Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Room With a View

I've turned my desk around so that instead of facing this:

it now faces this:

I know. Crazy, eh. But the trouble with a passive solar house is that in winter the sun comes in the north-facing windows and I had to keep my blind pulled down all the time. So there was no point in having a view I couldn't see anyway.

I quite like this set up, with nothing to distract me. I'll see how it works. Maybe in summer, when the eaves shade the house, I might move the desk back to where it was.

Where do you work? Do you prefer a view, or do you find it distracting?

Most visual artists I know listen to music - sometimes quite loudly - while they work. When I'm at home I need silence but when I write in coffee shops I like the music and the buzz of sound. I find that somehow it helps me concentrate. Often I'll listen to something to get me in the mood and then turn it off. Or I'll listen to the same piece of music over and over again. What about you? What do you prefer, or doesn't it make any difference to you?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Casting the Vote

Yesterday, along with the rest of our fellow Australians, Farmdoc and I fulfilled our civic duty.

We walked down to our local polling booth at the Mole Creek Primary School, admiring the local sights as we went.

Though admittedly, some of the sights were more attractive

than others.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top Five Books

I'm in big trouble. In late October I'm going to be speaking at the Brunswick library. That's not the problem; I love giving talks. I'm looking forward to it.

No, the problem is that they asked me to provide them with a list of my five favourite books. They'll display this somewhere in the library with the heading Author Top Reads. Now, I think that's a great idea. Anything to encourage reading and to introduce people to books they may not have heard of.

Unfortunately this request is having a disastrous effect on my brain. At first my mind went blank and I couldn't think of any book I ever liked. Then I began to think of books I've enjoyed that I've read in the last month.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Isn't this amazing? It's already sold over a million copies but I've only just got to it. I read it a couple of weeks ago and thought it was beautifully and sensitively written.

Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. I watched trailers of the film and I was so impressed that I ordered the book from the fantastic Tasmanian library service. The story is dark but gripping, and Woodrell captures the closed world of the Ozarks so well with his densely poetic language.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. I loved this. I found it quite haunting when I read it on our recent Cradle Mountain holiday.

There's a stack of books for kids that changed the way I see the world. There are books I read when I was young, or that I read when my kids were young, that have stayed with me ever since. I reread Robinson Crusoe so often I used to dream about it. Little Women kept me company for years. I loved Jane Gardam's Bilgewater.

I read My Side of the Mountain with my kids. Recently my daughter Meg told me she's been reading it with her stepson. She doesn't even remember it from when she was young, but she's loving it now and so is he.

One of my all-time favourite books would have be a small novel for children called Searching for Shona, by Margaret Anderson. I bought this for our oldest daughter when she was in primary school. I read it then and have never forgotten the story of two British schoolgirls swapping identities during World War Two. I have to admit that when my daughters carried off their old toys and books I kept this one; I still reread it every few years.

There are books about writing that I've reread countless times, including Annie Dillard's The Writing Life and Anne Lamott's indispensable Bird By Bird.

Then Farmdoc asked me, 'What about Wolf Hall?' And it's true, I loved that so much I couldn't put it down, and I ended up with a really sore neck from holding it up to read in bed.

And one of our visitors said she'd just read Life of Pi, so then I remembered all the Booker Prize winners I've adored over the years. My mother and I used to buy the winning book as soon as it was announced and discuss its merits over cups of tea at her kitchen table. I miss that so much now she's gone. Toni Morrison's Beloved was one of her favourite books and so was Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

That's when I started to feel queasy about this whole project.

In the end I think I'll go with the first five that came to me and I'm going to try to forget the whole thing before I go crazy remembering books I've loved at different times of my life. I've tried to work out why it's these five, and I'm not sure I know exactly. Taste in books, as in so much else, is personal. For me I think it's mostly about the power of the language and story. I like a sense of morality at play too. And I like to learn something.

Drown, Junot Diaz
Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow

The Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

How about you? What books are on your list?

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Simplest Things

Don't you hate it when cliches turn out to be true? The one I'm thinking about now is, 'The simplest things in life are best.' Maybe it's not always true, and I'll bet winning an Olympic gold medal backed by millions of taxpayers' dollars (therefore the opposite of simple) must feel pretty cool, but mostly the saying's spot on, I reckon.

Take yesterday for example, here at Onemilebridge. Sunday lunch with friends. What could be simpler - or nicer!

Lunch was pretty simple too. Lasagne cooked by me, bread baked by Farmdoc, and pavlova brought by our guests. Though lasagne's not exactly simple - it always seems to dirty every dish in my kitchen - it's not all that sophisticated either.

I base my recipe on Marcella Hazan's recipe in The Classic Italian Cookbook, a book I've been using for years.

I made the pasta using 100 grams of flour, 1 egg and some spinach leaves picked in the morning. First I washed the spinach thoroughly. (I'm always amazed by how much grit is hidden in spinach.) Then I cooked it in just the water that clung to the leaves for about fifteen minutes. When it was tender I wrung out all the water, chopped it finely, and kneaded it into the pasta dough. Then I rolled it out with my pasta machine and slipped four pieces at a time into boiling water for a couple of minutes.

I cooked up my normal bolognese recipe with our own lamb mince, and made Marcella's bechamel sauce. Then I assembled the dish, grated some parmesan on the top, put it in the oven, and washed the dozens of dishes I'd dirtied.

The proof of the pudding (or lasagne) as they say, is in the eating, and it really did melt in our mouths - that is when we weren't talking.

Finally the pièce de résistance - the pavlova. So to finish with another cliche - here's a picture that must be worth at least a thousand words:

Thanks, Janet and Annie, for a great afternoon. Sorry the weather was too cold for a picnic on the bridge. Next time, maybe.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New Voices

Writers' festivals are such a terrific opportunity to learn more about writers, books and writing and to meet other readers. I had a great time at the New Voices Festival in Eltham. There was quite a bit of excitement on the day because the short list for The Age Book of the Year was announced that morning, and two of the day's featured writers were on it but only found out once they'd arrived. Catherine Cole, who chaired the session I appeared in, was one of the judges, so that made it even more exciting.

Back in Mole Creek we have a new voice here too. It's Cafe Bozzey, which recently opened in the rural transaction centre at the eastern end of the village.

They serve light meals and cake and of course tea and coffee.

Farmdoc and Sharon, our share farmer, and I gave it a test run the other day.
I have to admit, coming from Melbourne, I'm a coffee snob, but Sharon enjoyed it. Try it yourself when you're passing and see what you think. It's nice to have a new presence in the village.