Saturday, 31 January 2009

How To Be The Entourage

1. Pump up air mattress by hand so as to ensure a good night's sleep for competitor.

2. Other members of the entourage may help with this task. This will not necessarily speed things up.

3. Traveling light is not an option. Towels, shoes, hats, clothing, pre- and post-race snacks, and cuddly toys belonging to junior members of entourage must be carried, and even pushed across vast areas of sand. A nap may be necessary for certain members of the entourage.

4. Spotting your competitor at the finish line is hard work. Looking in the right direction may help.

5. Children should be plied with sweets, promises of sweets, or threatened with never having sweets ever again if they do not pipe down while you're trying to take a photo of the finish. Loud cheering is appropriate at this point, especially when the hottie in blue shorts passes by. (500m swim plus 2km run in 16mins 30 secs! See what a good entourage can achieve...)

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Thursday, 29 January 2009


I have become a swimming widow.

I'd always felt pretty smug about The Australian's total lack of interest in anything sports related. While other women complained about being ignored in favour of 5-a-side after work, or the cricket season, or the Grand Prix (hi, Mum), I simply smiled and shrugged - I knew nothing of this pain.

But apparently this was all to do with The Australian living in London. In London he wasn't interested in exercise - we grew fat together on the sofa, watching The X Factor and tucking into curries (it sounds sad but there was a beautiful togetherness about it). He was slightly grumpy, and shy, and we both prided ourselves on being fairly anti-social. We were all those things together.

The very minute he sets foot in his homeland - bibbity-bobbity-boo! he's different! He doesn't want takeaways, he wants salad; he's friendly with the neighbours; he has stopped complaining - all in all, he's become... Australian. He's tanned and fit (and I have a problem with this?!) and goes swimming or running nearly every day - in fact, the only complaining he does is when circumstances conspire against him so that he can't do one of those things.

He's also revealed a wildly competitive streak. I'd always suspected it was there, just not in a sporting way. But recently he's been entering swimming competitions all over the place. The children and I are his entourage. We wait on the beach, easily spotting him on the starting line (the only one not in a wetsuit - okay, maybe he's not 100% Australian yet); we shout "Go go go!" and then I click the camera frantically to get a shot of him setting off into the sea with another 50 competitors, trying to avoid a kick in the teeth, almost invisible in the spray.

And then we wait. "Is Daddy in the lead?" says The Girl, approximately once a minute for the entire race. I try to explain that it's not winning that counts, that we're just proud of him for taking part. "Yes, but he said he'd give me his medal. IS HE WINNING?" And then, in the distance, the matching swimming caps come into view and we hold our breath to see how he's done. Is that him? No, no, too pasty. Is that him? Nah, too bulky. That's him! There he is! And we jump up and down on the beach, me trying to get a photo of him crossing the line while holding The Boy and answering The Girl's main question: Will he get a medal?

So this is the life of a swimming widow. And tomorrow, the entourage is going to that picture you see above: Phillip Island. It's not such a tough call...

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Monday, 19 January 2009

What a Lovely Thought

What a special, special chair. Who buys this? Do they buy one for each child? I mean, what if more than one child is naughty at the same time? Heavens! Where would the other child GO? TIME-OUT SEAT OVERLOAD! Mind you, it looks more like a bench - maybe if the children were very small you could fit a couple, even three, on there.

I wonder, where in the house would one put such a seat? In the cupboard under the stairs, perhaps. Or in the shed. Or perhaps right in front of the TV, but with a really boring documentary on. I get that "Time-Out" is supposed to be a non-violent, chill out kind of discipline - but a special chair that you order online for the purpose? That disturbs me. What happens when the child grows up and gets into a brawl in the pub - what if there is no time-out bar stool? Or if things get heavy in the boardroom, or while dining at The Ivy, or waiting in the doctor's surgery - HOW WILL THEY COPE?

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Table For One

Since we moved to Oz, there have been a number of occasions when The (long-suffering) Australian has remarked, with slightly pitying smile, "You are SO English". He tends to say this when I have just complained about one of His People doing or saying something inappropriate. I want to give you examples but it might get me into trouble. And I do so loathe trouble. That kind, anyway.

Lately I've been attempting to be a bit more laid-back. A tad more easy come easy go. It's been going pretty well this year, though almost entirely because I've been under house-arrest during the ridiculously high temperatures and have only had to cope with the inappropriate behaviour of my own family.

So it came as a bit of a rude shock when I ventured out over the weekend to find a quiet spot to write, and managed to locate myself opposite Mr Inappropriate himself, a.k.a. Mr I've Got Skype And I'm Not Afraid To Use It, Even In Public.

My coffee had arrived and I'd just begun to type probably the best chapter of my life. Probably. The man at the table facing mine watched me shuffle my papers onto a spare chair and set the coffee cup back a little to make room for my beautiful laptop, and seemed to indicate the vast space his own much smaller machine had left him, with a smile and a sweep of his hand across the table. He seemed to, anyway. I bowed my head and got reabsorbed into my work.

A split second later I hear:

and look up to find Mr 5" (Screen) grinning wildly at his machine. He was Skyping someone. In public! A much smaller voice said: Oh, hello, what are you up to? This voice did not sound particularly pleased to hear from Mr 5", and so I immediately felt an affinity with him.

Ah, right.
Yes, yes, right. That's nice.

At this point I wanted to get up, grab him by the freshly ironed t-shirt and tell him that everyone in Melbourne could hear him, especially the very laid-back writer sitting opposite him. I mean, I understand that people go to cafes to chat, and that's why I always make a point of choosing cafes that no one else seems to like, or I sit in a quiet corner, or near other people who have come on their own. It's simply inappropriate to look like a person who is on his own, but then decide to Skype everyone you know: especially when the audio on his stupid 5" machine is so bad; especially when no one on his Skype list had anything interesting to say.

And so I let out a very very long, very very English sigh, and gave Mr 5" a look strong enough to wither him to 4 inches, and that seemed to do the trick. He eventually packed up and went across the road to collect his smalls.

Easy come, easy go - with just the odd exception.

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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Rhyme Time

There once was a blogger from Oz
Who had plans to write a witty limerick
Using this tool,
But found that the device pronounces it Ahz, not Oz,
And therefore threw up such suggestions as: bras, and francoise.
So she thought sod it,
But wondered if anyone else fancied a go.

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Monday, 12 January 2009

While You Were Scribbling...

Anyone who has tried to fit writing around full-time parenting of pre-schoolers will know that feeling of craving 'just five more minutes' to finish a sentence, or to seal the deal on a new plot twist you've been mind-coddling while grilling the fish fingers. It's all very well to suggest that writing comes post-bedtime, but after a full-on day of tidying up tiny bits of Lego, changing nappies, making nutritious meals for fuss-pots, explaining Evolution in terms a four-year-old can grasp, shouting "Don't do that to your brother!" thirty-three times...etcetera, it's not uncommon to find that The Muse has put on its pyjamas and turned in as well. Sometimes a quick run or an even quicker glass of wine will shake it awake, but often your dear Muse is comatose, knocked out by the (sometimes mundane, let's face it) events of the day.

Now that my children are aged 2 and 4, I find I can squeeze in odd bits of work while they play. I don't normally attempt actual novel-writing, but jotting down ideas or doing a bit of research are not impossible these days - you just have to be prepared to stop at a moment's notice to catch one dangling off the banister, or sweep up the glitter, or wipe a bum (or a bizarre and dangerous combination of all three). The children range from being incredibly patient, to trying to lie on my arms so I can't do anything or getting close up and saying "Have you finished yet?" every five seconds. Being so young, they of course win hands-down when it comes to time for them versus time for the novel, but occasionally I go into Faraway Author Zone and they could be hanging off my hair and I wouldn't notice.

This happened the other day. My editor had emailed to urge me to write my dedication and acknowledgments, as they're about to proof the book. I went into traditional panic-mode, and googled 'bestest ever dedication' and the like to make sure I wasn't about to commit some huge blunder (there are some good stories about married authors changing dedications post-divorce, for example, as well as various places telling you not to gush like Gwyneth, or conversely not to leave anyone important out and thank everyone from your agent to your goldfish). I sweated over it all morning. It was too mushy, or too normal, or too left-field; I didn't know whether to write it as if it were my first and last book, or to let myself feel a little more optimistic. The house could have burned down around me and I'd have still been sitting at the kitchen table (or not, as it's made of wood) umm'ing and ahh'ing.

And then from the playroom I heard the delicious sound of my daughter telling my son to hold still so she could put the final hairclip in, and his acquiescent, serious 'Ok, Mallin' (his version of Madeleine). Well, there was my answer, keeping themselves busy in the wendy house all that time. So it will read "To Madeleine and Jonah, who are much better at waiting than I am."

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Tuesday, 6 January 2009


Very funny blog post about Slush Piles here: Strictly Writing.

Me having a first bash at answering author-type questions here: Bookarazzi.

If that doesn't float your boat, there's always this: Rejection Letter.

And finally, this: Take On Me.

Don't say I never give ya nuffin'. Although you can, if you wish, say I keep giving you the same thing over and over.

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Sunday, 4 January 2009

Writers' Shoulder

For those of you who were unaware that Writers' Shoulder is an existing medical condition, let me explain that if a pale, freckly writer living in, say, Melbourne, were to forego her Factor 30 one morning by the beach because the weather report said 17 degrees and she was actually quite chilly, waiting for her partner to take part in his first sea race in conditions so arctic that he was the only one not wearing a wet suit (Spot the Poms...okay he's not actually a Pom but seven years in London have obviously scrambled his wires), only to discover that she'd obtained burns so horrific that she is actually purple in some places (think Violet Beauregard post-blueberry wearing a white vest...), resulting in a profound inability to think up long and amusing blog posts, much less type them up...well that would be Writers' Shoulder. So instead let me direct you to an exciting new blog called STRICTLY WRITING. This is definitely one to bookmark. Not least because none of the contributors are stupid enough to get writers' shoulder, though I believe they will be musing on a number of other common writers' complaints, joys and must-do's. Enjoy!

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