Last year, I sent Christmas wishes with a cocky in a plum tree. I didn’t get around to anything original this year, and instead from a cache of rather musty-smelling art postcards from the 1960s, found sufficient madonnas and child for everyone. Even less original was my greeting, which was borrowed from a Canadian friend.
He sent us a very funny home-made Christmas card which wished us a holly, jolly time of turning, reflection and indulgence.  Thank you, Dave – and as Christmas was the day before last, I acknowledge that my good wishes are not only borrowed, they’re late.

As usual, the end of the year has caught me by surprise – how can this be? – and of course, it’s not surprising at all because the sun keeps rising and setting, day after day.
Which is a good thing.
And now that the jolly holly is over, there’s that lovely holiday time in between for lazing and reading. Lots of reading. Over the past week it’s been completely random – That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist by my favourite Buddhist Jewish grandmother, Sylvia Boorstein, a 1930’s romance that belonged to my grandmother, and vegetarian cook books. So much for my plan to read more strategically, more thoughtfully, and from my list of important new authors.
Fireworks and end-of-year sales and resolutions aside, Happy New Year. Continuing the lack-of-originality theme, from a Buddhist loving-kindness meditation that I like, I quote:

May all beings be well and happy
May they be safe from harm
May they be held in compassion
May their suffering be eased
May they be at peace.

And that means you.

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I’m not sure when or where or even why I scribbled this down. In the King James Version of the bible, Hebrews 13:2 reads:
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
On the other hand, the revised New International Version is this:
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

To me, that tin ear for language is so starved of poetry and beauty, it’s almost beyond understanding. You just have to read the KJV passage out loud, and follow with the other. But, as my husband pointed out, the revisers were all about understanding for the people who were going to be put off by archaic words or grammar.

I am now raving (in a good way) about RisingTideFallingStar, but to tell you the truth, I was initially put off by Philip Hoare’s wild and prodigal way with language when I first bought this book last year. It was a bit the same with H is for Hawk, by Helen McDonald. Too many words! Too intense! And I certainly changed my mind there.


On our Canadian adventure, we spent a lot of time by the ocean; the Pacific on the West Coast, the Atlantic on the East. The photograph below was taken on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. One of our friends reminded me of an earlier visit, when he and I had travelled from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, and the huge behemoth of a car ferry was accompanied by leaping dolphins. It was sheer delight, which I’d forgotten, and then remembered. I realised with a thud of disappointment that I’d just had that ritual burning, and the 1991 Canada journal had gone into the flames. Damn.
This digression is just a way of saying that my appetite for reading about oceans was aroused, I remembered buying the book and not liking it, and thought it might be time to try again.

And oh, wow. It made me remember being a child of around ten, discovering that I could write poetry, and the feeling of feasting greedily on words. Like a bee in a field of flowers, I was giddy and dizzy and reeling with sweetness. Not that Hoare’s writing is particularly sweet. It’s actually pretty strange, some of it – I can imagine there are people who’d even find it repellent. I’m thinking of his descriptions of examining animal corpses, for instance (this is something I do, too – they’re interesting). When he finds a dead female dolphin and pokes his finger inside her genital opening to see if she’s pregnant, it was almost a step too far even for me.

This is a book about himself, and the ocean.  Also, whales, dolphins, birds, England and New England, shores, tides, storms, the planet, the past, the present, swimming, danger, Moby Dick, Sylvia Plath, the English Romantic poet Shelley,  The Tempest, David Bowie, Virginia Woolf… This is a very partial list. There’s so much more. Here’s a taste:

And when a family of Sowerby’s beaked whales appears in the early morning off those black shores, their strange dark shapes moving silently through the water, their subtle blows and antediluvian beaks breaking the calm surface to announce their presence: or when Risso’s dolphins leap and spy-hop, so impossibly marked and scratched that they appear almost entirely white, like cetacean ghosts, in the way that all whales are ghosts; or when a sperm whale  appears out of the same sea, her body uniquely shaded in grey, a pale band around her belly splintering into shards towards he flukes like avant-garde haute couture and leaving me gasping behind my perspex mask – don’t all these cetaceans, whose names seem to belong to humans, signal their own stories,their own sense of themselves, rising to adore their own gods?
I had no idea. In the ocean, this is happening, all the time, as it always did.

Rising TideFallingStar by Philip Hoare, Fourth Estate, 2017 $29.95




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I am a bit of a sucker for:
(a) Stationery, especially journals. I buy a lot of beautiful journals.
(b) Resolutions, especially those starting at the beginning of a month, a season or – best of all – the year.
(c) Self help books that aren’t American – I’ve found the Japanese ones, like The Courage to be Disliked by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi, especially interesting.

These all came together in L’arte de la Liste by Dominique Loreau. Yes, obviously she’s French, but she’s lived in Japan since the 1970s, and so this book is much influenced by Japanese ideas. Though the cover promises that you can simplify and organise, it’s not a how-to in any narrow sense. It really is about enriching one’s life rather than bullet points and binders with ten tabs and ruthless efficiency.

I have re-purposed a lovely, flowery but totally failed “Write Two Pages Every Single Day for a Month” journal (I managed three non-consecutive days!) and it’s now “A List a Day for a Month” lovely flowery journal. A list just has to have more than one item on it. That’s all!

My list for today is TEN REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL.
They’re in no particular order.

1. Victorian voters have rejected the Liberal Party. Maybe the whole lot of them will have a good, hard look at themselves. Or maybe not.
2. School children have gone on strike and taken their concerns about climate change to state and federal parliament
3.  200 of the striking school children came from my town, Castlemaine.
4. Gorgeous little silver eyes are hopping around the the tree outside my window.
5. My husband had a crack at making hummus for the first time, and it was delicious.
6. There are bright pink, pale pink, red, scarlet and red-and-white geraniums all in flower in the front garden.
7. My glasses weren’t lost, after all.
8. My son assisted a group called Democracy in Colour , which is a movement of people of colour and allies working together to tackle structural racism during the state elections.
9. One customer has bought six copies of my book to give to friends, and sent me a beautiful card telling me why.
10. And  – sorry to keep banging on about politics – I was able to vote without fear, harassment or intimidation, unlike far too much of the world; there was no voter suppression or totally outrageous gerrymandering as in the USA; the election was on a Saturday, but if I hadn’t been able to get to the polling booth, I could have voted by post: I voted at my local school, and there was a sausage sizzle. If I didn’t want to vote, but also didn’t want to cop a fine, I could have drawn a picture or left it blank. How lucky are we.





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A rainy day. I headed to the cafe, meaning to hole up with a pot of tea, a toasted sandwich and a book for the whole lunch hour. The book I grabbed from the pile of review copies was The Me, Without by Jacqueline Raposo.
Raposo was a “middling successful” New York food writer and podcast host. She had creative work she loved, her own apartment, supportive family, and a beautiful dog. But in 2016, she was also single, struggling with chronic illness and broke.
The Me, Without (due for release in January 2019) is her record of an experiment, over the course of a year, in which she removed things from her life – for set periods –  to see if she could become happier. Her ‘challenges’ were no social media: no shopping: no sugar: no holiday gifting: no negative thought: no waste: no hustle: and no habit. It’s a mixture of memoir, psychology, neurology, history and literature.

As soon as I started reading, I decided I was going to hate this book. I pre-judged Raposo as a whiny, entitled, neurotic New Yorker. And really, does the world need any more self-help books? But actually, once I got over my prejudice, I really enjoyed it. She’s engaging and funny and brutally honest about herself. She caught Lyme disease as a 12-year-old, and the toll on her health has been heartbreaking but she doesn’t paint herself as a victim. It is what it is.
 The Me, Without has made me think about the time I lose doing things from habit. I like to think I’m pretty frugal and sensible and green, but when I think about it, there’s lots of stuff I consume unthinkingly. I could do so much better!  I now have some very expensive cloth-and-beeswax substitutes for cling-wrap and a mission to reduce not just our rubbish, but our recycling as much as I can.

Moreover, I have set myself my own little set of challenges. I feel I should apologise, because the first one is not very…well, not very challenging, actually. It’s this: until Christmas, I’m not going to switch the TV on and watch random shows or surf channels any more. If I want to watch TV, I will look up the TV guide and choose something.  Or not.
And mostly, it’s been not. Instead, I’ve been reading.  Who would have thought?

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On the plane to Vancouver recently, I watched about half of a movie called Book Club. It starred Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton. They played a group of  rich, attractive, over-60 American women, friends for many years, who lived in gorgeous homes and dressed very nicely (especially Ms Fonda), and liked to drink wine in long-stemmed glasses while they talked about books. The latest book?  50 Shades of Grey.  If you’d like to see a film about  mature sexuality and love, this isn’t it. The quartet of excellent actors were badly let down by the script. I know it was meant to be a comedy, but couldn’t the writers come up with anything better? The “she spiked her husband’s drink with Viagra” routine was just awful. In fact, I thought the whole film was terrible – stupid and insulting – but perhaps I don’t have a sense of humour. The best thing about it is 80- year old Jane Fonda’s simply amazing state of preservation.

I am also member of a book club. It’s a Council of Adult Education group. We get to browse a book list and mark our suggestions, then nine times a  year a crate of books is delivered to our coordinator. We pick them up, read them and, on rotation, host a meeting in our homes, with cheese and crackers, wine, a cake. The other members are all women, all over 50, all busy being interesting and skilled and clever people, working as nurses, teachers, administrators, social workers, garden designers. Professionals, in other words. And as partners or wives, mothers, carers, homemakers.

We’re not besties, though I’ve known some of the women for more than 20 years, but we do talk together  – or it seems to me, anyway – quite openly about our lives, our struggles, our failures and our successes. We certainly don’t look like Jane, Mary, Candice and Diane, but that’s because it’s not a movie and we are real. As someone from the world of books and literature, a writer and bookseller, I look like an asset to the group – on paper at least – but I don’t think I am. The other women are shrewd and intelligent readers. They’re able to analyse the books in ways that don’t occur to me.  Their comments and opinions are thoughtful. I often come away thinking that I’m a lazy reader, for I seem to read acceptingly, just allowing the novels (we seem to only read fiction) to wash over me. Or perhaps I’m just plain lazy.

Too often this year, I haven’t finished the set book. In a couple of cases, I barely even started. Nine books! It shouldn’t be that hard. So I am pleased to report that for the first time this year, I have finished my book group novel ahead of time. We’ve had a series of books I’ve found depressing, and this one – The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle – looked like more of the same. But – lucky last! –  I couldn’t put it down. I am still thinking about it. It’s the voice. It’s so often the voice.

The book starts with the doorbell. A young Guard, come to tell Paula bad news.
“It clicked inside me when I opened the door and saw the Guard. It was his face that told me before I was ready to know it. He wasn’t looking for Charlo; it wasn’t the usual. He was scared and there was something he had to tell me. I felt sorry for the poor young fella, sent in to do the dirty work. the other wasters were out in the car, too lazy and too cute to come in and tell me themselves. I asked him in for a cup of tea. He sat in the kitchen with his cat still on him. He told me all about his family.”

The narrator, Paula Spencer, is a 39-year-old Dublin house-cleaner. She’s got three children at home and one estranged from her. Her husband, Charlo, has abused her for 17 years and recently she kicked him out. Now he’s dead, and her thoughts flash back to her first meeting with him and their marriage. Back to her childhood, too; her family life and school. When she leaves puberty and goes to secondary school, she’s put in a stream for academic failures. The teachers don’t bother. A basically happy and confident little girl is suddenly and shockingly convinced that she’s a failure. “It was a fright, finding out that I was stupid.”
What’s more, the gender assumptions in her world are brutal.
“Where I grew up – and probably everywhere else – you were a slut or a tight bitch, one or the other, if you were a girl – and usually before you were thirteen. You didn’t have to do anything to be a slut. If you were good-looking; if you grew up fast. If you had a sexy walk: if you had clean hair; if you had dirty hair. If you wore platform shoes, and if you didn’t. Anything could get you called a slut. My father called me a slut the first time I put on mascara.

The scenes of violent abuse are chilling. “I went to the doctor: whack. He followed me. There’s nothing wrong with you; what’s your problem? Whack. And I loved him when he didn’t do it. I loved him with all my heart. He was so kind. He just lost his temper sometimes. He loved me. He bought me things. He bought me clothes. Why didn’t I wear them? Whack.
She hides her injuries, she blames herself – and yet, somewhere inside, she wonders why the doctors and nurses she sees so often in Casualty don’t ask the right questions, the ones that will free her to tell what’s really happened, so that she and her children will be rescued and never have to face Charlo again.

If this sounds grim, it is, but Doyle is so skillful a writer. His Paula is vulnerable and flawed, and yet a survivor. And what’s more, a brave and loving woman, and not at all stupid.




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I’m still settling back into life after my holiday in Canada. I had nearly six weeks of feeling beautifully fancy free, travelling with only one 30 litre pack which weighed around 6 kilos. Now, back home, it seems that in this quite ordinary household there is an amazing amount of STUFF to look after, clean, sort and maintain. Plus, the garden has gone feral,  and the bad Feng Shui in our house must be off the charts, with clutter and dust kitties and a tank filled with waving fronds of black algae but no fish taking pride of place in the living room.

Apart from travelling light,  a big part of the fancy free feeling was very little media. I checked emails twice, and only used my phone as a camera. For years I’ve had both the Guardian and the Age online, and so I can disappear down the rabbit hole of links to this and that site and emerge hours later having thoroughly depressed myself with national and international current affairs.
On our holiday, I only occasionally read a paper in a cafe or railway waiting room. I can’t resist boasting that I even managed to get through an article on #MeToo in Quebec in French while we were in Montreal.
However, it wasn’t Australian news, so I read more for curiosity than actual engagement. I’ve been on a sort of news fast.

Part of getting on with life was reviving my subscription to the Age. I like to have the weekend papers delivered, so that I can have that first morning cup of tea along with the crossword in a leisurely fashion. It’s a relaxing thing.
The Sunday paper duly arrived. With the news that the man killed in Friday’s Bourke Street attack was Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of Pellegrini’s Expresso Bar.

Like many who grew up in Melbourne, Pellegrini’s has been part of my life. As a teenager and young adult, I’d call by for a morning cappucino. Lunchtime, for a bowl of minestrone. Evenings before a movie. After a show. The smoky mirrors that lined the place reflected the other patrons, people who I often thought might be famous, or interesting, or notorious. Listening in to conversations, watching flirtations and arguments. Wondering about the solitaries reading or writing or just sitting dreaming with a coffee and a cigarette. Watching the waiters as they made the coffees and chatted with customers. It was noisy; the clink of glasses, the roar of the citrus juicer and the expresso machine and the women in the kitchen clashing pans and calling to the waiters. Even when I moved away from Melbourne,  even when I’d really stopped drinking coffee – I’d go to Pellegrini’s.

And there was almost always the guy with the scarf, the ideal Italian host, with the welcome, the warmth, the greetings for regulars in accented English or vigorous Italian. Opinions, too. Like when I asked for a latte, and he lectured me – that’s milk! he said. You ask for that, that’s what you get. You want a caffe latte, you ask for it! Laughing as he said it, but he meant it all right.

I would never have thought that in breaking my news fast, with that first Sunday paper, I’d learn that the guy with the scarf was called Sisto Malaspina and that he’d been killed. He was, as the Age journalist wrote, a part of Melbourne. Part of my life too and now he’s gone and like so many others who didn’t know Sisto personally, I’m nevertheless feeling a loss.  I’m sad. It feels like no news really is good news.


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It seems a long time since I sat down to write here. More than seems, actually. Is.

The last time I posted was at the beginning of September. Though I was reading (I’m never not reading) my head was elsewhere because I was gearing up for 38 days of holidaying in Canada. My husband’s long service leave, combined with 25 years together –  plus my 60th birthday earlier this year –  formed great reasons to splurge. Maps, flights, train tickets, car rentals, insurance, accommodation, packing, connections with friends – it was a glorious project, and all consuming. And now it’s over. We returned home nearly two weeks ago, and at last I feel as if all of me has finally arrived.

There seems to be so much to do, but I’m resisting panic. Even though the garden is feral, the house is dusty and disorderly and there are piles of stuff everywhere, I’m trying to keep breathing and enjoy our homecoming. Canada is so green (and gold and orange and red, because we were there for Autumn), so watery with myriad lakes and rivers, so Northern, so different. I’m noticing – really noticing – the different blue of the sky, the shape of our trees, the colour of our greens. Australian accents (including my own) were beginning to sound outlandish, and now they’re normal again.

This year, in one of my regular purges, I burned my travel diaries from 1991 when I spent four months in Canada, ranging right across the country from Vancouver on the West Coast to Nova Scotia on the East. I now wish I hadn’t, because I’d love to compare my observations and experiences. Though I didn’t keep a diary or even any notes this time. I took a blank book with me – I thought I would – but it seemed so pleasant to just experience each day and then let it go. I regret the burning, and regret – just a little – not writing anything down, but you know what? So what. I’ve done (or not done) it now.

I read a lot while travelling. I bought a couple of books and then gave them away, but then there was the Kindle. I’ve always been a bit opposed, loving the physical book as I do, but for a reader on the move, it was fantastic. I loaded the complete works of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens –  a clear case of panicky stockpiling –  but of course didn’t read them all.  I’m not that voracious, and I think you’d need a round the world in twelve months to get that lot under your belt. But I got through Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. And a few Canadian novels, too, which I’d bought before I left to get me in that Canadian mood. There was some crime fiction, which I consumed and then forgot, and a more memorable book called Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper.
The Connor family lives in Big Running, Newfoundland. The cod fishery has collapsed (this really happened) and with no fish, the town’s reason for existing is gone. Parents Aiden and Martha alternately work away and look after the children, connecting only for a few brief hours each month. The disconnection, loneliness and strain begin to eat away at each of them. Meanwhile, the government wants the residents to abandon Big Running and relocate elsewhere; to that end it begins to shut down the town’s services. Feisty and determined 14-year-old Cora takes matters into her own hands (I won’t tell you how) but it’s 10-year-old Finn whose off-beat solution will have you between laughter and tears. Told in simple, almost fairy-tale prose, it’s achingly sad but uplifting, too. Love doesn’t conquer all, but it surely helps.


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A train trip on a cold, grey day, stretches of time spent waiting at stations or fighting my way through crowds, then a funeral in the rain… Friday was a sad sort of day.

Brightened by junior fiction. The book I tucked into my bag, Pages&Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers, (a reading copy, as it’s not due for release till later this month) was a  counterbalance.
Our heroine is orphaned Tilly, who lives with her grandparents in their bookshop, Pages&Co. It’s school holiday time, and with her friendships changing and a little disappointing, she finds herself feeling lonely. So she turns, of course, to books. And finds to her surprise that Alice comes out of Wonderland and Anne with an ‘e’ strays from Green Gables. She’s able to go back in to their books with them, too.
And that’s because – as she finds out –  she’s a “bookwanderer”, one of those special readers whose heart and mind and spirit are so in tune with fictional worlds and people that they interleave with each other. With the help of a new friend Oskar and the dedicated librarians of the mysterious Underlibrary, she finds out what happened to her parents and achieves a happy ending.
The inter-textuality (a big word that just came to me from my nearly- forgotten Graduate Diploma in Children’s Literature) isn’t sharp and clever and funny, as in The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Rather, this is a sweet, cheerful and comforting book that I can recommend for 8-9 year old girls who are not quite ready for too many thrills and chills and challenges.

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After my mammoth YA effort for the Bendigo Writer’s Festival, I’ve been struggling to focus on reading. I’m not enjoying our Book Group August title – “Foal’s Bread” by Gillian Mears – and I don’t really know why. Perhaps I’m just not into horses. It’s not lack of reading matter, either. I’m always in and out of bookshops, new and second-hand. Op shops too, and of course the library.  I have started lots of books, and either put them straight down, or skimmed and skipped, or simply read the last pages so I knew what the ending was. I wonder whether I just need an old-fashioned children’s book – a bit like a long, hot bath – for rest and relaxation purposes. But I can’t actually think of one I’d like to read right now. I  hover my hand along the bookshelf but nothing calls to me and my hand stays empty. British crime on the telly, instead?

But perhaps it’s no wonder I can’t concentrate, distracted as I am with events in Canberra. I’m finding myself more and more interested – but also, more and and more frustrated – by politics as I get older. As a young woman, I was always kind of greenie-leftie in a lazy and unthinking way, marching in PND rallies and the union protests against Jeff Kennett but never reading the political news in the paper. Boring.

Quite the reverse lately. I’ve been glued to updates of the Turnbull-Dutton drama, alternating between horror and fascination,  wondering how I could ever have found this stuff dull. It’s positively Shakespearean; the halls of Parliament House seething with hatred, envy, bitterness, revenge, ambition, betrayal, disloyalty and lies, lies, lies.
I was pondering the state of politics during the week while I was driving. I’d noted the way that we (drivers) are all in our individual cars, going in various directions with differing destinations. Most of us, while pursuing our own itineraries, make sure the roads work for everyone; we don’t speed, we obey the rules, we give way and stop at the lights. Generally, though not always smoothly, we get where we are going in safety. It all works out, even if sometimes it’s annoying to have to wait or slow down or take our turn. We learn to co-operate.

However, it very nearly didn’t work out on Friday. A P-plater (sigh) in a shiny metallic ute, decided that his journey was the only important one. This idiot ran a red light, missing another car by a whisker, and sped through a school zone at pick-up time. As luck would have it, there wasn’t a tragedy. No crash, no kid on the crossing. But there so easily could have been. I thought that traffic wasn’t a bad analogy for what it’s like to be a citizen. Or a politician. But lately the clowns in Canberra are the kid in the ute.

And then, this morning, a friend was telling me her experience driving in bad weather along the freeway. A driver in the right late missed the turn-off to Kyneton and so they stopped and reversed. REVERSED, IN THE RIGHT LATE, ON THE HIGHWAY. Is that not the perfect metaphor?


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How come I’ve never read this before?

I had a hour and a half train journey today, and just devoured this book. It is devastatingly good.

Just as well I am somewhat inhibited – I felt like telling someone, immediately, about what I’d just read…but the man sitting next to me was reading about selling real estate (I peeked at his phone) and I didn’t think he was the right confidante.

So I’m telling you!

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