Happy Oz day, mate!

Today, on Australia Day, we celebrate our privilege to live in a democratic country, with clean air, clean water, fresh food, good health care, accessible education for all and a beautiful, extraordinary, challenging, inspiring landscape. Everyone loves the land of their birth – we get that – but we also understand why so many want to leave their homeland to live here instead. Why wouldn’t they? It’s the best place on earth. I met a chap, who’d emigrated from Ghana, who told me that living here was like living in Paradise. Today will be the day many people will become citizens of Australia. Welcome to Oz! Thanks for wanting to be one of us. I was very moved to see the finalists in the Australian of the Year award. They were a diverse group: different ethnicities, different colours, different cultural backgrounds, yet they were all passionately Australian. They were all people trying to make a difference in the world, and in their local communities. I loved the fact that an Indigenous man won the Local Hero award, for helping to change his disadvantaged community. I love that an Afghan refugee was the Young Australian of the year, for his work mentoring Indigenous children in a remote part of his state. I love that an 81-year old  doctor won the Senior award for his pioneering work in palliative care. And he’s still working! A wonderful, intelligent and extremely hard-working woman won the main award for her years and years of work in journalism, media and her volunteer work with numerous medical charities. What a wonderful mix of fabulous, inspirational people. GOOD ON YA. I’ve been thinking about what makes us distinctly Aussie. This is where my mind wandered to… When I started high school it was the first year the school was open. My fellow students were both first years and seniors all in one go. We had the unique experience of being the senior class all the way through high school. I remember when we went to our first Inter-School sports day. All the established schools were there with their screaming, chanting hordes of students, having arrived in fleets of buses and private cars. Our little group went in two bus-loads. We sat in one tiny corner of the stadium, completely surrounded. Yet, our athletes won several medals and you should have heard us: we were the mouse that roared. I think this encapsulates the Aussie spirit. We’re a small number of people in a vast and mostly inhospitable landscape. In the history of the world, we’re the new kids on the block. As a people we had to learn, very early on, to be resourceful and inventive, to respect the land in which we lived (or it could kill you) and to rely on each other. The spirit of “mateship” was forged on the fields of Eureka, the shores of Gallipoli, the Somme, Ypres, the Kokoda Trail and the jungles of Vietnam. Our soldiers gained a reputation as irreverent larrikins who snubbed their noses at authority but who fought with the strength of a lion and the cunning of a fox: a reputation they maintain to this day. Our reliance on mateship was hardened out in the desert, during severe droughts, and while fighting floods and raging bushfires. Whenever a natural disaster hits some of our people, the rest of the nation rallies around them like one big family. In the midst of our woes, we see the best of ourselves. I’ve often seen and heard foreigners comment on our use of the word, “mate”. They know it means a good friend, but they don’t understand why we also call complete strangers: mate. It’s even more confusing when we say “mate” and yet we obviously mean the opposite. It’s simple. Whether we consciously know it, or if it’s a subliminal subconscious idea, we know we’re all in this together. We’re still the few in a vast land. If you’re an Aussie, you’re my mate. If you’re a visitor to Oz, you’re a potential mate. If you’re my enemy, you could become my mate. We’re a weird mob but that’s what makes us, us. Happy Australia day, mate! .    ...

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It only takes a spark

Earlier this week, I was working on a client’s manuscript… (Actually, I’ve been working on this one so long the client is now a good – although living in another hemisphere – friend.) As I was saying; I was working on his manuscript tidying, correcting spelling and rethinking the structure of the entire chapter. I had a little stray thought: Perhaps I should forget my own dreams and concentrate on helping others fulfill their’s. After all, I think I’m reasonably good at being an editor. On the whole, my clients do well. Some have even won an award or two. Maybe this is my “great calling” and writing is/was just a daydream? There’d be no shame in accepting that fate. Editors are necessary people in the world of good writing. They have valuable skills. Many of them seem to be appreciated by their clients. Gosh, I’ve even had one or two thank me on the Acknowledgements page. It’s a respectable and satisfying profession. Then I discovered that someone for whom I had edited their first three novels, didn’t use my services for their fourth. I realised how paranoid I am. Was it because I did a lousy job with the first three? Was it because they didn’t like me? Had I offended them in any way? I knew it couldn’t be because I’m too expensive; I know I’m the cheapest editor in the nation, apart from an author’s relative who’d do it for free. Would a real, professional, experienced editor let such a simple thing throw them? Was it the Powers That Be telling me that being an editor wasn’t all there was for me? (Terrible sentence structure, but it’s only a blog so get over it.) A few days later I received a delightful letter from a former client and current blog reader. (Big wave to you-know-who!) (Every now and then I discover someone else who reads this blog but doesn’t comment. It’s always a nice surprise.) This dear lady has learned how to bind books the old-fashioned/stitch by hand way. She has kindly offered to make me an exclusive, single, one of a kind, bound hard-cover copy of the junior fantasy novel I couldn’t get anyone to publish. It isn’t a publishing deal, it’s just one copy – but it’d be sitting there on my bookshelf looking gorgeous and dedicated to my grandchildren. It will have at least entered the real world as a printed BOOK. Woo. Suddenly I was all-fired up again. In between working for others, I’ve got back to rewriting my Masters thesis as a Young Adult novel and I’m enjoying it. It’s nearly finished. My loins are already being girded, ready for another foray into the big scary jungle of the publishing world. This time I’ll succeed. One person’s act of kindness has been all the spark that was needed to fire me up again. It reminds me of that old song: It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing. Okay, a little bit hokey, a little bit corny, but true none-the-less. If you’ve been contemplating doing someone a random act of kindness, be bold, be brave, take a risk and DO IT. Who knows fires you’ll be starting, or what candles you might be lighting in someone’s darkness....

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Sea, sand and butterflies.

The munchkins came for a sleep-over with The Old Boy, Rex and me. As it’s summer time here in the Land of Oz, we decided after tea to take them to the beach for a swim and an icecream. We brought the Wonder Dog with us. I had visions of a nice stroll along the sand, perhaps letting the beast off the lead for a splash in the water with the kidlets, a soft sunset glow on the horizon… When we got there we found the place was packed. Seems like every second person in town had the same idea. Finally found a park, unloaded the car and set off along the white soft sandy 50 metre path through the dunes to the water. The Old Boy carried the towels and a water bottle. I handled my walking stick, the dawg and a large bag. By the time I’d struggled through the sand the munchkins had already divested themselves of the outer layer of clothing and were in the water. I sank into the side of the dune and watched from afar, as I regained my breath. The signs said dogs had to remain on the leash. It was just as well as the beach was packed with fellow humans with leashed canines and the Wonder Dog was so nervous he climbed up my back and perched on my shoulders. He’s small, but he’s not that small. Stupid dog. Got my breath back, picked up the stick, bag and leash and headed down to the water to help the Old Boy play lifeguard. After a while I realised we should have brought a chair. I keep forgetting what a (literal) pain that standing is for me. Nowhere to sit. Fought hard to remain upright, knowing that if I sat down in the sand they’d have to bring in a crane to winch me out. Eventually the sun began to go down, and the kids were lured out of the water with the promise of a ride in the amusement park. We began the trek back to the car, with me trailing the others by quite a distance. About 2 metres into the trail I thought, I’m not going to make it. Go on without me. Tell mother I love her. I sat down and then I sort of half lay down, draped across the edge of the dune. Such a ladylike repose. I think people who were walking past thought I’d been drinking…a lot! The Old Boy, kids and Dawg came back and waited for me to revive, hovering around me like a herd of elephants waiting for the old matriarch to kick the bucket. The Wonder Dog kept sticking his wet nose in my ear; it certainly kept me alert. Finally, after several minutes, the faint/sick/I’m going to die feeling passed and I made my way to the car. We drove to the amusement park and the Old Boy took the kids to the sideshow and rides while Wonder Dog and I remained in the car. After a long while, they came back with icecreams. Mine fell apart as they handed it in through the window and it landed on the pavement. Oh well. Didn’t need it anyway. While they were off having fun in the park, I watched the parade of humanity and canines: all ages, all shapes, different physical conditions. They all seemed to be having fun. They were doing normal things like walking, running, laughing, skipping, throwing balls… while I sat in the car, watching. I thought, What kind of a granny am I? I can’t even walk on the beach without nearly passing out. I can’t even go to the amusement park with the kids. By the time we headed for home it was late and dark. The munchkins and I sang silly songs and they laughed and laughed until finally the Old Boy, with eyebrows raised at me, suggested it was “calm down time”. Once they were all in bed, including the Old Boy, and the dawg was snoring in my lap as I sat in my recliner waiting for the pills to kick in, I held a pity party for myself. It wasn’t much fun. There wasn’t any cake or moscato or balloons. It was all dark, dark, dark. In the morning, I helped the little princess put on her earrings – some pink butterflies with bling that I’d given her – and she said, “You’re such a lovely Nanny.” The sun came up, birds began to sing and, suddenly, I felt that perhaps I wasn’t such a useless Granny after all. Maybe, in spite of being a physical wreck, I still do something right...

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Tolkien’s women

I had an interesting chat with a friend on Facebook re The Hobbit and I thought I’d drag the conversation/discussion/surely-not-an-argument here to my little blog. Someone had posted an article decrying Tolkien’s perceived misogyny, or at least his ambivalence towards females, and my friend had shared the link. The question was, “Why are Tolkien’s worlds so devoid of females? How did we get hobbit/goblin/orc/dwarf families if there were no females?”  Good question. “And, where are the strong role models for girls, in Tolkien’s books?” Another good, but different, question. If one reads the books – The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings trilogy – it soon becomes clear that there are female hobbits/dwarves/elves and humans. The answer is not so clear when it comes to orcs. Is it possible they’re a sort of zombie goblin? Are they corrupted and mutated goblins/dwarves and/or men? Not sure. Of course orcs are creatures out of ancient anglo/saxon/jute mythology from the so-called Dark Ages and back in those days one didn’t have to explain where such creatures originated: they just were. (By the way, I’m currently reading Brian Branson’s, The Lost Gods of England. Although it needs a good edit, it’s a fascinating read. I was particularly struck by how much of ancient English mythology has made it’s way into Tolkien’s works. What a clever fellow.) What about the lack of strong role models for girls in Tolkien’s books? Well, there is barely a mention of any in The Hobbit, so that’s a fair call. Again, there are few females in LOTR but the ones that are there are all very strong characters and, I think, all excellent role models. They’re women who make a difference in their world; they’re willing to break the mold of “weak, submissive” women, and they have dynamic, intriguing and appealing personalities. The only problem is that there aren’t many of them. The thing is, Tolkien began this enthralling story by telling his grandson bedtime stories. It started as a boy’s own adventure, and what an adventure! It was also written in a time when it was inconceivable that women would leave home in the company of a group of men, fight orcs, wield swords etc. If the story was written today, we could be certain there’d be some women in the company of dwarves and even, maybe, Bilbo or Frodo or Sam Gamgee would be a woman. But, it wasn’t written today. Although we read books through our 21st century filters, we must make allowances for the era and culture in which the stories are written. I read these books as a young girl and loved every bit of them. Who were my female role models? There weren’t many back then: Joan of Arc, Madame Curie, Wonder Woman, Pippi Longstocking and my local (female) doctor topped the list. However, I had parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I assumed this meant that if I ever had the chance to go on an adventure in the company of dwarves, elves and a wizard, I could do it with their blessing. It’s just a pity the opportunity never arose. We live in a different era now, and it’s time we got some new role models: women of strength of character; women who are passionate for a cause; women who dare to challenge the status quo. We need new stories that will inspire our daughters and grand-daughters to live up to their potential and even, maybe, beyond. The young Afghan girl who asserted her right to an education, and was shot for it, is one who leaps to mind. Hilary Clinton (whether you like her politics or not) is certainly a strong woman. Of course, these are real women, and there have always been fine examples in real life. What about female literary characters of the non-conservative type? Any suggestions?  ...

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