The simple answer to this question, is too many books. Our 18 year old son would tell you there are far too many books in our house. Indeed, he of messy room and dumping his stuff our in the spare room for the last two years, even took me to task about it last night and had the audacity to ask me how many of them I’d actually read. While I must admit the same question frequently crosses my mind, the point is that the books on the shelf are either waiting to be read or they’re too good to part with, in which case getting rid of them would be akin to murdering a close friend. As avid readers, I’m sure you will understand, even if you have converted over to one of those dreadful, electronic Kindle-type devices.
So, what have I been reading?
Well, I’ve actually been reading quite a lot of books (at least for me) lately.
This month took me back into Ethel Turner territory. There was an Open Day at Woodlands, where she was living when she wrote her iconic classic: Seven Little Australians. I am currently reading her WWI trilogy, and in the last month I’ve finished The Cub and Captain Cub and the last one Brigid and The Cub arrived in the mail today and I can’t wait to get stuck into it. It addresses some really interesting issues, and one that intrigues me is the whole business of mothers giving their consent for underage sons to fight. Ethel Turner didn’t give her consent for her own son, Adrian, to go but pushes the barrow in the book. I am also analysing these books in detail for my blog dedication to Ethel Turner: Tea With Ethel Turner:https://wordpress.com/view/teawithethelturner.com
Meanwhile, I am still reading Kerri Maher’s The Paris Bookseller, which says it is “inspired” by the life of Sylvia Beach who founded Shakespeare and Company, the famous English-language bookshop in Paris, and was the only one with the courage and vision to publish James Joyce’s controversial novel: Ulysses. This book was a natural choice for me, because I did a solo reading at Shakespeare and Company when I was staying in Paris in 1992, which was rather extraordinary in itself, but particularly considering I was only 23 at the time. I had to pass an intimidating interview with the inimitable proprietor, George Whitman and even had to draw up my own promotional poster to go in the window. These days, it feels like I made the whole thing up, but I have photographic proof. It really did happen.
Anyway, if you have ever considered reading Ulysses but have been too intimidated or just couldn’t understand a word of it, I have come across a wonderful annotated version online at the James Joyce Project: https://www.joyceproject.com/ i dare you! Give it a try!!
Or, if you’ve read it, please let me know how you found it, but no spoilers please!
Lastly, I’ve ordered Tony Birch’s book of short stories: Dark As Last Night, which has won the Christina Stead prize for fiction (NSW Premier’s, judged by Beth Yahp, Bernard Cohen and Nicole Abadee). You can read another of his stories here: https://www.theguardian.com/…/tony-birch-my-dads-ashes… It views a tough subject with a touch of humour, and is a great read.
What have you been reading lately? Why not join us at What’s On Your Bookshelf and share it with us? You can link up your post below.
It’s Sunday night here, and I thought you might like to join me watching Masterchef. Thank goodness, I’ve already had dinner or I’d be salivating like a blood hound all over the keyboard and the dog blissfully sleeping underneath. Tonight, they’re fusing two cultures together, and I just saw the most divine lobster dish along with an incredible dessert which personified was pure indulgence. Sorry, I can’t remember what was in it, but since none of us can actually sample these dishes perhaps that’s possibly a good thing. Despite the judges’ rapturous praise, we’ll just convince ourselves it all tastes like cardboard or some equally bland substance.
How was your week?
The big news here in Australia is that we voted in our Federal Election yesterday and we have a change of government. Prime Minister Mr Scott Morrison from the Liberal Party has been replaced by Mr Anthony Albanese of the Labor Party. It’s still early days but the analysts are busy. I must admit I feel sorry for people who have lost their seats, regardless of their political persuasion.
Last week for me, revolved around our daughter’s dance performance in a series of concerts featuring young talent aged 13-21 on the NSW Central Coast. It’s not easy to land yourself a spot and Miss had 2-3 previous attempts. So, this was a huge celebration. There’s also relief because she wants to be a professional ballerina, and getting through this year was a sign she’s on the right track. She was doing her contemporary dance, which involved picking up a rose with her feet and transferring it around which doing all her “tricks”. I’m not usually anxious watching her, and you’d think I might’ve been sitting there proud as a peacock especially wearing my fancy new scarf. Instead, I kept worrying she was going to drop the rose, or else would go wrong. We’d had a stressful afternoon chasing up a few requirements last minute and catching every red light in town when time was of the essence. I could mention something about Murphy’s Law, except that her performance went so well, that I’m just grateful.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a great new book, which I guess could well be deemed a diversion as I’m already reading a few books and need to get back to my WWI research and analysis. However, I popped into my local bookshop looking for a book of short stories by Tony Birch: Dark As Last Night. I needed to order that one in, but as one who has no capacity to resist temptation in bookshops, I had the most fleeting glance at the shelves and came home with Kerri Maher’s: The Paris Bookseller. It’s “inspired” by the story of Sylvia Beach who found the iconic English-speaking bookstore: Shakespeare and Company. It just so happens that I did a solo poetry reading there in 1992 as an impressionable 23 year old. So, the book is incredibly personal for me. However, so far the plot focuses around James Joyce and the banning of Ulysses, which feels quite relevant these days with what’s been going on in many political circles. I also finished Irish philosopher, Michael Harding’s: A Cloud Where The Birds Rise. It’s made up of excerpts from his reflection on life published via his weekly column in the Irish Times.
In other news here, we’re trying to have some kind of radical clean-up. I don’t really like the term “declutter”, which is just so dismissive and disrespectful about your precious treasures. An excess of books, for example, is not clutter. It’s inspiration, education, transformation all within those printed pages, and in too many cases, too difficult to part with. However, at least I’m getting through a few books atm, but I don’t think I’ll be able to part with any of these They’re all keepers! Yet, I at least had some success in the bathroom and cleared out a garbage bag of potions and Miss has thrown out four bags of stuff from her room. All of that barely scratches the surface, but it’s progress.
Lastly, Miss and I went for a few brief visits to the beach to destress last week. Couldn’t resist photographing our feet in front of the view.
We also spotted some inspirational words painted onto rocks at the far end of the beach:
This weekend I have the absolute privilege to share something incredibly precious and rare with you…sunshine. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s but a rare intermission in between our months and months of rain, but that makes it all the more special and I guess I should’ve been out there today to make the most of it.
However, I went for a magnificent bushwalk yesterday to my favourite little spot overlooking Pearl Beach and across to Palm Beach and all of Pittwater. While, it’s not Sydney Harbour, the views are almost as breathtakingly beautiful and from my vantage point, I feel like I had to all to myself. I didn’t need to compete with all of Sydney for a vantage point…only the birds!
How was your week?
Mine was good, but fairly busy juggling family commitments, while getting stuck back into reading two novels by Australian literary giant, Ethel Turner, which are set in World War I and so also crossed over with my research there. I managed to finish: The Cub, which was published in 1915 and sees seventeen year old John leave for Gallipoli after his older brother who enlisted in England, was killed in action fighting in France. However, this forms only a fraction of the story, and the thread is picked up in the second novel in the series: Captain Cub. However, the books focus more on the home front than the war itself and the sagas of two families.
The reason I was binge reading Ethel Turner last week, was that I’d booked into an Open Day at her former home Woodlands in Killara, and I was trying to wake up my dormant brain cells so I could sound at least somewhat knowledgeable when I introduced myself to the speakers there, which included two of her Great Grandsons. However, it didn’t really work because all that happened was that I had all this Ethel Turner stuff in my head in a jumbled fog, and nothing was coming out in neatly defined packages, and especially not the whole grail where you can sum her prolific and profound writing output up in a single word and be the ultimate unrivalised genius on the subject. Or, at least that’s what distilling facts into a single word is supposed to do. Personally, I don’t feel it would do her justice, but when you’re trying to enter the realms of the academic elite, you need to play by their rules not your own.
Anyway, in the end I decided not to go. It was going to be at least a one hour drive, and they were expecting huge crowds, terrible parking and I couldn’t help conclude that I could well pick up covid. After two years of caution, it seemed stupid to throw caution to the wind. Moreover, I saw the doctor on Friday and in what sounded like a prophetic warning, she told me that more people have died from covid in the last six months in Australia than the previous two years. So, while the politicians might be telling us we’ve switched the clock back and returned to an almost normal, the stats and medical folk are telling a different story.
Meantime, while I had my nose stuck in The Cub from 1915, our daughter, “Miss”, posted a clip on Tik Tok and unlike any of my posts here on WordPress, her clip went viral and as far as I know has now had 2.5 million views.
Well, you might ask what attracted such a response, and fool like me, you might actually believe that her video was especially meaningful and required many hours of careful planning, creativity and construction. However, you’d be mistaken. It was a very spontaneous and erroneous piece which she’d put together during her Nursing TAFE course. The school has a small quasi hospital set up and she filmed the patient dummy in bed, and then turned to film her friend swinging in the swing chair. It lasts all of a minute, and while funny and quirky, doesn’t justify that many views, especially when my philosophical musings which really might improve someone else’s life, barely attract enough traffic to fill a lane let alone a super highway. I have been wondering lately what it means to live in a society where people can read, but choose not to. This could sadly be the result.
If you go digging through my archives, you’ll notice that despite being a self-confessed book addict, I rarely write book reviews. That’s because I’m unfortunately more of a book collector than a voracious book reader. Of course, I have good intentions, and get carried away on the wings of fancy, but all too often the rubber doesn’t hit the road.
Anyway, today I’m breaking with tradition because I’ve just finished reading Mark Lamprell’s: The Secret Wife, and I’m too excited to keep it to myself. I absolutely loved it, and thought you might love it too. I rarely read non-fiction, and despite my best intentions, have often failed to finish even novels I love. So, the fact I was sticking matchsticks in my eyes to stay awake and finish this book, is a very strong endorsement. Indeed, to quote Australian music legend Molly Meldrum: “Do yourself a favour”, and read this book.
So, what was so good about it?
For me personally, I’m Australian and I enjoy stories from my own backyard, as well as reading foreign literature. Indeed, I suspect each of us likes to see our own world reflected back to us through the arts, as much as we also appreciate a more cosmopolitan diet. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t consciously Australian and would easily translate elsewhere.
Secondly, I really appreciated the highly developed characterisation with his profound understanding of human nature. The storyline hinges on the friendship of two very different women, Edith and Frankie, their husbands and children and is mostly set in the 1960’s. Naturally, as characters in a novel, they go through many ups and downs, dramas, catastrophes and successes. Lacking in self-confidence myself too often, I related very strongly to Edith even though I’m a born extrovert and would’ve loved to be Frankie in my dreams.
I also really appreciated how Lamprell handled the interaction of this wily cast with the finely-tuned precision of a symphony conductor, yet with casual realism. There were times the characters became people I know, but I also felt Mark knew me like the back of his hand. I’m sure I got goose bumps more than once.
Another point I greatly appreciated about the book was Mark’s dynamic and complex vocabulary. Not all writers appreciate words, but I love words with a passion and am quick to take my hat off to those who make the effort (or even flourish). My kids have told me off for writing in books, but I always read books with a pen in hand, and my pen was very busy throughout (which is a great sign, btw.) I even jotted a few words in the back.
It is also worth noting that The Secret Wife is a historical novel. I was touched and impressed by Lamprell’s eye for detail and accuracy. It’s so easy to Google these things now, that there’s no excuse for getting them wrong. There is just enough detail to add flavour and authenticity, but not too much to bog you down.
All of that makes me sound intensely critical and punctilious (to steal a word from Mark). However, what we’re all looking for is a gripping story. A tale which draws us in and keeps throwing us bait until we’re caught hook, line and sinker. Where we can’t put the book down, yet we don’t want the book to end either. That is certainly true of The Secret Wife. The plot is also refreshingly unpredictable. He leads us up one path, and then we are taken somewhere else entirely, although not left alone lost in the dark either.
I know I’m saying a lot without saying much at all about this book. That’s because I know how much I hate spoilers. I just want a “yay” or a “nay”, and something to back it up. Yet, I’m busting to talk to someone about it.
However, I’m also into biography. So, once I like a book, or fancy an author, I want to delve into their head, their heart, their past, present…the works. (Indeed, I’ve been doing just that with author Ethel Turner over at my other blog Tea With Ethel Turner.) So this leaves me asking: “Who is Mark Lamprell?” and I suppose you might be wondering the same thing, and why I read: The Secret Wife, especially when I could’ve been reading your blog posts and works of fiction instead…
Well, the official answer is: “Mark Lamprell is an (Australian) writer of novels and children’s books published in sixteen countries and twelve languages, including the novels The Full Ridiculous and A Lover’s Guide to Rome. He also works internationally as a writer and director in film, with movie credits including Babe Pig in the City, My Mother Frank, Goddess, A Few Less Men and Never Too Late.“
However, for me, Mark Lamprell was also my uncle’s school friend. My dad was one of seven, and being the eldest grandchild, I was only ten and eleven years younger than my youngest uncles. So, it wasn’t unusual for me to be down at the house when their friends were around. Moreover, their house was a sprawling Californian bungalow. None of the doors were ever locked, and people simply came and went. Oftentimes, we’d be gathered around the kitchen table philosophising. One would be having breakfast, another lunch and someone else having a snack. It was definitely laissez-faire, although there were still non-negotiables like my grandfather wanting my uncle to get his hair cut.
Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, my grandmother was Eunice Gardiner, an international concert pianist, music critic and later professor piano at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. In the loungeroom, there was her Bechstein grand piano, and after my grandfather passed away, it was joined by a large concert-sized Steinway grand, which she’d brought out from England. Having two large grand pianos in your lounge room, certainly makes a statement.
So, the house had this sort of dichotomy, and that fits in very well with Frankie’s world in The Secret Wife. Moreover, like Frankie, there was so much we didn’t know about my grandmother’s career, and who she was. Indeed, I venture to suggest that everyone probably has their secrets. Things even our nearest and dearest know nothing about.
While The Secret Wife and I were obviously a very good fit, I ended up reading it because the publisher sent me a copy to review. I was attending a novel writing workshop with Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project who I’ve reviewed before). I mentioned that I’d attended a similar workshop with Mark Lamprell at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, and the publicist said she’d send me a copy of his new book. I was delighted, and mentioned he was a family friend. The book duly arrived, and I thought I’d better read it tout de suite to honour the deal. No forgetting to read this book. By this time, I picked up an extra 38 “friends” at the Pearl Beach Book Sale. So, it wasn’t that The Secret Wife was without competition. I clearly needed to get reading.
However, reading The Secret Wife now was mind-blowing timing. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by historian, Ann Curthoys, who let me know that back in 1960 my grandmother had appeared on an ABC TV panel interviewing Paul Robeson, an African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist and soon of a former slave when he toured Australia in November 1960. The interview covered racism, equality and freedom and was recorded on the 5th November, 1960. Three days later, JF Kennedy defeated Nixon in the US presidential election, and it was broadcast on the 13th November, 1960. It was just under three years before Dr Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which followed a march by over 200,000 people on Washington on the 28th August, 1963. I was able to order a copy of the interview, and have been working on a transcript. I am gobsmacked.
So, reading: The Secret Wife which is set in this similar social context, was an incredible fusion. However, my grandmother was leading a different life to anyone really what with her prodigious talent and being married with seven children and still pursuing her career. But I think she just had this trajectory in her mind and it just kept going. She probably knew nothing else.
As for my grandfather, there was a miniature grand piano on their wedding cake. So, I doubt he had any illusions. My grandmother, her piano and her career were a package deal. There was never any suggestion she was going to stop.
Wow! There’s been so much to think about, and more to come. For now, I’m going to let the book settle. I really want to talk it over, and share it with someone (something I obviously can’t do in a review.) Maybe, I’ll start talking to myself.
PS One thing I didn’t mention was that my grandfather was the consummate book collector and my grandparents’ house was overflowing out the back and under the house with boxes, and boxes of books. Indeed, when my grandparents first got married, my grandfather’s mother sent over his books to their new home, and they apparently arrived even before the furniture.
Don’t you just love family stories?!!
Featured image: Geoff Newton. Thank you Zac the dog for posing for the camera. Since he spends much of his life sleeping underneath my keyboard and while I was reading the book, it seemed appropriate for him to appear in the photo.
Every Easter, there’s the local Pearl Beach Book Sale, and for a book addict like yours truly, it’s up there on a temptation level right alongside a chocolate shop. Moreover, since all the Easter eggs had virtually sold out by Thursday according to my husband, feasting on books it is.
The other drawcard about this Pearl Beach Book Sale is that the books are top notch. Pearl Beach is a rather exclusive retreat, and attracts a lot of creative people, who seem to have great taste in reading material.
While I’ve posted photos before of glorious Pearl Beach, today I’m going to delve a little deeper into the human aspect. Pearl Beach or “Pearlie” is 92 kilometres from Sydney on the NSW Central Coast. However, it has in effect become something of an island separated from the hubbub of the Central Coast via a steep, windy road cutting down through scrubby hills, creating the illusion you’ve escaped the rat trace entirely. That said, they’re not roughing it too much, because they can still access modern conveniences at nearby Umina Beach where we live. Umina Beach has traditionally been Pearl Beach on a beer budget, although it looks like we’re starting to join the champagne set as well for better or worse. We have been discovered. Sometimes, I wonder if this has been a blessing or a curse. There never used to be a traffic jam within cooeee of here. Now, over this Easter weekend, I can barely turn left or right without getting stuck. Good grief. Please don’t let us become another Byron Bay where locals burrow underground during peak holiday seasons. Or, fortunately being a stone’s throw to the beach and shops ourselves, it will just become much easier to walk.
Anyway, as you might’ve gathered, having yours truly let loose all by myself at this book sale might not have been a good thing. Indeed, it was a book addict’s equivalent of a mad orgy. I should’ve taken a photo of the hall all set up in its glory. However, I was too focused on digging in and devouring titles to even think about photography. Besides, I had my arms full. Not good for someone with a dodgy foot and still recovering from Thursday’s fall and feeling rather unstable. However, the very nice man at the desk was only too kind, and let me deposit my stash in the corner. I bet he was pleased to see me coming, and not just for the money either. They have to move all the leftover books, which no doubt posed a daunting task.
I arrived mid-afternoon, and I don’t know how much the books were at the outset, but I was paying $2.00 each. Of course, this was an absolute steal. So, it didn’t make too much sense to be too selective. It was more a case of fill a box, another box, and while you’re thinking about it, why don’t you fill this one too.
The irony of all this was that I’m actually in the process of seriously downsizing our book collection, and the boot of the very same car I drove to the book sale, was full of books I’m planning to drop off for the next book sale at the local PCYC which my friend is helping out with. There’s also a box on the couch at home which I’m trying to fill up, and despatch.
Another issue is that I am not a voracious book reader. I read a lot doing my history research. However, that’s mainly involved old newspapers online. I also read blog posts. I also do a few Bible studies and try to read my Bible daily. So, it’s not like I’m not reading at all. I’m just not one of those people who polish off a couple of novels a week. Geoff was doing that without any dramas when he was commuting to work on the train. However, he’s been working from home for the last two years. So, he’s reading has dropped off a lot. He’s just finished reading a Harlan Coben novel: Hold Tight. Have you read it? We’ve been making our way through a few TV series based on his novels. I mostly love them, although there was one that I felt had too much violence, and was just too seedy. I managed to pick up another Harben Coben at the book sale: Just One Look.
So, turns out I’ve brought home 38 friends to join let’s just say a considerable library. It all sounds rather erudite. However, one actually needs to read the books to inhale their wisdom and stories. Looking at the covers doesn’t help. Indeed, when I mentioned I probably wouldn’t get around to reading them all, the bloke at the desk said he wondered how many of the books sold were going to be read. It’s yet another classic case of good intentions.
In case you’re wondering what I’ve runaway with, there are two novels by Australian author Thomas Keneally who wrote Shindler’s List: The Daughters of Mars set in WWI and A River Town. I’ve read quite a few of his novels and went to a author’s lunch with him and his daughter actually at the Pearl Beach Hall. These will go well with his autobiography which I bought new recently: A Bloody Good Rant. Considering I got about 15 books at the book sale for the price of one, I’d better read that biography tout de suite. That reminds me I also bought another biography recently, which is still sitting on the shelf unread. That is David Williamson’s. I bought his iconic play The Removalists today, and I heard him speak at the Sydney Writer’s Festival a few years ago. I managed to pick up quite a few classics including: EM Foster’s Room With A View, JM Coetzee’s: Waiting For The Barbarians, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and a few books by Australian author, David Malouf and poetry by Les Murray. There were two particularly interesting books:
Of course, all these new arrivals have generated all kinds of stress, and as I sit buried in books in my chair, I might rethink my extravagant indulgence. However, in the meantime, I quite like the woman who processed my sale who admired my “generosity”. I corrected her and said it was more a case of greed, but hungrily devouring second hand books doesn’t look anywhere near as bad as binge-eating my way through 38 packets of Tim Tams or their equivalent.
So, it looks like I’ll be doing a lot of reading during the rest of the Easter break.
Do you have extensive home library? Do you wish you were there with me? Or, have you transitioned to Kindle? Or, perhaps, you’re more of a minimalist. Don’t believe in books?
Whatever your situation, I’d love to hear from you.
This is my first contribution to a blogshare which is right up my alley: What’s on Your Bookshelf, hosted by Deb, Sue, Donna, and Jo. I could be here for several years and you’d be long gone, if I literally went through every single book on my bookshelf, and the contents of my To-Be-Read Piles around the house could also tie us down for awhile. However, what I’ve actually reading is thankfully a much shorter list. Indeed, I’m currently reading one book.
This rather exclusive solitary read is Jules Sebastian’s Tea & Honesty. It is hard not to introduce Jules Sebastian without mentioning her famous husband musician Guy Sebastian. I don’t like linking women to their famous husbands as though they’re nothing more than an pretty accessory and that they have no world, thoughts or achievements of their own., However, I did buy this book because she was Guy’s wife, and I knew something of their personal journey beyond the music industry. I quick flick through, showed Jules was very much a powerhouse in her own right. Moreover, she shares about being naturally shy, and she is a good listener, an observer, a thinker but in a kind, gentle and encouraging way that’s very refreshing. Moreover, I found out this Jules has a few worlds a knew nothing about. and they lead an interesting and very challenging life at times and she’d have a lot to say. What I didn’t know was that Jules has her own Youtube Channel and a program Tea With Jules: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6Y0dEiUcSIClA5KkqywvJA
I’m about halfway through it now, and I’m deliberately reading it slowly to take it all in. I think it’s very timely as many of us face a restart after the last two years. Jules reflects back on interviews and gives really good advice for people starting out and wanting to start a dream from scratch and how to find a way through the jungle and towards success. That’s such an important part of the road to success we don’t often hear about. BTW I wasn’t so keen on the podcasts. I think they’re geared towards a different demographic.
Meanwhile, although this book is still in transit, I’m going to mention it anyway along with the usual way I stumbled across it. The book in question is Irish author Michael Harding’sThe Cloud Where the Birds Rise, with illustrations by Jacob Stack. I stumbled across it a few days ago when I went on a quick trip to Midleton, Cork via Google Earth and of all the places I should come across, I find a bookshop. Of course, I had to check out the books they had on offer and looked up their website. That’s when I saw the book and it was like love at first sight. However, I resisted temptation and decided to do a bit of research before I bought another book into the house. That’s when I came across a podcast where Alan Keane interviewed Michael Harding on The Artists’ Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrRYg1hvCh0 Now, I was really hooked, and after enjoying this interview so much, I headed off to absorb Michael Harding’s podcasts (@hardingmichael) and I’ll be lucky to find my way out the front door for the next six months. I’m riveted.
So, naturally, I can’t wait for this book to turn up, and I must confess, I bought another one while I was there (to justify the postage of course!): Staring at Lakes. I’ll report back and let you know how they go.
Yesterday afternoon, I stumbled upon Irish author, Michael Harding, while I was browsing through a bookshop in Midleton, Ireland. While you’d obviously expect to find a book in a bookshop, the remarkable thing is that I was there. After all, I was visiting Midleton Bookshop via Google Earth from the comfort of my loungeroom in Umina Beach – just North of Sydney, Australia.
Being a compulsive bibliophile, of course, I had to check out their web site to better appreciate what might be displayed in their front window. The funny thing was, it was like they already knew I was coming. Their home page features a fabulous quote from Katrina Meyer: “A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair.” As it turns out, it’s not only books. It is also Google Earth.
How typical of me to go all the way to Ireland (even virtually) and find a bookshop?!! Not only that. I managed to find a book I really, really wanted too! The book in question is Michael Harding’s The Cloud Where the Birds Rise, with illustrations by Jacob Stack.
I don’t know how well you know me. Of course, most of you have never been to my house and seen the overcrowded bookshelves, and book piles breeding faster than proverbial rabbits beside my lounge chair (where I currently write), my bed and on my desk overlooking the back garden. If you had been here, you’d probably be screaming at me: “NOOOO Roweeenah! Not another book! You haven’t even read the books you’ve got, and you have more on the way. Have you no self-control?” (Said, of course, as though self-control is the pinnacle of human development, and expanding your mind is a bad thing). You might even say something truly dreadful along the lines of me being crushed to death and buried alive once my teetering book pile finally topples over. Of course, I’ve brought all this disaster on myself. All because I couldn’t say “no!”
However, in my defence, I haven’t ordered the book yet, but who am I kidding? You and I both know the sun’s not going to set today, without me clicking on that irresistible “Buy Now” button.
Meanwhile, during this rather pregnant pause between spotting the book and placing my order, I did make a brief attempt at self-control and tried to see inside the book online. That didn’t work, but I did find a podcast where Alan Keane interviewed Michael Harding on The Artists’ Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrRYg1hvCh0 Now, I was really hooked, and after enjoying this interview so much, I headed off to absorb Michael Harding’s podcasts (@hardingmichael) and I’ll be lucky to find my way out the front door for the next six months. I’m riveted.
It’s at this point that I finally realize I’ve left my virtual self paused in suspended animation outside Midleton Bookshop. Goodness knows what the proprietors think of having this stranger permanently glued to their front window. Indeed, they’ve probably already had me carted away in the paddy wagon. If I’m lucky, I might just find myself incarcerated down the road from Midleton Workhouse where my 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, ended up during the Great Hunger. She in effect won her golden ticket out of there when she was plucked out of this sea of starving, feverish unfortunates and despatched to Sydney on board the John Knox as one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls under the Earl Grey Scheme. Indeed, she was even given a trunk of clothing, Bible and necessities to make a decent life for herself on the other side. Chasing Bridget was why I went to Midleton today. I wanted to see where she was from, and walk in her shoes for a bit.
So, I guess this leaves us in suspended animation. Are you familiar with the works (or should I say words and ideas) of Michael Harding? Have you been to Midleton, County Cork, Ireland? Or, perhaps you have some connection to the Irish Famine Orphans who were sent out to Australia? Alternatively, you might just want to say hello and that’s fine too. I’d love to hear from you. Indeed, it would be wonderful to have a cup of tea with you in person, but such is life particularly given the current state of play with covid.
Recently, photographs of the native flannel flower started appearing on friends’ Facebook feeds and as much as I’ve been a reclusive bear during Winter and enforced lockdown, the prospect of photographing flannel flowers lured me out of my cave. By the way, my trusty companion was also lured out. While fully vaccinated people in Greater Sydney have now gained considerable freedom, Geoff and I are still playing it safe due to my health and his work. However, you can’t catch covid from the trees…or these understated beauties, Flannel Flowers or Actinotus helianthi.
I don’t know why I find Flannel Flowers so captivating. They really do look rather ordinary, and to the best of my limited knowledge don’t seem to have any redeeming medicinal properties. While they’re more closely related to carrots, Flannel Flowers bear a striking resemblance to the garden variety daisy, and could easily pass under your radar. After all, when you compare them to the imposing Waratah with it’s grandiose red magnificence, or the masses of golden yellow flowers I’ve photographed recently illuminated by the glowing sun, they’re nothing much. Indeed, perhaps that’s why they’ve waited until all these beauties have done their thing before they make an appearance. At least, that’s how the timing has worked out here.
Yet, they’re still beautiful. Don’t ask me why. They just are.
Moreover, it’s not just me who fancies them, and finds them a source of inspiration. Artists, gardeners, photographers are somehow brought under its spell. Mesmerised. That includes artist Margaret Preston and much loved author/illustrator May Gibbs who created Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the Flannel Flower Babies.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be sharing MY walk with the flannel flowers, and what I viewed through the lens, NOT what appeared on someone else’s canvas or imagination.
We spotted this promising patch of would-be flannel flowers on our favourite water tower walk a few months ago. I intentionally don’t go there too often, because I don’t want it to lose it’s awe and wonder. So, I was trying to guesstimate when they’d be in flower, and thought it would be months rather than weeks. I haven’t seen any flannel flowers out on our other recent walks, but friends started posting photos, and then I noticed some driving home through the week. It was time to see if they were out yet. It was almost like going celebrity spotting. Were they going to be there? I was rather excited. This could just be me, but I blame lockdown. We haven’t had much to look forward to for some time, and I was hoping our little white wonders had hit the stage.
We were not disappointed. While they weren’t quite waving to us, they were definitely there. However, it was late afternoon, and what I didn’t know before, is they close their little faces at night.
That was yesterday, and Geoff and I returned today.
It was good, because it meant I’d been out for two walks in two days. While they weren’t overly long walks, it was exercise and I have to admit that’s dropped off during lockdown, even although exercise was well and truly allowed. I just seemed to take the advice to “stay home” too seriously along with my determination to get my lockdown research project up and running. Now, that the weather’s improving and we’re mostly enjoying balmy Spring weather along with the end of lockdown, I am starting to crawl out again.
I ended up photographing the flannel flowers from a variety of angles and even sat down on the ground, which isn’t such a comfortable position these days. However, fortunately, I had my trusty Geoff to help me get back up again. Although they’re generally portrayed from a face-on perspective, flannel flowers also look quite intriguing and even a bit wild viewed from behind.
It is also interesting to see a broader overall perspective, even if it’s not the most spectacular photo I’ve ever taken. They grow amongst the scraggly bush and you’d probably describe the effect as “subtle”.
However, every now and then, the flannel flowers have a bumper season. That’s what’s happened in the National Park at Port Macquarie this year, which had been ravaged by our devastating bushfires two years ago (It’s also where the koalas live). Anyway, you might enjoy checking these flannel flowers out. They’re almost growing like triffids there:
I don’t know whether I should be shouting: “Hip Hip Hooray” today, or in mourning. Today, Great Sydney finally came out of its extensive 106 day lockdown now that we’ve reached a vaccination rate of 70%. After a peak of 1603 on September 10, we were down to 496 cases today. That’s not a perfect world, and not yet a safe space for vulnerable people like myself to enter yet. I was about to say it offers hope, but it could also demonstrate reckless abandon after being careful for so long. It’s interesting too to see where people head as soon as they break out? Is is to see friends and family they’re been shut away from for so long? I can’t blame people for possibly wanting to get to the hairdresser first. I was planning to have at least a friend over to christen the new table today, but of course, it rained and being an outdoor table, that’s not much fun unless you’re a woolly Border Collie with thick, protective coat. For those of you who still remember Bilbo, he was a great one for standing out in the rain and getting soaking wet.
Well, I know there’s been a lot of table talk going on around here, but this week I’m proud to announce that the table has been sanded back, restored and in situ. I have well and really rung the brass bell over that, as it would’ve been easier to move heaven and earth. I’m sure those of you with real homes can testify to that as well. That a seemingly easy decision to put a table out the front can require so much work, negotiation, acceptance and maybe even grief! Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to leave alone and just be able todo what I want, when I want and not have to consult ANYBODY – or have someone else scuttle my plans, especially due to a lack of planning on their part. (Speaking of which I’ve had two pairs of ballet pointe shoes and a sewing basket left beside my chair. One of the downsides about coming out of lockdown, is that the pointe shoes needed to be replaced. However, one pair is heading back to the ballerina to do herself. BTW She’s very excited because she managed to get a Billie Eilish ticket today).
Tis week, I slowed down over at my new blog: “Tea With Ethel Turner” this week with only adding one post. However, it was a post that meant a lot to me. I was reading her somewhat autobiographical novel, Three Little Maids, when almost at the end I found what I’ve dubbed: “A Writer’s Prayer”. Through this prayer, Dolly (who is said to represent Ethel Turner) tells her sister how she prayed to get a book published and that her calling might be to write books that “do some good”. As a writer with the same heart-felt desire in mind, it meant the world to me and perhaps you would love it too: https://teawithethelturner.com/2021/10/07/a-writers-prayer-ethel-turner/
By the way, I had quite a few technical issues with the new blog, and ended up changing format to sort them out. So, I apologise if you had any difficulties last week.
The other thing I’ve been working on lately, is the story of my friend’s father who was a Polish Bomber Pilot serving in the UK during WWII. It’s been my friend’s quest to write a book about his father’s experiences of escaping Poland and into Romania where he was interred, and smuggled out into France where he served before arriving in England. Roland’s father never taught his children Polish, and unfortunately the Polish pilot’s records in England are all in Polish. So it’s been a beast to sort anything out. Google translate has helped with clarifying online resources, but otherwise its a slow and laborious process. I had a bit of a breakthrough this week, when I found a pdf in Polish online. It was written by one of his Dad’s friends an was a story of the “Three Muskateers”. It even ad a few pages just about Roland’s dad. It was wonderful, except it was all in Polish. So, I tried a little experiment. I typed up the Polish and pasted it into Google translate. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. Well, it was like magic. There really was a story behind all those words which made absolutely no sense to me. Indeed, I thought the start of the story was very touching. There is this old Polish man with all the photos taken in his entire lifetime contained in a biscuit tin his cousin brought back from England. It was incredibly poignant but also pretty heart wrenching to all the photos of a lifetime can fit into one biscuit tin. It’s nothing for me to take 200 photos in a day. However, it would do me good to put the most precious ones in a tin so I can see the the trees. By having so many photos, we might as well have none in a way.
Anyway, who would’ve thought I’d be typing up Polish like that? In some ways my life feels incredibly random, and yet my insatiable curiosity won’t just let me settle with a fragment of such a good story even when I’m immersed in so many other gripping stories pursuing Ethel Turner and my WWI stories. I’m not going to be very good at interacting with people about the mundane realities of daily life if I ever make it fully out of isolation!
So, how are are things for you? Have you had a good week? I sure hope so!
Last week , I launched a new blog – Tea With Ethel Turner – and I’d love you to come over and and hopefully follow me over there as well.
Ethel Turner is such an inspiration. Best known for her 1894 classic: Seven Little Australians, she wrote 40 novels for young adults, diaries, and edited children’s pages in a range of publications. Obviously, she was a very prolific writer, and I doubt she ever suffered from writer’s block for long.
It’s also worth noting that Ethel Turner wrote with a view of having her work published and read widely. Unlike so many writers, her work didn’t spend years in her bottom drawer. Indeed, even when she was at school, she and her older sister produced a rival school newspaper after her work had been rejected.
Then, as time went by and she was editing the Sunbeams pages in the Sun newspaper, it was Ethel doing the rejecting and lamenting a lack of space to publish the works of more of her young contributors. She also encouraged young children to write and gave them writing advice as well as broadening their general knowledge and exposure to literary classics. It also seems she was trying to build a new and better world after the horrors of the Great War, and these children were that future.
So, bearing all that in mind, I had enough material and inspiration to sink a battleship, and I felt she deserved her own bubble, and Beyond the Flow should remain my own space. That as much as I revere and admire Ethel Turner, I didn’t want to become her alone. I still have such a diverse range of other writing interests.
Here are links to my posts so far:
Meanwhile, now that I’ve launched into this, I can’t help wondering what I’ve got myself into. Sure, I’ve unearthed a a veritable treasure trove, but I’d only read two of her books, and barely stuck my nose into her biography by AT Yarwood: From A Chair in theSun and a complication of her diary entries by her grand-daughter, Philippa Poole. What was I thinking? Yet, I’ve also been working incredibly hard. I’ve read years worth of her “Chief Sunbeamer” columns as well as numerous press interviews and reviews. The advantage of blogging is that you can in effect publish as you go, and you can also correct any mistakes, embellish here and there before it’s set in stone in print. I am also a firm believer in collaborative research, especially when it comes to such an superlative shaper of Australian literature, culture and young minds. She is too big for one mind.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and hope you might join me on this exciting journey of discovery.