Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reality Bites

Last weekend I attended the Reality Bites Nonfiction Festival in Cooroy, Queensland. The festival is held over two weekends and this was the first of the two. I found it exciting but pretty exhausting. I flew up on Saturday morning, appeared on one panel on Saturday afternoon, a second on Sunday morning, and then flew home Sunday afternoon. Phew!

The weather wasn't wonderful - overcast most of the time and quite cool. Very disappointing for a southerner. I'd hoped for a little sunshine.

The organisers had worked hard to put together a varied and interesting program and a team of volunteers made it all happen. The speakers were ferried to and from the airport, between venues, and to and from their accommodation. It all seemed to run like clockwork.

I enjoyed my sessions enormously. The first was Grief, Loss and Recovery and I shared the stage with Paul Valent, a retired psychiatrist who has worked extensively in this area. Annette Hughes in the chair made sure it was a really memorable session. I think we were all just about in tears.

The following morning I ran into Paul and his lovely wife Julie in the rain in the streets of Noosaville. Spending time with them was a highlight of the trip for me.

Sunday morning's panel, Absent Parents, was chaired by local writer, Steven Lang. Those are my hands in the picture below, waving around, making a point:

Here I'm at it again, talking with my hands. I shared the stage with David Carlin and we talked about our absent parents: my mother whom I watched as she was swallowed alive by Alzheimer's, his father who killed himself when David was six months old. I couldn't help thinking how proud David's father would be of him, and what a good job his mother did.

Both our books contain sadness but both also joy and hope I think. We'll be discussing them again this Saturday at the New Voices 2010 Festival. This festival is run by the folks at the Eltham Bookshop and will take place at St Margaret's Anglican Church Hall, Pitt Street, Eltham, from 9.30.

Our session, at 3.30, is called Whispered Imagining, and we'll be talking about the art of memoir, guided by Catherine Cole.

The program is varied and I'm looking forward to it. Recently I read Glenys Osborne's remarkable novel, Come Inside, so I'm particularly excited to have the opportunity to hear her discuss her writing process. That session is on at 11.15.

So, if you're free on Saturday and are not too far away, come to Eltham. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Winter weekend

This wintry weekend we've eaten pumpkin scones, repaired a fence and established a new vegetable bed in the orchard.

After quite a bit of experimentation I have found the easiest and most reliably delicious scones to make are, despite her politics, Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen's. They don't taste of pumpkin at all but have a lovely golden colour and are soft and buttery. They're particularly scrumptious with sour cherry jam.

1 Tblsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup mashed pumpkin (cold)
2 cups Self raising flour
Beat together butter, sugar and salt with electric mixer.
Add egg, then pumpkin and stir in the flour.
Turn on to floured board and cut.
Place in tray on top shelf of very hot oven 225-250c for 15-20 minutes.

I wasn't quick enough to photograph the scones before they were demolished so you'll have to take my word for them.

To make up for the lack of scone pictures, here are some of our other weekend activities.

Our share farmer, Sharon, and Farmdoc repaired the fence between the holding paddock and the bush.

My task was to hold things and pass them when required. And to take photos.

The fence is now fixed. Until the next tree falls on it of course.

After that we raked up a trailer load of waste hay from the paddock and set up a new vegetable bed in the orchard.

First we lay a thick layer of newspaper on the ground in the shape of the new bed. Then we spread some compost on top of it.

Finally we covered everything with a thick layer of smelly old hay, resplendent with sheep and goat droppings.

In a month or two we'll plant potatoes and pumpkins here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reading and Walking

Farmdoc and I have just come back from almost a week in paradise - otherwise known as Cradle Mountain. The plan was that we would each take a pile of the books that we have been dying to read and just haven't had the time for, and in the bad weather that we were bound to experience, we would simply sit in front of the fire and read.

But then, just our luck, we struck a week of mostly fine weather and so were forced out of our armchairs and into our boots. Poor us!

In the end we hit on a compromise. Every morning after an enormous breakfast we headed off for a walk. In the afternoons we'd light the fire in our cabin and read for the rest of the day. In this way we spent hours immersed in nature followed by hours immersed in literature.

My only issue with the scenery of Cradle Mountain is that it's hard to take a photo that doesn't look like one of those wilderness pictures that people who destroy the environment like to display. The kind of thing you see advertising banks, or toilet paper, or on show in airports.

I read five novels:

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, a two-in-one novel that explores, in alternate chapters, two possible choices made by a woman who is torn between two men.

The Messenger, by Daniel Silva, a thriller about Gabriel Allon, art restorer and assassin, that moves between London, Jerusalem, the Vatican City, Venice, Rome, Paris and another dozen places at least and is utterly unputdownable.

On Chesil Beach, a novella by Ian McEwan. I often think McEwan's books, including Solar, his latest, would be better as novellas. This one is perfect. I actually read it twice. I especially like how the research is fully integrated into the novel and not presented as undigested lumps as McEwan sometimes likes to do and as Shriver does in The Post-Birthday World.

A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore, a writer who I think does short stories best. I loved this novel because Moore is a superb writer so I was prepared to look away when her plot got away from her. But there are too many word tricks and maybe too much of everything for the book to truly work. Sometimes I found the writing so dense I could hardly breathe but at other times, perhaps when Moore isn't trying so hard, the novel just sings.

Wanting, by Richard Flanagan. I would have liked this novel to be longer. Its two subjects, the famous British writer Charles Dickens and the Aboriginal child Mathinna who was picked up and then abandoned by Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin in colonial Tasmania, seem to me to deserve more space. The Tasmanian section is heart breaking, but though Flanagan captures Dickens's England in all its filth and squalor, I didn't find Dickens himself convincing, so for me in the end the book's themes got a bit lost.