Friday, July 31, 2009

Your Humble Servant

My editor asked writer, moral philosopher and educator, Raimond Gaita, who is the author of amongst other works, the highly acclaimed memoir, Romulus my Father (now a terrific film starring Eric Bana) if he would endorse my book.

He said he would read it, which thrilled me because I so admire him. Then, after he'd read it, he agreed to endorse it.

This week he sent in his endorsement. This is what he wrote:
‘Vivienne Ulman has written a heartrendingly beautiful book, moving and sometimes unsettling. She writes with a truthful love that struggles for lucidity about what it can mean to suffer from Alzheimer's disease, to love and, in more than one sense, to lose someone who suffers from it. Outstanding is her portrait of her father who cared for his wife with a love that was both romantic and saintly. The story of this wondrously good man will inspire and humble readers of all kinds and ages for years to come.’
I asked my daughter M, who is an experienced blogger, whether I could blog this, if it wasn't too vain of me, and she said I could, as long as I was humble about it.

I don't actually know if I feel humble. I am enormously proud and thrilled and delighted to have a man I respect so greatly say such amazing things about my writing and about my father, but I'm not sure if I feel humble. I decided to blog it anyway. I was too excited not to share.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Greatest Blogger in the World

OK, I have to be honest here. I wouldn't normally have read The Greatest Blogger in the World. Not because it's not good - because it is - but because it's aimed at kids aged between about eight and twelve. And that's a demographic I haven't fitted into for some decades now.

But Andrew's a terrific writer as well as being a terrific person, and besides, the book has one of the best covers I've ever seen, so I couldn't resist. And I'm glad I didn't because I loved this book. Andrew uses his many talents, which include a whacky sense of humour and great inventiveness, to tell an exciting story.

Charlie Ridge pretends to be dumb. If his schoolmates knew how smart he was they'd call him a nerd or a teacher's pet. Inspired by James Bond, Charlie wants to Be the Hero, Get the Girl and Save the Day, and the girl he wants to get - the fearsome Boots - is already the Teacher's Pet. She especially can't feel he's a threat to her position.

Charlie also wants to win the Greatest Blogger in the World competition, and that's when his troubles really begin.

The book poses many questions that draw the reader on: Can Charlie stop Cardboard from sharing his crush on the Boots? Will Charlie's best friend Phattius Beats ever forgive him? What are the school monitors really up to? Who stole the school mascot? Who is reading Charlie's blog? And will Charlie's little brother ever stop wearing a tuxedo to kindergarten?

The questions pile up, the characters are original and the story moves along at a cracking pace. It's hard to put down.

There are other underlying questions as well, that give the book a more serious dimension, such as should corporations play a role in schools, and can you be your real self and still fit in?

I enjoyed the book a lot; I laughed out loud at some bits. And then when I'd finished I found I couldn't stop thinking about the characters and wondering what they were up to now. I especially wondered about Charlie and what he'd be like when he grew up. Whether he'd be anything like Andrew McDonald, children's author and all round good guy?

Friday, July 17, 2009

By Its Cover

Here, finally, is the cover of my book, Alzheimer's: a love story.

I think it's beautiful. It's soft and dream-like and quite striking. The designer has captured visually my mother gradually losing her language and her hold on the world. The design conjures up for me an image of a ship on mysterious and treacherous seas where there are hidden rocks and other unforeseen dangers.

Today I finished the last of the editing. Now the manuscript can go to typesetting, so when I see the book next it will be to proofread. All very exciting. It's in the Scribe catalogue now too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Greatest Year

My writer friends and I are having a good year.

Last night Andrew McDonald's first book, The Greatest Blogger in the World, was launched at Readings in Carlton. It was a great launch for a great book.

The book is for kids aged about eight and up, which means it includes me. I can't wait to read it.

Andrew's a terrific writer with a killer sense of humour. I'm sure this book will be the first of many for him.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad

Happy ninety-first birthday, Dad!

I wish you continued health and fulfilment in your life, and for the pain of your grief to soften.

I hope that we all continue to love, cherish and enjoy each other as we do now for many years to come.

I love you very much and I am proud and grateful to be your daughter.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Christine Hinwood's novel, Bloodflower, is in the shops now. The cover is striking: rich crimson fabric lying beneath a bloodied arm wearing a leather cuff.

It's thrilling to walk into a bookshop and see copies on display.

It was exciting for me to start reading the book. Christine and I are workshop mates, so I knew what to expect, but instead of encountering her work in small bursts I was about to plunge into her world for an extended period, enveloped in her unique and glorious language.

Little Pin and Cam, her older brother, were not new to me. I loved them already. But it was bliss to begin my journey with them again, right from the start, with Cam recently back from the war, minus one arm, and with a horse too fine for his family's small land holding. And to meet once more the young Graceful Fennister, homely daughter of the richest family in Kayforl, who had been betrothed to Cam, but whose well-meaning father breaks off the betrothal, thinking she could do better than a poor, maimed young man.

Cam left the south as a boy soldier to travel north to war. Of all the town's men who marched off that long ago day, he is the sole survivor - silent, mysterious and damaged. Now, in his restlessness, he reminds me of other returned soldiers who struggle to put the intensity of war behind them and to be content once more with the smallness and petty niggles of home. Cam is unable to settle and we follow him when he journeys northward once more.

Christine has created an entire world with characters to care about - even when they're not likeable - like fat Farrow Gorlance - or complex - like Graceful's father. The sadness and unspoken longing of Ban Coverlast moved me; I cried for Aston Mastow's losses, for the loss of all those Kayforl men.

With prose taut as a drawn bow, Bloodflower is a timeless book that is sure to become a classic.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back to the Future

Last week, my friend Jane cut me a posy from the daphne bush that flowers outside her front door. I put it in a vase as soon as I got home and it has perfumed my livingroom ever since.

When I breathe in its scent I am transported immediately back to the time when we had a house full of children and a daphne bush in our front garden. Winters were scented with its fragrance. I hear the door slam with the comings and goings of a parade of girls, hear their raised voices, feel them whirl about me.

I was at the centre of that small universe and now it's gone, our daughters scattered, another growing family passing the daphne bush on their way in and out of the front door.

So much of my past conjured up by the scent of Jane's posy in my livingroom.

Music has that effect too, of bringing the past forward into the present. Our daughter E gave Farmdoc and me tickets to see Simon and Garfunkel last Friday night. The first time we heard their music, we were just married, barely out of our teens, all four of our parents still alive, all our hopes and dreams still out there, inchoate and sweet. Our lives stretched so far into the future that they really did seem endless. I thought there'd be plenty of time for whatever we wanted to do, that we'd always be young.

Friday night's concert brought all that back with a rush. It isn't that I want to have that time over again or that I have a huge number of regrets; I have fulfilled many of my dreams. It's meeting up again with that girl that I was, hearing the soundtrack to her life and feeling what longings it stirred in her then, and knowing how short life turns out to be.