“Show Us Your Tits,” or Come to Think of It, Don’t.

January 14, 2009 at 2:12 am (Uncategorized)

Llew’s very sad. He stands forlorn looking out over the beach, searching, always searching, but never finding that which he seeks. He walks the length of the beach, casting about this way and that, scratching and alternately shaking his head. 

“Where oh where can they be?” he cries. 

He is inconsolable. 

His friends are equally disturbed; everyone’s in total agreement. It’s a travesty, a crime against nature. What on earth is happening to this society? How have we gone so wrong? It’s a mystery. 

And now I find myself unwillingly drawn into his pain. I can’t help myself. I, too, must now look. I find myself keeping vigil, ever watchful, even as I run along the promenade and try to think of other things. For the question becomes pressing once it’s lodged in one’s brain, and the question is this: where have all the topless bathers gone…? 

It used to be that the beach was alive with exposed breasts. Personally I’ve always been amazed that ordinary women who don’t collect dancing dollars in their g-string or strip  for a living are apparently comfortable getting their gear off on the sand. I know I’m a hopeless Modesty Blair, but I don’t really see what’s changed whether you’re on the beach or locked in a stage cage – bare breasts are bare breasts, and I’m not getting mine out for Joe Public for anything, even though it means I’ll never sport that ultimate Sydney status symbol: an even tan. Oh well. Moving right along. 

But loads of women think nothing of lying in public shouting “Tits ahoy!” – usually surrounded by people, some of them men, all of whom surreptitiously ogle every fun bag they can spy without moving from their ‘Australian flag’ beach towel – or at least, they used to think nothing of it. What’s happened? Where, Llew and his compadres want to know, are all the boobs? Where are all the Live Nude Girls? 

Well, it seems there’s a move in parliament to ban topless sunbathing. Fred Nile and the religious (or is that repressed?) Right are at it again. Good grief – do they really not have anything better to do? Anything more serious to debate? And what is with this ghastly Nanny State of ours? There are signs everywhere telling us we’re not allowed to do anything – it’s almost enough to make me want to take my top off. Almost, but not quite. Let’s hope this foolishness is put down – it’s always depressing to see society regress. 

Then there’s the flimsy argument that it’s sun safety messages finally getting through. I’m sorry to say no, that’s definitely not it. I went for a run this morning, having lathered up in 30+ of course, and I can report with certainty that there is no shortage of people lying out on the hot sand under the blazing sun, slowly cooking themselves to a surefire cancerous future. Nope. Health education is clearly not it. 

So what is it? Are women simply tired of being gazed upon as they gently roast their melons? Or have they finally decided that yes, it was weird that day they went to the beach with their boyfriend and all of his mates and still opted to topless sunbathe. “Maybe that was slightly peculiar,” thinks Cherie, after a day of lying on her back with her pert breasts reaching for the sky, her boyfriend’s mates meanwhile coughing into their chests and staring glumly at the horizon (I have seen people do this, and it does my head in every single time. Even if I LOVED topless bathing, I’d think it would be excruciating for all involved to do it in a mixed group of friends and lovers). Maybe next time Cool and the Gang are spending the day at the beach, Cherie’s crocheted bikini top might come in handy after all. 

I don’t really know the answer. All I know is numbers are down, Llew’s despondent, and when I saw a girl sunbaking topless today, I actually felt bad for a second that Llew wasn’t there to see for himself that all is not lost.

 

Postscript: I forgot to mention Llew’s own theory. He thinks perverts with digital cameras have ruined it for all the likely lads who really just enjoy a quick glance as they do the Chiko roll run at lunchtime. And it’s true it’s not their fault there are naked women strewn all over the beach. Equally, it’s not their fault that there’s not. No, I think it’s a sensible suggestion that the blame lies squarely at the sand encrusted feet of the creepy men who want to take a little souvenir home. Yech.

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Now That’s What I Call a Good Weekend

January 13, 2009 at 3:18 am (Uncategorized)

I had a really good weekend. It started Friday afternoon when I mailed off the latest draft of my manuscript to a literary agent who on Wednesday responded to a sample by requesting the whole thing. This was very good news. Even if the agency ultimately gives me a thumbs-down, it’s sooo encouraging to have broken through that first round of probable rejection. I’ve only sent a sample of the MS to a literary agency once before, and that was a long time ago – woefully prematurely, sometime in 2007 – so after the Year of Hard Graft, this was a reward in itself and a tremendous start to the year. And I mean that whether they end up wanting to represent me or not – just being asked to submit the MS in its entirety was a genuine high. 

Then Llew and I headed over to Darling Point to see a German director friend’s presentation about her latest multimodal creative project, Super! Power! The Rock Opera. S and I went to an international college together in Canada 1989-91, and the last time we saw each other was June 2000 at the ten year reunion, a week-long binge of reconnection that took place on campus, a stunning site on Vancouver Island. The first thing I saw was her curly mop of hair as we approached the Drill Hall where she’s working here developing the project’s launch, and when she turned around, there she was, and it was that easy. I love it when people slide back into my life like that. It was so easy, so seamless. Could it really be that long ago? Certainly S looks just about exactly the same as when we were at college. And I don’t know that I think people ever really change that much; certainly neither of us has. Sure we’re older and wiser and better travelled and better qualified and so forth, but in essence we’re the same two people who met nearly 20 years ago on the other side of the world, in a place that was far, far and away from our teenage homes. It’s kind of nice being able to slot her so effortlessly into the here and now – if we were doomed to keep reminiscing about college days, I think I’d die of boredom, but mercifully there was no danger of that. Anyway, we met her partner, another S, an Australian musician who lives in Berlin with S and has done for years, and watched the presentation on Super! Power! and then ducked over to my sister-in-law’s for dinner. 

F’s a photographer, and she lives in North Bondi, sharing the apartment with a cinematographer we met for the first time last Friday night when she staggered in the door late in the night after a long day of shooting, shortly followed by her film editor boyfriend N. Only writing about it all now do I realise that Friday was like being briefly across the entire arts spectrum of Sydney – there are so many people doing such interesting things and we were lucky enough to be talking to a bunch of them. We went to F’s thinking we were going to be reselecting the photos for our wedding album; F’s wedding gift to us was developing the photos and putting an album together for us (we used her friend A for the wedding, because we wanted F to just be a guest and enjoy herself, and A did a really fantastic job), but the file she created years ago (we’ve been married four) of the photos we selected was corrupted, so we assumed we were starting again. But no: F surprised us with the wedding album, plus two boxes of the other photos (A was trigger happy on the day). Llew and I were instantly transfixed; only the smell of slow-roasting lamb wafting from the kitchen managed to rouse us from our engrossment. 

Talk about memories flooding back! We pointed, laughed, commented, got a bit emotional, and generally relived the wedding day from start to finish. It was really fabulous. And then we sat down to a scrumptious dinner (just how did she do those roast potatoes, anyway??), a bottle of wine, lots of lovely chat, and then retired to the lounge with cheese and biscuits, which is where B and N found us just in time for a night cap. All up, a great day.

Saturday kicked off with a run and a swim, then breakfast in the courtyard with the papers. Llew went off to hit golf balls and I went off to find sandals to wear that night. Both of us were successful in our missions. Then T and T picked us up, and off we went to Pyrmont’s Flying Fish for L’s 30th birthday celebration. What a gorgeous night. A perfect sunset, a stunning spot, and a range of delicious canapes and drinks that guaranteed a wonderful night was had by all, including the birthday girl (we were impressed just knowing someone who was a mere 29 only a few days before!). 

Sunday we lay about going over all the wedding photos. That was really, really fun. Then there was a swim, a late brunch, and a hit of tennis (Llew’s teaching me and I am still stiff as a board in my upper body), a walk around the Fairlight path and lunch on the grass overlooking Sydney Harbour. Then I met up with T for ice cream and a chat  (ice cream fixes everything), helped her choose some new sunglasses, and then it was home again for yet another swim before getting ready for a bbq with my German friend S, her partner S, and two other friends, J and O. Llew totally outdid himself at the bbq – gone are the days of the humble carcinogenic chop – and we sat around solving the world’s problems until the wee hours. Needless to say S and S stayed over, and yesterday I showed them around this beautiful place, including throwing them in the surf first thing (I was most impressed with their bodysurfing skills). What can I tell you? There was a whole lot of simple happiness surging through me as I waved off their afternoon ferry and turned for home.

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Oh You Are So Big, So Absolutely Huge…

January 9, 2009 at 5:10 am (Uncategorized)

Today I was lucky enough to catch up with two of my writer friends just around the corner from Chez J. M, who’s visiting from Melbourne and took the ferry over to visit, and L, who’s my Man Town-based writer chum. They’d never met before; as much as I want to be part of a community of writers, I want to help forge that community wherever possible, and of course the three of us made a very different but delicious combination, as seen previously in French toast, maple syrup and bacon. Sometimes you don’t know if these things are going to work, but when they do it’s great and totally addictive. 

Anyway, we got to talking (I know that’ll floor you), and as the chat veered from L’s hysterical work trip to the US, to born again Christian righteousness, to fatism,  to writing, to academia, to partners, to humour, to insurance policies on klutzy husbands (L was told to NEVER joke about this by an insurance agent – talk about making it doubly irresistible), we eventually got around to the American President Elect. And as I listened to all of us, it occurred to me (and I know I’m not the first one to make this observation, I just can’t be) that Obama is the Messiah of the liberal humanists of the world. Or so we think – and so we even dare to hope. And it’s more than that. There’s an undeniable reification going on here, whereby Obama is giving those of us who don’t Believe (L was asked on her business trip how she could serve the company if she wasn’t serving the Lord) something to believe in. It’s kind of scary how similar the language is, and how deeply intuitive and entirely uncritical some of our attachment to Obama is. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and it’s disconcerting to catch myself in the act of what I can only comprehend as some kind of secular worship (poor, poor bastard – talk about the weight of the world. And isn’t the leadership of the US today just the biggest ‘hospital pass’ of all time?! In case anyone’s unfamiliar with this idea, it’s a sporting term. I learned it from Llew’s rugby vocabulary, as in the ball being thrown from one player to another such that the receiver is placed directly in the path of a winding, sometimes career-ending tackle). 

It was there as we gushed and glowed and got all starry-eyed about how wonderfully unflappable Obama is in the face of all the world’s ills. He’s so calm, so controlled, we extolled. It’s like he’s been touched by the hand of Destiny, we sighed. Like he knew this was coming, like it’s what he’s been preparing for, put on this earth to do. In short, we anointed him.We joined his flock. We sang the Obama hymn and it was good. 

Scary shit to make the comparison with the kind of evangelism I have always found not only alarming but somehow sickening. Weak. How nice to offload all that responsibility for one’s own self and one’s own life and foist it onto an unlikely god and the even more dubious promise of an afterlife! Marvellous! And yet there’s something of that in the way we all wanted to cry (I did) listening to Obama’s acceptance speech. What were those tears, if not a plea, if not a global prayer of something like “Save us, please save us…” ?

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Hell, Not Peace on Earth

January 8, 2009 at 2:00 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been avoiding the hard topics in recent posts – it makes for far more pleasant writing and no doubt reading to focus on happier things like fantasy libraries and stupid movies – but sometimes the state of the world just demands attention. What the fuck are they doing in Gaza? It’s so grim. Who breaks a ceasefire? Who’s the big crazy dangerous idiot in Hamas who gave the go ahead to kick it off again? Where is the honour in it? That’s what I don’t understand. How can anyone believe there is any honour in this? And of course Israel is striking back. They always do. There’s no surprise there, no bolt out of the blue. This is the puppet show, and it was ever thus. 

The awful truth is that Palestinian children are currently a third of the Gaza dead. Llew read out an appalling story over the weekend about an Hamas operative being warned by the Israelis that his house was going to be hit, who decided not only to stay there in order to martyr himself, but also insisted his wife and children remain at home too. They all perished. Now, I’m so cynical about reportage these days that I don’t even know if we can believe this story, but the sad truth is that it doesn’t sound far-fetched. It sounds all too hideously plausible. And I can’t bear it. I just can’t bear it. This is why I flee into the safety of my extraordinarily privileged life. It’s very nice here, and it’s unthinkably horrible there. There, in Gaza, with all the dead children. It’s just not right. 

My correspondent friend said on her Facebook status the other day “Gaza is going to hell,” and I thought, well, she should know. To me, I must admit, it sounds like it’s already there. Hell on Earth. There’s too much appetite for unrest, too much stubborn myopia, too much of the sickness that turns us against each other and unleashes our basest selves. It makes my stomach churn that people on both sides are prepared to do this to each other and each other’s children. It is a fucking disgrace, and we should all be ashamed. 

How is it that some people don’t want peace? Offered a ceasefire, there will always be those thirsting to drag peace asunder. Who are they, and what in any god’s name makes them tick?

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The Best Room in the World

January 7, 2009 at 2:43 am (Uncategorized)

I have a library fantasy in which my own home boasts one. A really big one. A really big and comfortable and atmospheric one. I have a vaulted ceiling and mahogany shelves and Chesterfields and French doors and worn Huon Pine ladders on runners that zip from one end of my cavernous library to the other with a gentle brrrrrrr. There’s an Edwardian decanter and finely etched crystal-ware atop a delicate silver tray, and in winter, the open fireplace sends a crackle and glow through the room that is as gently soporific as it is deeply hypnotic. There’s a French club chair that is my worn favourite, perfectly placed to capture the ever-changing views outside as well as the settled character within. There’s my favourite artwork hung about its walls, as well as an antiquarian map or two of places I have been. There is a simple but large writing desk, and on a raised pedestal in one corner rests a sculpture – the work itself changing periodically, because in my fantasy, my private collection is vast. And all around me are my books, properly displayed, lovingly arranged. This, I think to myself as I survey my especial domain, is my favourite room in the entire world. 

The reality is somewhat different. My bookshelves are sagging. I have unsightly stacks of books crowded atop what used to be orderly rows. My office – the biggest room in the apartment – increasingly feels cramped, dwarfed by the sheer volume of text. By my bed lies a pile that stopped me dead a few days ago, when I realised it looks just like one of the many unread towers of books with which Nana has littered her living room to the point of potential hazard. Oh my god, I thought, this looks like one of Nana’s. It was a chilling glimpse into my possibly demented future, but for now at least I am getting through these tomes, and the pile is losing its stalagmite character as time goes on. Over the break I read Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, which was so fascinating a portrait of modern Australia as well as being rather unsettling. As a ‘skip’ myself (white Australian, totally Anglo, nothing remotely ethnically interesting going on there, I’m afraid), it was equal parts confronting and illuminating to read how the characters of different ethnic backgrounds perceive people like me. I am so locked out of their experience – I will never be Greek Australian, for instance, or Vietnamese Australian, or Lebanese Australian or anything other than what I am, so I’ll never know firsthand what that experience is like. I’ll never be the ‘wog’ or the ‘chink’ or the ‘mussie’ or any of these pejoratives – as a white Australian, I’ve never been the Other in that sense. I’ve experienced plenty – plenty – of prejudice as a woman, though, so I found myself reacting to some of Tsiolkas’s characters really strongly. “Hey,” I wanted to say, “we have more in common than you think!” But I’d say that more than anything, the different portrayals made me very wistful for all of these cultures that aren’t my own. They seemed lucky to me, so lucky to have all those extra layers of life and family and ritual that we skips don’t have. It’s a fascinating book by a great contemporary Australian writer. 

Then I read Charlotte Wood’s The Children. You may remember Charlotte so graciously gave of her time and experience towards the end of last year, agreeing to have a coffee with me to share a little of what she knows about plotting (one of my weakest points). And it was whilst I was trying to describe my ms to her that I had my eureka moment about my arc, so I feel utterly indebted to Charlotte even though she insists she did nothing but hear me out. Not true. She drew me out, drew it out, and there’s a big difference. She helped coax my story out into the light where I could, at long last, see it clearly. Anyway, buying and reading her latest novel is the least I can do to repay her – I’m also going to get hold of her earlier works – Pieces of a Girl and The Submerged Cathedral – just for good measure. And reading The Children after listening to Charlotte talking about how the story came together was just thrilling. I had to review a ‘family drama’ – Life in Seven Mistakes – last year for one of the magazines I write for, and whilst ostensibly it and Charlotte’s story have a number of points in common, Charlotte’s is simply a far superior work of art. Far, far superior. Everything that really shat and irked me about Susan Johnson’s book, most especially its unforgivably mawkish resolution, Charlotte managed to avoid in The Children, which is actually a pretty tense, psychologically astute work. Not only that, but her attention to the minutiae of ordinary Australian life is often heartbreaking. Finally, one of the main characters is a foreign correspondent, and Charlotte’s depiction of this woman’s experience bears an uncanny resemblance to that of my beloved Egyptian friend S, an Associated Press journalist who’s done plenty of time (too much, perhaps) in Gaza and other sites of terror and carnage. What a pleasure and privilege to have met Charlotte and talked books with her – I can’t wait to read where else she’s been, and see where else she goes.

This is why I need my library. How else do I properly honour all these books?

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The Curious Case of Brad’s Incredibly Bad Movie

January 6, 2009 at 2:33 am (Uncategorized)

My friend T warned me. We were chatting on the ‘phone the other day, and he spelled it out for me in no uncertain terms. 

“The Curious Case of whatever-the-hell,” he announced, “is shit.”

“Really?” I said. “But it’s getting such great raps. It’s been nominated for five Golden Globes.”

“Yeah well,” he said, totally unimpressed, “it’s still shit.”

“That’s such a shame,” I moaned. “I was looking forward to seeing it.”

“It’s almost worth seeing just for how supremely bad it is,” T continued. “If you want to look at a movie that’s about nothing more than cash registers ringing, go see this movie. It’s not about anything. It’s just a cash cow. And it’s already been done. It’s Forrest Gump all over again.”

(Now is probably as good a time as any to come clean: I walked out of Forrest Gump. I thought it was risible. T’s assessment of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button therefore did not bode well, but I admit my curiosity was piqued – could anything really be as bad whilst simultaneously being up for as many awards as Forrest Gump? It scarcely seemed possible.)

The following night, Llew and I decided to go and see Australia, Baz Luhrmann’s all-but-universally panned epic. Everyone I’ve spoken to thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe the critics weren’t expecting Baz’s usual blend of high-camp and pastiche. Maybe they thought it was going to be really high-minded instead of highly entertaining. I’m not sure, and I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t comment, but it’s safe to say everyone I know who’s seen it has gotten their money’s worth. I haven’t heard one bad thing out on da street. And I didn’t get to see it Saturday night because the session was sold out. Sold. Out. Go Baz. And whilst we’re about it, go Nicole. I’m still reeling from the acid bath Nickers received on the movie’s release. I mean, all she did was come home to make a movie and try and give a desperately-needed boost to the Australian film industry. What a pack of ugly ingrates we turned out to be. 

As fate would have it, the next movie showing was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I’d told Llew what T said about it, but we both sort of shrugged and decided that, if anything, this made us want to see it more. In we went. 

I can’t remember the last time I rolled my eyes and shifted in my seat and stifled bursts of laughter so often in a movie. Oh wait. I can. It was watching Forrest Gump. And the most hilarious thing is that the FG comparison T made was maybe the one thing I didn’t mention to Llew when repeating our conversation, and yet when the lights came up, the very first thing Llew said was, “Well, that’s not winning any of those awards because Forrest Gump has won them all already.” 

Ain’t that the truth?!

What are they thinking, nominating this film for Golden Globes?? It’s confounding. First, there’s the pathetic reliance on narration over dialogue. I don’t think Cate Blanchett’s character and Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button have one complete conversation in the entire, excruciatingly over-long running time. Why have characters talk when you can narrate? Well, gee, so we can give a shit about them, that’s why. Second, as T pointed out, it’s not about anything. Except maybe the preternatural luminosity of Cate Blanchett’s skin. It’s true that the state of Cate’s pores held my attention for much of the movie. Was it real? Or was it tampered with? Or does SKII really work? These were the big, burning questions. Button, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything special or interesting or courageous or noble or even just plain perverse with his life-lived-in-reverse fate. Nope. It’s all pretty dreary if you ask me. A study of mediocrity. Oh, except for those laugh-out-loud dreamy pin-up shots of Pitt on a motorbike or Pitt on a yacht (and trust me, I did laugh out loud). Third, where’s the moral of the long, boring story? If my calculations are correct, Button is 42 when he and Blanchett’s character have a baby. Which means he’s 41 when he scoots out on them a year later so that she “won’t have to raise them both.” Which means he’s got about 25 years of adulthood left before he can reasonably be considered a child, by which time his daughter would be 26 and well and truly an adult. It JUST DOESN’T ADD UP. He does a runner, pure and simple. Why? If she’s the love of his life and they’ve got another 25 possible adult years together, why does he leave her to raise their child alone? There’s just not one good reason. Nor is there one good reason for that whole Hurricane Katrina link to the present day. Nor is there a good reason for the recurring CGI motif of the hummingbird (cue more laughter from me as the hummingbird smacks against the glass window of the hospital room in the final frame). 

If this movie wins a single award I will be not only gob-smacked but also finally jaded about the worth of these dust collectors. I just won’t believe they have any integrity whatsoever, ever again (it took me a long time to recover after FG). And I’d like to see Brad Pitt score the role of a lifetime. I have nothing against the man. But this role is not it. It can’t be. This movie is profoundly irritating, it’s glossed, it’s cynical about the movie-goer, it’s over-hyped beyond belief, and it’s just plain bad. Life is not like a box of chocolates, and it never was.

Postscript: the ranks of dissent are swelling. One of the biggest cinephiles I know emailed a group of us today warning us to avoid this movie at all costs. One of the group emailed back saying her mother actually ranted afterwards about how terrible it was. Cinephile said one scene that made other people cry in the cinema still makes her giggle. Trust her if not me: this movie sucks.

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Starting as I Mean to Continue

January 5, 2009 at 4:33 am (Uncategorized)

Here we are – already 2009 is five days old. Happy New Year, one and all, and I hope everyone’s recovering from all the scoffing and quaffing without too many lingering kilos and coughs. My right eye has finally stopped twitching; someone told me a flickering eye was all about the kidneys struggling to stay sound, and it’s true mine have been working overtime since my last post of 2008. Let’s just say I didn’t exactly deprive myself of any Christmas cheer. No, Self-Control and I aren’t even on speaking terms until about this time every year. I let it all hang out between Christmas Eve and, say, January 2, and Self-Control just sits there stewing and sulking in a far, far corner of my mind until I’m good n’ ready to call it back to work. And then it gloats.

Today is the first day I finally feel over my New Year’s Day hangover. It was a scorcher. The kind of hangover that makes me wonder why oh why anyone drinks. Or not just anyone. Me. Why do I do it, when it makes me feel sooo bad? Well, how much time have you got? There are plenty of reasons, but I think you already know most of them, either from your own experience or witnessing someone else’s. But the fact is, I felt so hideous on New Year’s Day that I actually fantasised about never feeling that way again as though it’s a fate that’s beyond me. Imagine, I thought, just imagine never being hungover again. Wow-ee. Wouldn’t that be something? Imagine how much better I’d feel; imagine all the things I could do. Huh. And then, just as easily as I dismiss other fantasies I don’t believe have any place in reality, I let it go. Curious, don’t you think, given how realistic a goal moderate drinking is? And we are going to give it another burl. Oh yes, the dreaded New Year’s Resolution. Ours is to stay under .05 for the first six months of the year; not abstaining entirely, nor imbibing with the best. Just enjoying a civilised drink when the occasion calls for it. Can we do it? Christ knows I’ve tried before, and my track record is littered with so many champagne corks and beer bottles it looks like the clean up following the Melbourne Cup. But it’s also worth trying again. Moderation is one nut I’d really like to crack.

So far, so good. We’ve abstained entirely since New Year’s Eve, but let’s face it: that hasn’t been hard. Just the thought of alcohol for the first three days of 2009 was enough to make me run straight to bed with my book. No, that’s been easy. The test comes not when we don’t drink at all, but when we do. How does one refrain from making impaired decisions once one’s capacity for decision-making is impaired? I guess that’s the challenge; I’m going to try to find out. 

In other news, I spent part of yesterday sifting through various scraps and chapters, notes and beginnings. It’s quite exciting thinking about 2009 in terms of what next, and what to do whilst this current MS is still in contention for one of the Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Development Awards. For the first time in two years, I can allow myself to wonder which of these other skeletons of text might become something tangible, something I can write with both hands, and watch grow with both eyes. Don’t you love the start of a new year? All those possibilities. And a fresh start at making something of them. It’s a great time of any year.

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