Category Archives: Parenting

Weekend Coffee Share10th June, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Thanks to the English Queen’s official birthday, we Australians on the other side of the world, have received a gratuitous public holiday. Although I take an interest in the royal family, I’m a Republican to the core. After all, we Australians are more than capable of standing on our own two feet and making our own Vegemite toast. That said, I’m not handing the holiday back.

Anyway, how was your week? I hope you’ve had a great one and have a few stories to tell.

It’s officially Winter here. However, the weather is quite variable from day to day.  This week there were a few truly miserable days where is was raining, freezing and gray without even a hint of sunshine, and the lot of us complained bitterly wondering what this dreadful beast called Winter is and what it’s doing here in the land of perpetual sunshine. Fortunately, the weather-makers got the message, because we then had a few glorious days of sunshine and we were all happy again. Our world was put right again.

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On Wednesday, I managed to get down to the beach for a walk and took my camera along just to ensure my heart rate didn’t increase to anything like the point where it could be considered aerobic exercise. While watching the waves roll in, I thought about all the generations of people who have arrived by boat upon these shores and come to call Australia home.

While this might seem a bit strange, I’ve been researching our first arrivals for my book. Our earliest arrived in 1808 only twenty years after the arrival of the first fleet. So, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Arrivals by boat continue today and give our politicians much to discuss.

It’s funny how they fail to consider that the Aboriginal people weren’t happy when we landed on their shores and that those threatening spears might have been their way of saying: “Stop the boats”. While refugees need new homes and places of safety, my concerns turn more to the environment. There are way too many people on this planet and these population pressures are causing hosts of serious issues impacting on the survival of the planet. I had a bit of a wake up call on that front this week while writing a poem after my walk along the beach. They weren’t my thoughts. A random muse dropped them into my poem. However, once they were there, I couldn’t ignore them. A warning that our planet is more important than people. Coming from me, that’s a big thing because I’m a people person and I’m not as much of a big picture thinker. However, as I said this insight come from somewhere else and was left in my lap.

Yesterday, we drove up to Somersby just North of Sydney  and went to the Harvest Festival. Well, we actually went to visit the pecan farm where my annual violin concert is held. Hey, I’d better rephrase that and say that Stratford Music where I learn the violin has their annual concert there and I am but one of the many performers.

 

 

Anyway, getting back to the pecans, the idea was to fill up a bucket with pecans which were weighed and paid for as you left. We arrived quite late in the day because we were also there to pick up our daughter from dance rehearsals nearby. So, things were winding up, but we did see them shake a tree to get the nuts down and the merrymakers were rummaging around collecting their loot. I gathered up some pecans myself. However, I was also distracted through the lens and enjoyed photographing the naked branches silhouetted against a muted blue sky with the quirky-looking seed pods dangling on stalks. Kids were having a ball running through the fallen leaves and the chilled air was filled with laughter. It was very refreshing and although I’m 40 something myself, I still found magic in crunching those fallen leaves underfoot. We’re drying out our stash for a bit and then I’m going to attempt making a pecan pie for the first time. I’ll have to see if I can source some other local ingredients to truly be able to say my pie came straight from the farmer’s gate.

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It wasn’t long before sunset when we set out and we pulled over beside the road to photograph a stunning row of Autumn trees which were prancing around in that glorious magic-hour light looking absolutely glorious. I just kept taking photos from all angles not knowing quite what was going to work out best til I got home.

 

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Indeed, to be perfectly honest, I wanted to soak all of it up and take it home with me. Plant that setting in our own rundown and neglected backyard of arid beach sand. Well, I wouldn’t really want to do that, because I wouldn’t want all of those beautiful trees to die.

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After picking up our daughter, we drove down to Sydney for my parents’ birthdays. That was a low-key celebration at their place sandwiched in between the kids’ activities and Dad’s golf. There was a bit of a miscommunication about the cake and so there was no cake, no Happy Birthday but we had the presents and card sorted. After dinner, mum and I retired to the lounge room where she accompanied me on my violin. Our main piece was Tristesse by Chopin but we’re also working on Edgar’s Love’s Greeting. Although mum’s done a lot of accompanying over the years as well as teaching the piano, getting our act together has been unexpectedly complicated. We usually end up having different versions of the same piece of music, which have been written in a different key. So, even when we’re playing together, it’s been difficult for us to be on the same page. However, we’re starting to get there now.

No doubt, many of you also experience this in different ways in your families and finding togetherness is more difficult than you’d expect.

Meanwhile, in terms of posts for the last week, there was Ghosts On The Run for Friday Fictioneers and if you’re wanting to have a good laugh, you should go and check out Jonathan Livingston Budgerigar. You’ll never forget him. Speaking of Jonathan Livingston, I made a few references to him in Gull On The Run.

How was your week? I hope you have a great one.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 2nd June, 2019.

Welcome Back for Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Hope you like your banana cake served up with a side serve of chewed up tennis ball and a pair of beady-eyed dogs glaring at you to throw the ball. I also offer apologies for the other dog, Lady, who’ll be glaring at your cake and looking like she’s posing for Vogue Magazine with those puppy dog eyes.

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I’m sorry I missed you all last weekend. Last Saturday, I drove our daughter up to Newcastle for the regional school aerobics championships. This was the first time I’ve seen our daughter competing, and I was getting my head around it all. There were similarities with the dance and the dance eisteddfods she’s done, and yet this was new territory. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of jazz dance and the sort of aerobics I used to do too many moons ago. However, these girls had speed, agility and nose-breaking high kicks which placed it in a different league. That’s where the similarities with the dance ended. The girls were wearing white Reeboks instead of dance shoes and were referred to as “athletes”. Their team came first, which means they’re off to State. That’s all very exciting, although I am wondering how any child of mine could even make it into the school team. When I was at uni, I wrote an article entitled “Unco Aerobics”. In keeping with my poor sense of direction, I ended up facing the class instead of the front.

While we were in Newcastle, we headed off to The Junction, which is quite an upmarket, arty part of Newcastle. That could also read “expensive”. However, Mum’s cousin and her husband owned a Mexican restaurant down there called Munchos which was a real institution in Newcastle. Unfortunately, she passed away and Mum’s aunt and uncle passed away before that and so Newcastle has this sense of making a pilgrimage and this now focuses on the family restaurant, Talulah, where I found an old, dying piano out on the footpath this time and it really spoke to me about all these family members who have passed and all the times we had together.  I still remember Mum’s uncle returning from a spear fishing trip with a lobster when I was a child and how he drove this very shiny red and black taxi which lived in the garage under the house. What happened to all of that? How can entire worlds just disappear like that and why do I feel like the last one left standing when I’m not. Surely, I’m not the only one who feels like they’re living among the dead, not in a morbid way but with the memories which quite concrete. Something I can touch. Someone I can hold and still feel their vibrant laughter.

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Anyway, on this visit we ended up having afternoon tea at the cafe across the road as I was wanting cake. I needed cake after that dreadful getting lost driving to Newcastle experience and you can’t keep pouring yourself into your kids as a parent without refueling yourself. Moreover, I make no apologies for turning to food to do that. I had a variation of Creme Brulee and Miss was hungry too. So, there went the budget enhanced by a few superb finds at the local Red Cross Opportunity Shop.  It’s okay. We could survive on dry Vegemite toast. However, our teenage son disagreed.

Speaking of our son, he placed at the school athletics carnival last week. He was in the 400 metres relay which came in second. This came as a complete surprise. Our kids have never come home with a ribbon before and while our son does a lot of long-distance hiking with scouts, he’s on the computer every waking minute he’s not at school or in an arranged activity. So, it was a bit of a surprise to find out there’s a hidden athlete in there somewhere. I did ask him if he was off to zone and his reply was priceless: “Hope not!” His enthusiasm was clearly underwhelming.

I’m still beavering away on my research and book project. However, while I’ve made some enormous leaps forward, I can’t help feeling that I’ve headed backward. That perhaps if I’d written this story at the start with the little I had, I’d have my story done and dusted by now instead of feeling lost in a research wilderness. Have you ever felt like that? I’m sure the story I write once I finally put pen to paper will be a much more textured and complex tale than something I’d have rushed off. However, I was hoping to be further down the track.

By the way, my concept is to write a series of short biographical stories about a few of our stand-out ancestors. It was supposed to be fairly straight-forward because I’ve already researched the bulk of them. However, I decided to launch off with our first arrivals in Australia and that came down to Richard Keep on Geoff’s side who arrived in Sydney in 1808 and John Paton who arrived in 1818 on mine. Unfortunately, being right back at the beginning of our Australian story, they’re the ones I knew least. So, there’s been a lot of hard work and trying to get my feet into where they’ve come from, their crimes, the voyage to Australia, their time here and their legacies. That’s a lot to cover and then condense into a short story or two. However, I am making progress and I’m loving the journey along the way. An added bonus with John Paton has been the infusion of Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns who was living just down the road in his parents’ day and it also turns out that his first illegitimate child (he had a few) was with his mother’s servant by the name of Elizabeth Paton. I haven’t found a connection yet and our Patons were landholders. However, the plot has thickened. Indeed, that’s part of the problem. It’s become so thick I can barely move.

Have you been doing much reading lately? I’ve been reading Fled by Australian authorMeg Keneally and am really loving it. Meg Keneally is the daughter of legendary Australian author, Thomas Keneally who is best known for his story of Oscar Schindler, Schindler’s Ark. Father and daughter have been collaborating on the Monserrat Series and this is Meg’s first solo novel and she has another on the way.

Fled tells the story of Jenny Trelawney…”Highway robber. Convict. Runaway. Mother. She will do anything for freedom, but at what cost?

Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?”

Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant. I heard Meg discuss the novel recently at the Sydney Writers’ Festival where she explained her decision to fictionalize the story as she felt it wasn’t right to put her own words and opinions onto the real Mary Bryant. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of history, and I gripping sea voyage.

Anyway, it’s now almost Monday night and I’m chomping on my dinner while I try to polish this off. It’s one of the advantages of living a day ahead of some of you folk.
This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to come along and join us.
Best wishes,
Rowena

 

Reference:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/popular-fiction/Fled-Meg-Keneally-9781760680275

 

 

Hope For the Lost…?

Sometimes, I wonder if there’s any hope for the directionally challenged, especially those of us with “geographical dyslexia’ who head the exact opposite direction like someone reversing their letters.

Last weekend, my doubts were only confirmed when my daughter and I managed to miss the freeway exit for Newcastle, the second biggest city in NSW and hardly somewhere you could miss. Obviously, the sign was hardly insignificant or hiding behind a tree either. Yet, we achieved the seemingly impossible! We missed it.

Before I go any further, I should emphasise that we were heading for Newcastle just North of Sydney in Australia and not Newcastle Upon Tyne in the UK, or Newcastle Ontario and if you want to be really clever or completely lost you could even end up in Akhaltsikhe (Georgia), Nove Hrady (Czech Republic), Jaunpils (Latvia). Those would take my capacity for getting lost to new, inconceivable heights!!

While it’s all very funny to joke about how women can’t read maps or might hold the street directory “upside down”, for those of us who literally get lost in the shower the difficulties, stress and consequences of venturing further afield are daunting and even prohibitive. Indeed, as a sheep who’s been lost many times over, I’m often left calling out for a shepherd and lost beyond the powers of prayer. It’s no wonder that I have three sheepdogs at home and perhaps if I sat one of them in the front seat, they might be able to get me where I want to go. I’d just have to hope a ball or stick didn’t fly past or we’d end up in serious trouble. They wouldn’t stop.

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Shame you can’t drive along with your navigator sticking their head out for a better view.

Anyway, I was put through my paces again last Saturday when I had to drive our daughter to Newcastle for her regional school aerobics competition. Theoretically, Newcastle is “just up the road” and about a 1.5 hour’s drive. Moreover, I’ve been to Newcastle quite a few times. So, finding my way around shouldn’t be a problem and yet it was. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t be like my Dad who only ever has to go somewhere once and can find his way back without any assistance at all. He might not have been to Newcastle for over ten years. However, I still remember him driving straight to Mum’s Aunty’s place which wasn’t right smack bang next to the GPO either. His navigational skills are legendary.

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My proud grandfather with his Chev in 1938. 

 

However, Mum’s father’s sense of direction was also legendary but for all the wrong reasons. He not only seems to be the source of my spatial dyslexia he also refused to follow the map and had to find his own way. Once, after we’d moved house my Dad posted him a map with red arrows marked on it. Yet, he still managed to get lost. Thought he’d use “DIY navigation” instead. Go his own way. Dad was beside himself. Why couldn’t he follow the arrows? Jeepers! What’s a shepherd supposed to do when the sheep exits stage left instead of right and won’t heed the warnings? Just to add a bit more texture to this portrait, my grandfather was actually a Church Minister so goodness knows where he was leading his flock or if they were ever heard from again. Naturally, I jest on that front because in every other sense of the word, he was a true shepherd. Just don’t ask him to follow a map!

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Pictured with his sister Marj (I think) on the South Australian & NSW Border back in 1938 when he drove to and from Dalby Queensland back home to Hahndorf, SA. 

 

While the spatially challenged were at the mercy of the street directory back in the day, we now have a host of gadgets and apps at our disposal and we have no excuse for getting lost. However, so far I’ve refused to get GPS because I don’t want my navigational skills to get worse. I believe wholeheartedly in the powers of neuroplasticity and that if I get lost often enough, one day I’ll be found. Well, actually it would be far better if I could find my own way there.

So, I decided that if I had any chance of turning myself into a navigational superhero, I needed to apply the Scout’s motto and “Be Prepared”. Friday night, I got the street directory out. Photocopied the route and highlighted it with a bright orange fluoro marker. You couldn’t miss it. I also sat our daughter down and went through the map with her. After all, she was going to be Navigator-In-Chief. We both knew where we were going. We’d been to this part of Newcastle before and it was quite familiar. The venue was also across the road from a huge Westfield Shoppingtown at Kotara and if we lost everything else, we couldn’t miss that. We could not go wrong.

However, as we found out, there’s a huge difference between seeing something on a map and seeing it on the ground where you have all sorts of landmarks which bring these streets and turn-offs to life.

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How could we possibly miss a sign this big, bold and clear?

Before we had a chance to apply our knowledge of the Newcastle map itself, we missed the turnoff to the Newcastle Link Road off the freeway. I definitely remember seeing the exit and the sign beforehand. However, then I saw this little goat track off the freeway and couldn’t see the overpass and so I didn’t turn off. The next thing we were heading towards Hexham with no U-Turn and no side streets. We were stuck on a trajectory which was taking us all the way to Queensland.

Well, it would have if we’ve driven another ten hours down the same road. I’m not intending to exaggerate, catastrophize or in any way beat up just how far we’d deviated off course. However, I did need to pull over. Stop hyperventilating and work out how on earth we were going to shift the earth round and off its axis so we could approach Newcastle from a different angle. Actually, I think that should read something like turning the map around,  but I’m not good at regrouping. I had my route all planned and mapped out in bright orange. It was gouged into my neurones for eternity. I just hadn’t factored in that we could miss a major exit and all the signposts which went along with it.

Unfortunately, it took a while for our daughter to appreciate the true nature of the crisis. That she was driving with Mum not Dad, and I was in throws of having a fully fledged catastrophic meltdown. That soon there was only one direction I could drive, and that was home.

Phew! She woke up. Next, she did what every sensible teenager would do She went for the map on my phone. While this might not be as good as the street directory for giving us the bigger picture, it does have a blue dot showing where we are and talked us through where we were and where we were going. It overcame the hurdle of coming at it from a different direction as well, which isn’t done easily with your old-fangled street directory. Indeed, I might even be a convert. If we’d been using Google Maps, we would not have missed the exit. It would have been clear.

By the way, if you ever see a red Alph Romeo wandering around the road like a lost sheep, be afraid. Very afraid. Or, if you’d like to be constructive, you might just tell me where to go. I’d be most thankful!

How are you when it comes to reading maps and getting around? Do you have any epic sagas of getting lost and battling with the compass? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

“Ma-Ma!” Friday Fictioneers.

Jane was reliving her fifth birthday party for her shrink in grueling slow motion. Mummy had made her the Dolly Varden Cake, a miniature replica of herself. They played pass the parcel, drop the hanky and as they sang Happy Birthday, Jane smiled for the camera. She’s never forgotten the last time she smiled and was truly happy. There was  just pin the tail on the donkey before everyone went home. Her mother tied the scarf over her eyes. Turned her around three times, and she stuck on the tail. When she took off the scarf, her mother was gone.

…..

100 words.

It’s great to be back again this week. I’m researching and writing a book which I thought was going to be a lot more straight-forward that it’s turned. I guess that must be a common scenario writing non-fiction where you have no control over your characters. However, the stories are exceeding my wildest dreams. Just need to get it on paper.

BTW in case you’re interested in the goings on of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, here’s a link.

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. Every week, we write 100 words to a photo prompt. This week’s photo was kindly provided by © J Hardy Carroll.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Walking Through the Lens…I mean the Park.

Welcome to the Mt Penang Parklands, North of Sydney and about 20 minutes drive up the hill from my place.

I ended up here by default today after dropping my daughter off at a dance audition callback next door. It was such glorious, sunny Autumn day, that I packed my camera and headed off to the park for a walk. Of course, with that combination I was hardly expecting to raise my heart rate or even get close to 1000 steps. However, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?!!

Since the majority of you live overseas, I thought I’d better give you a quick rundown on Autumn in the “Australian bush”, as we call it. The majority of Australian trees aren’t deciduous, which means we don’t have the intensity of Autumn colours that you get in some parts overseas. Indeed, the bush stays pretty much the same shade of green all year round. In many ways, that’s a shame. After all, Autumn leaves are nature’s stained-glass windows and they’re absolutely magnificent, glowing in their splendor against a bright blue sky. Yet, we Aussies are proud as punch of our gum trees with their distinctive scent of Eucalyptus. Indeed, the gum tree is one of our greatest Australians. For so many of us who have travelled, it has always meant home.

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While there weren’t any Autumn leaves in the park itself, there were some liquid amber and plane trees on the walk there, which soon captivated the lens. They’re so beautiful and a dazzling kaleidoscope of colour. I also love watching individual leaves dangle from the very edge of a twig, as their brilliant, desiccated colours  flicker in the wind before drifting in a captivating twirl down to earth. I picked up a handful and brought them home. Of course, it’s not the same as seeing them outside in the sun, but now I have a touch of Autumn at home.

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Despite being dazzled by the Autumn colours, I was soon struck by the lone gum tree featured at the start of this post. Somehow, as it drew me into its orbit, time slowed right down and the big, wide world slipped away as I spotted a black ant making it’s way up the trunk. Like all teeny black ants, it seemed overly ambitious trying to make its way up to the top, which must have been the ant equivalent of climbing Everest. Moreover, since this tree was covered in bumps or some kind of “tree pox” after a rugged invasion by bugs, it would be a particularly rugged journey for an ant. I don’t know whether it was just me, but none of that registered from a distance, and it was only once I’d moved in closer, that its story became manifest. By the way, this bumpy surface is by no means typical of gum trees. This tree has had a exceptionly bad run. Indeed, it would be well within its rights to ask: “Why me?”

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It’s funny how I fell for this quirky looking gum tree when the pond clearly takes centre stage.When I came here for a previous dance event, I’m sure there were flowering water lilies floating on the pond. I’d been researching Monet at the time and with a good dose of imagination, I could almost feel myself walking through Monet’s garden, especially when I closed my eyes.

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However, when I went there today, the vegetation had died back and was looking unsightly, neglected and was literally begging to be pulled out.  Indeed, it looked like the gardener had gone off on an extended “smoko”and I could’ve pull them out myself given half a chance. However, when I got up close, it turned out these dead-looking plants were actually habitat. Indeed, there were five Dusky Moorhens (a species of water bird) in there. Goes to show how we need to view the environment through fresh eyes, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who would’ve destroyed their home due to my own misguided perceptions of beauty. Well, as they say, you learn something new every day.

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Anyway, that’s enough about trees. Let’s talk about flowers.

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Banksia Integrifolia

While there weren’t a lot of flowers in the parklands, there were some remarkable beauties. There were two different species of Banksia. There was Banksia Integrifolia with its huge, leathery green leaves and cone-shaped flower and also Banksia Spinulosa, whose flowers look like glowing, golden candlesticks.

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Banksia Spinulosa

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the names of the other flowers. So, that’s enough of trying to name stupid flowers. These can be the “red” and “yellow” flowers. I don’t know why somehow else didn’t come up with that? Genius!

After all of this, what more could I ask for?

 

Well, on a different tangent entirely, the Chrysler Car Club was having a day out and there was a fascinating line up of vehicular temptation…dare I say lust?!! It was also rather quirky seeing all these old classics out en masse and I loved it. Retro is my middle name.

My favourite was a hot red Plymouth named after the Steven King horror movie classic: Christine. That car was hot! Hot! Hot! I definitely had a severe case of red car envy. That said, if I see that car lurking in the local streets, I’m out of here. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Well, that about covers my trip to the Mt Penang Parklands. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Have you been on any photographic walks lately? Where did you end up? I’d love to hear from you and please leave your links in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Our daughter’s audition callback went well and she will be appearing in Swan Lake later this year.

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share 18th March, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share! Please make yourself at home. What would you like to drink? I’ve become quite a tea drinker lately as coffee doesn’t agree with me. That said, I do risk it occasionally at a cafe. I still love a good coffee!

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My apologies once again for going off the grid. However, last Sunday was Mothers’ Day here in Australia and after the kids made me pancakes with Nutella and raspberries for breakfast here, we drove down to Sydney to see my Mum, Dad and brother for lunch and a rambling afternoon. Understandably, the weekend was swallowed up and I can’t remember what else happened. I’ve been a bit under the weather with a cold so I could well have been asleep.

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It’s not quite Winter here in Sydney but we’re getting a few cold mornings and a few chilly nights just to remind us that Winter isn’t far away. Yet, it’s a beautiful sunny day outside, which certainly begs the question what am I doing locked away inside? Why aren’t I out there soaking up all those precious rays before they disappear?

Well, I have the best of both worlds sitting here as the sun is streaming through the window and it’s really very pleasant. I’m still in my PJs at almost 3.00 pm and had a big sleep in after dropping my daughter at the dance studio at the crack of dawn (any time before 9.00 am on a Saturday morning but 7.30 was particularly cruel!!) Fortunately, we live just around the corner and if she didn’t have such a big day ahead, I’d be telling her to walk. However, please excuse the pun, but that could be just around the corner.

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My book project is coming along very well. It’s now shifted from biographical short fiction into short non-fiction with a series of biographical sketches of our ancestors and relatives put within their historical context and shaken up a bit. Both my husband and I come from huge families who arrived early on in terms of Australia’s European history and we’re just lucky that many of them were in the right or (actually from their perspective the wrong place) at the right time. Although most of the characters I’ve researched most are more recent, I’ve decided to start off with our first arrivals who I knew relatively little about. Moreover, they’ve taken me on a course I hadn’t researched much before as well. This means that while I set off on this book project thinking I was already well underway and it would take a lot to get a book out, the reality is very different. I guess it always is. The job takes longer and costs blow out. Just ask a builder.

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Yet, I’m exciting and researching and working on these stories is quite exhilarating. I’ve also had to think about why I’m doing this, other than needing to write and finish a book for my own sense of being able to see it through to the end and published. What attracted me to these characters? Why invest so much of my time, energy and my very self in telling their stories?

The answer is that these people are all great battlers. Many endured incredible hardships yet persevered and soldiered on. They didn’t give up. I find them so encouraging and they lift me up. A bad day doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

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These people are also incredibly human and I think it makes a huge difference that they’re real and that I haven’t transposed their stories into quasi-fictional stories. The reader knows this is true and has something real to hold onto. That said, truth always is a matter of perspective and how you source their particulars.

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I am having a pretty quiet day today. I’m about to head off to vote in the Australian Federal Election. I almost forgot to mention this and I’ve been doing my best to avoid just about anything to do with it. I am completely disenchanted with both major parties and don’t trust either of the main contenders for Prime Minister. However, our local member has done a great job and I question whether she should lose her seat based on her boss. We live in a marginal seat where our votes count and so I actually do need to take my vote seriously. I think I’ve fallen into the camp of voters going independent to send the major parties “a message”. Voting independent is a more civilized way of cracking an egg on the leaders’ heads, which has been quite a feature during this election campaign. You might’ve heard about Egg Boy who cracked an egg on a senator’s head after his dreadful remarks re the Christchurch Massacre. A woman also egged the Prime Minister.  The egg didn’t crack which also aroused some interest. Just to keep the campaign interesting, we’ve also had the appearance of chickenman, although he obviously isn’t responsible for laying any eggs. He’s apparently a young Liberal supporting former PM Tony Abbott. I’m not even going to touch on the intense fighting for the seat of Warringah held by Tony Abbott, except to say that I wish I could vote for his rival former Olympic skier, Zali Steggal. Tony Abbott is long past his expiry date.

Tomorrow, on the other hand, is going to be huge. Our daughter received a call back for an audition for a local ballet company which is putting on Swan Lake. This is such a huge opportunity, but I also need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. While I’m not auditioning on stage, I too will be under the microscope and most of my day will be going up in smoke waiting. I know I’m written about the benefits of waiting before but… I know. I know. I can get through another one of the unfinished books teetering on my bedside table. It would be incredible if she got in.

Before I head off, I just wanted to share with you that I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival two weeks ago. If you’d like to dip your toe into what was a fabulous day, please click Here.

Thank you for joining me and I look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to. By the way, the photos throughout this week’s post were taken at the local wetlands this afternoon during our daughter’s audition.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Our daughter was successful in her audition and will be appearing in Swan Lake locally later in the year.

PPS Australian Federal Election done and dusted. Biggest surprise of all. We still have the same Prime Minister.

 

 

My Sydney Writers’ Festival 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carriageworks

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

David Astle, Rewording the Brain

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

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

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

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

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

Evacuate…My Plans Go Off Script.

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

Meg Keneally – Fled

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

Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Result

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin Continue reading