Category Archives: Books

Weekend Coffee Share…14th January, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you and how has your week been? Are you settling in well to the new year? Or, perhaps you’re like us and still on holidays and haven’t had to face the real world yet.

This week, I’m back in my chair at home and I’m quickly belting this out before I get back to trying to salvage the house before the kids get back from the Australian Scouting Jamboree in the morning. I know that probably sounds rather confusing. What am I doing trying to clean up the house BEFORE the kids get back? Have things gone that topsy turvy, that the parents have messed up the house while the kids are away? Isn’t it supposed to be the kids creating all the mess instead?

Well, the trouble is that they and one in particular, left the mess behind and I made the huge, ginormous mistake of sticking my nose under the bed a few days ago. Let’s just say its become more of an intervention than a clean-up. This offspring will be read the riot act tomorrow and some new guidelines and will be receiving close parent intervention until capacity to manage room independently has been established. I usually have a fairly laissez-faire parenting style and haven’t really needed to be stand over Mum that often. However,  I can and I will. (Humph! Yes. This is also a pep talk to self. I can easily get derailed.)

 

Humph. I can’t believe I started this coffee share post off with a rant about cleaning the house, when we’ve just returned from a week’s holiday up at Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast. Well, to be precise, we were staying with Geoff’s sister and her husband at Newrybar about 15 minutes drive away in lush, green farmland. Concerned about home security, I didn’t post about our whereabouts while we were away and I’m  in the process of writing up abut our travels. So far, there’s been:

Saturday Night in Byron Bay

Byron Bay Markets

Main Beach Byron Bay

Macadamia Castle & Ballina

Tomorrow, we’ll be heading off to Bangalow.

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Nothing like being swept off the rocks to get that selfie.

While we were away, I managed to do a bit of reading. I finally managed to finish Raphaelle Giordano’s Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. I highly recommend it, especially early into the new year. I’ve certainly been wanting to start start 2019 on the best possible footing and this book really walks you slowly through a host of strategies for pulling that off and converting your resolutions into realities. Despite being classified as a “novel”, it actually reads like non-fiction.

We had an absolutely wonderful time away. However, the night before we left, I was checking out my brother-in-law’s secret garden, when I stepped off the gravel path and through the leaf litter to photograph a bromeliad. In hindsight, this was just as stupid as that the guy perched on the edge of the rocks to get the ultimate Byron Bay selfie. Byron Bay is actually Snake Central and only that morning a deadly Red Belly Black Snake had been spotted near the secret garden heading for the wood pile. I should’ve thought about that before went out there still wearing my red sandals. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking about anything much at all. Well, that is except for taking photographs which is an activity that’s got me into trouble many times before and no doubt I still haven’t learnt my lesson…look before you click!

emergency

Waiting in Emergency at Ballina Hospital. 

Anyway, I didn’t step on the Red Belly Black Snake or a Diamond Python, which is also a known resident of my inlaw’s place. Instead, and thank goodness for that, I stepped on a sharp stick which stabbed the arch of my foot through the side of my sandal. The pain was intense and when I looked down, I thought I’d severed an artery because not only was there a lot of blood but something was also sticking out. I called out to Geoff, who by the way, thought I must’ve stepped on a snake and was no doubt relieved only have a cut to respond to. He knew right away that it wasn’t an artery, but he could’ve told me that. Fortunately, my brother-in-law is a retired nurse so he was fetched for and bandaged the foot very professionally and dispatched us to Ballina Hospital for stitches and a tetanus shot. As you probably recall, I have some serious health issues so spending a night in Emergency was particularly annoying, although we did joke about extending our tour of hospital emergency departments. Indeed, in the interests of dramatic storytelling, I should remind you that when I took our son to our local Emergency Dept, I managed to write off the car in the multistory car park when I hit a concrete divider on the down ramp and cracked the radiator and goodness knows what else. So, you could understand why I try to stay away from hospital emergency departments. They’re TROUBLE!! Anyway, four hours and four stitches later, we were on the way home. On the upside, I must say that I felt very much loved and I had to feel rather sorry for Geoff as he held my hand while they jabbed the wound with local anesthetic. I have a reasonable pain threshold and that was a ten!

As I explained earlier, our kids get back from Jamboree at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning. I don’t know how Scouting parents coped in the olden days when they couldn’t keep up with their kids on Facebook and they actually had to wait for a letter or their Scout to arrive home. Perhaps, they might’ve had a phone box or two to call home. I don’t know. However, our Scouts could phone home. Well, they could if they wanted to. We had two calls from our daughter and none from our son. According to our daughter, he’s become quite the celebrity at camp.

You see, for Christmas our son requested a Ghillie suit to take away to Jamboree. A ghillie suit is a type of camouflage clothing designed to resemble the background environment such as foliage, snow or sand. Typically, it is a net or cloth garment covered in loose strips of burlap (hessian), cloth, or twine, sometimes made to look like leaves and twigs, and optionally augmented with scraps of foliage from the area (Wikiupaedia). If you remember the kids’ show Sigmund the Sea Monster, he looks vaguely like someone wearing a Ghillie suit.
jonathon at market day

Our son AKA Ghillieman looks about 10 ft tall and incredibly strong in this photo. What happened to our Little Man?

Anyway, it turns out our son’s been a bit of a hit wearing this ghillie suit. The first thing we got wind of, was that he won a dance competition and won six backstage passes to see a band, Justice Crew. That particularly attracted our attention as his sister is a serious dancer and we knew she wouldn’t be impressed. However, she was on an excursion at the time and wasn’t bothered. Indeed, I think she might even have been proud of her brother. The next Facebook sighting of Ghillieman, was at the open day when he was seen carrying another scout up on his shoulders walking around camp promoting their market stall selling bin juice. By the way, our kids troop had called themselves the “Bin Chickens” after an Australian Ibis which has moved into the cities and become a dreadful scavenger earning itself the nickname: “Bin Chicken”. Ghillieman was last spotted in a photo taken beside the River Murray with the heading: “Spot the bin chicken”. He was very well camouflaged and just asking to be left behind. It will be interesting to see how Ghilli man and Jane adjust to their return to civilian life. I am yet to hear any stories about what our daughter got up to at Jamboree. She left here with freshly manicured nails, which were painted pale pink so I look forward to seeing how they survived and reckon they’re a good barometer for how much she enjoyed and participated in activities at camp.
jonathon spot the bin chicken

Spot the Bin Chicken. Ghillieman strikes again. 

Well, I’d better get to bed before the Scout bus arrives back. It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for the whole family and I can’t wait to see the kids in the morning. Or, should I say, later this morning.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

The Road For 2019…

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve’s done and dusted and Day Three of the New Year is already unfurling. If you’re like me and believe you ought to start off on the right foot, by now we should be cruising along at a steady walking pace and getting into the swing of it, whatever “it” might be. However, the more honest realists among us, will have no qualms in admitting that they’re still in the planning stages, especially if you’re currently on holidays frying yourself something silly and going “troppo”!

The start of a new year seems to draw out even the most closet philosophers, keen to jump up onto their soap boxes, espousing all sorts of theories about how to change your life, end all your old bad habits and park your old self in the telephone booth (if you can find one) and ensure a new improved you walks out. As a writer, this is a bit like finishing up your old journal and opening a fresh, blank notebook where there’s not even a mark on the page. In the entire book is as white as driven snow just waiting for you to get started if you dare.

However, I’ve finally come to my senses and stopped dreaming. As the clock strikes midnight, my fairy Godmother isn’t going to going to appear out of nowhere to perform a reverse Cinderella makeover on me. Indeed, yet again as we launched into 2019, I was still myself watching the fireworks over Sydney Harbour on the TV. I wasn’t a princess with a horse-drawn carriage and a book which has not only been written but also published. What a pity, which of course leaves me with the hard yards ahead.

writing

Why act, when you can write about it?

 

Anyway, while coming up with a list of New Year’s resolutions was  once as traditional as singing Auld Lang Syne, these days many people are just coming up with their word for the New Year. Last year, my word was action and in 2019, it’s a case of “play it again, Sam”. Yes, my word for 2019 is still ACTION.

So, being the procrastinating, philosophizing sort, what was the first action on my list? Well, if you’re thinking it has anything to do with putting on my running shoes, active wear and getting stuck into it, you’d be sadly mistaken. Instead, I Googled ACTION quotes. More research required. After all, it takes a bit of a cattle prod to get some of us moving!

This quote particularly resonated with me and my writing:

“You can’t plow a field simply by turning it over in your mind.”
Gordon B. Hinckley

Here’s a few more:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Wishing is not enough; we must do.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.”

Tony Robbins

“In each action we must look beyond the action at our past, present, and future state, and at others whom it affects, and see the relations of all those things. And then we shall be very cautious.”

Blaise Pascal

“Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you ready or not, to put this plan into action.”

Napoleon Hill

Bilbo sand cliffs Ettalong 2

Life can be bewildering…even for a philosopher’s dog.

However, before you launch into action, you need a plan. Or, do you? I’m not so sure and find myself caught in between these two schools of philosophical thought:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon

and

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

One of the underlying considerations is trying to understand just how much control we have over where our life is heading. Are we in the driver’s seat turning the steering wheel the direction we’d like to go while also operating the accelerator and brake at a pace of our own choosing? Even if we can attain full control over the car, what about the environment? Can we control the weather? The people around us? The state of the road or where it is heading? In other words, can we simply set ourselves a goal, write a plan, work hard and stick to the dotted line and know we’re going to reach our destination? That when we get there, we can stick our name straight up on the door, because we’ve finally made it. Or, is life much more precarious than that? Could we get blindsided at any tick of the clock and it’s best not to strut too confidently because we’re only going to get struck down. Is it, therefore, much better to prepare for defeat, or at least a long struggle ahead? If you’re spiritually inclined and believe in God (I’m a Christian), you also have God to factor into your equations. Is God really in control? If so, does that give him absolute power over our lives? Or, does he give us considerable independence, or at least the capacity to screw ourselves up?

Rowena in Florence

There are many roads you can take….in Florence in 1992. 

As you can see, I could easily spend the entire year debating just how much control I truly have over my own destiny and the best-laid plans of mice and men. However, that’s precisely the kind of thinking I’m trying to break out of to get on with things. Turn 2019 into a year of action, not procrastination or philosophizing.

However, this leads me into only another question…WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS THE ACTION? If you don’t define the action before you go and do it, you could go and do the wrong thing. After all, in addition to procrastination, there’s distraction and although both of these words contain “action” in them, they have nothing to do with ticking that thing off your to-do or bucket lists, and achieving that thing that makes your heart sing.

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Some times, you only know which way NOT to turn.

Personally, I reached my WHAT for 2019 via a typically circuitous route. As many of you will be aware, it’s been a long-held goal of mine to write a book and get it published. Indeed, my mission for the last ten years has been to write  a motivational book about living with and overcoming adversity. However, while it was all tracking perfectly in my head about 6 years ago, I had a massive setback and wasn’t sure if I was going to pull through. Not unsurprisingly, I had to rethink and reassess all of that. While we all know the simple laws of gravity and what goes up must come down, it’s quite a different thing to experience that yourself and crash land on your head Humpty Dumpty style wondering how to put the pieces of yourself and your life back together again. For me, that wasn’t a quick fix. Indeed, there wasn’t a fix after all. More of a realization that life is complicated and you just need to make the most of every day regardless of your circumstances. That what really matters is loving and being loved, being a part of community ideally on many levels and having that give and take. For me, there’s also having a faith in God. A faith which not only acknowledges that he exists, but also that he loves me and isn’t trying to destroy me when the shit hits the fan. I’ve also had to accept and acknowledge that I’ve shot myself in my foot at times, and have brought about my own troubles. There’s also just bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moreover, sometimes we just don’t know why bad things happen to us but we owe it to ourselves to try to get on with living and find a way out. Not in terms of denial or avoidance, but via a potentially more painful yet ultimately rewarding path of personal growth. Learning our life lessons, especially before they get repeated because we’re slow learners.

vintage-1970-s-mego-wonder-woman-12-action-figure-superhero-doll-w-red-boots

Here I am as Wonder Woman…the female version of Action Man I suspect.

Well, it;s taken me almost 2000 words to say that I’m going to get that book written in 2019. I guess that could well explain why I’m a writer and not a female incarnation of Action Man. If I just got on with it, no matter what it happened to be, I’m sure I wouldn’t have as much to write about. I’d be doing it instead. So, you could say that inaction is an occupational hazard.

How about you? Have you chosen a word for 2019? What is it? Or, perhaps you’ve come up with a few resolutions, perhaps even including not to make any resolutions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this. It’s been quite a mammoth effort getting through this and it’s now Wednesday night. Indeed, even Wednesday is starting to expire. I’m supposed to be getting the kids packed for the Scout Jamboree. They leave in the morning. It seems I still have a lot to learn and that my ACTION steps are going to begin with sewing on the last of those Scout badges.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 22nd October, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share.

This week, we’re meeting up at  Badde Manors Cafe in Sydney’s historic Glebe. I still remember coming to Badde Manors for the very first time back in 1988 as a 19 year old university student. The cafe was built within strict heritage guidelines back in 1982 and is still a local landmark. That’s quite an achievement. p

Glebe Map

Map Of Glebe, Sydney.

By the way, Glebe is about a 15 minutes walk away from Sydney’s Central Railway and across the road from Sydney University. It’s renowned for it’s bohemian markets, awesome bookshop, cafes, restaurants and terrace houses. I absolutely love and adore Glebe and can’t believe I rarely get back there these days. It’s only a train ride away and I hope it will regain lost ground and I’ll be back more often. Bring it on!

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Mural inside Badde Manors

Last week, has been an eye-opener for all the right reasons. Last Tuesday, I went down to Redfern in Sydney for Carer’s Day Out. That was fantastic. Upon arrival, we were given a show bag which included vouchers for a free BBQ lunch, a pamper session and a massage. I had a mini facial as my thing and it was very relaxing. I was also able to try out weaving in one of the tents and made a small wall hanging. That was very therapeutic and I really enjoyed it.If I wasn’t so obsessed with writing and research, I might be drawn into weaving. I also had the opportunity to meet up with the policy team I’d spoken to over the phone. My kids are young carers and I found out that having a very sick or disabled parent doesn’t entitle a student to a free bus pass if they live within the zone. I managed to get them for my kids in the end due to their own medical issues but being a young carer should’ve been enough.

As I said, the Carer’s Day Out was held in Redfern and that’s just around the corner from where I used to live in Abercrombie Street, Chippendale and a a short walk to Sydney Uni. So, I went on a walking tour down memory lane and could feel my feet step back into my old shoes and I was 19 again. You can read about revisiting my old terrace house here and I highly recommend you join me on a tour of Sydney University

While Sydney Uni has plenty of its own history (much of it never to be repeated!), my family has its own history of the place. Indeed, I am a third generation graduate. My grandfather, Bob Curtin graduated with a Bachelor of Dentistry, My Dad grauated with a Bachelor of Economics around 1965 and I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons History in 1991. After the NSW Conservatorium of Music became part of Sydney, Mum became graduate and my brother is also a graduate. Of course, I would love my kids to go there. However, I don’t want tradition to be a stranglehold.

So, over the next few days, I started exploring and I was over the moon to find out that the archives of our beloved uni newspaper, Honi Soit, have gone online right back to 1929. I’m not exactly sure when my grandfather attended uni yet. He was born in 1910. So I’d estimate that he started there in 1927. Honi Soit was launched in 1929 so he should’ve been there. I was interested to come across an article talking about the difficulties of meeting people on campus. Back in my grandfather’s day, men and women’s union facilities were segregated and women could only attend a uni dance if invited by a male. This meant that some women never made it to a dance. There was also another dilemma posted by a first year medical student who’d been paying for a female student’s tram ticket because he felt he should. He had a tram pass but was too embarrassed to produce it in front of the girl and so he was paying for two tickets and had calculated the costs over his five year degree and was freaking out. I had to feel for the guy. I’ve since moved onto the year of my birth looking for reporting on the moon landing (I was supposed to be born on the day man landed on the moon, but ran 10 days late), but instead found stories about student protests against National Service and the Vietnam War. Wow! My father had been called up to go to Vietnam but in a true “act of God”, was in a nasty car accident and was declared medically unfit. There’s a story, especially as bald tyres on a rainy night might’ve had an influence. I have also read a lot of advice about how to approach your time as a graduate, but could’ve done with that info 30 years old.

279 Abercrombie St

Our place is the one in the middle and most of the time I had the bedroom upstairs on the balcony. 

Anyway, in terms of my blogging last week, for Friday Fictioneers, there was Journey Without Steps, which generated considerable discussion about disability and chronic illness and was rather encouraging. For Thursday Doors, I followed up on my trip to Sydney Uni and posted a photo of the front door on my first home away from home as a 19 year old: The Long & Winding Road

Lastly, I don’t mean to brag but I’ve actually read a book this week. Not only that, but was a fantastic book, which comes highly recommended…David Mitchell’s: Slade House. Have you read it or any of his other works? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback. If I wasn’t almost bricked in by piles of books, I’d be moving straight onto another.

Anyway, so how was your week? I hope you’ve had a great one.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli. Thank you for joining me.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Not the Boss’s Wife…Friday Fictioneers.

“This place ain’t right. There’s blood on the stone. Ma always said: `stone house, cold heart.”

“Watta ya mean, luv? She’s the best property in the district. The whippersnappers will love it when they come along… swimming and fishing in the creek. Our El Dorado.”

“I sense their starving spirits. Those broken shearers. The native people. Their blood’s still etched in the stone.”

“You’ve got a bleeding heart, Mary. It’s survival of the fittest. We’re gunna spin the golden fleece. Tame the great outback. ”

Charlotte refused to step inside and gave Charlie back his ring. She couldn’t become the Boss’s Wife.

Me – A New Book and A Work in Progress…

Last weekend, I mentioned that I was reading Raphaelle Giordano’s: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. I’d first spotted it at Gleebooks while on holidays at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney.  I don’t know why I bought this book. It was positioned in a huge stack right next to the register in prime real estate “look at me!!!” territory. It was also set in Paris. Then, the cover boasted that over 2 million French readers had loved it.Clearly, this book was going to be the next big thing, even if I hadn’t heard of it yet. For once, I was going to be ahead of the pack.

Book

However, being somewhat restrained, I waited til I arrived home and headed to our local bookshop, Book Bazaar. Of course, I couldn’t remember anything about it other than the colour…a delicious shade of musk pink. Well, at least that was the colour of the title. Oh yes…it was a French novel. Thank goodness Mandy is good at cryptic puzzles. Clutching my book in my fingertips, I was off on a virtual trip to Paris.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever considered this, but buying a book is always a bit of a mystery.  A leap of faith. A stab in the dark. Even when you’ve heard raving reviews and its been loved and adored by the masses and has even been elevated to the best seller lists, that’s still no guarantee it’s going to touch, inspire or even prod you.

So, I shouldn’t be surprised that with a title like: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, that I might be set for some kind of transformation. Moreover, now that Winter’s evolving into Spring, that I might even be set for a metamorphosis. Indeed, I’m no longer reading the book as a novel. Rather, it’s turned into a challenge. As the main character documents her visits to Claude a routinologist (whatever that is…), he provides her with a series of accumulating steps towards finding fulfillment. Described as a “third world problem”, her life is the epitomy of happiness and success on the outside, yet feels hollow and empty inside. She isn’t satisfied.

I didn’t buy this book because I’m not satisfied. Rather, I bought it because it was a French novel set in Paris. I spent six weeks in Paris in 1992 after finishing university and I like reflecting back on my time there, despite going through an existential crisis and the horrors of the “Paris dumper” (named after a Sydney band and I believe it was their lead singer who had a similar experience. As I’ve said before no one ever tells you that the city of love, is also the epicentre of heartbreak and despair. Indeed, in hindsight, I no longer wonder why there are so many bridges in Paris…

Anyway, I decided to follow the steps outlined in the book and see where they lead me. I had no great expectations. Indeed, I had none at all. After all, as I said, I wasn’t dissatisfied with my life. However, I had the feeling that I should be. That I should be bothered that I haven’t been in paid employment since I had chemo five years ago. That I should feel panic stricken that I haven’t edited my book “manuscripts” and got something out there. That pouring my heart and soul into so much research was an utter waste of time and a symptom of some kind of deep seated mental health issue which should be drawn out from the depths and slayed like the proverbial dragon. How could I be content when my life was up shit creek without a paddle, especially when I’ve always been a very driven person? Perhaps, that was just as worthy of exploration and change. Surely, I couldn’t possibly be happy when my life didn’t tick most of the boxes. Indeed, I’d ticked a few of those boxes you are supposed to avoid at all costs such as living with a severe life threatening illness. Actually, make that two.

Perhaps, I just didn’t realize I wasn’t happy with the status quo. That somehow I found enjoyment selling sausages at the scout fundraising BBQ at our local Bunnings hardware store. That I found pleasure in spotting a red rose just leaning into view through the window behind my desk. The window itself had an enormous cobweb so I wasn’t even looking at a perfect rose. It was rose through the cobwebs and in my deluded state, I found that even more alluring. I loved that juxtaposition of opposites…the comedy. I had made peace with my imperfect life and didn’t feel compelled to fetch the broom. Perhaps, I’d given up.

So, I stated writing the points out from the book on post it notes. Two post it notes:

You are responsible for your own happiness.

Throw out 10 useless objects.

If you looked around me, you’d say that I’d have no trouble throwing out 10 useless objects. Indeed, I could throw out, or re-home thousands of objects and never hit the sides. However, it’s not the last step that’s the most difficult. It’s the first. Of course, I could throw away 10 useless bobby pins which weren’t taking up any space whatsoever. However, wouldn’t that be cheating? Shouldn’t I be thinking about the spirit of the challenge and actually making a noticeable change to my external environment? Personally, I didn’t view this as over-thinking, but a case of being more conscious about my actions. I gather ten things into a crate and they hit the bin. I crossed the task off my list. And yet…

Somehow this desire for more space was addictive. I needed more real estate.

However, to create more space, you need to have somewhere to put things.

You also need to have discipline in addition to those create flights of fancy which have created the teetering stacks of books, paperwork and miscellaneous detritus which have fluttered onto my desk and built a nest.

Rowena Desk

It’s going to take a lot more than a line from a book to reform my desk but I am serious about it. Somehow I’m going to conquer.

xx Rowena

Books

PS When they said to throw ten things out, they didn’t mention anything about not bringing new stuff into the house. I don’t know how this happened, but we were driving back from the Scout camp yesterday and we spotted a sign outside a farm which said FREE. We had no idea what it was and thought it was most likely oranges or manure. However, there were bags and bags of books. We started going through them and it was a bonanza…an entire collection of Sci Fi, which my husband snapped up. Have no idea where all these books are going to live but they’ve certainly dumbfounded my quest for more space!

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 5th August, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I’m a year older and wiser, after celebrating my Birthday on Monday. I’m not going to get into the specifics. However, I can still claim to be in my 40’s, although I’m now hanging on by my fingertips!!!

My birthday was fairly low key. The kids went away skiing at Perisher with the Scouts, and my husband and I stayed home. From memory, we crashed out most of the time and slept. It’s still Winter here and I’m still inclined to hibernate. That said, we’re now starting to head into t-shirt weather by day, although it’s still pretty cold at night. Just to put you in the picture,  it was 9-19°C today.

Masterchef Australia 2018 Title Goes To Indian Origin Prison Guard Sashi Cheliah

Last Tuesday night, was the Finale of Masterchef Australia 2019. Have you ever watched Masterchef? You guys come from all over but the show seems to have something of a global audience. I’ve been a diehard, loyal fan since it first appeared 10 years ago when Julie Goodwin became Australia’s 1st Masterchef. Given how much I’ve always loved cooking, especially baking, it’s no wonder I love the show. However, I don’t just watch it as a cooking show. Rather, I’m lured right in, watching the highs and lows, the conquests and defeats of the human spirit. While I’m sure all these contestants are perfectionists by nature and extremely driven, making mistakes on the show is par for the course. The key, however, is not to have two bad cooks in a row, because that’s what sends you home. I made no secret at home, that 19 year old Jess Liemantara was my favourite, although as she faced pressure test after pressure test, it didn’t seem likely that she was going to last the distance. However, she eventually survived long enough to place fourth…a great achievement. The finale saw Ben and Sashi fight it out. While Sashi had been a strong contender throughout and an obvious winner, his form dropped back a bit in those last final cooks and I thought Ben had the title in the bag. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and Sashi romped home with the largest score in Masterchef history.

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I’ve been left feeling a distinct void since Masterchef ended, even though it’s clearly time I caught up on my violin practice which has been an unfortunate casualty. I’m also waiting on the transcripts of the bigamy case I’ve mentioned a few times. My 3 x Great Grandfather, John Johnston was convicted of bigamy in New Zealand in 1864 and I’m waiting on them to arrive before I do more research on that front.

Asher Hart 1931 record Breaker

Instead, I’ve dug up my research on my grandfather’s second cousin, Asher Hart, who was a swimming champion during the 1930s. However, in 1932, he contracted polio and spent four months in Sydney Hospital in plaster. I didn’t expect Asher to rise from the horrors of polio and certainly not return to competitive swimming and being a lifesaver at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. However, slowly but surely he got back on his feet and into training and his father, Reg, massaged his legs every night for 18 months. He didn’t throw him back into competition either. Rather, he valued rest as much as training and instituted what seems to be a pretty level-headed training regime. I’m still nutting out all his various achievements. However, in 1938 a mini tsunami hit Bondi Beach and hundreds of people needed to be rescued. Moreover, most of them couldn’t swim. Five people drowned that day, but Asher Hart saved four lives. I am so proud of him. Not just because he’s family, but because I’ve also survived the horrors of debilitating illness and for him to be able to do all of that, blows me away. I’m in awe. Indeed, when I first put the pieces of his story together five years ago, my muscle disease had flared up and I had my own questions of whether I was going to get my own muscle strength back, along with very real concerns that my lungs were steadily turning into concrete. I needed a hero. Not any kind of hero, but someone who was where I was at and climbed out. I’ve recently found out that he didn’t recover full strength in his legs, but his arms and shoulders compensated. He was certainly an extraordinary man, and from what I’ve also read, his character was equally inspiring. I am yearning to find out more.

Black Sunday SMH Feb 7 1938

Black Sunday Bondi, 1938. 

Speaking of which, I read a fantastic book this week: My Australian Story: Black Sunday by Evan McHugh. It recounts the story of “Nipper” a 12 year old Bondi lad who is desperate to become a lifesaver. However, it is 1938 and back then you needed to turn 16 and get your Bronze Medallion before you could join up. However, keen as mustard, Nipper starts training, swimming in the surf. The story goes off on many twists and turns and doesn’t just focus on Black Sunday itself, but provides more of an overview of what it was like to grow up and live in Bondi Beach at the time. It also places it within its historic context of the Great Depression, and the rise and rise of Adolf Hitler as the world steadily marches towards another world war. One of Nipper’s friends was a Jewish regugee from Germany.  I found it a gripping, easy read and couldn’t put it down. Read it in a day. Highly recommend it.

Book

 

I’ve also started reading Raphaelle Giordano’s: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, which I spotted while on holidays at Blackheath but requested as a birthday gift from my mum when I returned home. I’m really enjoying it so far. I love a philosophical, reflective read and so far, this one shows promise. However, it didn’t get a very encouraging review from Sydney Morning Herald Reviewer, Cameron Woodhead, who could well be true to name:  “This awkwardly titled, though bestselling, French novel claims to have made 2 million readers happier. It didn’t make me happier. But then, I didn’t grow spiritually from reading Eat, Pray, Love. Raphaelle Giordano has created the kind of shallow feel-good novel that resembles a self-help book, with the same tiresome platitudes, the same hyper-focus on personal fulfilment.”

However, life hasn’t been all about reading during the last week and indulging in Masterchef. Today, we helped one of my support workers move house. Her situation was untenable and she needed to move in a hurry. I rang a friend from Church with a van and trailer and recruited my husband and son and off we went. It’s not easy to move in a hurry and while I kept myself pretty light when I was in share accommodation, she had the full kaboodle and was moving to a first floor flat with a narrow staircase. So, the guys hoisted the bed up over the balcony and my dear son proved himself a man and quite a rock helping without complaining and doing what needed to be done. Our team of men, and our friend’s son, showed how male strength can be used for good and make a difference. I was not only very proud of them. It touched my heart. I was really thrilled we pulled off the move because it’s not easy for me to help other people in practical ways with my health issues and just this once, we pulled it off. I was able to be the sort of person I admire and want to be…a helper and not a drowning soul myself. I have grown so much stronger.

In terms of what I’ve posted this week, I did my usual contribution for Friday Fictioneers. This week’s contribution was : Secret Shed Business. I also posted a newspaper clipping I came across of my grandmother, concert pianist, Eunice Gardiner. I’ve never seen this photo before, but it showed my grandmother carrying her first son in a backpack and talking about how she attaches the baby on the front to go to the shops. Meanwhile,all in the same breath, she talked about giving a Beethoven recital at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. The baby was three months old at this point. My grandmother was something of a superhuman, although she didn’t go it alone. She had considerable support, despite my grandfather being away with the Army. In was 1943. The Japanese had already knocked on Sydney Harbour. These were very difficult times and yet she played on.

Lady & pups sleeping

Lady with the pups when they first arrived a year ago. 

Lastly, I just thought I’d finish up with a  bit of a tribute to the dog. It seemed everywhere I turned last week, people were caught up in serious trouble and needed an ear. Indeed, I was starting to wonder if there was anybody who was feeling on top of the world. That life was good. By this point, my own gear had moved into neutral, the observer…it’s an easy place for a writer to sit and turn into something of a home.

puppy

A simplistic interpretation…or is it?

Then, I looked up at my dogs…Lady, the Border collie x Cavalier and Rose and Zac our year old Border collie x Kelpies who are brother and sister from the same litter…our “twins”. Just the sound of the car pulling into the driveway, is ecstasy. Rosie is always there with her ball, stick, or fragments thereof, full of drive and enthusiasm. Zac is inclined to whimper when a door closes on him but he doesn’t forget how to wag his tail. It is no coinsidence that we have three dogs in our family and if we lived on acreage, there’d be a fourth…one each. They are simply the best!

Hope you’ve had a great week!

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

Dealing With Characters in Non-Fiction.

Not every writer aspires to write a novel. Although I have stumbled into a passion for both writing and reading flash or bite fiction, my book-writing aspirations focus almost exclusively on writing non-fiction.

By non-fiction, I’m not referring to something along the lines of memoir and motivational writing. However, a few years ago, I stumbled upon some gripping stories through my family history research, which were writer’s gold. You know, the sort of stuff which could easily be described as “the Big Bang”.  After all, as the saying goes, “fact is often stranger than fiction”.

Anyway, after having yet another monumental tussle with a character this week, I thought I’d share a few peculiarities I’ve encountered dealing with characters in non-fiction.

Obviously, the very clear distinction between developing characters in non-fiction, is that your characters are or were real people. They’re not products of your imagination, even if they were inspired by real people.

This places certain limitations on how you construct and develop your character. For example, you can’t just make up where they lived, their occupation. Moreover, something real has happened to spark the story in the first place. So, as the author, you’re not really in command of character development or plot. Indeed, you’re role is more that of a meticulous restorer, than a designer.

Using the Proust Questionnaire.

This is where turning to the Proust Questionnaire can be particularly helpful, as it allows you to focus on and bring out the idiocyncracies of your character. It poses a series of questions, which may be used to “interview” your character. Here’s a brief snap shot, which was taken from the Vaniety Fair version.

1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness?

__2.__What is your greatest fear?

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others?

__5.__Which living person do you most admire?

Character Have Limitations in Non-Fiction

Clearly, with your characters being real, this places all sorts of restrictions and limitations on how you can develop your character if you are trying to be truly authentic, rather than using a real person as a launching pad into fiction.

With the pieces I’m currently working on, I’m trying to be as authentic as possible. Indeed, I am in effect being, in effect, more of a restorer, than a designer. I’m working with my tweezers and magnifying glass to get those little details right, and yet at the same time, using a broad brush to create suspense, action and all the usual tools that you usually use to make a story worth reading. After all, a reader has no obligation to read anything we write, and there has to be an exceptionally good reason for them to even read the title, let alone the opening page. The days of readers bowing and scraping to the almighty author are long gone. We are the ones who need to get down on our knees and thank the reader. Be thankful they gave us their precious time.

Meticulous Research, Minimal Use.

This is why you don’t want to burden your reader with too much detail, even though you may have volumes of research. They should only see the tip of the ice berg. That’s not to say you don’t need the ice berg, but the reader is also interested in the other bells and whistles. You need to know your stuff. They need to know you know your stuff, but they don’t want you to regurgitate it all over them.

There is beauty in simplicity, something I’ve been appreciating more and more through writing and reading flash or bite fiction. A well-chosen object, piece of clothing, or even the use of language, speaks volumes. You don’t always need to write a novel.

Best Guess is Good Enough.

Another challenged I faced writing non-fiction, was working out about how to fill in the gaps. There’s stuff I don’t know. Can’t find out. Making things up bother me. Was it lying? However, I don’t believe there’s any harm in a best guess scenario. After all, the lines between fact and fiction are really quite blurry once you look into them. There’s always an overlap. Well, at least, that’s my humble opinion. I certainly wouldn’t call it “lying” or “fabrication”, and I am fairly fastidious about getting historical detail right.

The Character Drives Plot. The Author is the Passenger.

This week, I struck a another challenge peculiar to writing non-fiction. You are not writing or making up the plot. Rather, your character is in charge, and doesn’t care whether their next step is going to scuttle hours of work, and your entire philosophical position. No. They just do what they like and all you can do is structure and arrange facts and events, through your own editing lens.

The project which brought this to light, was actually my family history research. While I have been developing a series character sketches, which I’ve been posting on the blog in preparation for a book, I actually had nothing to say about my 4th Great Grandfather, John Johnston. I couldn’t find anything.

Plot is Unpredictable

However, after 20 years of passive research, I found out John Johnston was convicted of bigamy in New Zealand in 1864. Indeed, not only was he still married when he married my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Flanagan. They even had four children, and it wasn’t like they weren’t living nearby either.

Photo2

This could well be John Johnston approx 1886.

As you could imagine, this changed a lot of things. Indeed, it actually changed his name. He was known as “Alexander John”, despite having a younger brother who was Alexander.  Moreover, instead of immigrating directly from Scotland to New Zealand, I found out that he had been living in Liverpool. Indeed, he had married Jane Ellen Jones at St James Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool in 1855. Alexander John and Jane Ellen then lived with her parents for four months. They ultimately had four children and at least two of them were born in England. Alexander John moved to New Zealand around 1860 and three months later, Jane Ellen and the children sailed out. They settled in Dunedin where Alexander John was licensee of the Argyle Hotel until he went off to the diggings.

Understandably, my impressions of John Johnston nose-dived sharply. Although I’d never found any signs of greatness,  family legend had it that he’d built the North Sydney/Cammeray Suspension Bridge in Sydney in 1892. As it turned out, that was built by his brother, although we’re sure he was in there somewhere. Previously, I was thinking very much in terms of right-hand man, not the family charity case. Meanwhile, his other brother, Angus Rutherford Johnston was some kind of Indiana Jones type character who’d fought in Nicaragua, had been shipwrecked and captured by Indians, escaped, found gold and settled in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island where he ran a successful store. This has been, and continues to be, a family of high achievers. I’d always thought it was just a matter of time until I found out that John had built a railway, a monumental bridge or somehow made a name for himself somehow, and certainly NOT as a bigamist.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the bigamy case here, except to say that he stared straight at his first wife in court and denied being married to her, despite their four children. Indeed, when he took the the detective round to see his wife, he really seemed to apply the charm: ” Jane, my girl, you wont prosecute me,” You see, it was actually the Crown which was pursuing the case. In the end, “Alexander John” was found guilty and fined. He got off lightly on a technicality.

However, it wasn’t just the bigamy, or his denial which shot him down in flames. He was also a perpetrator of domestic violence. In 1863, he attacked Jane Ellen with a knife:

Threatening to Stab—Jane Ellen Johnston I charged her husband, Alexander John Johnston with threatening to stab her with a knife on the 13th inst. The defendant was required to give bond to keep the peace towards her for six months, fined in the amount of £lO, and to find two sureties tor £2O each.”

Otago Daily Times, Issue 464, 16 June 1863

I knew nothing about this a week ago, and as you could imagine, it changes everything. I was shocked right to the very core. After all, you don’t really need much of a sense of ethics or values to know this man was a bastard, or at least capable of acts of pure bastardry.

However, as if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

On the 8th February, 1866 Jane Ellen and Alexander John’s nine year old son found a pistol, which his mother thought was safely out of reach. Jane Ellen was out in the garden weeding with two of the other children, when she heard a firearm exploding. Nine year old, Thomas James Johnston had shot his 15 month old sister, Ellen Overton Johnston, in the chest and she died. He didn’t know it was loaded.

Clearly, real life has now moved into the pits of hell, and to compound his first family’s agony, Alexander John was off living with my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget. Indeed, their son Angus had been born on the 6th January, 1865 and Margaret was born roughly a year later.

This wasn’t the story I was planning to write, even for my own consumption.

Of course, not all non-fiction takes such a turn for the worst. However, the story of John Johnston certainly illustrates that you need to be prepared for surprises, and somehow make the necessary adjustments.

The Challenge of Writing My Own Motivational Memoir.

I’ve faced different, but related challenges, working on a motivational memoir, known as: “The Book Project”. Just as I thought the plot was reaching it’s climax and about to trail off to its “living happily ever-after” conclusion, fate stepped in and the book was dead.

You see, I was working on a motivational book about overcoming my severely debilitating auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis and for 12 months, I was soaring. Flying high. I’d managed to all but turn my mountain around. I’d lost 10 kilos despite being on the fat drug, prednisone. I’d taken up the violin despite my disabilities and had played at a happening local music venue at our end of year concert. I’d started my blog and had built up an online blogging community. I’d also gone on an adventure camp where I’d gone parasailing, driven a quad bike and gone down the water slide on the boat without my glasses on, and had ridden a camel. I’d also managed to return to work one day a week as Marketing Manager of a local IT company and was also helping out in my son’s classroom as a volunteer teacher’s aide, and sometimes took the class. These were all things not only I had deemed impossible. It was all there in black and white, or at least shades of grey. The grand finale for the book, was going to be skiing down the Front Valley at Perisher, which would represent turning my mountain. Unable to climb a mountain and ever the individual, I’d decided to ski down the mountain instead.

Indeed, I did it. More as a terrified, quivering wreck of my former self, but I’d pulled it off.

However, even while I was still  down at the snow, I developed the beginnings of a severe chest infection, which blew up into pneumonia. One night while coughing uncontrollably, I briefly even stopped breathing. Meanwhile, a CT scan on my lungs showed that I’d developed fibrosis as a complication of the dermatomyositis, and suddenly the thrill of soaring steadily upwards, came crashing down and didn’t stop at ground level. It kept falling. Seriously, at this point I thought I was looking at a death sentence. Twelve months to live. I’d smacked into the wall, and I was all but a dead duck.

This wasn’t how the Book Project was meant to end. You can’t write a motivational book, which finishes off with you drowning in your own lungs. Come on. That’s not even a story you could give away, let alone become that guaranteed best seller I’d written in my head right down to the second last page.

Fortunately, my doctors put me on a series of chemo infusions of a drug called cyclophosphamide and five and a half years later, I’m still here, and I’ve been in remission ever since. Amen!

While these plots certainly plunged unexpectedly deep into the dark side, they do illustrate how when you’re writing about real people, the author is not in charge. Indeed, you’re much more of a passenger, than sitting in the driver’s seat. Indeed, you can see that at work even when I was writing my own story, although in that instance, it was fate which stepped in.

Clearly, this has become a very lengthy post, and so I’m going to stop it there and turn it over to you. Have you ever written non-fiction? How did you face and overcome some of the hurdles involved? It was be great to get a bit of discussion going.

Best wishes,

Rowena