Friday, 1 February 2013


Oh look!  I've pinched the title from a clever writer and added ! to make it mine. On Writing by Steven King is one of the most helpful books I've read. Part biography,  the story of King being run down on the road while jogging and coming back from that - interesting,  and part advice on writing. Amazing. To have that information, from this successful and experienced writer is like finding gold -  or better, the information shared by Steven King changed the way I approach reading and writing.

However,  I am not a Steven King reader, I'm not even sure if I've read any his books, except this one. Certainly not any of his scary stories.

For something like ten years I enjoyed being part of online writing groups. Most of these were critique groups.  All members posted a chapter of whatever they were writing - mostly novels for middle grade readers, around 10 to 14 years. We read and either reviewed these or wrote line by line critiques, which I loved doing, depending on the group.  In one short story group members took turns setting assignments, one every three weeks. We'd all do the assignment and critique the results. Mostly these were to write a story. One of the assignments I set for everyone was to write a story in dialogue only - no speech tags, no descriptions,  just the dialogue - my favourite task. Someone else set us to write about why we write. That was difficult. It was interesting to find this again and read what I'd written back then.


28.03.2004   Looking at the last few assignments and knowing how far they stretched me, how they have improved my writing and uncovered weaknesses, I wonder just what I want to write and why.

What I know - I like writing for children. I want to give them something, tell them things they would not know if they had not read my story.
But my writing is not cute - no talking teddy bears,  it's not funny - so no Adrian Mole.  It's usually about coping with serious issues like step parents, feelings of rejection, illness, loss... all very serious stuff and in the past rejected by publishers for that reason.  'Subject is too serious'.  So? I'm a serious person!

To improve - to make my stories richer I'd like them to show that in spite of the serious issues we often face life is still wonderful - it's worth it!
What started me on this track? -  I think it's just who I am. I was 'making up' stories at the age of 2 or 3 years. My first story involved a pair of bunnies, with six babies, who adopted another baby who was different.  Yes, I know that's a cutsie-pie story - I had a collection of plastic toy bunnies and as inspired, by the colours. They were all shades of green but one odd one was blue,  so he was different. The adoption didn't change him but they were a family all the same.  30 years later I did just that, took a foster child into my family. It was supposed to be 18 months and ended up more like 18 years plus.

So, looking back at the stories that impressed and inspired me to write - I read all the Secret Seven and Famous Five books at a very young age. I enjoyed them but knew they were not real. I got through the children's classics like Black Beauty, Heidi, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and they were okay but not special. Blinky Bill and the Gumnut babies frightened me and I still avoid Banksia trees.

Two books that made a bit impression on me, because they were much better stories - The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, (a collection of short stories published in 1888) and The Water Babies by the Rev Charles Kingsley, published in 1963 - such wonderful illustrations. These were the books I loved at 10 years of age. 

So, then onto grown up books, raiding my parent’s collection and the library. More fantasy.  I threw The Carpetbaggers away because at age 12  I thought it was total rubbish - my mother enjoyed reading but usually stuck with the popular titles that everyone else read.  I tried the classics and found idealistic fantasy. I was not easy to please.  Dickens, no, I hated it. Dad's books were mostly war novels and they did keep me busy but only one stands out in memory, The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Montserrat.  At times scenes from that book pop into my head as if to say ... could you handle this, now?

I picked up The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery, pub 1943. I'm still learning from the little prince - though try not to be too involved in the story because I fear there is something distasteful there.  The original illustrations are lovely.

But, the greatest treasure I found in my early teens - a little book of incredible beauty, with black line illustrations that I loved. It was The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. This was a little bit of fiction inside a true story. And what a story!  I was inspired.  I wanted to write stories like that, stories that caused the reader to choke on their breath.

The next precious stone for me was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I bought it from a newstand in the street on the way to a bus stop. I was thrilled to read it.  I read favourite bits over again, talked about it and quoted it.  I knew it wasn't in my personality to write like that, but wow, what a book! It gave me an understanding of the world and how it works.

By this time I was over 21 and devouring every book I could get. Someone gave me The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, to read and I discovered, in that gem, the idea of journey and overcoming. Of course this was in The Water Babies and other stories too, but I hadn't been able to grasp it consciously before.

I don't have these three books on my desk. I don't read them over and over. The spirit of them is inside me. I feel I have absorbed the stories and I'm waiting to see what I have nourished.  I don't plan my writing, I just begin - often not knowing the direction I'm heading in but enjoying the scenery along the way.


Today, reading over my thoughts from 2004 I am disappointed to find not much has changed. I have not met my goal of being published, apart from a couple of short stories and bits in newspapers and obscure magazines back in the 1990s - nothing that really counts.  And it is probably because I don't work at it like some do - because I do not want to be a salesman. So that's my reason and that's okay.

I have read more books but nothing really outstanding. It is possible I've kept away from outstanding books because life gets in the way of that sort of commitment.  I enjoy all The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith - simple, sweet philosophy, beautiful tales of gentle people written with understanding - I love them.  

I've also discovered Language Change by Jean Aitchison, and some other similar books,  which release me from becoming what they call a 'word nazi'.  

If I had to pick a modern novelist favourite I'd say Kate Atkinson - her story construction and character building is amazing.  It takes a while to get into step with her but when you do it's like solving a clueless crossword puzzle, an enjoyable achievement. And here it looks like I stopped by the shelf for authors starting with A.

I have been busy with other activates since 2004, enjoyable but time consuming, mostly involving the production of a school yearbook for eight years. I have written very little in that time, except in my head.  There are lots of stories in there.  I know my writing is not literature or philosophy, I just make up stories about made up people -  based on true stories and people, and often any deeper meaning within is invisible to me.  
So now to a blog. This will be writing about things that are not made up and that is actually more difficult. I will continue to write for me though.  Of course writers should write for an audience but I feel the reading of it is not my area; the subject, the story and writing of words is the bit I do.


There is a comments facility below for your responses
but it's not like facebook
there is a process to keep the spammers and hackers out.  

Click comment
type in the box and then 
select from the drop down menu for your identity (anonymous is fine if you aren't on google) and then click publish - but that's not the end .....
you will be asked to 
retype some numbers and letters into another little box, it's not the easiest thing to do, but if you get it wrong you get a second turn.... like a game.  

Once you've done it you'll find it easier the next time, 
and I will reply to your message so it's worth it....  
 (smiley face)

Thursday, 31 January 2013


I had to think hard to remember what Australia Day celebrated so when a friend asked me to write something about it for her blog it was a good to revisit the history and remind myself.  I have listed highlights that I found interesting and now understand my vagueness about the day.

AUSTRALIA DAY is celebrated on January 26th which is the anniversary of the official landing of the First Fleet – sent by King George lll to establish the colony of New South Wales – the first penal colony in Australia.  The American War of Independence of had closed that dumping ground for England’s excess convicts a few years before.

1788 – January 26th, Captain Arthur Philip, and a few men, rowed ashore from the HMS Supply, and took possession of the land in the name of the king.  The fleet of 11 ships had arrived in Botany Bay around the 20th of January but after realising the land there was unsuitable they sailed north to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). (I agree having spent a lot of time at Botany Bay as a child) Interestingly, the first man to set foot on land was actually a convict named James Ruse, who piggy-backed First Lieutenant George Johnston through the water. Johnston was given the honour of being the first officer to land.  (I wonder what happened to Ruse?)  The painting above is not correct, only one small boat went ashore, carrying mainly officers and a couple of convicts. Everyone else watched from the ship.  The flag went up in a hurry because two French ships had been seen cruising down the coast - Philip didn’t even wait for the rest of his fleet.

1808  20 years after the landing there was no official recognition of the anniversary but the date was used by immigrants, especially emancipated convicts, to celebrate their love of the land they lived in with heavy drinking from sundown on the 25th.  In the early hours of the 26th, the now brevet Major George Johnston (see above, he’s been promoted), wearing one arm in a sling, he’d fallen from is carriage earlier in the day, led men of the NSW Corps to arrest Governor William Bligh , fourth Governor of New South Wales, in what became popularly known as the ‘Rum Rebellion’, and was the only military coup in Australian history. (I always thought Bligh was one of the bad army officers, but no, it seems George Johnston, who was actually now a Lt Colonel, but didn’t know it yet, was dealing in rum, raking in money and using it to buy land. Bligh had been trying to put a stop to this. But back to the holiday….)

1818 – For the 30th anniversary Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledged ‘Foundation Day’ with an official celebration. He ordered a 30 gun salute, one for each year the colony had existed, and granted a holiday to Government employees.  Gradually other organisations gave their employees a holiday on the 26th.
1838  Fifty guns were fired from Dawes’ Battery and Foundation Day became Australia’s first public holiday. The previous year the first Australia Day Regatta took place on Sydney Harbour, followed by rockets and other fireworks and this became  an annual tradition – and a very suitable way to celebrate the day.

1888 –  The holiday, now called ‘Anniversary Day’, had been celebrated on different days around the country, but by 1888 all colonial capitals, except Adelaide, chose January 26th.

1938 -  January 26th had become Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, where it was still Anniversary Day for a few more years. The celebrations centred on a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet, which left out the convicts but included interaction with a group of Aborigines on the shore. For many years the day was difficult to celebrate because organisers found the involvement of convicts embarrassing.

1948 –  Australia Day had been celebrated on January 26 in all states since 1946.  Now, ‘they’ decided to move the public holiday to the nearest Monday to create a long weekend for everyone.

1988 – The celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet saw events in all major cities, including street parties, historic re-enactments and competitions.  The National Australia Day Council had been established in 1979 – possibly the day needed its own council because it was the only holiday associated with contentious issues. We celebrated the first permanent European settlement, tainted by the fact that it was a penal colony, while indigenous Australians felt that the day excluded them and their culture so they renamed it Invasion Day and protested.  The council was to steer celebrations towards a day to celebrate everything that is great about being an Australian, rather than a day of remembrance (see 1808 above) (or a day of embarrassment).

1994 – All States and Territories celebrated Australia Day as a unified public holiday on the actual day for the first time.
2008 – 220 years after the First Fleet landing found Australia Day still a little unsettled. Suggestions to change the date to break unpopular associations were common but polls showed the people were not interested in changing the date and the Prime Ministers of the times agreed.
2013 – The 26th fell on the Saturday so for the first time since 1994 the public holiday was the 28th – a little confusing still for while some activities were held on the 26th others were planned for the 28th.  And, the Australian of the year was announced a dinner time on Friday 25th, as if they’d run out of time.
Today Australia Day is a public holiday across the country.  Most people enjoy a day off work – family gatherings – sport – shopping – barbies – the beach.  It’s also the end of the summer school holidays.
The Australian of the Year Awards are presented to Australians who have made an outstanding contribution to their country or community. Citizenship ceremonies are held to welcome immigrants who have been granted Australian citizenship. Formal celebrations on Australia Day include displaying the national flag and singing the anthem, Advance Australia Fair.  (The above info was gleaned from many websites, including Wikipedia)

And as we welcome new Aussies into our communities many young Australians are still on the far side of the world in places with strange sounding names like, Kandahar, Dubai and Tarin Kot. God bless them.
Writing this in 2013, our long weekend has been a very windy and soggy three or four days.  Cyclone Oswald went crazy and shot out random weather patterns that included tornados in Bundaberg, up to gale force winds along the Qld coast and very heavy rain.  The storm (weather pattern) moved south, tracking the coastline, leaving behind uprooted trees, overturned and floating cars, flash flooding, wild surf and closed beaches, damaged homes, power outages and frightened wet people.  This was followed by flooding in the river system and areas that were under water two years ago, in the big January floods, were under again.  As the long weekend closed the system moved onto NSW.
And that reminds me of a mental note I made relating to the time line above. After seeing an odd comment on facebook I thought it might be necessary to explain to some people that the setting up of the colony of New South Wales does not refer to the state of that name, it was originally the name of the whole colony, the New colony in the South, which someone thought reminded them of Wales – New South Wales. As the colony developed, population and distance required easier to govern areas so smaller colonies and then states and territories were created and the original colony shrank and became the state of NSW.  That explanation is just off the top of my head but I think you’ll get the idea.
 This is not our national flag, it’s just a tea towel that I like, printed with and interesting graffiti style flag.     My little contribution to Australia Day 2013.

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

it's all in the NAME

Getting the name right is a good trick - purely functional or loaded with meaning a name is an introduction to an identity. A handbag is a handbag unless it's named Gucci, and that can make a big difference.  

I've always like my name, in fact I prefer it to any other name I've ever heard. My mother chose it for me.  Darling, romantic, Mum. Her teenage dream of becoming a movie star or a fashion model - Mannequin as they called them then - was dashed by WWII. Her career as an Army Sergeant had been exciting but, after the war she was looking forward to having her own family. I can see her in my mind, from her own description, almost eight months pregnant, curled up on a lounge chair in her lace trimmed house coat, strawberry blond hair draped over her shoulders as she picked up the Woman's Weekly (and they were weekly magazines then). Mum loved the clothes and shoes, hair styles and makeup, which she couldn't afford then, so usually turned to the fashion pages first but there on the cover, six weeks before my birth, were photos of four French mannequins recently arrived in Australia to work - Suzanne Combe, Lydia Lepiat, Janine Lequievre and Maggy Sarragne. In that moment of romance and longing the planned name Katrinka disappeared from my life and in came Janine.

Click on photo to enlarge

Before the purchase of that Women's Weekly my mother had rejected all the names she considered ordinary. Her Aunt Flo, had passed on a list of suitable, family approved names which began with Helen and Elizabeth and went to James and Walter. Not for my mother. She really hoped for a girl and wanted an interesting and unusual name. Strangely she had in mind Paul for a boy. Strange because Mum's sister already had a little girl named Pauline and her best friend, Zel, had Paul on her list for her baby due less than two months after me. I wonder what was going on there?  Paul was born to Zel, and I'm glad she got to use the name.

click on photo to enlarge.
While Janine was an interesting and unusual girl's name, I was given my mother's name, Margaret, the most popular Australian girls name ever, as a second name. 

That may have come from Dad, as Margaret was the love of his life, and sadly also the reason for his greatest heartbreak. In Dad's family second names were used more than first names, which were often given to honour family members.  My Dad was named after his father's brother, who died as a child. As Dad's second name was William his family and friends called him Bill - of course. But not Mum. She preferred his exotic Danish first name which was Peder.  So, if I had turned out as a boy, would I have been Peder Paul, Paul Peder, or Paul William? Hopefully not one of my grandfathers' names - Rupert or Ott.

Amazingly to me, names go in and out of fashion. I once heard a comment on the Mike Walsh TV show that 'all the Shirleys had sons named Michael.'  Fascinating.  I started to take notice and found my mother actually knew two Shirleys, who had sons named Michael. According to a News Ltd analysis of Australian baby names, from 1790 to 2010, the most popular Aussie name is John, with 262,000 boys being given this as their first name over 220 years. David follows with 197,000, Then Margaret tops the female names as most popular ever with 96,458, but has not been used much since the mid 1940s. The next in line for girls names are Sarah (81,195) and Elizabeth (77, 239). There must be much more variety in the names given to girls.

Boys names especially are handed down through families. Is it that people don't use their imagination or are there more important reasons for recycling names - to cosy up to a wealthy relative maybe or ensure the passing on of land?

My grandmother was Eva, a name I have always liked. Her siblings, born in the 1880s and 1890s, were Claire, Mabel, Walter, Ida, Ada and Florence. They married, except 'poor Ada' who died, Otto, Thomas, Hector, Elsie and Gordon. Flo didn't marry but Charles was her lost love. These were all popular names of the day.

They had children, not as many as was common then because my grandmother, and her siblings, made a pact to have only two children each to avoid the extreme poverty of their childhood. Ada and Flo didn't have any children and Ida's only child was a son named Ian. Eva had daughters, Joan and Margaret (my mother), Claire had Yvonne and John, Mabel had Claire and Frank, and Wally's boys were Andrew and John. Not a lot of originality there. In my mother's day the popular names were, Betty, Shirley, Dorothy, Joan, Jean, Nancy and Doris. How my mother wished to be Margot or Marguerite when her father called her by the nickname Peg.

I went to school with the girls on Aunty Flo's list, Barbara, Patricia, Judith, Susan, Carol, Bev, Gail and Helen. There were also lots of James, Anthony, Phillip, Graeme, Norman, John, Alan, Michael, Ronald and Robert though the boys didn't use those names. No, they were Jimmy, Tony, Phil, Grae, Norm, Johnno, Al, Mick, Ron and Bob.

Coming to the generation of the 1970's, my daughters school friends were Kylie, Melissa, Amanda, and Joanne. Elizabeth was still around.  Boys names still included David, Michael, Matthew, Paul, Daniel and John. But other names that would become very popular had appeared;  Adam, Mark, Scott, Steven, Simon, Darren, as well as Julie, Sharon, Kim, Melanie and Fiona.  Still mostly Anglo names from our British past but there was much more variety. Bible names had long been used and more Hebrew based names were coming to the list, like Saul, Sara and Rebecca. 

Possibly my mother's influence prompted me to give my children unusual names and it isn't always easy. You can choose what you think is a totally undiscovered name and suddenly find it's the new fad. When my son Jared was born I thought I'd found a name no one else had heard of, but before he was even six weeks old there seemed to be Jareds everywhere - even actors on TV!  How did that happen?  These days Jared* does not use his excellent name but goes by an acronym of his full name - Jay.

Names can be geographical of course and growing up in Sydney was far more conservative that I realised at the time. Moving to Qld in 1986 seemed like going back in time in some ways, but I found people who were a little more creative and adventurous than I'd known before. Queenslanders seem to accept what they are offered, even if it's a hippie name or the parent's names joined, like Elm, Kallan and Ronosa. I had never before heard the names Desley or Kingsley or Trilby which in Qld went without comment.  In Sydney migrants often gave their children anglicised names but in Qld they didn't and we met Mario, Greta and Davide.

In the years between my first and second marriage I prayed for a husband/companion/friend, whatever, asking God for a man with an unusual name, so I would recognise him.  Of course I forgot this prayer almost immediately as we so often do and it wasn't until Rory and I had been married for several years that I thought... ...... oh!

My daughter's name was considered unpronounceable by many people and I was sometimes referred to as the mother-of-the-girl-with-the-funny-name. In Queensland there were two girls in her class at school with names that were so obscure I can't attempt to spell them.

So here we are in the 2000eens and good old Jessica, Emily, Sarah, Olivia, Georgia, Chloe, Sophie, Hannah, Isabella, Emma, Charlotte and Lily are all on the popular list with Jack, Joshua, Harrison, Thomas, Ethan, James, Riley, Luke, Liam and Samuel, but people are having fun and newer names appear like Sienna, Trinity, Sawyer, Cassidy, Hailo, Queenie, and Deva for girls and boys have Kix, Neon, Pawk, Rysk, Bond, Tron and Zaniel on their birth certificates...... are these designer names?  

Other fads have been - using the same initials for all members of the family, even if you have to spell Colin with a K or stick a silent H on the front of Alan, find unisex names for everyone or give the twins names with the same meaning - Ivan and Sean or Jonathan and Dorothy, all gifts of God.  I'm amazed that people can spell Alicia more than 20 different ways, including such creative  constructions as Alysceah and Aeleeshea. It's a lot of fun. Then you get the family who dropped the ball on one name giving Skye, Blossom and Heath a baby sister named Betsy. 

So, we can drop names, defend our name or drag it through the mud. We can be named, name names or call names. We can make a name for ourselves, be known by name only or be name unknown. But we don't get to choose our own birth name and that makes it interesting.

I love the photo of my parents with Aunty Joan and cousin Pauline. It was taken before I was born, possibly before I was conceived, as Pauline was 20 months older than me.  Sadly, the only person in the photo still alive is Aunty Joan, who had her 95th birthday in 2012. Mum died at 54, of lymphatic cancer, Dad at 65 of bronchial cancer and my cousin of breast cancer in her mid 50's.  

* Jared is a common first name of Biblical derivation, mostly in English-speaking countries.  In the bible, Jared was the sixth link in the ten pre-flood generations between Adam and Noah; he was the son of Mahalaleel and the father of Enoch, and lived for 962 years. (Gen 5:18)  The meaning of the name is 'he who descended' (as in descended to earth). The name could also be understood as 'he who shall rule'.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Life is a garden, 
unexpected, beautiful, dangerous,  
wild, cultivated, barren, productive.  

Our wild garden, in a secret valley on the Sunshine Coast. 

              We learn to avoid the thorns, 

and leave the inhabitants alone. 

mostly they survive out of sight.