Tag Archives: blogging

Melbourne lockdown: How We Live Now

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Here in Melbourne, we’ve been in Stage 4 lockdown for over three weeks now. I fully back the Premier’s decision to place these restrictions on us though I realise how difficult it must be for so many. I am one of the lucky ones. I have shelter, food and family to talk to. My heart goes out to those who are not so blessed.

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In Brunswick the streets have emptied. People look stunned. For the most part everyone is masked, eyes crinkling with smiles as they pass by.

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The Stage 4 restriction means that we are only allowed to leave our house for four reasons: “shopping for food and essential items, care and caregiving, daily exercise (one hour) and work.” I have started volunteering at a food bank once a week and have been given a permit to go there. We are also not allowed out after 8 pm which is sad for us because we love to walk our dog around the block before bedtime and look at the stars. Still, the Covid case numbers are finally coming down and that is a good thing.

Fingers crossed.

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Lost and Found In the Kimberley

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It is a grim scene. The cane toads have been flipped over, their soft insides eaten by crows. They now lie in a mass grave, blackened by the sun and dried to a leathery finish, looking very much how I do after registering for online banking.

There is no better place than the Kimberley in Western Australia to contemplate the passage of time. Home to the oldest continuous culture in the world, its landscape is desiccated and crumbling. Just like I feel sometimes in this super-tech world. But it is also dotted with deep gorges full of cool water, the bright yellow blossoms of the kapok tree and exudes an aura of mature resistance.

I have come to this part of Northwest Australia with my Australian husband, my sixteen-year-old son, and our two closest Australian friends. We four adults range from late fifties to early sixties and we plan to sleep in tents and dine by camp stove for the next fourteen days in the rugged outback, tender hips be damned.

The Kimberley is almost exactly the size of California and you have to make, as in life, tough choices when visiting. We have chosen the Gibb River Road—a 412-mile former cattle track between Derby and Kununurra–and so must hire a 4WD. We glance mystified at the pile of tents, stove equipment, chairs, and cots lined up next to the car. We have been left to figure out how to fit them into the canvas sac rigged to the top. It’s a test before the company signs off its $60,000 Toyota Landcruiser to a bunch of aging city slickers. We ask the manager what dangers to watch out for. ‘Stupidity,’ he replies and goes back to counting his money.

First stop–the liquor store where we become octopus-like, reaching for Shirazes and Merlots to pop into a 12-bottle box. Plus a couple of Chardonnays for the American Sheila (that would be me). Oh yes, we remember, as we glance at our son who watches his alcoholic parents with a studied eye, ginger ale for the boy.

The ‘boy’ is sixteen, 6 foot 2 and glowing with young skin and righteous living. He squeezes into the back of the car, pulls out his book and looks soulfully out at the bush. He has left his phone back home. He is not an addict like his parents whose fingers will twitch regularly to see if we’re in cellular distance throughout the trip.

At the sign for the Gibb River Road, we stop to change the air pressure on the tyres. It is deemed (by the women) to be men’s work and the elders teach the boy to the sound of snapping iPhones and the chorus of ‘Look up, smile! No, do it again…’

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That evening, we notice we don’t have a gas bottle for the rented cooker. Nor do we have glasses, matches, or a beer bottle opener. We do, however, have reduced salt soya sauce, smoke salmon, Lebanese bread and 70 percent dark chocolate.

We watch as all around us the camping pros drape their tables with cloth, sizzle juicy nuggets of beef on state-of-the-art cookers and sip from wine glasses glinting in the dying sun. We stare at each other and our stomachs growl in unison. Our son turns his watchful eyes upon us and for the first time in his life I see panic.

Our friends, Shaz and Jamie, set to work and in no time make a salad of spinach, canned chick peas, and red canned salmon which we wash down with a Houghton Shiraz from Margaret River. No need to go to the dogs just yet. When the next morning greets us with the fine scent of coffee percolating on gas stoves in all the camp sites surrounding us, Shaz shakes the partially frozen milk (we forgot to turn off refrigerator), mixes it with ground coffee and voila: city-style iced coffees. Never underestimate the wisdom of age.

As we drive along the Gibb River Road we pass miles of cubist red rock cliffs on which delicate eucalypts balance like chorus girls. This is the King Leopold Ranges, land of termite hills as big as VW Bugs and pot-bellied boabs with their crazy limbs. When we stew impatiently behind road trains belching clouds of dust, we pull out our baby boomers collection of Leonard Cohen, Moby, John Fogarty—yes, 110 degrees in the shade, of course, KD Lang, and the more local Nick Cave crooning “It was hot…we drove on and on.”

Our son laughs. He is stuck in a car with four adult friends who tell the same stories over and over, ones we have been telling for the duration of our twenty-year friendship. But we are trying to pass down age-old Shakespearean truths. Like ‘All that glitters is not gold,’ ‘To thine own self be true,’ ‘Don’t forget to hydrate.’

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A quick stop at Imitje, an aboriginal-run roadhouse, scores us a new gas stove with its accompanying gas canisters, and we finally arrive at Mornington Wilderness Camp after two and half hours on its rocky cattle gate-strewn road. The outdoor dining area boasts amazing views, handsome tourist souvenirs and a dreamy wine list. The camp is dedicated to tackling extinction and land degradation while providing camp spots, safari tents and first-class dining to the intrepid few. Their remit, which includes feral herbivore fencing and aboriginal-style burn-offs, is to rejuvenate the bush. Good luck, I think, rubbing my sore muscles.

After a dip in St. George’s gorge where my husband falls splat on his back and rips open his elbow, we dine that night on roasted lamb rump and orange cake with passion fruit puree. Discussion turns, naturally, to new knees and blocked prostrates. Did you know you can drill? Jamie, asks. My son winces, his eyes trained like a falcon’s on my last bite of cake.

 

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Later, we gather around the fire ring and sit back to contemplate the pulsing stars in the black sky, so numerous they look like a dusting of icing sugar. It is muscle-tightening cold and in the distance dingos yip in the night. The Southern Cross with two of its bright stars pointing directly to the celestial South Pole, is blazing, even if it doesn’t exist anymore, having burned through its energy long ago.

The Kimberley knows about the mysteries of aging. The continued renewal after the Wet, the aching resilience of the Dry, all combined to create a landscape of utter beauty. My son stares out at the dead trees curled in haunting elegance as they reach for the sky. The bush is majestic in its cyclical demise. Unlike his mother.

Our favorite spot along Gibb River Road will turn out to be Manning Gorge. After hours of rumbling along the potted road, spying bustard birds walking cockily through the bush, yellow finches flying overhead, and poor kangaroos and wedge-tailed eagles struck dead by the side of the road, we arrive at Mount Barnett camping site and immediately attack the hard, rocky sun-drenched hike where dead trees look like broken branches stabbed into the ground. And yet when I peer closer I see bright green shoots emerging. We’re not through yet. At the end of the walk, we find a sparkling waterfall cascading into an emerald pool, surrounded by Pandanas trees. Manning Gorge is so beautiful I would gladly die there. But, like the roasted trees on our walk, not quite yet.

A few days later, at the cleverly-managed El Questro hub which features two restaurants and an outside bar, we settle into some well-deserved R&R. We have, after all, been on the road for five whole days. We munch on pumpkin-spiced pizzas and listen to folksy good ‘ol Australiana entertainment. The warmth and cold beers and the general bonhomie of all the families around us remind us why civilization truly is the civilized choice.

 

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Because let’s be frank: the camping cot feels like stone under my hips. Any appendage left in the open shrivels with cold. In the more crowded camp sites, snores fill the night air like the buzz of mosquitos. I’m too scared to relieve my bursting bladder in case I encounter a marauding crocodile. And so every morning at first light, I stagger from the tent, adding a string of expletives to the deranged cackle of magpies and white galahs swooping overhead.

The boy in contrast seems to emerge from the small tent stronger, straighter, taller every morning. An amble to the table and he wolfs down a bowl of muesli, his taste buds adapting to his older companions’ preference for sawdust. He now drinks coffee, taking his turn coaxing the water to boil on the tiny stove, at home in nature as he is in the computing ether. I envy his comfort in our changing complex world, his commanding way with a browser, his ability to remember more than one password. The stance of the dying white gums with their bare branches raised to the sky reminds me of how I spend much of my life lately, imploring I don’t understand how anything works!

But this trip is about the peace promised in ‘getting away from it all’ and I look forward to soaking in the three main watering holes of El Questro. At Emma Gorge, a clear dazzling bowl of ice water, we are struck with shoe envy as toddlers walk by with newfangled protective water shoes while we pick our way, barefoot, through the sharp rocks, jerking like electrocuted puppets. Luckily, we discover a small tub of warm water hewn from the red rock and we submerge our bones like blissed-out hippos.

Tragedy strikes in Amalia gorge. Not one but two of our iPhones fall into the water. We walk back in stunned silence, our minds focused not on the possible broken bones averted but on all those fabulous photos–which got our best sides, ignored the wrinkles and showed us looking fabulous, darlink—now stewing into oblivion. The boy walks ahead, whistling, deeply unconcerned.

Midway through our walk to El Questro gorge we are stopped by a large boulder. To continue on the trail you have to wade chest-high in water and scramble up steep slippery rock. We stop and stare at each other warily—who is up to this? Just then a couple in their early twenties appears at the top of the boulder. They shimmy down, swim across with their backpack on the young man’s head and emerge before our eyes like the god and goddess of all things we once were. They stop for a happy chat and when they finally wave a cheery goodbye, the boy glances from us to them, his thoughts traveling on in their back pack.

We are quiet on the last drive of the trip, on the Great Western Highway back towards Broome as we contemplate our return to a world we have trouble sometimes understanding, politically and mechanically. But I have seen bright green shoots grow at the base of fading trees and it gives me hope. The boy smiles in anticipation of his return to his friends. He is our green shoot. And when I look at him I feel like a sugar-dusted star, hoping the best for humanity.

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My Writing Process–Blog tour

A fellow writer, Linda Huber, who I met on Twitter, invited me to take part in a blog tour during which authors and writers talk about their process. I don’t have a current book to promote but I wanted to be helpful and I think it’s good to analyze the ways in which we approach our work.

Of course the main question might be Why do we blog? Well, it’s obvious. We like to think we’ve done some cool creative things (like the guys in the photo above) and we just wanted to show you.

You can enjoy Linda’s blog here. (She has a much prettier photo.) Her second novel, The Cold Cold Sea, will be published by Legend Press this summer.

What am I working on? I have just finished the first draft of a historical novel set during the fall of Singapore in WWII. It’s about a young British woman who falls in love with a Chinese man in the midst of chaos. I lived in Singapore for a year and became fascinated with the Peranakan culture. I wanted to attempt to write a romance. The first draft is a cringe-making mess. I am now trying to salvage it. To get at that vision I had which was smooth, clever, sexy.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I began my career writing satires but wanted to try my hand at other genres. Perhaps I thought I would be taken more seriously. Get invited to the Booker party. I don’t know. But I haven’t been wildly successful lately until I wrote a darkly comic short story called My Wife the Hyena and it was included in the Best British Short Stories 2013. So perhaps I should return to my roots.

Why do I write what I do? I have a friend who laughs when I tell her what I’m writing next. She says Where do you come up with these ideas? Not sure but I do know that writing for me is compulsion. It is how I process the world and my place in it. I examine themes which pertain to me. For example, one of the Singapore story’s themes is nationalism. Because of the several number of nationalities in my family, this holds fascination for me. Successful writing, I find, involves a fine line between using that compulsion and fine-tuning it to interest others. Yes, I write about what interests me but I try very hard to write in a way that will interest others.

How does your writing process work? I write and write and write. Then I write some more. And then a bit more. I wish I had more control. Every time I approach a book I tell myself, Be more focused, Know where you’re going, Understand what you’re doing. But it never works. I just wrote a 85,000 word novel that frankly stinks for the first half. But I had to write that first half to know where I was going. The problem arises when I am loathe to give up sections of writing and spend too much time trying to squeeze them in other spots in the book. My best days are when I can finally kiss those large sections of darlings good-bye and toss them. Sometimes good material, like good men, will only show up if you get rid of the slackers.

Next Week Sarah Wesson will blog about her writing process. Here is her bio:

Sarah Wesson blogs at Earful of Cider so she can avoid writing while writing, and sometimes even while writing about writing. She’s a mommy of two, a spouse of one, a reader of anything, a public librarian, and a biographer of local dead people and rehasher of local history (not your local, her local).  She’s also a keeper of half-written fictional shipwrecks, completer of four drawer novels, querier of what is not a caper novel, because those don’t sell, and WIPping girl for a couple of new projects.
 

photo by Ari Helminen

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Thank you!

T’is the season to be rushed. T’is the season to fall behind. T’is the season to be just a wee bit grumpy.

I was thinking this the other day as I watched the early morning snow falling from the sky, trying its best to remain snow and failing. On the radio doom threatened: strikes, war, misery, all accompanied by the Wagner-esque symphony of possible global financial collapse.

My own season was becoming increasingly a list of things to tick off. And oh, the guilt. Yes, I was now personally responsible for the destruction of the high street by buying 85 % of my presents online.

I was thinking this when the door bell rang. I rushed downstairs, still in my robe, bleary-eyed and wild-haired, and at the door stood a delivery man, delivering yet another package I had ordered online (See? I told you). This package was big and round and he grinned at me—a delightful elf of a smile–and did a little bow as he twirled it into my hands.

And as that package passed from his hands to mine we both laughed. A joyous cosmic chuckle. A bright spark on a cold winter morning. Here we were two strangers, one up driving around in the early morning dark, the other still in her bathrobe, hurrying her children through breakfast. Such different lives and such different days ahead.

But in that split second we became one—sharing an unspoken joke, a joie de vivre on Dec. 16 at 8:05 on a nondescript street in London.

And as I closed the door, grinning, infected with this man’s joy, I thought ‘Now that’s the spirit!’

And I kept it with me for the rest of the day. So I thank him for that.

And I also give a HUGE THANK YOU to my subscribers and everyone else who has read my blog (you know who you are!).

Thank you so much for visiting. I appreciate the time I’m taking up in your head space. There is constant demand on your attention so I thank you for hanging out with me. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your company.

I’m looking forward to meeting up again in the New Year. But right now it’s time to put down our pens, toss some tinsel and party!

X Nina

photo by Amber B McN (flickr)

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Is blogging bad for writers?

I’m not thinking of the usual reasons. The usual trio of: it’s a waste of time, who cares, it doesn’t sell books.

No, mine is more personal. Mine is–how can I put this delicately–I don’t really want to tell you what is really going on with me. Which in theory is the whole point of a blog, isn’t it? Someone out there in the cloud telling the world how it is to be them?

The idea was that I would write an author’s blog and the people would come. Readers want to know you, said the publicists.

Actually they said, We haven’t a clue but you might give it a shot.

So I did.

And I wrote very bland things. And the couple of times I wrote less bland things, I lost my agent, upset a friend, and well, luckily there wasn’t a third disaster because by that time I’d learned my lesson.

BE CAREFUL. BE VERY CAREFUL.

Authors, if they know what’s good for them, are not going to bare it all in a blog.

I never gave this blog a title because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on: writing, living in London, parenting. There are so many excellent writing blogs out there that I didn’t know where to place myself. Then I thought, I know,  I’ll write about being a struggling midlist writer!

All the squirrels outside my window fell from the trees with boredom.

So I’ve hopped around, trying to give a sense of what a novelist might think about. But always inoffensive. Light light. Nicey nicey.

But to get an involved following an author is supposed  to offer something of herself. Warts and all. Real opinions. Real feeling.

But sorry, I can’t do that. All the good stuff I have to keep close to my chest. Anything interesting I’m not going to divulge facelessly through the ether. To be read by those I don’t know. Or even worse, by those I do!

This reticence is why I became a novelist in the first place. To divulge the workings of my conflicted soul in the safe anonymity of my characters. Where I can let lose all those uncomfortable, sometimes cruel observations and opinions that lurk inside me. That bubble up in all of us. Which are acceptable in characters but not usually in real people. Which is why we all love fiction so much.

If readers want to know a writer, the best they can do is read his or her novel.

Where we can be conflicted, twisted and snarky to our heart’s delight.

photo by mugley (flickr)

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Oink Oink Flu

swine-flu2I have half a mind to run to the closed schools in London and run my children’s hands over any surfaces hoping they will pick up the swine flu virus. Because as of now it seems to be quite mild. And, if the 1918 version is anything to go by, a stronger version in the autumn is supposed to come back and wipe us all out. So if we got it now we’d have the antibodies in the fall and be would be sitting pretty. Starving and thirsty and horribly scared because all society would fall apart. But alive.

But then today there was this article.

So who knows what is in store.

And yes, for those, oh, one or two, of you out there who are wondering why so few blogs now, well I decided not to blog every day.

Because one, who cares?

And two, who cares?

I think I was starting to approach it as a marathon. Damn it, I can do this. I can. I told myself I would try to do it for a year. But luckily for me I went on vacation and got a life.

And found that I loved not having to look at life through the eyes of a webmonster. (Can you say that again? I’d like to use it in my blog.) I loved not having to stop in the mid-morning rush and publish. And I loved not having to think about it.

Of course, no one was putting a gun to my head.

But there is a fine line between self expression, keeping in touch and…rambling. Not saying I’m no longer rambling but here is the new, not really improved, version of my blog: weekly. For now.

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No Buy

no-buyI just finished reading another book. And being very topical for this G20 summit in town, it’s called Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine.

It’s an interesting read specifically because it was published in 2006 bang in the middle of our consumer rush. Reading it now, in our credit crunch, is like watching a Ferrari fly by you at 350 miles per hour, knowing there’s a 100-car pile-up ahead.

I must say I picked it up feeling slightly smug. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a miser: My gifts tend to be small. I make fun of my husband’s wide range of shoes for every subtle change of terrain. ( I shouldn’t, he’s a much better gift-giver than I am). My poor children are still riding first bikes so small their knees touch their ears.

I once even tried a moratorium on shopping: I forbid my family to buy anything for six months.

I don’t think we lasted two hours.

Turns out, I burn money like Shell drills oil. We always seem to need something: more underwear, a zebra patterned swimsuit, art books, children shoes, a piano book, endless birthday presents, peppermint scrub shower gel.

And yes, I did desperately need that Boden flippy spring skirt in that enticing shade of peach.

But Judith Levine and her significant other, Paul, have showed me the way. You can live without buying most things. So I’m going to start. I’m going to impose a serious, no-buy-except-for-food-and-real-necessities-ban. (OK, maybe new bikes).

After our trip to the US.

photo by reebob (flickr)

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Multinational Family

easter-bunnyI’m chewing my nails waiting for my daughter’s American passport to arrive. I suddenly noticed it is due to expire right in the middle of our Easter trip to the States.

To get her another one I had to round up her birth certificate, her Consular Report of Birth Abroad, her social security card, her, my Australian husband and his passport, me and my passport, and present us all at the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square where we had to wait at several security checks, stroll by men with very big guns, pass through the bullet proof door and present ourselves at the window.

And this was just for a renewal.

I’m not going to complain here. Did enough of it already.

But that’s the problem with a multinational family. We have passports coming out of our ears. My husband has an Australian passport. I’ve got an American one. My daughter, who was born in London, has a British and an American passport. My son, who was born in Singapore, has an American passport and an Australian passport. It’s funny, two passports from countries he’s never lived in. But he is not eligible for Singaporean nationality and we haven’t gotten round to getting him British citizenship though I think he might be eligible by now for having lived here at least five years.

Needless to say, passport control officers cringe when they see us coming.

Anyway I hope it comes in time. We have grandparents to snuggle with, friends to visit and an American Easter Bunny to find.

photo by Scott Kinmartin (flickr)

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Only in Great Britain

ukulele

You want a laugh?

Click on this.

It’s the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Playing the song from the movie, Shaft.

It’s brilliant. It’s eccentric. It’s wonderful.

It reminds me why I love this country.

If you ever wondered– and I know you did — Ukulele supposedly comes from the Hawaiian word for dancing flea. Check out the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s website for other fascinating tidbits.

Have a great weekend.

photo by Tywak (flickr)

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Monkey See

monkey-seeYup, me too. AlphaInventions.

If you’re wondering why so many blogs all seem to be mentioning AlphaInventions lately it’s because if you do, their search engine will pick up your blog and refer back to you.

Or something like that.

Basically, your stats will jump through the roof.

So sorry about this. Yet another blog about AlphaInventions. I must say though this surf site for blogs is pretty amazing. In a brief time you can experience the vast range of the human mind at work. It’s like a hyper version of a photo montage screen saver.

In a ten second span you’ll see blogs about Korean heart throbs, fighting cancer, bug photos, field hockey, a spiritual journey involving horses, a strange one concerning a web cam and one hot German housewife. There’s even a whole blog about pillows. And in different languages too: Japanese, Spanish, Russian, but mainly English.

Some of the titles are great: Revolution Earth, Riot Wife, Staying Single and Sleeping triple.

It all just reminds me what an amazing species we are.

Space aliens, when they take over in the future, will scratch their heads thinking man, they might look all the same but they sure have a lot of different opinions!

photo by Korso87 (flickr)

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