Down by the riverside.

Yesterday, the Old Boy and I had a day by the water. We visited the place where we scattered my parents’ ashes, down at Port Adelaide. The spot has a panoramic view of the docks and the Port River. We had lunch at the Birkenhead Tavern, which faces the river. It’s an old pub that has been around since the 1800s. My mother’s family has a long history of association with the docks. My grandfather worked in the customs’ service there. My great-grandfather and great great grandfather also worked there, and I think a great uncle or great great uncle or two worked there as well. One of my relatives was fired from his job due to his love of the amber fluid, and I often wonder if the Birkenhead was one of his watering holes. We had lunch sitting on the deck, looking out over the river. We could see the Fisherman’s market, the old lighthouse, the new fancy-schmancy town houses overlooking the river, some of the old buildings, the bridge and the river itself. As we ate our lunch, we could see one of the Port’s dolphins having a lovely time in the water near us. The history of messing about in boats was spread out before us. From our perfect dining spot we could see the remaining hulk of the old City of Adelaide sailing ship that brought out some of the first European settlers. We could see the One and All, a two-masted sailing vessel that is still used today. There was the little Port Princess and the larger Dolphin Cruise ship. Both were busy toting sightseers along the Port River, out to the head of the river where it joins the sea and back again. A father and son were in a little one-masted, two-seater craft (a skiff?) that darted about the water like a mayfly. A couple of engine-driven fishing boats set off from the wharf, heading out to sea. And then there was something unusual…something rather extraordinary. There was a young man seated on a jet-ski, puttering around in circles. Attached to the jet was a long orange tube and at the other end of that tubing was another young man with his feet clamped in a sort of stirrups contraption. Somehow the engine of the jet-ski was forcing water through the tubing and out the bottom of the feet things. This meant that the fellow standing in them was shot up into the air, balancing carefully on high-powered streams of water. He reached amazing heights: at least two body lengths up into the air and maybe more. Sometimes he aimed down at the water and plunged in and then back up again, similar to the way the dolphin was playing earlier in the day. It was quite some show. I thought of my parents, their ashes now part of the river system, and I thought they’d both have really enjoyed watching the young men having fun with the water-jet-pack thingee. I’d brought some white roses from my garden – a large one and two small buds growing from one stem – which I threw into the water in memory of my rose-loving parents. It landed head first on top of the water, with the green stem sticking straight up. It gradually sailed away, like a tiny floral raft. Somehow that seemed just...

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Easter time has got me thinking…

It’s Easter: the time when people remember Jesus of Nazareth. He once asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” The Jews consider him a well-meaning man, who was even a good teacher, but in the end was a failed Messiah. If he was truly guilty of blasphemy then, according to Jewish law at the time, his death sentence was just. The Muslims consider Jesus (Isa) to be a prophet, a messenger from God, and a fore-runner to Mohammed. They believe in the virgin birth, Jesus’ ability to perform miracles, and that he was the Messiah. They don’t believe that he was crucified because God wouldn’t allow him to die such a terrible death. They believe he was taken straight to heaven. He will eventually be brought back to earth to participate in the Day of Judgement. The Hindus say the teenage Jesus travelled across South-east Asia, learning yogic traditions and returning home to be a guru to the Jews. To Hindus, Jesus’ proclamation, “The Father and I are one”, confirmed the Hindu idea that everyone, through rigorous spiritual practice, can realize his own universal “god-consciousness.” The Buddhists believe Jesus was just another man. They don’t believe there is any god. They consider Buddha the greater teacher and,  seeing as Buddha lived 500 years before Christ, some wonder whether Jesus adapted some of the Buddha’s teachings and used them as his own. As Jesus isn’t mentioned in any Buddhist texts, he isn’t important. The Christians believe that Jesus was a prophet, a teacher, a miracle-worker, and the sacrificial Lamb of God. They believe that he was (and is) the physical expression of God, which we call “His Son”. They believe he was crucified and died, taking upon himself the punishment for sin, which this disobedient world had earned. They also believe that he stepped out of the tomb on the third day, alive and transformed. In doing this he conquered the last great enemy, death, and secured salvation and redemption for all who believe in him. The rest of the world have mixed feelings about Jesus. Some say he was a magician; some say he was a con-man; some say he was a good teacher and a good man but seriously self-deluded; some say he was just another failed Messiah, and some say he never existed and is a figment of someone’s imagination. It’s Easter time and, for Australians, it is also a 4-day weekend. (We have Good Friday and Easter Monday as public holidays.) A large percentage of the population celebrate this religious festival by heading off on a short holiday. Camping, fishing and boating trips are the favourites. Most of us remember Jesus’ death and resurrection by eating bucket-loads of chocolate and fruit buns, and by encouraging our children to write to giant rabbits that will, for some inexplicable reason, bring them chocolate eggs. Did you know that “Good” Friday didn’t originally mean “Good”? In old English it was “Goddes” Friday. That is: God’s Friday.  Over time the word became corrupted into “Good”. I think, perhaps, that wasn’t the only thing that time has affected. Perhaps our celebration of Easter has got just a little out of hand. I know, I’m a grumpy old bag. I’m going to have a bit of my chocolate rabbit and then the Old Boy, the Wonder Dog and I are going on a picnic. God bless you...

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Power of the Pen

A brief blog this morning as I’m expecting the munchkins to arrive any minute. I’m in a bit of a flap as I was expecting them around 5pm-ish, not 9.30am – 10-ish. Failure to communicate on the Old Boy’s part. I gather our daughter told him the new arrangements last night, he just didn’t bother to pass them on. I have discovered that as I’ve got older (or riper – like a good cheese) I don’t cope well with sudden changes to the program. Anyway… During the week I received a request to sign a petition. I gather there are some health insurance companies in the USA that are cancelling memberships of women who are diagnosed with cancer. The lousy swine! I thought the whole point of having health insurance is so that you have financial support when you are ill. Turns out, you should only have health insurance if you are healthy. Once you get sick, all bets are off. Then, this morning I received another request. It seems the Queensland government is planning to cease funding the Advanced Breast Cancer Support Group. This wonderful organisation gives psychosocial support to women who have secondary (and therefore terminal) breast cancer. It helps them and their families come to terms with their prognosis and supports them right up until they die. Their yearly budget is $150 000, which is not a huge amount. They don’t just hold meetings for women in the cities, they also have phone links and send DVDs to women in isolated rural areas. But, dying women aren’t a good financial investment. When governments spend more money on sporting venues and building (or buying) stealth bombers, or on giving tax relief to large mining companies, than they do in caring for their people, then there is something sick at the very heart of things. We are a society that is more and more driven by the dollar, rather than by compassion, kindness and basic humanity. Then I got the news that one of the petitions I signed a while back, asking Tesco to restrict their tuna fishing to line and pole, worked. A small victory for turtles, dolphins and other large sea creatures that used to get swooped up in the tuna nets and left to die as “by-catch”. Many of you might think it’s a small thing, but I count it as a victory for people power. It encouraged me to keep on signing; to keep on speaking up when I think something isn’t right. If you see the petitions re the USA “health” companies or the Queensland Advance Breast Cancer Support Group, floating around the internet, please sign them, too. Who knows; if we keep speaking up we might yet turn things to right. And,if nothing else at least we’ll die knowing we fought the good...

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Why the violence, part 2.

I’ve figured out why Beast-speaker wasn’t picked up by a traditional publisher. It’s not because I don’t write reasonably well (they’ve all told me I do) but it’s that they don’t know where it fits in the market-place. The relatively young ages of my protagonist, and his friend, inclined it towards the junior age group of 10+ but the subject matter and the moments of violence put it in the higher age range. Therefore it is neither one nor the other; it floats about in a little niche of its own. I’ve always seen it as a book for mid-teens up to adult but I had to make my protagonist younger than that age group usually relates to, because it’s a story about child soldiers. During the next two books in the story, they all grow older – just like Harry Potter does – so I hope that doesn’t remain a problem with people. (Not that I’ve written a Potteresque story; that would bring criticism of another sort.) As for the violence, (here we go again!) I’ve read plenty of other YA books that have dealt with dark and difficult subjects – drugs, anorexia, murder, incest, severe bullying, physical assault, kidnapping – that somehow made the grade and got into print. sigh. I did my best not to be too graphic in my description of the violence and not to use it gratuitously but, even so, a number of people have commented on the first incident. (I won’t spoil it by going into details in case some of you haven’t read the book, yet. Currently being sold for $2.99 on Amazon.) Several people have told me they gasped out loud when they got to it. One friend, an author, said she nearly didn’t keep reading but did so solely because she knew me and wanted to be supportive. Another reader told my husband just this week that he and his wife are unsure whether they will keep reading the story because it was so shocking. I always have mixed feelings when I hear this sort of thing. First, I think: Great! That’s exactly how I wanted people to react. This sort of thing is shocking. What happens to those poor kids is utterly appalling and far worse than what I describe. Second, I think: Surely it’s not the most shocking thing you’ve ever read?  And, have you watched the TV news, lately? Third, I think: I’m glad there are still people in this world who are shocked and offended by violence. Fourth, I think: Is there something wrong with me, that I allow my imagination to take me into dark places? Why, oh why, did I write this? I’m glad to say that the author friend, who kept reading because she knew me, told me that in the end she really enjoyed the story and understood what I was trying to say. I appreciate her willingness to trust me enough to persevere. I guess that’s where the problem lies for traditional publishing houses: they don’t know me. They can only base their decision on what they’ve been given: a story that has a young protagonist but has content more suitable for an older age bracket. Hmmm…what to do? Go with it, or take this other story about a kid who gets teased at school? It’s a no-brainer. Thank goodness for Australian eBook Publishers, who were willing to take a risk. Thank goodness for those readers who have persevered, read the whole thing, and have given encouraging feedback. Being a writer is a complicated business: an emotional roller-coaster ride; a challenge to all that one holds dear and true; a willingness to lose oneself in one’s imagination; a willingness to make oneself vulnerable to whoever reads the final product, and an ability to keep all the plates (technique, dialogue, narration, voice, point of view, plot satisfaction, the truth) spinning at the same time. Some writers manage to get it all right, or at least 99% right, and they are the big success stories. The rest of us muddle along as best we...

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