Thursday, December 24, 2009

Early summer, Mole Creek

This morning we walked a section of our boundary fence to check for fallen trees. (Why do trees always fall across fences no matter where they are?) We found two that we'll have to return for with a chainsaw when we have more time. It was so beautiful out there in the bush in fine drizzle. I didn't take my camera so you'll have to take my word for it, but it was one of those mornings when farm chores are just a joy.

On the subject of farm chores, yesterday afternoon we carted our second and last load of hay for the season. Fifty two bales at $3.oo a bale. Hay's cheap and plentiful this year because of all the spring rain we had. Last year we paid $5.00. It's a nice feeling to have the shed full again, though it doesn't seem so long ago that we were feeding out last year's bales.

The day before, we walked the Westmorland Falls track for the first time in years. It was closed to the public for a long time because the beginning of the track passes through privately owned land and, although the owners were apparently happy for hikers to walk there, they were concerned about liability issues.

This little gem used to be a regular on our walks programme so when we heard the track was now reopened to the public, we set off to rediscover it. It's short, easy and close to home, and extremely beautiful. The falls at the end are lovely but the walk itself is worth doing for its own sake.

Across the road from the Mole Creek supermarket we took Caveside Road for about 6 kilometres until we reached a T-junction, where we turned right onto Wet Cave Road. We turned left at the Wet Cave Reserve and continued on past the last farm on the right, a deer farm with high fences. The beginning of the track is marked with a sign saying 'Mole Creek Karst Conservation Area', and two large rocks.

The walk is just as beautiful as we remembered. It takes less than two hours to do the return trip in a leisurely fashion and it's easy except that there are two or three stream crossings that might be difficult for a small child or an elderly person. Managing those log crossings is a big part of the charm of the walk. It makes you feel a little like a jungle explorer, even though you're only fifteen minutes from an espresso machine.

There are dogwoods and tree ferns and, as you go further, rainforest trees. It's usually damp, and because of that, it's a haven for leeches. We didn't meet any this time, though on our way up to the fall we did meet one other pair of walkers on their way down.

Westmorland Falls walk is definitely back on our list and highly recommended. The visitors' book is still (or back) in its position three-quarters of the way to the falls. The last time we wrote in it was ten years ago. Here's a good website for a description of this and other Tasmanian walks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mole Creek Food Mile Market

Yesterday was the second ever Mole Creek Food Mile Market. The market was launched on 350 Reverse Climate Action Day, Saturday October 24th, and is the brainchild of Laurie Rose who owns our local Guest House and Laurel Berry Restaurant. Stall holder fees support the local community tourism association. The market is a small but excellent attempt to promote the idea of buying local.

Yesterday there wasn't much in the way of fresh produce for sale (though we arrived quite late and maybe there had been more earlier in the day), but it's still too cold here for much. There was some lovely fresh garlic, jars of jams and preserves, some hand knitting and other local arts and crafts, bags of Alpaca poo and plenty of enthusiasm.

There was also a stall promoting a community radio station that will be run out of Deloraine and transmit in our area, commencing some time next year. Farmdoc's ears pricked up at that. He did a presenter's training course at 3CR a number of years ago and went on to host a programme until we left Melbourne. I'll be staying tuned to see what comes of this.

The next market will be held on Boxing Day and my guess is there'll be plenty of fresh local produce at that one. Maybe we'll need to get up earlier to be there before it sells out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

That's nyoice, that's different, that's unewesyewl!

I wasn't going to play the My Place and Yours game this week. I only joined in last time because my gorgeous daughter Kate was theme queen. I found I was a bit distracted all week, constantly looking at what other people had posted, dying to see how other bloggers had interpreted the theme. But then Pip chose me as one of her favourite collections of the week! My very first attempt! And then I found Toni's choice of theme for this week quite irresistible.

The thing about our house that I find unusual is that we don't have a front door. It's not unusual in the country to use the back door, but we don't have any choice in the matter: there simply isn't a front door to use if we wanted to.

It's our own fault. We built this house and we just didn't include one. We forgot. So all our guests come in through the laundry. I just have to make an effort to hide the dirty underwear.

The thing that most visitors find unusual about our house is that we don't have curtains or blinds. That's because the eaves keep unwanted sun out, and with a 1-kilometre driveway we have no need to protect our privacy.

Thanks, Toni, for the interesting and unewesyewel theme. I'm sure I'll waste a lot of time this week dropping by Meet Me At Mike's to see what everyone else is confessing to.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In the Beginning

Now that Alzheimer's:a love story is published, it feels - even to me - that it wrote itself. I've had lots of calls and emails from readers telling me they couldn't put it down and that they read it in one or two sessions. I know that I worked hard to achieve that effect, but I can't remember now what I spent all that time on.

Yesterday I found a journal from the summer of 2007-2008, which is when I began the book. At that time I didn't really know what I was writing and what it would look like when it was finished. It's fascinating to me now to read about my struggle. I'd completely forgotten those early days.

29th Jan '08
Today I printed out the first instalment of the book I'm beginning to write about my parents. I don't know even if I'll keep any of this in the first draft but I have to start somewhere.
Yesterday I read an article in Island magazine by Kevin Brophy and Sue Woolf about the mind's role in creativity - an attempt to look scientifically at the process with which I am familiar. You need to start writing and then the mind will give you what you need. But you need to get going first.

1st Feb '08
I want to include all those letters I wrote to my mother that I knew she'd never read. Today I made a chapter out of them so for now they're all in the same place. One thing I could do is write the whole book in that way, as letters to her. Another thing would be to keep all the sections separate, and a third would be to interweave the letters with my journal entries and emails.
For the moment I'm just collecting everything I've got in separate files and when it's all there I'll perhaps experiment.

4th Feb '08
I feel a bit stuck on my Lucy book. I've got a lot of my material transcribed and together and now I'm just waiting for the structure to leap out and hit me over the head.
I think I have to begin the book with a letter that explains what the letters are for. Then move to the eating, then to a beginning and so on.

5th Feb '08
In the end, Chapter One of my new book went so quickly I felt as though I'd cheated, even though it's taken two months of work to get to this point.
I'm nervous about how I'll go on but at the same time so excited. I think I've begun the impossible - the synthesising of a book about my mother, my father and me.
It feels odd to know more or less where this book is headed. Usually I begin by stepping off into the unknown.

11th March '09
Now I've written two chapters about Mum for my book I want to turn to some of the old stuff. Like their backgrounds and how they met. And then I have to turn to Dad's career. I feel pregnant with it - it's all in there, weighing me down, but I need to see it because I can't imagine what it looks like.

7th April '09
It's difficult, but thrilling too, to watch it take shape. I pick up the dropped stitches, change my mind about whether I'm knitting a jacket or a coat or maybe even a rug to cover the bed.

There's masses more. It's good for me now to see how back then I was pushing ahead in the dark with no firm idea of what exactly it was that I was writing. A finished book can be a daunting thing because it seems so inevitable and effortless.

I'm glad I found this diary, so I can see that it wasn't magic: I got there with courage, belief in myself and my project, and sheer bloody hard work. It wasn't easy but I did it and I think anyone else could too. I hope I'll be able to do it again.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Collection

This week my daughter K is the theme queen for the My Place and Yours game. The theme she has chosen is My Collection.

I have collected many things in my life - beginning with swap cards and marbles and books - but my favourite collection is my family: Farmdoc and my four beautiful daughters.

For today I have chosen some of the stuff I display on my dressers.

To be included, an item should be old, preferably made in Australia (even better, made in Tasmania), made by a friend, or passed down through the family.

Some of what I see here are kitchen utensils I inherited from my mother in law; plates painted by my friend, the artist, Judy Holding; bottles found at Albert Park; Farmdoc's old toys and baby shoes; and some gorgeous Campbell's pottery.

Thanks so much, Kate, for inviting me to join in. I can't wait to drop by Meet Me At Mike's to see what everyone else is collecting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ten, Nine, Eight...

How quickly this week has sped by compared with how slowly time passed while I was counting down the hours until my launch with equal amounts of excitement and nervousness. Would anyone come? Would too many people come? If they came would they think it had been worthwhile to trek across town in peak hour traffic in all that heat? What part of the book should I read? What sort of speech should I give?

At first I was determined not to cry and not to upset my dad. But that made it impossible to find an extract to read, and everything I thought of to say sounded superficial.

Nicola introduces the evening.

And then, a few days before the launch, the words of that song, 'It's my party' began to play in my head. It's so weird how that happens, that you realise you've been humming a song that is absolutely appropriate to whatever you've been thinking about, as though a DJ in your head is rummaging through all your old records for a soundtrack.

'It's my party and I'll cry if I want to. You would cry too if it happened to you.' And it was true. What had happened to my family was sad. And you would cry too if it happened to you. I decided that if I cried, I cried. That left me free to say whatever I wanted to.

My speech

Lucky I'd made that decision, because I was crying before I even began to speak. I hadn't counted on being so moved by the words spoken by Nicola my editor, who emceed the proceedings and Clare who launched the book so beautifully.

Me, Clare, Emma and Nicola.

What touched me most? That Emma had arranged everything so perfectly, and even offered to pick me up. That so many people made such an effort to come and then said such lovely things. Some people had read the book already and wanted to tell me how much it had touched them. Others bought several copies, confident that they'd love it. Friends, relations, fellow writers, acquaintances I haven't seen in years - Readings was crowded.

I felt overwhelmed by gratitude. My daughter K had baked delicious chocolate chip cookies; my daughter M brought me fresh herbs and vegetables from her garden; my daughter E gave me wonderful advice, her skirt to wear, a card that made me cry, and a keepcup for when she buys me takeaway coffee on the weekend; and my daughter A rang, texted and emailed from San Francisco where she lives.

The author signs copies.

Readings sold out of books and all the cookies went. All in all a very successful evening.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Launch

This evening's the launch of Alzheimer's: a love story, the story of my parents and the love they shared, love that did not end with the onset of my mother's Alzheimer's Disease.

Speech written. Check.
Extract to read chosen. Check.
Outfit laid out ready to wear. Check.
Hair washed. Checked.
Cookies baked. Check.
Sweets bought. Check.
Farmdoc here. Check.
All systems go.

I'm feeling excited and a little nervous. I'm sure I'll be overwhelmed once I'm there, surrounded by friends, family, well wishers and members of my wonderful writing community. But I hope I can enjoy it too.

My mother would have been so proud and happy for me. 'You look beautiful,' she'd have whispered to me when she saw me. It wouldn't even have been the words so much as the tone and the look on her face.

I hope the evening's not too difficult for my father without his beloved tucked in close to him. But I'm proud of my book and I know he is too. And I'm moved by the support everyone has given me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Launch Cookies

I posted a bit of a rant on my blog over the weekend, but a friend of mine misunderstood it completely, so I thought maybe other people would too, and that maybe it was in part the heat that was stoking my irritability, so I took it down. I might rewrite it and repost it when there’s a cool change - both external and internal.

Meanwhile, with the temperature today already over 30 degrees, I’m heating my apartment (and cooling my mood) still further, by baking cookies for Thursday evening's launch at Readings. Crazy, I know, but fun too. I'm making Steven Amsterdam's Cinnamon Launch Cookies. I figure if they were good enough for the launch of Things We Didn’t See Coming, which was the winner of this year's Age Book of the Year, then they're good enough for Alzheimer's: a Love Story.

I didn't make it to Steven's launch because I was in Tasmania, though I heard it was terrific, and he can't be at mine, unfortunately, but his cookies will certainly be there.

I preheated my oven to 150 C. and lined cookie sheets with paper. Then I ground 120 grams of lightly toasted pecan nuts with 60 grams of caster sugar in my trusty food processor and set this aside.

Next, I creamed 450 grams of room temperature unsalted butter with 120 grams of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract and then mixed in 500 grams plain flour, a teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of cinnamon. Last, I added the ground nuts.

This batter doesn’t spread much, so while I listened to music from the Newport Folk Festival, I rolled teaspoonfuls into the size of large cherry tomatoes and put them reasonably close to each other on the baking tray.

In my oven these took between 15 and 20 minutes to bake until they were beginning to brown around the edges. Actually, that's what you should do; I left mine in a bit long.

I lifted them off the baking tray and onto a wire rack with an egg lift and left them for five minutes. Then, while they were still warm, I gently rolled them in icing sugar and put them on another piece of baking paper and sifted more icing sugar on top.

This recipe makes about 80 small cookies. The dough freezes well, so you could bake half a batch and save the rest for another time if you wanted. I'm expecting around 100 people at my launch so I baked the whole quantity.

If you're in Melbourne at 6.30 on Thursday, drop into Readings to say hi and taste a cookie.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stupid Heart

I am obsessed with this tiny gem of a story by Lydia Davis. It's called 'Head, Heart'. This is the complete story:
Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.
I love how succinctly she tells this story and consequently how powerful it is.

The way our hearts are so stupid. So very stupid. When will they face facts? Just as surely as we are born we all die. It's the way it is - the old die to make room for the young. Where would we be if it weren't so? Hear that, heart! You need to toughen up. What's the matter with you?

How perfect that last line is, how poignant: 'Help, head. Help heart.' Every time I read it my own heart aches in response.

In The New Yorker of October 19, 2009, James Wood writes beautifully about Lydia Davis's work.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday in the City Part Two

This was the view of the lane from my apartment this morning. Smoko time for three of the city's beggars. I didn't go down to get a closer look because it would have been intruding and it would have cost me money, but there was fragrant smoke and laughter and animated conversation. Perhaps they were discussing us.

Elsewhere in the city, it was business as usual.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fifteen Minutes

I think one of the reasons I write is so I can be in control of my story - of my words, my opinions, my viewpoint, of how I am portrayed altogether. Now that my book is out in the world I am busy being interviewed. It's a disconcerting experience.

I slave over my writing - polishing and rephrasing, eliminating repetition and anything that sounds vaguely like a cliche. In speech, however, I umm and ahh and go over the same ground several times, losing my thread and wandering off at tangents.

When I read an article about me, even if it's absolutely lovely, I see myself distorted, like a reflection in a warped mirror. I did say that but it's not exactly how I meant it, or they got one crucial word wrong (in one case transposing a he for a she). I spend too much time wondering how I look from the outside. It's not good for my health.

This won't last, and I know I should enjoy my brief celebrity. It's the result of hard work by Scribe's amazing publicist and resident astronaut, Emma, and journalists who need to fill column inches or air time. And I hope it encourages people to buy the book that I spent so long labouring over, which of course is the point of it all.

My daughter Meg has been whipping these interviews onto the website that she built for me as quickly as they appear. I think I'll be ready to read them properly and relish the moment when it's passed and the anxiety has drained away. When I'm home on the farm I'll be able to look back from a more relaxed position.

Maybe I'll even miss it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday in the City

I've seen people doing a lot of things in the lanes around where I live in the centre of the Melbourne CBD: chroming, smoking, shooting up, spray painting, stenciling, postering, arguing, peeing, vomiting, eating. There are regularly rubbish trucks collecting, delivery vans delivering, street sweepers cleaning. One night I saw two guys beating someone up; that was scary but we managed to frighten them away.

There are always kitchen hands and waiters from nearby restaurants taking smokoes.

And shoppers taking shortcuts.

This afternoon I looked over my balcony and saw someone doing something intriguing. I am a huge sticky beak so I even took out my binoculars, but I still couldn't work it out. He wasn't hiding, but he was tucked away down the end of a lane off a lane.

When I went down to check it turned out it to be Andy who lives in the building and who is doing an MA in Architecture. He hasn't lived here long and I'd never seen him around before.

He was working on an architectural model of the new Melbourne University School of Architecture.

His work looked pretty good to me, but then I didn't actually know what I was looking at anyway.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In The Shops

What does an author do in the afternoon when she should be working on her novel? Well, if it's the day her book first hits the shelves, she hits the shops in pursuit of it. These photos aren't wonderful, but she was over excited and the only camera she had was the one on her phone.

This photo was taken in Hill of Content bookshop in Bourke Street, Melbourne.

And so was this one

Unfortunately, when she got to Reader's Feast, at the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets, there was a man trying to look at Bob Ellis's new book. She tried to be subtle - really she did - but he was engrossed and he was in her way. So, it was either push him or ask him nicely to move.

He was very nice in the end, and no readers had to be harmed in the making of this blog. Lucky for him, is all I can say.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In the Library

Publishing a first book is full of milestones. Discovering that your book is available for loan in Australian libraries is one of them. (Shame they put the sticker over some of Raimond Gaita's lovely words though.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Patches Leaping

This is a photo I have been trying to take for ages. These are two of our neighbour Sharon's dogs in their run. That's Timmy with all four feet on the ground and that's Patches leaping with excitement and natural exuberance.

Whenever the dogs see us approaching, they encourage along us with a frenzy of barks, and Patches hurls herself into the air against the side of the shed. The trick to getting the photo this time was to press the button before the dog became airborne.

On our way to feed the dogs Farmdoc and I came across this new member of our farm family. Welcome to Onemilebridge, little feller.

Then, on our way home through the sycamore forest that I blogged about yesterday, our path was blocked by several trees that must have fallen overnight.

That's Farmdoc surveying the damage. It'll take him an hour with the chainsaw, he thinks, to clear the track. The good news is that none of them fell across a fence, which is the natural path of any falling tree.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hallelujah Spring

Farmdoc and I have sharefarmed with our next door neighbour, Sharon, since we moved to Onemilebridge. A few years ago a tree fell onto one of the fences between our properties so we took the opportunity to put in a new gate.

Then Farmdoc made a track from the gate to our driveway. The track meanders through a sycamore forest and is wide enough for walking or riding a four-wheel bike. This morning Farmdoc and I strolled it when we went across to feed Sharon's dogs.

This time of the year the forest floor is a sea of seedlings and all the trees are sprouting new leaves.

The track skirts rocks.

And ferns.

When we bought the property we planned to eradicate the sycamore, which is a weed, but we soon learned that we couldn't, so now we try to control it on some parts of our land and enjoy it on others. We've even made a picnic spot where we come in summer for the shade and in autumn to enjoy the colour of the leaves as they turn yellow.

This new track was such a success that Farmdoc made another one leading from our driveway up to the top water tank. We call it the pink track for the colour of the baling twine he marked it out with.

This track also has its fair share of beautiful rock formations

and ferns of various types

Every time we walk these tracks we tell each other that whatever the season is at that moment, the forest is at its most beautiful right then. We said it last autumn when the leaves were gold; we said it in winter when the trees were stark and bare and made us feel we were deep in some European country; and we'll say it again when the forest is cool and shady in the middle of summer. We said it this morning with everything bursting into tender new leaf.

Hallelujah, spring!