Basking in Reflected Glory

September 17, 2010 at 4:08 am (Uncategorized)

I can’t very well leave you floating in the Tales of Turd Town, can I – a bum note if ever I’ve heard one (okay, I’ll stop now) – so I thought I’d have a Darkling Brag instead. Remember when Darkling JB took out the Josephine Ulrick Short Story Award earlier this year for her story ‘The Geometry Lesson’? Well, the award is administered through Queensland’s Griffith University, and the university’s very highly regarded literary quarterly, The Griffith Review, has accepted JB’s story for inclusion in its second annual fiction edition – that’s right, baby! Bring on the dancing girls!

While the collection will be on sale in November, the launch party for this special edition of TGR is the last Saturday night of October, at the Readings store in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton. JB and Jenny, the Victorian Darklings, will spend the evening rubbing shoulders with publishing luminaries as well as some of the other contributing authors – schmoozing, in other words, hopefully with a white wine in JB’s hand and a red one in Jenny’s. Go get ‘em, ladies – the countdown is ON!

It’s all very exciting – a piece of Darkling fiction is officially making it into print (Jenny’s novel Wasp Season was published B.D., you see) – and the name is Barrile, people, Jewelene Barrile.

Much less thrilling was yesterday’s peculiar experience of realising I had been unceremoniously “unfriended” on Facebook (although it is deeply disturbing that neither Word nor WordPress has reacted with an angry red line beneath what has to be one of the most atrocious linguistic skid marks of modern English). At first I almost laughed, because it just seemed so extraordinarily childish, and then I felt enormously sad for the friend who’s unfriended me, and finally I did start to feel a little offended. I wish it were a juicy story worth repeating, but it’s really not. In fact, I don’t even know what the hell I did wrong, except to tell this friend – whom I’ve known for 21 years – that I was worried about him, and thought there had to be a reason for the huge mood-swing Llew and I witnessed when last we were all together, after which our friend was really rude to both of us. As well as expressing concern for him, I did say I wasn’t accustomed to being treated in such a manner, and that I wasn’t interested in becoming accustomed to it, either, so no doubt that’s where I’ve come unstuck, even though I emphasised my sense that it meant something else was going on, and could we help in any way? Apparently not.

As for a blogging break over the babymoon, well, I think I’ll take one. I’d like to come back to the keyboard feeling inspired and revivified, and I don’t think that’ll happen if I continue blogging throughout the fortnight we’re taking off. The thing is, despite declarations and intentions to the contrary, I really haven’t had the heart to face my MS since not making the Varuna Penguin shortlist. Yes, still. I haven’t felt all the really horrible, depressing feelings about it since the very first days of the announcement – that all dims pretty briskly these days, thank Christ – but I have been left with a residual… um… I don’t even know what to call it. I suppose it’s an aversion of sorts, but I’m not so averse as to avoid thinking about it or writing notes about it, both of which I’ve done since without breaking into hives. I don’t know… I just feel really… flat. Yes, that’s probably closest. I think that rejection, at this point, genuinely deflated me, and I’ve felt flat as a tack about the MS ever since. I haven’t managed to reinflate my enthusiasm to the point of actually going in there again. I’ve taken the run up to it several times now, only to skid to an abrupt and inelegant halt. So how does one put the stuffing back in…? Well, I don’t know. I’ve tried, I’m trying, because I need stuffing, I can’t move without it, but it’s proving difficult to plump myself up again.

I think the worst aspect from a production point of view is the unfortunate side effect of not feeling well stuffed enough for any fiction writing at all (with the exception of that 2,000-word burst a few weeks back, during which I threw down a new character and a new scenario like a woman possessed). So not only have I not had the confidence to return to my full draft, I also haven’t had the confidence required to shrug my shoulders, leave it, and turn my attention to the incomplete one or the barely begun one instead. I just haven’t had any confidence for anything at all.

Not that confidence is the right word either. Even when the writing is going well, confidence is not what I feel. There can be enthusiasm, happiness, excitement, curiosity, a sense of wonder about where writing comes from – plenty of positive, propulsive sensations – but confidence is never one of them. So to say I’ve ‘lost confidence,’ well, that’s incorrect. I think it’s much more accurate to admit I’ve simply lost heart. And I don’t feel terrible about it, or really anything at all. I think that’s part of the problem. When I think about my fiction writing, I just feel a bit empty, unstuffed as well as ‘unfriended,’ and I haven’t managed to top myself up. That’s all (shrugs). I’ll get there eventually. I’ve been busy in the meantime, busy with freelance work, busy with the Varuna Monthly Feature, busy with matters on the home front in preparation for Baby J… as long as I’m still reading and writing, and I’m always doing that, I don’t think there’s any real cause for alarm. But in the interests of restuffing myself, I hereby declare a Babymoon Blogging Break. I hope you all have a wonderful fortnight-and-a-half, and I’ll be back in business (or bidniz, which my NZ friend C says and which makes me laugh) Wednesday 6 October. See you then!

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Sounds Like…

September 16, 2010 at 3:24 am (Uncategorized)

Sometimes high-density living really is the shits. Pun intended, because it’s recently come to my unwilling attention that I can hear my neighbours emptying their bowels and bladders while I am sitting at my desk. The upstairs main tenant has recently changed flatmates, so now instead of a petite girl in the mix, there is a lurching Englishman, which means two men, lots of heavy footfall, and the unpleasant aural trauma of frequent camel-style pissing. And now someone appears to be spending more time at home. Is it a contest? One starts to think it must be: how else to explain the sheer volume – in more ways than one – of such frequent release?

About a week ago, I became trapped in the most ghastly golden shower imaginable, caught with my own pants down at the exact moment someone came into the bathroom directly above and, for all intents and purposes, took a piss on my head. Needless to say I scrambled out of there as fast as I could, shuddering and dry heaving all the way, but I felt mighty unclean afterwards. I would’ve taken a shower, in fact, but I was slightly terrified that this might lead to an inspired duet between the water raining down and a possible shit-storm blowing in from upstairs.  Who knows? Maybe a rattling pipe is their cue to charge in and take another donkey dump, and I don’t want to do anything to encourage them. I just want to block my ears and pretend it isn’t happening. Especially while I am in my office, working at my desk. I mean, that’s just rude.

Then there’s next-door’s nightmare grandchild. She seems a horrid little girl, more so because she’s set among such a lovely family. I can’t for the life of me figure out where or how her foul temperament was spawned – it doesn’t match. This is an exceptionally chilled out and warm-hearted clan. They congregate as a family almost weekly, and those sounds are some of the nicest going around – lots of laughter, happy chatting, singing, and guitar strumming, broken only by the inevitable and relentless high-pitched howling of this one little girl. I’ve been listening to her scream and scream and scream and scream since she was born, and my patience with it is seriously wearing thin. It must be so incredibly wearing living with it; I only have to put up with it while she’s visiting her grandparents (which is often; Grandma is heavily hands-on in the care-giving department), and she really has a way of setting my nerves on edge. I can’t imagine what it’s like for her parents – they must dump her and run every chance they get.

I’ve witnessed these spectacular tantrums up close twice. The first time, she abruptly threw herself backwards just inside the neighbour’s front gate, proceeding to lie right across the path and grass energetically thrashing and screaming for no apparent reason at all, certainly none that anyone present could begin to fathom. Her mother looked down at her and said to the assembled, bemused adults, “I always thought people got the children they deserved, but then, I also thought I was a reasonably good person.” And yesterday I passed Grandma wheeling the little miss and her placid cousin in a stroller along the beachfront. Little Demonica was stretched out rigid, writhing beneath the restraint but otherwise practically standing up, as per usual going right off her head. And I mean clear off her chops – a real fit of fury. Her cousin sat mildly beside her, her grandmother pushed mildly behind her, and all the while Demonica shrieked and thumped and flailed. I shook my head for the hundredth time, marvelling that such a supremely nice family could give rise to such a little shit. I’m going to be pretty interested to see how she turns out, because right now, she’s one of the most unlikable little brats I’ve ever met, and I am sick of the sound of her. I don’t know how they stand it.

Finally, the springtime caterwauling has commenced. The heat howl of one of the neighbourhood cats makes the creature sound like the victim of a terrible crime, currently still gagged but in the process of fleeing her attacker. Perhaps that’s not so far from the truth. All I know is, cats clearly don’t care who hears them, there’s nothing furtive or muffled about what they’re doing after dark – or indeed, in broad daylight, if yesterday’s soundtrack was anything to go by. Yep, judging from the shattering sound of this agonised ecstasy, cats don’t turn out the lights; come spring, our feline friends are transformed into raging, insatiable exhibitionists, doing it in the full glare of the streetlamp like two drunk teenagers desperate to unload the dull burden of their virginity.

What’s that noise, you say? That’s the sound of these close quarters, and though I am a city girl through and through, every so often all I really crave is silence.

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Sprout Me Up

September 15, 2010 at 12:05 am (Uncategorized)

I have finally done almost as much as I can do about clearing out the files – what remains is finishing off my tax returns of the last two years (yes, as a matter of fact I did abandon this task months ago at the halfway mark, thanks for asking), and figuring out exactly where to house one archive box and my portfolios of published work, which are too big for the cupboards that run across the bottom of the book unit (yes, not only is there a void, but there’s a bank of storage too).  Everything else is Llew’s to go through – a couple of boxes from his parents’ place that may well head straight back there at this rate. It’s been truly exhausting sorting through it all. One would think it a rather mindless task, and not tiring at all, but personally I’ve found the opposite is true. I am so glad to be nearly out from underneath it.

I have kept the court documents, but for purely practical purposes (the retired researcher in me, no doubt). There’s a chance – slim but undeniable – that I may one day wish to write something about that particular experience, and in that event, these records will be worth their weight and bulk. On that basis, a stay of execution was in order.

I have a pile of articles and literary supplements sitting to my right that were saved for later, only later never came. All that’s about to change, though, as on Friday Llew and I start our Babymoon Staycation. This coming Sunday marks the sixth month of the pregnancy, as well as my 38th birthday, so it seemed a good time to stop, catch our breath, and grab some much-needed r & r & r (rest, relaxation, and reading) time together before we start the downhill run.  I’m yet to fix on my fiction choices, but plan to spend quite a bit of time with my feet up and a book in my hand. I’ll probably take a blogging break, too, but that’s a decision for another day. Let’s hope the weather improves – yesterday was vile.

I also wanted to mention last night’s unexpected culinary success. As I said, the weather was putrid, so I didn’t at all fancy heading off to shop for any ingredients not already to hand. This brought me to the broad beans and brussels sprouts we bought at the weekend farmers’ market, patiently, greenly sitting in the crisper while I tried to figure out what to do with them. You should understand these were the very first brussels sprouts I’d ever purchased. I have avoided them throughout my adult life, having been too scarred by childhood memories of them boiled to the point of no return. They used to make me gag. Then our friend R served them at a roast beef lunch last year – his special recipe – and for the first time I began to believe the persistent rumours that sprouts didn’t have to be spew. R’s were very tasty – I might have even had seconds. This was a major turning point.

When we saw the sprouts at the markets – and they were very fetching little numbers – we both thought the same thing. Maybe if they were nice once, they could be good again. Maybe we should reach out to the much maligned brussels sprout and invite a bag home. Maybe we could be foodie friends after all. It was worth a shot.

Because this was to be a pantry/crisper special, it quickly became obvious I’d be doing my sprouts in pasta, whereas R served his as a side accompaniment with the roast beef and Yorkshire puds (yes, he made Yorkshire puddings from scratch – how good is that?!). And after taking an internet recipe as my starting point, here’s what I did:

Boiled a big pot of water for the penne pasta.

Peeled the outer leaves of the sprouts and trimmed the stems, then sliced them.

Sliced a bulb of garlic. Yes, a bulb – a small bulb, but still, why muck around?

Shelled my broad beans.

Grated my Romano cheese

Beat two free-range eggs, which I then mixed with about two-thirds of the cheese.

Juiced a lime.

I also used olive oil, chilli flakes, salt and pepper, and light sour cream.

After putting the penne in the pot to cook, I heated some olive oil in the wok before adding the garlic and a whack of chilli flakes. Once that started smelling delicious and sizzling away, I added the sliced sprouts and broad beans. I liberally seasoned this mix, then after a couple of minutes, I added the lime-juice. I still wanted the beans and sprouts to have some crunch, so I turned off the heat once the sprout slices had wilted.

Once my penne was cooked and drained, I stirred through a decent spoonful of light sour cream to coat the pasta. I do this because I’ve found in the past – with carbonara, primarily – that it’s simply too hot for the egg and cheese mixture otherwise, which promptly curdles. This little trick works extremely well – you don’t need much, and it cools it down just enough so that when you do add the egg and cheese, which is the very next step, all is well. Once that was really well mixed through, I added my sprout, bean and garlic combo and gave it all a good stir. Then I served it, adding just a little more seasoning and sprinkling the reserved cheese on top. And I have to say, it tasted absolutely beaut. Llew kept exclaiming, “Yum! This is fucking delicious!” right throughout the meal, and neither one of us could quite get over it. It was true, and that made for a very pleasant surprise indeed.

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Starting Down the Path

September 14, 2010 at 3:41 am (Uncategorized)

The latest Monthly Feature is now up on the Varuna Alumni News site, for anyone who is interested. Some of you may recall my cringe-worthy experience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival Afternoon Tea this year, at which I was struck by a sickening nerve attack after putting up my hand to object to a comment made by moderator Geraldine Doogue. A mild sense of indignation has remained ever since, and it stewed away until I finally attended to it by writing this feature on literary allusions. It’s interesting how some ideas and issues simply refuse to go away, and this one certainly lingered. Anyway, I hope those of you who venture across to the Alumni News enjoy it – I am certainly getting a lot out of writing the feature each month (even though I suffer crippling anxiety about its quality each and every time).

I must also tell you about a forthcoming Varuna event: the annual Pathways to Publication forum is coming up on Monday 11 October, and tickets are currently still available. I unfortunately can’t attend this year because of my obstetrics schedule; Dr F is a busy man, constantly delivering babies, so there’s not a lot of flexibility with these things unless there’s an unforeseen emergency his end, so I just turn up when instructed. But I’ve been to Pathways before, and for anyone thinking of going who may happen upon this blog, let me assure you it’s a great, very worthwhile day. And from a community-of-writers perspective, a forum like this can prove to be really useful to aspirants like myself. You have a very good chance of striking up a conversation with someone who lives on the other side of the gate. You know the one – it’s that rather forbidding barrier marked Published Author.

For example, it’s where I first met Shuckin’ Charlotte – a.k.a Charlotte Wood, author of The Children, The Submerged Cathedral and Pieces of a Girl, as well as editor of the Brothers and Sisters anthology – face-to-face. Charlotte now holds the dubious distinction of being one of the first Australian novelists I ever met IN THE FLESH, and it’s no surprise our first encounter proved far more significant for me, because she’s since been such a generous unofficial mentor, and is an all round tireless advocate for Australian writers in general. Though we knew someone non-writerly in common, my personal association with Charlotte started when she admired my necklace after I stopped (assaulted?!) her in the coffee queue. The moral of the story is: never underestimate the importance of a good accessory. Oh, and never abstain from caffeine when it’s so obviously good for you. Finally, never disregard the networking potential of a snaking queue.

It was also at Pathways, thanks to Varuna’s Creative Director Peter Bishop, who makes a habit of engineering such things, that I met and was able to speak to a prominent Acquisitions Editor. She ultimately passed on my MS as it stood, and with good reason, but she was extraordinarily giving of both her time and her invaluable feedback on my work. I have absolutely no doubt that meeting her in person at Pathways helped secure our later interactions. Finally, an agent on one of the panels told the audience she was accepting submissions; I followed up afterwards by sending her mine. She too passed, but invited me to resubmit after redrafting – as did the Acquisitions Editor.

Now, it’s been well documented on this blog that, to this day, I have failed to secure either an agent or a publisher for my work. I don’t have a happy ending for you, but to view these exchanges as nothing more than rejections would be a huge mistake. Yes, they rejected that draft of the MS, and on both occasions it was horribly disappointing and hard, but in each case what these industry people afforded me was a very nuanced response, full of free, constructive feedback of the variety that the average unpublished, unknown fiction writer like me generally can’t access.

In other words, attending things such as Varuna’s Pathways forum can undoubtedly set a chain of unexpected events in motion. While such developments may not be the full fairytale – and reality sure as hell keeps biting this bum – you just never know where such things may lead. Besides all this, you might even learn a thing or two. I certainly did. And two years later, I’m the Varuna Alumni News Editor, so see what I mean?

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Paper Chase

September 9, 2010 at 10:32 am (Uncategorized)

The arrival of the Spanking Spunky Shelves has occasioned a mass clear out of all our files – at least those that have been steadily piling up around me for the past, oh, nearly ten years since I got back to Sydney from London. It just doesn’t seem credible that one person could generate such a vast paper trail, but the truth is, I’m not even including the boxes and boxes of correspondence, thesis notes (I want to chuck those, but Llew insists I should keep them – for what is unclear, but it’s certainly not sentimental value), theatre stubs and exhibition tickets (were I ever to become a scrap-booking fanatic, I would have formidable resources at my disposal), photos, diaries, note books and god knows what else that sit elsewhere in the apartment (atop the linen press and my wardrobe, to be precise). No, I’m only going through everything that’s been sitting directly behind me for the past five and a half years (all the better to ignore it). Things like old bank statements and bills, receipts, random clusters of Christmas and/or birthday cards, more notes, CASSETTE TAPES, if you can believe it (another collection Llew’s determined to retain) and just paper, paper, and more paper.

It’s so liberating delivering bags and bags of paper to the recycling bin. Hugely satisfying. I’ve finally gone through and cleared out Nana’s files, too, piece of paper by piece of paper. I was just too exhausted after the ordeal of packing up her flat to go through it all at the time – I just brought them home and added them to the pile of document boxes and concertina files. They fitted right in and I haven’t heard a peep from them since. Finally the time has come to sit down, get comfortable, and start opening lids.

There have been a few tears today and yesterday – of course I’ve found unexpected items, but some were entirely known and long avoided, specifically all the case files from my mother’s utterly toxic contestation of my grandfather’s will. That whole experience was so vile, so destructive, so completely awful, and glancing through the files brought so much bile rushing through my system that I’ve been battling bad reflux ever since first making the mistake of pausing to reread an affidavit or two. I still think that what she did – and what she was prepared to do – for more money was completely despicable. After a patchy history, this was the final death knell of our relationship. Her preparedness to ignore Granddad’s wishes – his final instructions to us, instructions he entrusted to her care – made our differences finally, brutally irreconcilable. And you know… it disgusted me all over again today. I try not to think about her, and I certainly try not to think about that time, but seeing the letters and affidavits again made it feel like yesterday. In the end I just piled them all together and gave up trying to sift through for the odd document to chuck. No. It wasn’t worth it. Best to simply replace the lid on all that ugliness and pack it all away.

You’re probably wondering why I’d even keep them, why I’d hang on to these court documents – because it went to court, oh yes, she didn’t care about flagrantly decimating funds from Granddad’s estate to pay for her bid to have his will overturned – and I don’t really know the answer. They seem important, still. It’s evidence that was tendered in court, and now I suppose it’s become evidence I tender to myself. There it is. If there’s ever any question in anyone’s mind about why I am permanently estranged from that hideous woman, there it is: the whole sorry mess of an already dysfunctional family finally being blown to smithereens. It does not make for happy reading.

Far, far better was coming across the stack of old emails I’d printed out back when Llew started travelling in 1998. I was still working at The Australian, saving money for my own big adventure, and the future of our relationship was terrifically uncertain. We had no idea what would happen while we were apart, and no clear status, life being what it is when you’re 24, 25 and embarking upon a world trip. But, in the end, it didn’t take any time at all – as these loving emails so clearly show – for us both to recognise that we really did have something special, and so the countdown began to the day when we would see each other again.

And here we are.

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Isn’t She Lovely, Isn’t She Won-der-ful…

September 8, 2010 at 4:41 am (Uncategorized)

Just hours before The Screen Went Dark, I was having such a good day. I’d really enjoyed the two interviews of the day before, and was practically whistling while working transcribing them. The good thing about Special Reports writing from my point of view is that it’s soft news, and that means people are generally happy to share their experience, expertise and perspective, plus it’s usually interesting to hear, and last week’s story was no exception. I was totally into it. Happy to talk to these people – a course coordinator/lecturer and one of her mature-aged Indigenous students – and more than happy to write about their program and the good work it’s doing in the area of Indigenous health. I was feeling good. The other reason I was so chipper last Wednesday is that the cabinetmaker and his installer arrived to put in my bookshelf/wall unit. At last! It’s here!

What can I tell you? It is a thing of beauty. I’m enchanted by it. As I sit here –  in what is still my office, at what is still my desk – I can gaze up at it filling the wall opposite. I admire it every time I walk by. What’s not to love? It’s so functional, so perfectly proportioned, and such a supremely economic and stylish use of an otherwise entirely unusable cavity between the doorframes at either end of the room and the start of the wall that separates them. I love it. We both love it. My Man Town writer friend L loves it, too. She and I stood before it this morning stroking book spines and murmuring reverently about all those clean lines. When I get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, I get this little thrill walking past it to get to the bathroom. I just like knowing it’s there. It exudes a very powerful book aura that makes my heart swell. Look at me! I can’t take my eyes off it. I am utterly besotted.

And the void! Please allow me just a moment to brag about my void. Some of you may recall that the decision to incorporate a void at the unit’s centre was difficult; having always fantasised in vivid detail about a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall library space, why would I – how could I – carve out a massive square in the middle? The answer was display space. We’re running out of walls, and I wanted to keep the antiquarian lithograph – ‘Bird’s Eye View of the Port of Sydney,’ a gift I gave Llew – hanging where it has happily hung since we moved here. So we measured it up, and it’s just worked out PERFECTLY. It honestly looks better than it did when it had the whole wall to itself. Something about its being slightly recessed and surrounded by books now draws you into the map in a way that wasn’t achieved nearly so effectively before. Everything about it is more absorbing. The whole thing has come up a bloody treat.

Now we’re just trying to figure out what the hell took us so long.

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And it’s Labor!

September 7, 2010 at 5:49 am (Uncategorized)

Oh, the relief. Labor, the Greens, and a couple of Independents will form our new government, and Tony Abbott is NOT Australia’s next Prime Minister. Now that’s what I call good news. Phew!!!!! That was way too close for comfort. Oh wow, I am just soooo relieved. I sincerely believe Abbott is no statesman, and simply not up to the task of leading the nation.

I need to go outside and hug a stranger.

Okay, so we have a government. Now let’s see what they all do next.

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When Tech Disaster Strikes…

September 7, 2010 at 4:59 am (Uncategorized)

Apologies for the radio silence, team. It’s been a pretty harrowing week on the technology front. You know how I keep saying 2010 has been – among other much better things, of course – the year of truly cursed timing? Well, on it goes. Take last week. If my computer had to suffer a total cardiac arrest, was it really necessary for it to happen very late on the eve of a freelance deadline? I wouldn’t have thought so. I really don’t see why it couldn’t have happened at any other time during the last nine months of drought instead.

But no.

What’s more, it was an Apple “Genius” who signed the death warrant. To be fair, he was extraordinarily patient and even-tempered throughout the hours and hours of our telephone conversation after I phoned AppleCare for the second time in 24 hours. I liked him the whole time – particularly since the technical agent the previous day was so patronising I wanted to bite his face off – at least, I liked him right up until he instructed me to do something that abruptly killed my computer. Up until that moment, we were good. From that point onwards, I honestly went into a state of shock. It makes me feel sick even thinking about it now. My MacBook Air – two years old to the day, interestingly (all part of Apple’s cunning plan, I’m sure) – could not be revived.

I stared at the blackened screen.


Then the technical agent E said, “There’s nothing more I can do from here. You’re going to have to reinstall your entire operating system now. You’ll need an external disk drive to recover your data, which will hopefully still be there.”

Wait a second. What?

“Excuse me?” I said. “Don’t you think that’s a little detail you might have mentioned before telling me to trash that folder? I have a work deadline. This is my livelihood you’re talking about. You have just removed my capacity to do my job.”

“I did tell you that you probably needed to get an external disk drive, and that there might be a problem with your hard drive.”

“Sure,” I said, “but there was no mention of even the shadow of a possibility that following your instructions might – just might – kill my computer. I even told you I had a USB key sitting in there – all you needed to do was tell me to take a moment to make sure I’d saved my urgent documents, because, you know, there was a small chance the computer would die. But you didn’t say anything like that, you didn’t warn me there was even a remote chance I wouldn’t be able to use my computer once I did what you said. I’m sorry, but you left out that bit. I would’ve just called you back tomorrow, after meeting my deadline. I wouldn’t have considered risking it. But what do you expect me to do now?”
“I’m sorry,” he said.

Cue a mirthless snort of laughter.

“You and me both.”

“I really expected it to work.”

“So, um, what do you suggest I do now? My interview transcripts are on this computer. I’ve just spent the day transcribing them. I honestly don’t know what I am supposed to do now.”

“I really don’t know what to say to you.”

There was a long pause.

Spectacular,” I said.

I got off the phone and called my editor with a heads-up. Thing is, he’d also given me the brief for another story, 2,000 words no less, and I really didn’t want him to take it away. I dragged out my antiquated laptop – it’s ten years old – the same computer that wouldn’t even boot the last time I tried it, pressed down on the start button, and prayed.


It was as dead as a doornail. Choking back a sob, I found a safety pin and pricked the tiny little reset circle. I tried turning it on again. After an eternity, my old faithful slowly, loudly groaned to life. I nearly wept. I had a computer. I shoved in my USB modem and crossed my fingers. It connected. Now I also had the internet. This meant I had email access, which meant I could cobble together my story and send it to my editor in the morning. I sent him a follow-up text letting him know I would have something to him by 10 am.

I spent an entirely sleepless night, staring up at the ceiling wondering what to do about my lost transcripts. The mind is a funny thing. Mine utterly refused to switch off on Wednesday night (ironic given the flat-line state of my computer). I was just too anxious about finishing the job, and too upset about not being able to refer to either transcript – but slowly, construction began on a blueprint for the story I could still write, and, just as slowly, my mind started organising the quotes I could still remember. At a certain point in the wee hours of Thursday morning, I was satisfied I would be able to get something together in time, and I slept.

When I got up at 6 am to start writing, I found the article still loosely formed and hanging on for dear life in some unfamiliar recess of my mind. I can’t emphasise enough that this is NOT the way I work. I write in the doing – these people who say they write whole books in their heads before they commit a word to paper? I think they’re freaks. I would lose everything of value trying to work that way. The mere thought of it makes me shudder. But in this crisis, it is still, most unexpectedly, exactly what happened. The Emergency Draft basically wrote itself in my head before I tapped on a single (hilariously clunky and ancient-seeming) key.

You know, I think the mechanics of transcribing meant that I had actually retained a lot more than I had initially thought possible. My memory locked on to just enough of these fragments to get me over the line, and with my MacBook Air lying dead on the desk like stiffened road kill, I filed the story on time.


The final indignity? Because I headed straight into Apple as soon as humanly possible to consult face-to-face with another “Genius,” I called up to change the time of my driving lesson, and incurred a $51 charge for my trouble. Happy days.

Anyway, I filed the 2,000 words yesterday, had my driving lesson today, and we are officially back in business. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my new bookshelves.

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