a birthday message. I also wanted to get a photo of David and I for the blog and as I was getting ready at the head of the queue my phone went rogue and I was struggling to get the password in and everything was backfiring. However, David kindly obliged and made my day. Well, that was until my next session began.

Well, before I was off to see Meg Keneally, I decided to cruise around actual carriageworks building and view it through the lens. That’s through my Nikon SLR…my third eye.

Evacuate…My Plans Go Off Script.

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However, my visions were suddenly disturbed by a robotic announcement to “evacuate”. It seemed like the scene of a movie and having not been in an office environment for some time, I’ve missed out on the joy of fire drills, false alarms but have become well-versed in terrorist attacks. In hindsight, there were no explosions, sounds of bullets, screams etc which would signal serious trouble, but I was taking the evacuation seriously, especially as the entire building was evacuated and sessions interrupted. I asked a volunteer about the cause, because the nature of the cause would determine my response but all too quickly a fire engine came and went and sessions were resumed.

Meg Keneally – Fled

Next, I was off to see Meg Keneally who was discussing her first solo novel: Fled. I am very keen to approach Meg as an author in her own right without leaving her in the shadow of her famous and very talented father, Tom. Yet, at the same time, she also grew up under his wing and Dad was not only a story writer, but also a storyteller. Meg spoke about going on an extended family road trip in the US when she was six or seven. “We were van-schooled and part of that was Dad constantly spinning yarns, and one of those was about Mary Bryant.” Not surprisingly, I’ll wait til I’ve read the book to review it. However, I just wanted to mention that I ran into Meg as her father was doing book signings next to David Astle. She was very down to earth and approachable and thoroughly lovely.

Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Result

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Looks like we had quite a spark, but a spark of what?

Now, we’re onto an old pal of mine, Graeme Simsion author of the Rosie Series. Graeme is no stranger at Beyond the Flow, even if I am a stranger to him. You see, with almost 3000 views, my post asking: Who Is Don Tillman?…The Rosie Project Uncovered. is my most viewed post by a country mile.

Anyway, as I arrive for our session, I spot Graeme Simsion chatting with the audience and said a big hello as though he was my long-lost best friend. After all, the Rosie Project keeps popping up in my list of favourite posts and my stats often include a couple of views. It’s always there like a good friend. So, he looks at me with a rather searching expression, and asks if he knows me because clearly, I know him! That’s when I say we went out for dinner. Or, was it more along the lines of I went to dinner with you and after I recovered from my awkwardness managed to mention Mandy from Book Bazaar who organized for him to speak over dinner. I’m not usually one to gush over celebrities, but I was really looking forward to meeting him. I’d not only loved the first two books in the series, they were very personal and approachable and drew me right inside the mind and life of Don Tillman to such an extent that I had to ask: Was Graeme Simsion actually Don? After all, the book was written in the first person and I found it really hard to divorce the author from his creation.

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However, that was then and this is now. We’re now up to the Rosie Result where Rosie and Don’s son, Hudson, is now eleven and in Grade 6 at school. This is the last year of primary school here in Australia. Hudson is struggling particularly after they move back to Australia and the teacher has a chat suggesting they get him assessed. He might be on the Autism Spectrum.

Much of this talk addressed the issues Simsion faced writing about a character, indeed, a family on the Autism Spectrum. Through this process, he decided to have himself assessed. This was quite a confronting process and what concerned him most about being diagnosed, was the people would think he didn’t care. Now, he didn’t say that with the voice of a robot, but rather a cry from the heart calling out to be accepted, understood and not written off without giving him a chance. Put the ruler on the page and emphatically cross Graeme Simpsion out. It really helped me realize how careful we have to be with all human beings and to treasure people for the complex creations which we are, without being blinded by what Google does or doesn’t day.He also addressed the issue of whether kids can grow out of Autism, which is said to be a lifelong condition and he was strongly on the side of making our communities more diverse and inclusive than making Autistic people change. That said, all of us go through a socialization process growing up and science has also discovered a lot about neuroplasticity and it seems on one hand we’re telling people on the Autism Spectrum that they can’t change and we’re telling everyone else how you can rewire your brain both in good and negative ways.

By the way, when I opened up the book on the train heading home, he’d written: “Be Yourself”. I know he probably wrote that in everybody’s book, but it really struck me in the heart in such a profound and emotional way. He obviously has a lot of interaction with the Autism community, but this is very true for me too. I was born with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain which was undiagnosed but not entirely inactive until I was 25. I’ve had a shunt put in and it’s made a huge difference but there are still residual quirks and I doubt I was ever going to be a regular sort anyway. “I’m creative”.

Lastly, as the session drew to a close we had question time and I stuck up my hand. After working on my series of Motivational Quotes for writers writing a book, I wanted to ask him for advice for someone writing their first novel. He basically said you have approach it like a neurosurgeon. I thought that was quite funny, because I’ve actually had brain surgery and have been on the receiving end of that.

Have you been to the Sydney Writers’ Festival? Who did you see? Or, perhaps you’ve been to a writers’ festival closer to home? How was it? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin Continue reading

Cooking Like A Masterchef.

As I’ve mentioned before, Australia’s First Masterchef, Julie Goodwin and her radio co-host “Rabbit”, arrived somewhat announced at my place with a meal last week… as well as a signed copy of Julie’s latest cookbook…Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook.

Naturally, I wanted to cook a meal from Julie’s cookbook.

Well, actually I wanted to bake a dessert (or two, or three!!!)

However, being a parent and needing to role model nutritional and healthy eating, I launched off with a meal.

I don’t know about you, but choosing what to make for dinner every night causes me serious apoplexy. Indeed, my usual speedy, intelligent mind goes completely blank in what could only be described as “Cook’s Block”. Desperately seeking inspiration, I often end up staring through the butcher shop window like a starving mutt looking for the meaning of life, or at least dinner.

In the last week, this daily quest transferred to Julie’s cookbook. I really enjoyed reading the intro and picking up tips and feeling like I was still talking to Julie in my kitchen. However, I think it might’ve been the ghost of Rabbit coming back to haunt me. There was this loud chastising voice booming in my ear: “You’ve done enough reading. Stop talking. I’m hungry. Where’s dinner? Ten minutes to go…”

Actually, it wasn’t Rabbit. It was the kids. They were sick of staring at an empty plate!

Well, I finally decided on a recipe.

Last night, I made Julie’s Thai-Style Chicken Burgers (pg 75) for dinner, followed by her Apple Crumble Slice (pg 262) for dessert .

However, before I could power up the stove, I was off to the supermarket…ingredients.

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Due to my health issues, my husband usually does the big weekly shop. However, I set out to buy the ingredients for Julie’s meal all by myself. This wouldn’t have been an issue if I was sticking to the baking aisle. Fish sauce? Not an ingredient in your average chocolate cake. As for chilli…Don’t talk to me about chilli. Fresh chilli terrifies me after our local Thai takeaway redefined “mild”.  As for “Kewpie Mayonnaise”, I remember seeing Kewpie Dolls at the Royal Sydney Easter Show, but what did they have to do with mayonnaise? Not much.

I was pondering these challenges, when my phone rang. Lady, our Border Collie x Cavalier x Houdini had got out. That meant, a race through the supermarket and mad dash home.

That meant another trip back to the supermarket and Kewpie mayonnaise remained a mystery.

Kewpie Mayonnaise

While recipe books are pretty good with providing preparation times for meals, they don’t tell you how long it’s going to take you to find the ingredients. By this I’m not only talking about doing the shopping, but also delving through the flotsam and jetsam in the kitchen pantry. After all, most of us don’t have a “Tupperware Pantry”. Indeed, my pantry could well be described as a “mystery box” along with the fridge.

So, by the time I’d sorted the dog out, I was onto my fourth shop chasing ingredients. That’s not because I didn’t have a list and kept having to dash back again. It was just the usual thing of my day stop-starting and it wasn’t helped when the chicken shop had run out of chicken mince. The butcher came to my rescue again.

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So after hunting down minced chicken and doing the Kewpie mayonnaise victory dance, I was back home. Time to get the show on the road. Not that I had any film crews filming me. I might be cooking from the Masterchef’s cookbook, but I’m not Julie Goodwin and no one’s filming yours truly in action. This could well be a good thing because I could get the Health Department closing my beloved kitchen down. As I’ve mentioned before, I cook like  the Swedish Chef from The Muppets and the inspectors don’t like seeing raw chicken flying around, even if the dogs do clean it up afterwards.

Actually, even I’m very careful cooking with this raw chicken mince and am wearing disposable gloves. There’s no way I could touch the raw chicken with my bare hands. For me, this is the equivalent of an arachnophobe trying to embrace incy wincy spider. Erk!

On that note, my daughter who has been chopping the coriander recoils at the smell of the fish sauce. As complication builds on complication, I wonder whether Julie faces any of these hurdles when she cooks at home. However, after listening to Julie on the radio, I know she’s very human and her family is real.

I’m mixing things together and I must admit I added half the red curry paste and sort of “forgot” to add the fresh chilli…just in case. Once you add heat to a dish, it’s impossible to extract. So, this being my first attempt at Julie’s Thai chicken burgers, I added half the stated amount of red curry paste, but will add the full amount next time. It seems Julie’s chilli-meter is well-calibrated and well-suited to my palate.

The only points I would add to Julie’s notes, is to be really careful cooking with raw chicken. With mixing multiple ingredients into the raw chicken mince, you can’t go touching other stuff.  You need to have everything else set up first. Indeed, in future I’ll put everything else in the bowl first and add the mince last next time. Being conscious of food safety issues, especially when using raw chicken, it’s not being mysophobic. It’s critical.

Fast-forwarding, we’ve squished our mince mix into patties, fried them on the stove, spread our mayonnaise mix on our brioche buns, sprinkled chopped coriander leaves over the patty and added the lettuce.

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An endangered species…the chicken patty was out of the frying pan and straight down the hatch.

It’s hard to describe how something tastes. A better indication is how much is leftover at the end of the meal and are there any scavengers (other than the dogs) chasing leftovers? My kids are very fussy eaters. It’s a rare that my daughter even finishes her meal, let alone asks for seconds and she was almost hoovering the chicken burger off her plate. She also polished off a small leftover patty. You couldn’t get a better endorsement.

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Meanwhile, after polishing off the burgers, I was peeling and chopping apples while watching Masterchef for Julie’s Apple Crumble Slice.

More yum!

All but straight out of the oven, I cut the slice into civilized squares, which were soon by-passed in preference for double-servings all round (except our daughter who’d filled up on the burger). This slice is deliciously moist with a scrumptious crunchy top. Moreover, with all that apple inside, you can appease your conscience. It’s healthy.

We’ll be doing this meal again next week, although I’ll be doubling the chicken burger mix.

You can never have too much of a good thing!

Have you ever tried making any of Julie Goodwin’s recipes? Even if you’re overseas, you can still check out her web site and try making something wherever you are. You too can cook and eat like an Australian.

xx Rowena

PS Oops! The Apple Crumble Slice mysteriously vanished before photographs could be taken. The photographer succumbed to temptation.

PPS I just had a phone call from my Mum. I sent her home with the last piece of Apple Crumble Slice. Here’s her verdict: “Never tasted anything quite like that. Quite perfect by itself. Unique. No idea how you’ve made it. Didn’t need anything with it…other than a cup of tea.

 

“Weekend” Coffee Share 15th May, 2017.

Greetings and Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

It’s now Monday arvo here just North of Sydney, Australia and I’m having to get a wriggle on because the linky closes in one hour and nine minutes. Well, that nine minutes probably just dried up while I’ve been tweaking so I’d better hurry up.

Anything, I have much to celebrate this week and I’m not just talking about Mothers’ Day, although that’s a great place to get started. Why not go backwards through the week for a change?

So, Happy Mothers’ Day. I know it’s a bit late, but I hope you had a great day  or are enjoying the tail end of it. At the same time, I am mindful that Mothers’ Day is also a time of reflection, grief or even raw anger for many and my thoughts are particularly with you. I get how special days can really exacerbate those emotions.

We had a great Mothers’ Day, which was completely unplanned and spontaneous. The kids made us French Croissant Toast, where you slice croissants in half and dunk them in an egg and cream custard with a bit of added lemon zest and thyme. They were very scrumptious indeed (quite aside from the thrill of the kids cooking for us!!) Balloon Bag

I also had an unexpected surprise when my son launched a shopping bag with a Mothers’ Day card in it into the clouds, trying a bunch of helium balloons to the handle. The bag looked amazing as it flew steadily upwards, looking very much like a hot air balloon and gondola in miniature. I wonder if anyone found it?

Late afternoon, I spotted some striking clouds and headed down to the beach with my camera. I really enjoyed that short afternoon walk while mesmerizing over the clouds.

Yet, as I mentioned, we had an amazing week and Mothers’ Day was just the icing on the cake.

On Monday morning, the local radio station Star FM, turned up as my place as expected to give me my prize. I listen to their breakfast show every morning while driving the kids around, which is hosted by Rabbit and Australia’s first Masterchef, Julie Goodwin, who has recently put out a new cookbook. Their visit followed up a blogpost I wrote after they visited my daughter’s school. I am a serious Julie Goodwin fan and was unashamedly gushing when I presented her with my copy of her first cookbook for signing.

Anyway, I’d mentioned that Julie had never turned up at my place with a meal in that post and that’s why they were here on Monday. Julie had made me her Butter Chicken and we were off to the kitchen to make a salad together for the cameras.

They posted this video of their visit on their Facebook page, which has already had over 6,000 views: Rowena & the Masterchef

Anyway, I just received a phone call from my daughter’s school saying she’s sick and needs to be picked up. Humph! She goes to school 45 minutes away so that’s me gone for awhile. I’ll come back and tweak this later.

xx Rowena

Masterchef: Julie Goodwin’s, Essential Cookbook.

As I’ve mentioned often enough, Julie Goodwin, Australia’s 1st Masterchef, made a surprise visit to our home on Monday to drop off a meal and a copy of her latest cookbook, Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook.

So, I thought you might like to join me as I flick through the cookbook and choose something to cook. After all, she didn’t just give it to me  to be nice. Or, to be framed and sent “straight to the pool room”. It was to be used.

Used and even abused.

Indeed, Julie gave me carte blanche to all but destroy the book during the cooking process. Apparently, she loves to see a well-used book,which could well have sampled a few meals itself. For better or worse, my personal cooking style was inspired by the Swedish chef from the Muppet Show back in the 80s. So, this poor book could well be in for a smorgasbord of splattered delight…

Although Julie needs little introduction here in Australia, I thought I’d better introduce her to those further afield.

Julie Goodwin is many things.Every morning when I listen to Julie on the radio, I’m struck by her infectious laugh which jolts me out of the morning’s challenges. Julie has a real depth and sincerity, and I know I’ve only glimpsed the edges of that. Right from her first appearances on Masterchef, she’s worn her heart on her sleeve. Her love of her family and being their Mum, radiate from her heart. You can tell how much she loves and cares for people, and that cooking and food is all part of that. There is no divide. So many of us who cook for our families, feel the same. That there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal. It’s infused with love.

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So when Julie gave me her cookbook, she was also sharing the joy of cooking and sitting around a table laden with scrumptious offerings laughing and chatting with family and friends. Cooking and eating great meals, are joys to be shared, and not to be kept to yourself…top secret.

In her introduction, Julie explains why she put this cookbook together:

“The point I find myself at at the moment is as the parent of three boys who are new adults. They are all still at home right now but I guess the clock is ticking, and although I have taught them what cooking knowledge I could over the years I feel an almost desperate need to get all the important recipes, information and tips together so that when they go, they’re set.

That’s what this book is for. It’s a collection of everything I think is important to know in order to be able to nourish yourself and the people you love; it’s the recipes that bring back childhood memories for myself and my kids;it’s the little bits of kitchen wisdom that have been handed down through generations, or passed on from friends, or discovered by accident or through trial and error. It’s the book I want my books to have when they have families of their own.”

My Mother-in-law did the same thing for Geoff when he moved out of home and we still have a much treasured cookbook she put together for him in an exercise book. I also have detailed recipes my grandmother sent my Mum. One even included a snippet about the birth of a friend’s baby. I have cooked with my own kids both as a bonding experience and to teach them practical life skills. It actually takes quite a lot of smarts to put together a great meal.

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So, after enjoying  Julie’s Butter Chicken on Monday night (thank you Julie!!), I decided to cook something from her cookbook on Tuesday night.

Something…

With 300 pages of recipes to choose from and possibly two recipes per page, I was bamboozled by choice.

Where to start?

Of course, my sweet tooth went straight to Baking and Desserts. I’m already making plans to bake her Flourless Chocolate Cake on page 250. Actually, I just spotted a recipe for Chocolate Fondant on page 287. I’ve been wanting to try making one of those for years, along with tiramisu, but have never had the guts. Not because I can’t cook. Rather, it’s the paralyzing perfectionist in me. That stupid fear of making a mistake, which stops me from lifting my wooden spoon. Indeed, I use it to beat myself up instead.

Well, it doesn’t stop me entirely. I obviously have to feed the family and every year when Masterchef starts up, my home cooking goes up a zillion notches. The other day, for example, I made pan fried perch with lemon and raspberry, a dash of honey and sprinkled with macadamia nuts…just something I threw together.

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Hasselback Potato.

So, rather than being ambitious, I started with something simple…Hasselback Potatoes on page 192. Actually, with my fine motor challenges, these potatoes, which have horizontal slices 2 mm apart, could’ve been more challenging than the fondant. However, aside from chopping off a few pieces, all went well. I poured the mix of melted butter and oil over the potatoes and threw them in the oven. They emerged with a scrumptious crunchy crust, but soft in the middle.

Wow! Those potatoes were so good. We ate them as finger food like a row of scalloped, potato chips.

Indeed, we loved them so much, I swapped them for our usual roast potatoes. I’m doing a roast lamb tonight. Sorry, Julie, I went AWOL on the roast and did my own thing.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the footage of Julie and Rabbit’s visit to our place, you can see it here: Rabbit & Julie Goodwin Visit Rowena

If you would like to try some of Julie’s recipes or purchase her cookbook, please visit her web site: Julie Goodwin

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to MY big day tomorrow and arrival of the fairies during the night.

xx Rowena

PS I thought you all might also want to check out Rabbit’s new cookbook as well in these very entertaining clips. As much as I love Rabbit and did pass on one of my own recipes, I am concerned he’s trying a bit too hard: Rabbit Tells Julie about his cookbook on air and Rabbit & Julie:The Battle of the Cookbook Signings

Rowena & the Radio Stars.

Well, on Monday morning, I had a bit of fun trading places. Instead of being behind the lens looking out, I was being filmed, inspected and watched under the microscope.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our local radio station Star FM arrived at my place on Monday morning. While I was expecting breakfast radio host Rabbit to turn up, it was quite a surprise when his co-host, Julie Goodwin, Australia’s first Masterchef, pulled up in our driveway in her gorgeously cute white mini.

Wow!

That wasn’t the only surprise.

Indeed, we were off to make a salad together in MY kitchen.

Cooking with Julie

Talking salad with Julie.

Phew! Thank goodness I was prepared. Geoff had anticipated something like this and warned me about the kitchen. So, when it was looking like I was going to need an orbital sander to remove the black ring around the hotplate, I persisted. Pulled out the big guns…Gumption, the green scourer and pure unadulterated elbow grease. Wow! My stove top could now appear in a commercial.

Or, indeed, on the radio station’s web site.

I also thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t wearing my pink, fluffy slippers.

The dogs are complaining bitterly about being left out. After going through the torturous bathing process, they feel a bit ripped off . Bilbo is particularly grumpy after trying so hard to be nice. (He’s seemingly forgotten, that he was barking so much, that he was removed from the opening scenes.)

Anyway, of course, I had to share this with you. No doubt, it will be quite weird for you to actually see me in person and hear my voice for the first time. I’d love to know what that’s like for you. After exchanging posts and comments with some of you for years without meeting, it’s actually rather exciting that you’re stepping into my real world, after being in my cyber one for so long.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

In case you’re wanting to follow this story through from start to finish…I wrote a post on my blog about meeting Rabbit and Julie Goodwin when Star 104.5 broadcast from my daughter’s school. In that post, I mentioned that as much as Julie had been there for me throughout the years, she’d never brought me a meal. That was until Monday morning when Julie pulled up in my driveway with butter chicken, rice and a salad for dinner. Go Julie! The radio station filmed the whole thing and posted the footage on their Facebook page tonight. It’s already had 964 views…amazing.

You can read more about their visit Here and Bilbo’s view of it all Here Bilbo had quite a lot to say.

I hope you enjoy it!

xx Rowena

Here’s a link to Julie’s recipe for Butter Chicken.

Working Class Boy-Jimmy Barnes.

This morning, I finally finished reading Jimmy Barnes’s harrowing memoir: Working Class Boy. As much as I could write about the book, Jimmy Barnes summed up his reasons for writing the book so well:

“I want people to read this because I know there are other people out there, just like me. People who think they’re alone in life and that their cards have been dealt and that there is nothing they can do to change anything. That’s how I felt too for a long, long time. I nearly killed myself because of it. But now I know there’s always time for change and there’s always a better path. You just have to look for it.

This book was my first real step in looking for hope.

Peace and love

Jimmy”[1]

In many ways, Working Class Boy echoes Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and it has been a great read with meaningful insights on living with adversity. Jimmy’s world was brutal. Not that he throws blame. It was what it was and he shares that journey with a dark wit and philosophical insight you’d hope for from a songwriter, who releases the cry of the heart through music. Working Class Boy covers the ins and outs of his tough and brutal childhood and is something of a prelude to his second book, which will cover his career.

family-with-jimmy-barnes

Our family meeting Jimmy Barnes at our local bookshop, Book Bazaar.

Jimmy Barnes was born as James Swan on the  28th April 1956 in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, Scotland and went on to find success as the front man for Australian rock band Cold Chisel. From there, he has also had  a very successful career as a solo artist.  He grew up in a violent, impoverished family where his father blew his pay packet on alcohol, leaving his mother scratching to feed the family with whatever she could find. Not that she was an angel.  She could throw a punch along with the best of them and was as tough as nails. He writes:

“Mum was tough, too. Sometimes I think that she thought she was tougher than Dad, which might have been a mistake. When she physically fought with my dad after he came home drunk with no money to feed us, she was the one who wouldn’t back down. She would throw herself at him, hitting him with anything she could get her hands on. Night after night she was the one who ended up battered and bruised on the floor, not him. But she just kept getting up.[2]

She even did childbirth tough:

“I was born in that very kitchen. My granny made my mum scrub the floor with a brush to take her mind of the contractions. It killed two birds with one stone. She didn’t notice the pain as much as she had a clean floor. [3]

In 1962, when Jimmy was 6 years old, his family immigrated to Australia settling in Adelaide. Unfortunately, things for the family didn’t improve with a change of scenery and their battles continued. His mother left his father but finally returned marrying Reg Barnes, the guardian angel who stepped in and loved those children like his own.

Yet, his demons pursued him and he was gripped with fear. He takes us into this space throughout the book but most poignantly in the Prologue:

“From the moment I start to drink, I feel absolutely nothing. When I first started taking drugs and drinking, I found the fear that had filled me since I was small almost disappeared. The fear of not being wanted. The fear of letting my guard down. The fear of letting anyone in. The fear of being found out. The fear of not being worthy. The fear of looking into my own eyes. It was gone. All of it. As long as I stayed smashed.[4]

While the book definitely delves into his dark side, there was also love joy, and family and it wasn’t all bad. There does seem to be a glimmer of hope there somewhere, which may just be the fact we know “Barnsy”not only survived but also had a great career and family. He became a success.

So, the book has a very strong tension between the public success of his music career juxtaposed against a brutal childhood Barnes was blessed to survive. It is probably this tension which gives the book much of its force a long with Barnsy’s down to earth, personable wit. After all, you feel like you’re sitting down having a yarn together as you read his story and get to know the man inside the rock legend.

book-signing-jimmy-barnes

At the book signing.

While I would recommend Working Class Boy to anyone, I would particularly recommend it to men battling with depression or adversity. Despite its horrors, it really is an uplighting story of success against incredible odds…a great Christmas gift.

Have you read Working Class Boy or have a Cold Chisel of Barnsy story? I’d  love to hear from you.

xx Rowena

 References

[1] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2016 p 358.

[2] Ibid p. 11.

[3] Ibid p 13.

[4] Ibid p I.

Jimmy Barnes: What do you Say when you meet a rock legend?

This morning, we rocked into our local bookshop to meet Australian rock legend, Jimmy Barnes,  lead singer of Australian rock band, Cold Chisel. Jimmy’s just recently released his memoir: Working Class Boy. (By the way, as I read those lines out in my head, I’m hearing the voice of Molly Meldrum,  the inimitable host of music show Countdown back in the day.)

So, what do you say when you meet a rock legend and you’re way too old to even think about throwing your underwear anywhere but the dirty clothes basket? When you’re visiting your local bookshop and meeting him as an AUTHOR…a rock legend in a different guise.

I’m not there as a gushing groupie but as a reader who loves his writing and is madly underlining bits throughout his book and loving his writing style as much as his storytelling abilities.

autograph-jimmy-barnes

Indeed, meeting Jimmy Barnes the author is a long way from singing  “cheap wine and a three-day growth” at the top of my lungs at  Schoolies’ Week,  Surfers Paradise back in the Summer of 1987.

Rather, through the book I’m meeting James Swan, the little boy behind the legend. A little boy growing up on the battlefields of Glasgow as a “working class boy”.

To be perfectly honest, while reading his story , compassion was swelling inside my heart wanting to burst its banks.  I wanted to hug that boy, stick a bandaid on his heart and do want mothers do to make their own kids feel better. I also wanted to tell that young boy that it’s going to be okay. That he’s going to find his way out. That despite the war and violence of his childhood, that he will find a place beyond numbing his soul. That while he mightn’t completely escape his battle scars,  that he will find love, family and some kind of peace…along with the trappings of being “Jimmy Barnes” and Cold Chisel.

As he said: “Life’s good…I’m fit, I’m healthy, I’m doing yoga – who would have thought? Yoga and medication … I mean meditation! And the family’s great, Jane’s great. And I think I’m singing better than I’ve ever sung…” https://www.jimmybarnes.com/biography/

Not unsurprisingly, Australian actor and author, Magda Szubanksi described Working Class Boy as: “Viseral, brave, honest: it’s like Angela’s Ashes  meets Trainspotting– only more brutal. A deep, guttural  howl of a book, it speaks of the pain and hurt that haunt so many men. And it may just save lives”.

I sure hope so because I know there are many of us who’ve yearned to feel numb. Stop the unending anguish and feel nothing at all.

Jimmy writes: “When I first started taking drugs and drinking, I found the fear that had filled me since I was small almost disappeared. The fear of not being wanted. The fear of letting my guard down. The fear of letting anyone in. The fear of being found out. The fear of not being worthy. The fear of looking into my own eyes. It was gone. All of it. As long as I stayed smashed. [1]

Reading the book, my heart is breaking. Forget that he grows up to become one Australia’s greatest ever rock legends with legions of fans. He was once a boy battling on the streets of Glasgow where violence was a way of life. Indeed, they lived and breathed violence.

How could anyone survive this?

I know what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger but hey, these days we think twice before letting our kids ride their bikes on the streets or go to the park… even if we’re with them. We read aloud to them every night and keep telling them we love them. We might also tuck our kids into bed a night, kiss them on the cheek and wish them sweet dreams. It’s not a perfect world and domestic violence is huge. Life is no picnic for many families in Australia now, but that wasn’t my childhood. My Dad was my hero who could save me from anything and anyone and my Mum was mild-mannered. Wouldn’t throw a look at someone else, let alone a punch.

However, there’s no bubble wrap on the streets of Cowcaddens, Glasgow.

If you are old enough to remember the chilling murder of two year old James Bulger[2] by two ten year old boys, you can’t help seeing the similarities with what Jimmy survived. When he was four “myself and another kid of about the same age made the mistake of walking out of our street into the next without an escort.[3]”  “Next thing I knew I was running as fast as I could, dodging a hail of rocks and glass, but I got away. My friend was still frozen and couldn’t move at all. They pelted him with rocks and bottles until they were bored and then they cut him up and set fire to the shelter. He ended up in hospital for a long time…Was life in Scotland that bad that even little kids had no chance? It seemed no one had a chance.[4]

Jimmy’s world was brutal. Not that he throws blame. It was what it was and he shares that journey with a dark wit and the philosophical insights you’d hope for from a songwriter, who releases the cry of the heart through music.

So, what did I say to Jimmy?

Well, before I get to that, let me tell you what’s been running round inside my head in the lead up.

I’d been told that they’re trying to get 200 people through the bookshop in 2 hours and when I said I was thinking of bringing down my son’s guitar for a photo, it was suggested that was a bit over the top and that it was going to be a very fleeting meet and greet.

queing-for-jimmy-barnes

Queuing up to see Jimmy Barnes at Book Bazaar.

So, I was intrigued about what, if anything, I would pick up about Jimmy Barnes the person when he was just a face, a signature and the next person was literally breathing down my neck and the “queue Police” would have me out the door before I’d even smiled for the camera.

Obviously I wasn’t expecting much. I mean…how can you connect with someone in seconds? And besides, we’re talking about an uber-famous King of Rock. Sure, I might be reviewing his book for my blog but aside from my long lens, I was a nobody in a very long line of nobodies.

BUT…!!!

I had read some of his book and that made me A READER. It seems even Jimmy Barnes appreciates his readers. Values someone who isn’t just there for an autograph and a selfie, but has actually stepped inside the cover and read his story.

book-signing-jimmy-barnes

Jimmy Barnes signing our books.

So, what did I say? What did I say?

So, as he’s signing our book and the queue cop has doubled as a photographer capable of handling my Nikon SLR without flinching (they always have to ask me where the button is), yours truly doesn’t address Jimmy Barnes the rock legend but Jimmy Barnes the boy and says:

“As I was reading your book, I wanted to hug the boy. Give him a matchbox car. Something. “

I should’ve been embarrassed about my gush of emotion but since I’ve never been the cool kid, why start now?

Then, Jimmy looked up at me. Looked me right in my eyes making contact. Not just eye contact, but that experience of two souls meeting and said: “we survived”.

My husband Geoff said that once he saw that I’d read the book and spoke to him from the heart, his whole demeanour changed. I shook his hand and there was warmth, personality and a moment just between the two of us. So, it was there in a crowded bookshop in a long and winding queue, that I knew that I’d really met Jimmy Barnes.

I feel so blessed.

Do you have any memories of Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel? I’d love to hear them. I will be following this up with a more detailed review soon but if you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts and any links.

xx Rowena

Here are a few of my favourite songs:

Sources

[1] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney. P. 1.

[2] James Patrick Bulger (16 March 1990 – 12 February 1993) was a boy from Kirkby, Merseyside, England, who was murdered on 12 February 1993, at the age of two. He was abducted, tortured and murdered by two ten-year-old boys https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger.

[3] Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Boy, Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney, 2016 p. 17.

[4] Ibid p. 18.

Jimmy Barnes Official Web Site: https://www.jimmybarnes.com/

On Being A Cartoonist- Leunig

“I give thanks for the fact that I can get this stick with a bit of steel nib on the end, dip it in some black carbon stuff, and draw on paper. Now, people did it the same way 2,000 years ago. And there’s something lovely about that play, and making mud pies and a mess. That’s a lovely privilege.”

– Michael Leunig, Australian Cartoonist.

I was thrilled to bits to hearing Michael  Leunig speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Indeed, I actually caught the lift with Leunig on the way to the session and of course, yours truly was gushing unlimited praise all over the poor guy, without so much as offering as umbrella. How rude!  He must’ve been soaked by the time he got out.
You can read about it here: Catching The Lift With Leunig.
Leunig signature
By the way, if you’ve never read Leunig poems and cartoons, you’re really missing out and you can duck over to his website  and click on Works. I promise…no regrets just mind-blowing morsels of inspiration.
Enjoy!
xx Rowena

V: Virginia Woolf Replies: A Letter To A Young Poet

 

for my part I do not believe in poets dying; Keats, Shelley, Byron are alive here in this room in you and you and you — I can take comfort from the thought that my hoping will not disturb their snoring.

Virginia Woolf, Letter to A Young Poet.

This letter arrived for me this morning written in Virginia Woolf’s characteristic purple ink.

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and see the fine art of letter writing isn’t dead. Back in my day, I observed:

“The penny post, the old gentleman used to say, has killed the art of letter-writing. Nobody, he continued, examining an envelope through his eye-glasses, has the time even to cross their t’s. We rush, he went on, spreading his toast with marmalade, to the telephone. We commit our half-formed thoughts in ungrammatical phrases to the post card… But when the post came in this morning and I opened your letter stuffed with little blue sheets written all over in a cramped but not illegible hand — I regret to say, however, that several t’s were uncrossed and the grammar of one sentence seems to me dubious — I replied after all these years to that elderly necrophilist — Nonsense. The art of letter-writing has only just come into existence. It is the child of the penny post. And there is some truth in that remark, I think. Naturally when a letter cost half a crown to send, it had to prove itself a document of some importance; it was read aloud; it was tied up with green silk; after a certain number of years it was published for the infinite delectation of posterity. But your letter, on the contrary, will have to be burnt. It only cost three-halfpence to send. Therefore you could afford to be intimate, irreticent, indiscreet in the extreme[1].”

Your human words were much appreciated. These days, I write my words on Autumn leaves, which are promptly read and eaten by the worms. While it might be a much humbler existence, I have finally found peace and stillness in my once turbulent mind. What a relief!

Your series of Letters to Dead Poets accumulating our collective wisdom, enthralls me. What a flood of words, thoughts, feelings are flowing through your pen and this laptop machine you keep tapping away on.

Indeed, you are “ a poet in whom live all the poets of the past, from whom all poets in time to come will spring. You have a touch of Chaucer in you, and something of Shakespeare; Dryden, Pope, Tennyson — to mention only the respectable among your ancestors — stir in your blood and sometimes move your pen a little to the right or to the left. In short you are an immensely ancient, complex, and continuous character, for which reason please treat yourself with respect.[2]

Naturally, I was quite wary about sticking my head above ground again. Even my beloved Leonard, couldn’t save me from this wretched disease and I have found such peace. I couldn’t go back. You’d have to say that filling my pockets with stones and drowning, despite my great love for Leonard and my sister, reflects great determination.

Yet, I’m such a curious soul. When offered the chance to travel into the future, I grabbed it with both hands. I was so relieved to wake up to peace, instead of a living in a battlefield with planes fighting overhead and bombs blowing up homes with their precious families still inside. I still remember seeing the shell of an exploded house. All were dead inside yet a bottle of milk survived unscathed out the front. There was no meaning in any of it. No sense at all.

No doubt, the news that World War II is finally over, will be tempered as further news comes to hand..

However, my first order of business is the theatre. I wanted to catch up with Judith Shakespeare (see A Room With A View) and see whether she finally calls the world  her stage. Indeed, I was most delighted to have tea with Angelina Jolie this morning. Indeed, Miss Jolie embodies all the dreams and hopes Judith Shakespeare ever had. That said, she has also made tough decisions and remained that lighthouse standing tall. I wouldn’t want to follow in all of her footsteps but she has my utmost respect.

Letters to Young Poets

Now that I’ve settled that matter, I wanted to get back to my Letter to Young Poets, which you mentioned. What might have been a little obscured, was that these young poets were not only learning the craft of poetry, but were also from a younger generation who experienced the world through quite a different lens.

Indeed, this letter was ostensibly written to John Lehmann, who was the manager of our Hogarth Press. We had published his first collection of poetry: A Guarde Revisited in September 1931.  However, the letter was also addressed to three other young poets WH Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis and Stephen Spender.

You might not be aware that I received quite a hostile response from Peter Quennell, representing the younger generation. He urged me to empathise with the discontented outlook of the younger generation who “can recall barely five or six summers before “the end of the Ware to end all Wars” He added that the modern poet is “the creature of his social and political setting.[3]

Yet, I was still concerned that collective experience should be the main subject of modern verse.

Prose Writers’ View of the Poet

Although you’re quite the social butterfly and mix with writers from all genres, I thought you’d appreciate  some insights into the novelist’s perspective of the poet. It’s always good to see yourself from an alternative perspective:

“For how, we despised prose writers ask when we get together, could one say what one meant and observe the rules of poetry? Conceive dragging in “blade” because one had mentioned “maid”; and pairing “sorrow” with “borrow”? Rhyme is not only childish, but dishonest, we prose writers say. Then we go on to say, And look at their rules! How easy to be a poet! How strait the path is for them, and how strict! This you must do; this you must not. I would rather be a child and walk in a crocodile down a suburban path than write poetry, I have heard prose writers say. It must be like taking the veil and entering a religious order — observing the rites and rigours of metre. That explains why they repeat the same thing over and over again. Whereas we prose writers (I am only telling you the sort of nonsense prose writers talk when they are alone) are masters of language, not its slaves; nobody can teach us; nobody can coerce us; we say what we mean; we have the whole of life for our province. We are the creators, we are the explorers. . . . So we run on — nonsensically enough, I must admit.

What is a poet?

“On the floor of your mind, then — is it not this that makes you a poet? — rhythm keeps up its perpetual beat. Sometimes it seems to die down to nothing; it lets you eat, sleep, talk like other people. Then again it swells and rises and attempts to sweep all the contents of your mind into one dominant dance. To-night is such an occasion. Although you are alone, and have taken one boot off and are about to undo the other, you cannot go on with the process of undressing, but must instantly write at the bidding of the dance. You snatch pen and paper; you hardly trouble to hold the one or to straighten the other. And while you write, while the first stanzas of the dance are being fastened down, I will withdraw a little and look out of the window. A woman passes, then a man; a car glides to a stop and then — but there is no need to say what I see out of the window, nor indeed is there time, for I am suddenly recalled from my observations by a cry of rage or despair. Your page is crumpled in a ball; your pen sticks upright by the nib in the carpet. If there were a cat to swing or a wife to murder now would be the time. So at least I infer from the ferocity of your expression. You are rasped, jarred, thoroughly out of temper. And if I am to guess the reason, it is, I should say, that the rhythm which was opening and shutting with a force that sent shocks of excitement from your head to your heels has encountered some hard and hostile object upon which it has smashed itself to pieces. Something has worked in which cannot be made into poetry; some foreign body, angular, sharp-edged, gritty, has refused to join in the dance[4]. “

So, I would say that if your children love to dance, that they could well indeed have a poet’s heart.

Advice to Young Poet’s

“And for heaven’s sake, publish nothing before you are thirty.

That, I am sure, is of very great importance. Most of the faults in the poems I have been reading can be explained, I think, by the fact that they have been exposed to the fierce light of publicity while they were still too young to stand the strain. It has shrivelled them into a skeleton austerity, both emotional and verbal, which should not be characteristic of youth. The poet writes very well; he writes for the eye of a severe and intelligent public; but how much better he would have written if for ten years he had written for no eye but his own! After all, the years from twenty to thirty are years (let me refer to your letter again) of emotional excitement. The rain dripping, a wing flashing, someone passing — the commonest sounds and sights have power to fling one, as I seem to remember, from the heights of rapture to the depths of despair. And if the actual life is thus extreme, the visionary life should be free to follow. Write then, now that you are young, nonsense by the ream. Be silly, be sentimental, imitate Shelley, imitate Samuel Smiles; give the rein to every impulse; commit every fault of style, grammar, taste, and syntax; pour out; tumble over; loose anger, love, satire, in whatever words you can catch, coerce or create, in whatever metre, prose, poetry, or gibberish that comes to hand. Thus you will learn to write. But if you publish, your freedom will be checked; you will be thinking what people will say; you will write for others when you ought only to be writing for yourself. And what point can there be in curbing the wild torrent of spontaneous nonsense which is now, for a few years only, your divine gift in order to publish prim little books of experimental verses? To make money? That, we both know, is out of the question. To get criticism? But you friends will pepper your manuscripts with far more serious and searching criticism than any you will get from the reviewers. As for fame, look I implore you at famous people; see how the waters of dullness spread around them as they enter; observe their pomposity, their prophetic airs; reflect that the greatest poets were anonymous; think how Shakespeare cared nothing for fame; how Donne tossed his poems into the waste-paper basket; write an essay giving a single instance of any modern English writer who has survived the disciples and the admirers, the autograph hunters and the interviewers, the dinners and the luncheons, the celebrations and the commemorations with which English society so effectively stops the mouths of its singers and silences their songs.”

Well, you Rowena don’t need to consider all of that. Not that I’d consider you an “old” poet but let’s just say you’re free to publish!

By the way, before I head off, I’ve already seized upon a new subject for one of my legendary essays…the mobile phone. While I’ve heard that texting is “speaking with your fingers” and doesn’t represent the final destruction of the English language, I am not convinced.

Virginia Woolf Grave

Adding fuel to the fire, is the selfie. You wouldn’t believe the thousands who visit my grave leaped in front of my visage with their mobiles mounted on some metal contraption photographing themselves. They no longer come here to see me but to see themselves, their own reflections…a touch of narcissus I suspect.

Anyway, I understand your train is due to depart. Quite a marvel of modern engineering and no smoke and coal dust billowing over the platform.

Keep dancing my friend!

Warm regards,

Virginia Woolf.

Tagore-Dancing Woman

Dancing Woman – Rabindranath Tagore

 References

[1][1] Virginia Woolf “A Letter To A Young Poet” in The Death of the Moth, and other essays.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alice Wood: Virginia Woolf’s Late Cultural Criticism: The Genesis Years.

[4] Ibid.

V:A Letter To Virginia Woolf #atozchallenge

“I see you everywhere,

in the stars,

 in the river,

to me you’re everything that exists;

the reality of everything.”

-Virginia Woolf Night And Day

On March 28, 1942 …seventy five years ago…author Virginia Woolf wrote letters to her beloved husband and sister, put on her overcoat and filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse outside her home in Sussex and drowned herself. Contrary to some of the newspaper reports of the day, according to her note, her suicide was brought on by her mental health struggles and not an inability to cope with the hardship of the war. Read on…

Her body was found three weeks later on April 18, 1941.

  Dear Ms Woolf,

To write, or not to write? That is the question.

Should I be leaving you to rest in peace rather than risk resurrecting the anguish, which stole your life away? Your ”disease” was not a game and as much as I might enjoy writing letters to dead poets, is it fair for me to impose? Break into your peace threatening to cart you off to Whitechapel Road…a place I only knew from the Monopoly board before last night.

No matter how well intentioned I might be, I am a stranger and not the one you cried out to from the very depths: “If anyone could have saved me, it would have been you.”

I am not trying to save you but I don’t want to walk past your grave like you weren’t even there. Indeed, while paddling along this stream to your door, I have read: Flush, A Room of One’s Own and A Letter to A Young Poet. So, although we were once strangers, we have embarked upon that negotiation towards friendship…two women writers being eaten alive by too many unanswered questions.

However, before I could reach any kind of conclusion, words were filling up the page and destiny stepped in. You were meant to be. That was weird, especially when I’m not  sure that you’re a poet, but you were definitely a prose poet and the rest is all semantics.

So how are you?

I cast my question out into a slow flowing stream with my characteristic awkwardness and after a few false starts, the float is bobbing up and down in the current as I await your reply. It is a picturesque country scene and the stream  meanders through weeping willows and English grass so bright I need shades. Of course, my camera has been a thorough glutton devouring everything in sight on this trip. We’re accustomed to a “sunburnt” land.

Of course, for you, there is no such thing as a simple question. You would need some time to pause and consider your response. Perhaps, you have gone to Oxbridge. Or, you’re at the British Museum, ploughing through that huge stack of books looking for answers. You might even consult Mary Beaton. Or, let  Lady Winchilsea speak on your behalf. She had quite a way with words:

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,

Such an intruder on the rights of men,

Such a presumptuous creature, is esteemed,

The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.

They tell us we mistake our sex and way;

Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play

Are the accomplishments we should desire;

To write, or read, or think, or to inquire

Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,

And interrupt the conquests of our prime;

Whilst the dull manage of a servile house

Is held by some our outmost art, and use.

 Introduction, Lady Winchilsea

 

By the way, when I asked you how you are, it was really more of a social convention. You didn’t need to write me an essay so long, that it’s become a book. Indeed, I’ll need a room of my own and independent means to have the time to read it.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf.

Ms Woolf, I am writing to you because for so many years I took your words to heart:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”-Virginia Woolf

How I’ve longed for a room of my own overlooking the beach with the waves rolling in and crashing on the rocks below!. Indeed, I used to have that room once upon a time in the now mythical land of Whale Beach. Unfortunately, it’s long been lost and buried in the sand, just like Atlantis. Indeed, it now feels like a dream…

There’s a street light shining down the other end of the beach and a stream of light slithered like a snake through the surf mesmerising and luring me away from the blank page like the Pied Piper. I wasted so much time thinking the quest for love was all there was and nothing else mattered. My sense of self went up and down the waves and the tide like a helpless piece of driftwood without any kind of anchor. As much as I could stretch my wings and fly in that room of my own, I was alone.

I didn’t understand just how precious those hours were back then. I do now.

beach wide angle 2

I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.

Kahlil Gibran: Sand & Foam

However, I have also longed for that room of my own, that much needed oasis where I could write and even hear my whispering thoughts without competing with the ugly din of TV, fighting kids and barking dogs.

So, I did what any dreamer does when the outside gets a little tricky, I retreated within. Built a room inside my head. Indeed, it was a Kombi and especially in the midst of utter disaster and despair, we would head up North to Byron Bay and I’d run through the sun chasing butterflies.

Fortunately, the clouds lifted and the disease which has been stalking me like a crazy possessive lover for the last ten years, has left me alone. Well, not entirely alone but his shadow has retreated out through the back door and is crouched on a distant hill. I’m hoping he’s run out of manoeuvres and I’ve finally won but I’m staying vigilant. Reminding myself that even though things are going well, I still need to take precautions. Be prepared.

So, now my view of the room has changed and I no longer need or necessarily believe that a writer, regardless of gender, needs a room of their own to write fiction or any other genre. Rather, there is so much to be gained from rich, complex and nourishing relationships that you simply cannot experience in a room of your own.  Moreover, as a lover of the wings of a butterfly, the rich beauty of a rose and basking in the sun under an azure sky, I’d rather be outdoors. Liberated!

Mummy & Amelia

An extraordinary moment.

I also have to ask whether it is truly necessary for a writer to be a single person and not experience an ongoing, intimate relationship without being forced to hang up their pen, computer or quill. Is it possible to love and be loved and still be a writer? Taking that relationship further, dare a writer male or female have children? Or, must these be also sacrificed to the cause as well?  Is the muse an all-consuming beast and the writer is but its inglorious host?

Well, being something of a glutton myself, I am trying to have my cake and eat it too.

So, I personally believe “the room of your own” needs a re-think. After all, while it has solitude, it is missing so much! There are no other people, no affectionate tail-wagging dogs sleeping on your feet. There is no one bringing you a cup of tea and calling you ”darling” and wrapping their arms right around you like a vine and drawing you close enough to feel their heart beating next to yours and all that entails. There’s  no one who cares whether you live, die or whether your train was delayed and you were late for work. Or, how the muse whispered in your ear and the words flowed through your pen and onto the page in a never-ending glorious stream.

Personally, I find there’s nothing like standing with your feet anchored in the wet sand as the waves roll into the shore. Meanwhile, you’re watching your children carving out engineering masterpieces trying to contain that great uncontrollable force…the sea. I watch them through my camera lens soaking up their delight and also my daughter’s intense fear and avoidance as the waves roll in and her little feet run up onto dry sand and stay put.

Those days were very precious and have slipped through my fingertips like sands through the hour glass.

While it’s easy to focus on all the “losses” sustained when a woman embarks on Marriage, Mortgage,Kids” , it is very easy to overlook the “gains”. While that all might sound incredibly mushy and more like something a grandmother might say, my children have actually extended me at least as much as they have clipped my wings. This includes taking up the violin which I’ve now been playing for four years and taking up skiing, despite having a chronic life-threatening disease and mobility issues. Possibly even more challenging, have been all the challenges involved in being a “Scout Mum”. Trust me, this is no passive support role. Rather, I’ve had to drive to remote locations and find their tents in the rain bumbling through the dark while helping them carry their gear. It’s meant having to empty and inspect my son’s backpack with him after funnel web spiders had been found in bags and I thought two sets of eyes were definitely better than one. Probably the most challenging thing for me, has been helping them to pack their bags for camp. Although they’re provided with a very easy to follow packing list, even this can be too much for us some times.

On one hand, you could say all these other activities are distracting me from my writing. That being a writer and indeed taking that leap towards becoming a best-selling critically acclaimed writer, takes focus. Absolute focus and not all these detours all over the countryside driving Mum’s Taxi.

Yellow taxi

However, to become a writer, you must have something to write about. Taken literally, you can argue the mere act of writing makes you a writer but that’s not the sort of writer we’re talking about, is it? We’re talking about writers pursuing the Holy Grail. We’re going straight for the jackpot, the gold medal and not settling for silver or bronze. Being the Shakespeare of our generation…no less!

That’s why we often do a deal with the devil and follow the muse straight over the edge. Go too far.

Perhaps, I’ve been doing that a bit too much myself lately. Locking myself away in my cave writing letters to dead poets while my kids are at home on school holidays. I should be spending time with them. I want to spend time with them but then the muse comes along and can be extremely possessive. Does NOT like sharing! Besides, , I’ve been going round and round the mulberry bush with the writing project for ten years and couldn’t walk away. I had to grab the sweet fruit with both hands and indulge. Let its sweet nectar drip all over my fingers and lips and let my soul feast.

And, so I found my heart torn in two.

Anyway, as the train has zoomed through A-U, I know find myself stopping off at V with you. There are so many questions I could ask.

Throughout these letters, I have explored what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. While I had found poems by Hemingway and Kipling outlining the traits required to become a man, I couldn’t find any equivalent for my daughter. I don’t want to paint women as victims, unable to achieve. Rather, I want her to believe in herself and that she can conquer her particular sphere of the world and potentially be the difference there. I definitely don’t want her following in the footsteps of your Judith Shakespeare. Not at all.

So, it’s looking like  I might have to write my daughter a poem all of her own.

Make that another one!

Well, I hope you have experienced happiness along our journey together and I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

I apologise this has been rather rushed and I will head back in due course and revise it somewhat. School goes back tomorrow and getting organised has been a nightmare!