Striking a Chord

April 30, 2011 at 11:11 am (Uncategorized)

Llew, Master J and I are taking a family breather. We shall shortly return to the blogosphere and business as usual at DoctorDi, but today we have a post by debut author Julia Cooke, who’s just published children’s book My Little World, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall.  Julia is on tour in the blogosphere – see here for tour dates and venues. And without further ado, here’s Julia on the origin of her tale:

Julia in a wombat hole with her dad making sure she doesn't disappear completely! Photo: P. Cooke

My Little World began life as an assignment in which we had to write and illustrate a children’s picture book.  Not knowing where to start, I dutifully returned to that old adage – write about what you know – and thought back to when I was little.

Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of going bushwalking and camping with my family.  I loved walking and exploring in national parks and then pitching the tent and sitting around a fire to eat dinner.  I can remember lying on the ground watching ants dragging a grasshopper, finding case moths hanging from tree trunks, and attempting to stand very still so I didn’t scare a dragonfly that had landed near me.  But I also remember trying, and failing, to use my mother’s binoculars and, being the youngest and shortest, struggling to see things a long way away that my parents saw easily.  I remember that it wasn’t that easy for my parents to see the little plants and animals that I found because it was often at an awkward height for them. But my parents were always interested nonetheless and my mother used to say she always saw so much more when walking with my sister and me.

Checking the traps: 'What's in there, Dad? We can't see from here!' Photo: P. Cooke

So I wrote a story about seeing the world through a child’s eyes.  I wrote about what you see from a child’s perspective.  I wrote about seeing things that are closer to the ground and right in front of you, right here, not over there.  And I wrote about realising that this was something special.

Later, much later, that English assignment became a book.  I took a very early copy to a six-year-old friend of mine, Emma, and she opened My Little World and read me the first page:

Each time that we went walking,
My gran and Jack and me,
They saw many birds and animals
That I just couldn’t see.

When I had found the branch they meant,
There was no bird at all.
The wallabies, I couldn’t see –
The grass was much too tall.

Emma looked at me and said very earnestly “That always happens to me!” She didn’t praise the rhyming verse, or even Marjorie’s gorgeous illustrations (well she did, but it was the second thing she said), she just said she got it and that’s all I needed to hear.  I’d written a story that stuck a chord in her, and my heart sang.  Here’s hoping it resonates with others!

Title: My Little World
Author: Julia Cooke
Illustrator: Marjorie Crosby-Fairall
Publisher: Omnibus Books, $26.99
Publication Date: April 2011
ISBN: 9781862917903
Format: Hard cover
For ages: 4+

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I Used to be a Blogger in a Past Life

April 22, 2011 at 2:29 am (Uncategorized)

It’s six days since I wrote the post that follows, so I’m just going to wish everyone a safe, happy holiday and load this bad boy before Llew’s computer crashes too. I’m still without mine (screams):

A rainy Saturday morning, using Llew’s computer. Remember the crash of September ‘10, when my computer was pronounced DOA by an Apple Genius, only to be resurrected via the complete reinstallation of its operating system? Yes? Well, we’re there again. Thank goodness for the external hard-drive I purchased that dark day, is all I can say. You know, I keep expecting technology to be better than it is. Why is that? I’m always caught completely by surprise when my computer crashes or the DVD freezes or even when the fridge is on the fritz. I guess I have grown to place an unreasonable degree of faith in these easeful items, so it was valuable to be without a computer the past few days (it’s been sent away this time to Apple technicians and I should get it back next week). Of course, now I have an iPhone I wasn’t without email or internet access (a blessing or a curse? I remain undecided, but the inbuilt camera has been fantastic for capturing Master J on the hop), but I can’t write on the mobile, not really, so it was back to pen and paper whenever the elusive brief window presented itself. I just made a few short story notes in the back of my diary, and otherwise wrote the last of the thank you cards. The last, that is, until yesterday, when an old high school friend added yet another gift to Master J’s staggering pile. In any event, I didn’t so much mind the absence of my laptop, which mostly sits abandoned in a corner of the lounge-room, battery charging for an excursion that never comes, glinting with promise and reproach.

Master J was 20 weeks old on Thursday, and marked the milestone by rolling yesterday for the very first time. He chose a public forum, delighting the crowd at mothers’ group and in particular me. You see, part of the management of his reflux and colic has been keeping him upright, because lying on his front just causes him varying degrees of discomfort as well as to vomit (and yes it still does, every single time). Talk about a disincentive. They can drill new mothers about the untold benefits of tummy time until the men come home, but if it makes your baby sick and cranky, you’re unlikely to feel the love. I’ve been worrying about all this from a developmental point of view, particularly after a chemist nurse’s blunt and unfavourable assessment of his progress a few weeks ago, and have been diligent in overcoming his and my aversion to tummy time ever since. Ergo, it was a very happy moment, and the screeching banshee recording on the iPhone video attests to my excitement. I suppose it ought to be embarrassing to be revealed so squarely – and so early! – as one of those squealing mothers, applauding her child’s every minor achievement,  but there you have it. I squealed. In the moment, I was utterly overtaken, and nothing could have shut me up. He hasn’t done it since, so terrifying was my enthusiasm.

In other news, RIP the Welsh Dragon. We farewelled our faithful automotive friend, such a worthy replacement for the Pulsarnator, this morning, and Llew is at this minute at the RTA registering the new (old) car, verily brimming with New Toy Joy. It’s a big step up for us, this car, but it’s still 10 years old and has 167,000 kms to its name. It too faces death by rust now it’s joining us surfside, but there’s not much to be done about it, and hopefully the inevitable decline is a few good years away if we do everything right. I am such a blubberer I got a bit choked up waving off Llew and the Welsh Dragon this morning – it’s not only the car I learnt to drive on, but it will forever be remembered as the V.I.C. (Very Important Car) that brought Master J safely home. I’m a little bit anxious about learning the ropes around a whole other and quite large vehicle, but as with driving itself, I plan to just take a deep breath and get on with it.

Next up, the attribution oversight continued to gnaw away at me, no doubt because it’s not like me to censor myself, as I tried to do here. I really felt a little soiled – not by what had happened, not at all, but by my own muted response to it. There were very good reasons to keep my thoughts to myself, sensible, strategic justifications for keeping quiet and sucking it up, and possibly to my eventual detriment, I ultimately put them all aside. I decided it was more important that I say something to the author, that I stick up for myself and – without wanting to be too grandiose about it, which I really don’t mean to be – every other writer like me. My main point was that as a struggling unknown, I would have so greatly appreciated the mention were it due, and even more so if it might have gone either way. It was a shame, that’s all, just a shame, that the author was in a position to do that for me and instead elected to say nothing. It’s a bit of a bummer, and it turns out it matters more to me to say that than to protect any possible future favour the author might have otherwise felt they owed me. They don’t owe me, and to be perfectly frank, I wouldn’t want a single thing to go my way because of some misguided idea that it would make us square. We’re square. Enough said (and the author evidently agrees, since there’s been no further communication).

Finally, further to my last post, A has returned to spend time with Master J this week, and very obviously hadn’t been smoking any time beforehand on either occasion. When I asked last week if she was a smoker – immediately upon their return, saying I’d forgotten to ask in the hope of broaching the topic tactfully – she gave the exact same reply I used to give enquiring GPs: “Only socially.” I didn’t realise at the time that my fib literally reeked to the heavens, just as A apparently didn’t realise I could smell the fags on her, but the important thing is that I made my wishes clear last week, and A is honouring our agreement in good faith. If I ever so much as whiff a low-grade menthol on Master J, the deal is obviously off, but I doubt it’ll come to that. They’re pretty smitten with each other and they’ve only hung out briefly three times. After that first truly nauseating hour and a half, I am coping a bit better with A’s preference for taking him out walking, although I find myself almost wishing for foul weather so that they might stay here. I can always work at one of the cafes around the corner as I have done in the past, which I’ve suggested to A in my anxious desire to have Master J stay safely at home, but she airily waves me away and says decisively, “We go for a walk.” And she has three grown, lovely kids of her own, so I figure she’s probably got a walk along the beach promenade covered. She told me on Thursday that she slips into Chinese when she speaks to him, and naturally I replied, “Please do.” Truth be told, I’d love her to speak to him exclusively in Chinese. That was when A told me she’d been a high school teacher in China, and I realised I may have accidentally hit upon the perfect babysitter – just so long as she doesn’t light up for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday.

Good Friday postscript: not every Tuesday and Thursday, as it turns out. Master J appears to be moving into a new schedule of feeds and sleep (and that is singular for a reason), so the agreed timeslot hasn’t worked at all this week… I guess we’ll see how it plays out and try again. Each week is anyone’s guess, but there is one area of consistency: he remains supremely cute, and his laugh makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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GULP.

April 7, 2011 at 6:00 am (Uncategorized)

I am home alone. Master J is with a prospective babysitter, the lady who owns the corner-store at the end of our street. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, so before I knew what was happening, he was in the pram and out the door and now they’re Out There Somewhere. Instead of working on my fiction – the whole idea of getting someone in for a couple of hours, a couple of times a week – I am sitting here obsessing about his safety. Plus, I only realise now that she smokes… I didn’t cotton on to this when she was behind the counter at the shop, but here in my smoke-free home, the smell was obvious. And he cried when she held him. And she was gone before I could say, “Please don’t smoke near him.” I feel like howling. I feel like racing down the street after them, although who knows where they’ve gone. I hear skateboards and scooters and cars and removal vans outside with a clarity that feels supernatural, engineered; all my senses are twitching. I had imagined this as an indoor arrangement, I had imagined he’d be here, being played with and talked to at one end of the apartment while I worked at the other for an hour or two at the most. Now he’s not here and I don’t know what’s happening and I wonder what I’ve done.

I keep forgetting to exhale.

Wow. I have rarely known anxiety like this. And I know it’s largely irrational – I take him outside for walks in the pram myself, after all, on a daily basis – but I can’t help it. I am completely clenched and expect I’ll remain so until they have returned. Okay. Breathe. Try and breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe…

Please bring him home now.

My eyes just pricked with tears and I know I need to stop writing this and start working on something unrelated to Master J’s presently unknown whereabouts…

Okay, okay. I’m going. I’ll report back. The time is 3.40 and this little experiment isn’t even an hour old. What if she doesn’t bring him back until five? Oh, this is TORTURE. This isn’t what I had in mind at all.

Now it’s 3.52. I’ve made a sobbing phone call to Llew. I’ve called A’s mobile but her son picked up at the shop. Now I’m going to swallow this dreadful, sick-making panic, upload this post, and try to work on the short story idea that’s going to atrophy if I don’t do something soon.

One last thing. I am sitting at what used to be my desk, you know. It’s now his change table, but it’s big enough that I can be at one end without troubling any of the baby-related stuff at all. But I can smell him. The room is now full of his things, full of stuffed toys, nappies, wipes, muslin wraps, tiny little pairs of socks… I have never wanted anything – not ever – as much as I want my baby safely home.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s 4.43. They’re home.

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DON’T SHOOT!

April 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm (Uncategorized)

I have a cynic’s aversion to the tidy little aphorisms found at the bottom of desktop calendars, but there is one – in truth, I’m sure there are several – that does resonate with me, and it’s this: we must be the change we wish to see in the world. And I am thinking of it now because of Lilian’s comment about the… what shall we call it… let’s say the ‘friendly fire’ that hit me from the published author last week. Lilian is so right about models of behaviour; it goes all the way back to starting high school and seeing how the seniors behaved, how they treated the juniors and already seeing how those juniors would in turn one day treat students of the lower forms. And you have to decide which it’s going to be, every step of the way. That choice about whose example you prefer to follow crops up again and again – sometimes I can’t believe how little things have changed.

I remember very consciously deciding before arriving at Varuna for the first time what kind of writer I wanted to be. I have discussed it before on this blog, so I won’t labour the point, just to say these are, finally, individual choices we make, and I decided I wanted to embrace and promote and support other writers, instead of feeling (as one so easily may) paranoid and fearful about them and their potential to somehow harm my chances (which, by the way, they can’t; I take care of that all by myself). I am a very open person by nature – the content of this blog attests to that, I think – and so it seemed to me the right, intuitive approach, rather than closing myself off or even just viewing other writers with suspicion, which in my view can be negative and harmful enough. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make, but even so I have wavered on occasion.

I haven’t always wanted to share my ideas.

I haven’t always wanted to disclose my activities.

I haven’t always succeeded in my genuine desire to celebrate the successes of others without any thought for my own failures.

No doubt there are many other things I haven’t done. But I can say with certainty that one thing I am obsessively scrupulous about is giving credit where credit is due, not just because it goes with the territory of embracing other writers but also because in my own heart (and I know writers have wildly differing views on this), I believe it is always the right and only thing to do.

It’s not hard to cite a source; I do it all the time in conversation as well as in writing. “As Llew says…”; “I was reading so-and-so’s blog…”; “There’s this great line in X…” – it is not hard. So it just happens to be the unfortunate case that this friendly fire consisted of one of the things I personally find wounding. I’d much rather fall on my sword than omit a citation when I know – and we do know – that a citation is due.

Anyway, I have been fortunate to meet, work with and chat to a different published author whose compass on such things is set to coordinates I fundamentally recognise and respond to. She gets embarrassed when I mention her by name here, so much so that I think she’d honestly prefer I stop doing it, which leaves me in a slight pickle. I find withholding her name hard precisely because she does set a good example for aspirants like me, and my instinct is to direct other people her way so that they too might be exposed to decent conduct and learn from it. Well, I suppose you don’t need to know her name because it doesn’t have to be her, you just might benefit from finding your own guide as you crawl along that rank sewer of writerly ambition. It helps.

The other thing is, let’s not overstate things. It’s highly unlikely the friendly fire did anything other than skim the surface – a slight flesh wound at most. As much as it’s tempting to writhe in dramatic despair, imagining in technicolour detail and surround-sound The Day My Entire Feature Was Repeated Verbatim Before A Rapturous Audience That Hung On My Every Unattributed Word, let’s be real. That is not what happened. These ‘insights’ that were ‘pinched’? I very much doubt I was the first to set them down, and I know I wasn’t the first to identify them. I know this for a fact because they’re only the most basic, everyday facts of the writing life. In that important respect, they belong to us all.

 

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Not Writing, Waving…

April 6, 2011 at 10:57 am (Uncategorized)

A brief blogging window has just appeared… Master J is asleep, his grandfather has just left (P’s helping us hunt for a replacement for the Welsh Dragon, which is sadly on its last legs. This is the second car of ours to literally rust to death, thanks to our proximity to the Pacific), and I am going to ignore everything else that needs doing…

Hello.

Before I go on, I should point out that I haven’t been entirely idle; the latest Varuna Alumni News feature is up. It’s on synopses, for anyone who’s interested.

Now I’m here I’m having the same problem I had last time… it’s a combination of stage fright and brain freeze that means I once again don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with the reason I am so stunned senseless: the Munchkin. Munch. Grumbles. Mr. Cutie McGootie. Master J. Well, the little man is well. And for such a small person (weighing in a week ago at about 6.6 kilos clothed), he certainly does take up a lot of space, time and energy.

Pause.

You know, I might have to point form this post, just to limber up and also to try and get everything (the type of everything that is closely related to, um, nothing) down…

–       Master J moved from his bassinet to a cot on the weekend, and I can’t tell you how it made my heart twist. I washed and dried all his bassinet linen, and then I buried my face in it while Llew and he weren’t home and cried my eyes out.

–       There’s also a box of clothes that no longer fit him. I can barely open the lid of this box before a tractor-sized lump starts grinding gears right up my throat.

–       He laughs, and being the cause of that sound further opens up the mysterious spaces inside me that I am only discovering now he’s been born.

–       We’ve had breakthroughs with both the pram and the car. Litlove and other people told us we just had to get to three months, but it took longer than that for our change to come, and I wonder if it took four months because he was early… certainly that milestone proved the turning point, almost to the day. The pram turnaround (no pun intended) has been especially crucial because we can now go for a walk together without it all ending prematurely in tears and screams (his and mine, just about). A huge thing for my health, mental and otherwise.

–       The end of daylight savings is one of my least favourite days of the year. Winter is my least favourite season, and while technically they’re calling this autumn, all I can feel is winter in the air. This was surely the shortest, coldest, rainiest summer on record – I’d like another, thanks. If this past summer were a meal, I would have definitely sent it back.

–       I am officially one of the dullest people alive at the moment. I had neither the intention nor the desire to be someone who talked/wrote nonstop about parenting, but right now it’s really all I’ve got. I am so stuffed at the end of every day that I can barely speak, and even when I apply myself for the sake of my sanity and my marriage, what have I got to say?

–       I had a great girls’ lunch the other Sunday with two good friends, it was long and liquid and by Christ I needed it, and I’m afraid I probably bored them to death with baby talk too.

–       Actually, I did have something happen, and I wasn’t going to say anything about it because it seemed indiscreet, but now I’m wondering why I am so anxious not to discuss it. I have every right to talk about it. I got the most extraordinary email last week. It came from a well-known Australian author, sort of praising my March feature for the Varuna Alumni News (on writers’ rituals). Great, right? You’d think so, yes. Absolutely. This email should have made my day. But it didn’t, it soured it rather badly, because this was praise of a rather backhanded nature. It was really only there to soften the blow, I think, which was that the author had liked my feature so much they’d “pinched” bits of it, including at least one of my haw haws, for a talk they’d had to give. And in this talk, the author neglected to attribute the pinched bits to me. I was beginning to feel worse and worse about this as days went by, but now I’ve begun to accept that I need to just let it go and notch it up to experience. But it’s disappointing to realise I might easily and deservedly have garnered a mention from this author, who knowingly chose to withhold it. That makes me sad about lots and lots of things, not the least being, as I said to a published author friend, that meanwhile I can’t even get an agent. Kinda sucks.

And that’s time: Munchkin’s awake.

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