Friday, August 28, 2009

The Writers Festival Continues

Yesterday I took my dad to a session at the Writers Festival. When my mum was alive this was the sort of thing I shared with her. Now she's gone I'm doing more with my father. I miss her, but I am loving spending time with him.
Before the session we sat and drank coffee and chatted. People always make a fuss of Dad; our waitress took this photo.

The session we saw was called 'The Lucky Child'. The two speakers were Thomas Burgenthal and Paul Valent, two child survivors of the Holocaust, and it was chaired by Helen Light, of the Jewish Museum.

Dad went to hear Thomas Burgenthal again in the evening with a friend. Afterwards, the friend left my father waiting outside for a taxi, while he rushed back in to get something he'd left behind. Two tipsy girls tried to pick Dad up. They were about 17, he thought, though they could have been in their twenties. When his friend, who's in his seventies, came out, the girls said, 'Oh good, there are two of you! Come and have a drink with us!' Those girls missed out on a fun night - my dad is a great story teller and a charming gentleman - but now he has another story to add to his collection.

This morning I went to another festival session. It was one of the 10am Morning Reads. I think they're fantastic. They're chaired by Chris Flynn, the editor of Torpedo, who does a terrific job, and each time you get to meet a variety of writers, some of whom you otherwise mightn't hear about. It's more than just a reading because the writers answer audience questions as well.

On this morning's panel were Michael Meehan, (who Chris Flynn called the most intelligent person at the festival) Jennifer McKenzie and Wells Tower.

I'd especially wanted to see Wells Tower. I have to admit the first time I heard his name I thought he sounded like a Mills and Boon writer - or maybe character - but his writing is clever, funny and very, very good. I'm really looking forward to reading his debut short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Yesterday I went to four sessions of the Melbourne Writers Festival, beginning at 10 am with Emily Ballou, Philip McLaren and Steven Amsterdam (pictured, from left to right, with apologies for my poor quality photo) reading from their work and talking a little about it.

The previous night Steven had discovered he'd won the Age Book of the Year with his first novel, Things We Didn't See Coming, so it made the morning extra special. I was so happy for him. My family had spent the morning emailing celebratory messages about it.

I have a story about Steven, who is a good friend of one of my daughters, that I'm not sure I have ever told him. Because that daughter stays with me when she is in town, Steven has my phone number in his mobile. One day I came home to find one of those accidental messages on my machine that you get when someone bumps their mobile while it's in their pocket. I listened to see if I could recognise the voice. It turned out to be Steven chatting in a gentle and caring way with an elderly female patient. He was a student nurse at the time. Because a lot of the nurses who looked after my mother when she was ill were not so gentle or caring, this overheard conversation made a great impression on me. It was such a lovely window into his nature.

I think Steven's novel is well deserving of this award but as a person so is he. Congratulations, Steven, on a great achievement! I hope there are many more to come.

I had really only gone to that session to hear Steven but I was thrilled to discover Emily Ballou, who read a few poems from her book, The Darwin Poems, which is an imagined verse-portrait of Charles Darwin's life. I have an interest in Charles Darwin to begin with, but hearing those evocative and beautiful poems read sent me straight out to the festival bookshop to buy myself an autographed copy of the book. It was still only 11 am, and I had the whole day ahead of me, but I felt I'd already had the true festival experience - that discovery by chance of a writer who quite takes your breath away.

This is the festival's second year at Federation Square. I don't like change, so last year I didn't enjoy the new venue because I was too busy looking back at the good old days of everyone being crammed into the Malthouse. I missed the intimacy.

But this year I loved the venue. The atrium is bustly, and all over Fed Square I saw people reading, or at least leafing through books, and talking with their mouths full about sessions and writers. It was nice to see books, reading and writing take so central a position in the city, even if it is only for a few days.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Falling Down, Falling Down

I have no illusions about living in the country. I don't see it through a rosy romantic glow. Who was the writer who wrote 'There is no hell like a small town'? There's the lack of privacy, the gossip, the suspicion of anything or anyone new, the unthinking clinging to tradition. You can't be considered a local unless you, and possibly one of your parents, were born there.

But we enjoy our own company, have the privacy of 200 acres, and a village within walking distance, so it works for us. And when we need help our neighbours are there for us, even if they consider us crazy mainlanders. With our bridge in bad shape one neighbour said we are welcome to park our car at her place and travel back and forward on our four wheel drive bike through her property to our house. And now our other neighbours have offered to rebuild the bridge at a fraction of the cost quoted to us by the professionals. They remember when it was first built, thirty years ago.

We have wonderful neighbours in the city too, and I'm sure they'd build bridges for us if we asked, it's just that maybe those bridges would be more metaphoric than practical.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bridge Too Far

One of my favourite parts of our farm is the bridge over the Mole Creek that you have to cross to get to the front gate. We love it so much we even named the farm after it: Onemilebridge.

Every time I cross the bridge I enjoy its quiet beauty. We've held parties and picnics and platypus viewing sessions on its aged wooden boards and our friend Janet has even caught trout from it.

In fact Janet loves the bridge so much she gave me a painting of it for my birthday last year.

It's our only link by road to the outside world - though we can drive cross-country through our neighbour's farm and out through her front gate if we're desperate.

Yesterday, when we were returning home, we discovered that one of the four huge logs that supports the bridge had rotted so much it had fallen away. Today we cancelled our arrangements so nobody would be driving heavy vehicles across. We've often joked about hauling up the drawbridge across the moat. Today it really felt like that.

It'll be time-consuming and expensive to replace the old bridge but the worst part of it is parting with the picturesque old structure we've enjoyed for so long.

Friday, August 14, 2009

People With Glasshouses

Farmdoc and I have been talking about getting a hothouse since we first moved to Mole Creek, nearly seven years ago. We have such a short summer growing season here, with frosts well into November, that by the time our vegetables get going it's autumn again and they are running a race against winter.

When we first laid out the vegetable garden we even left a hothouse-sized space.

For all these years Farmdoc has been researching makes and models and we've made trips to a number of outlets to examine various options but somehow we never seemed to get around to buying one. Then our friend Dorothy, who is moving from the area, said she would sell us hers. So this morning John and Dorothy arrived with the hothouse in tow.

It took a bit of work to hoist it over the vegetable garden fence and into position.

And then it had to be concreted in.

Finally it was in place and set up ready to receive the seeds of our summer salads.

I don't think it'll take us as long to fill as it did to buy it. Right now we're making lists of vegetables and herbs that will benefit from a head start.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Advance Reading Copy

The book is here. When Farmdoc and I walked down to the post office this afternoon, there was a padded bag from Scribe, addressed to me, waiting in the box.

I had decided that I'd wait until I sat somewhere before I opened it. I wanted to relish the unveiling. Instead, as we walked, I ripped the bag open, desperate to see what it looked like.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Raimond Gaita's full endorsement is on the back, and on the front, his lovely words, 'A heartrendingly beautiful book.' The gorgeous front cover design wraps around the spine, and then onto the back. I think Marc Martin, the designer, has done an incredible job. You should check out his website to see some of his other work.

There was also a lovely note from my editor, Nicola, explaining that this is only the Advance Reading Copy and not the final book so there'll be mistakes.

Too exciting really.

We walked on to the Mole Creek Visitor Information Centre, which now houses The Superb Herb and an espresso machine. The Laurel Berry where I wrote so much of this book, is closed until September, so it's a slightly longer walk from our place for a cup of coffee. On one of the two glass tables, I set myself up in earnest to savour the moment while Farmdoc read his mail.

And what's my reaction? How do I feel? Well, my strongest urge is to treat this volume as I would any other new book: scrutinize the cover, read the blurb on the back, leaf through to the acknowledgements to see if I know any of the people thanked, and then turn to page one to begin reading: The Journey.

I read the words:
'It has been said that all stories begin in one of two ways: a stranger comes to town, or a person sets out on a journey.'

After all the hours that I spent writing, reading, revising, editing and then proofreading this book, what I most want to do now is to read it as a reader and not as the writer.

But also to admire it as a beautiful object and to decide which page I'll sign for my readers.

I guess how I feel is that I have been on a journey writing this book that describes my mother's journey with Alzheimer's. And now the book will have a life and a journey of her own. All I can do is wish her Godspeed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kids Will Be Kids

Here is one little kid watching the video of another little kid from the post below:

Meanwhile, the goat kid is thriving and has been joined by several new playmates.
The cold weather doesn't seem to be bothering them at all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just kidding

When we fed out hay to the stock this morning

We found the kid we'd seen yesterday

plus this little brown one being guarded by its mother

Standing around in the cold we heard bleating coming from the bushes. Up amongst the rocks I found this new litttle chum:

I watched it as it struggled to its feet:

It wobbled slightly:

and then stood firm:

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Kid on the Block

Look what we found when we were feeding out hay to the goats this afternoon!

The first kid of the year!

These are not great photos but the first kid of the year is always an exciting moment. You can't tell from the picture, but she's a girl.

This is very early for us. We normally don't start kidding here until late October or early November, but this year we're trying something different. It's cold and wet in Mole Creek still so I hope this new little one does well.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Nature of Dreams

This year I was only in Melbourne long enough to see three films at the Melbourne International Film Festival. I especially loved 'Unmade Beds', an English film made by Patagonian film maker, Alexis Dos Santos for its cheekiness, music and storytelling. And I loved 'Amos Oz, The Nature of Dreams' for its portrayal of Israeli writer Amos Oz (pictured).

Inspired by this second film, I have begun reading Oz's memoir of his childhood in Jerusalem, 'A Tale of Love and Darkness'. I'm about halfway through it now. Usually I'm a quick reader but this book demands to be read slowly and savoured. It's difficult to categorise really. It's autobiography, yes, but it's so much more: it's about the early years of the State of Israel and it's about writing, it's about those particular people and it's about all people, it's about Oz himself and it's about us.

Here, I'll show you what I mean. If this doesn't inspire you, nothing will.

Oz is writing of a particular evening in Jerusalem when he was a boy, of the electric light coming from a neighbour's window, 'pouring out like glue that's so thick it's hard to spill.' And then of how fifty-five years later as he wrote at his garden table in Arad the same thick light spilled from a neighbour's window, the same light breeze stirred.

He goes on to write about the process of writing memoir in a long and wonderful sentence that I will pick up halfway through and reproduce for you (and for me to reread after I have returned the book to the library).

That evening in Jerusalem is like a woman you have known for a long time who
reaches out now and strikes you like a harpoon and starts pulling and tearing you but actually she's not the one who's pulling, she just digs her claws in and you're the one who's pulling and writing, pulling and writing, like a dolphin with the barb of a harpoon caught in his flesh and he pulls as hard as he can, pulls the harpoon and the line attached to it and the harpoon gun that's attached to the line and the hunters' boat that the harpoon gun is fixed to, he pulls and struggles, pulls to escape, pulls and turns over and over in the sea, pulls and dives down into the dark depths, pulls and writes and pulls more; if he pulls one more time with all his desperate strength he may manage to free himself from the thing that is stuck in his flesh, the thing that is biting and digging into you and not letting go, you pull and you pull and it just bites into your flesh, the more you pull the deeper it digs in and you can never inflict a pain in return for this loss that is digging deeper and deeper, wounding you more and more because it is the catcher and you are the prey, it is the hunter and you are the harpooned dolphin, it gives and you have taken, it is that evening in Jerusalem and you are this evening here in Arad, it is your dead parents and you just pull and go on writing.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Bloodflower is officially launched. Clare Renner of RMIT (pictured) launched the book at The Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park last week. Christine Hinwood, she said, could write about the telephone directory and it would be beautiful.

The shop was packed with Christine's family and friends who toasted Bloodflower and congratulated its author.

I love book launches - and not just because of the free grog (and gluten-free cupcakes in this case) either. Writing a book is such a long, arduous journey of creating, doubting, writing, revising, doubting, editing, more revising and more doubting. To celebrate the culmination of that process, to buy a copy of a brand new book and have the author sign it for me, and, yes, to have a drink in its honour, is a fine thing indeed. A pleasure and a privilege.

Here's Christine presenting her thank you gifts:

Then it's home, off with the glad rags, and back to the drawing board to go through it all again with the second novel.