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Tuesday, 6 April 2021
Tuesday, 16 March 2021
But when I make a long-list with the short-list to be announced in a few days or weeks, I can't help feeling a smidgeon of hope that my entry will inch further up the ranks. Sometimes it does, sometimes not. But once I've hit a short-list that hope - which realistically should slide down because after all, only three will be placed - sneaks up a bit higher. Maybe, just maybe, I'll make the top three. Or even, could I even dare to think it, I might win.
I hate that feeling of anticipation. Even though I tell myself not to get my hopes up, some tiny hope insists on lurking. Then of course it's usually dashed. Although one time when I did win a competition, I didn't even spot my name on the winning list and it wasn't until I opened my individual email from the organiser that I realized I'd won!
But a short-listing isn't bad going. In the last year I've made four shortlists. One went on to be Highly Commended.
My most recent short-listing was with my second novel (the first remains unpublished) which I entered into the Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Prize. This novel was started many years ago and was put away in my computer's 'Out of Sight Because It's Terrible' drawer after receiving some feedback from a peer critiquer that was so negative I lost faith in it. I wrote a post about it here. It came at a time that was difficult and I didn't have the energy to lick my wounds and get on with saying 'I don't have to listen to your opinions.'
I eventually picked the MS up and carried on faffing about with it but it was the Melbourne lockdown that made me really get on and complete it. I entered it into the competition. I will be receiving some feedback on it which I am looking forward to but also slightly dreading.
But this little success has given me to believe that my MS isn't a complete waste of time. That although I know I like it, that others might like reading it too. That it has some merit and that I must polish it a little more and attempt to get it out into the wide world again. Whether I succeed or not is another matter.
Anyway, time to move on and get ready to welcome the box of kittens. If they'd consider bringing some chocolate with them, that would go down very well indeed.
Sunday, 21 February 2021
Fifty events provided plenty of choice from early morning exercises for writers who spend hours sitting at their computers to hints and tips on getting published, bi-lingual writers talking about writing in different languages and how this affects their work, writing for young people, writing poetry, memoir, illustrating books and of course plenty of author events.
There was even an online cookery lesson followed by a food writing (and eating) discussion.
For me the highlights included hearing keynote speaker Rosalie Ham talk about her writing, Kate Leeming's incredible cycling expeditions, from across Siberia, around Africa, around and into the interior of Australia and her plans to cross Antarctica.
I enjoyed the presentation by Madwomen, Bridgette Burton and Christina Costigan, who set up an independent theatre company, Baggage Productions, and I was fascinated by Sue Smethurst's talk, Why Truth is Stranger and Better than Fiction, about her non-fiction books including The Freedom Circus, the story of her husband's grandparents death-defying act to escape the Nazis and start a new life in Australia.
Pip Williams talking about The Dictionary of Lost Words, which I read last year and nominated as one of my top reads (along with thousands of other people I suspect) was fascinating. Pip told us how, as dyslexic child, using dictionaries was a nightmare for her! Now she owns a copy of the first volume of The Oxford English Dictionary minus the famous word - bondmaiden - which is the basis of her wonderful novel.
Jo Oliver's talk about her biography of artist, Jessie Trail, published last year was another highlight. She traced Jessie's life, career and travels from when she met artist, Tom Roberts, in Mentone, near where I live now, and also mentions when she visited him in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, near where I used to live!
Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Each has a set of criteria and writers have a maximum of 55 hours to write up to 500 words and submit their story. Sometimes I just can't come up with anything, other months I manage to get something in.
This January the criteria spoke volumes to me. Reading of the appalling numbers of Covid-19 in the UK swamping the NHS including the hospital group where I worked and many of my former colleagues still do, this story almost wrote itself. The fact that the first Friday of January was also the 1st of January was significant.
You have two critical patients in resus. Both need to transfer to Intensive Care for ventilation. There’s only one bed available.
You’re fed up with people who claim doctors think they’re God. How many times have you heard the tired old joke about the difference between God and a consultant? But it’s down to you now to choose which one gets the ventilator. And you know that later today there’ll be more who won’t even get a 50% chance.
At the end of each difficult day –there hasn’t been any other for months– you think of the best thing that happened. Sometimes it’s just that you actually got to drink a decent cup of coffee during your shift. Usually if there’s coffee at all, it’s the crap from the vending machine or a tasteless brew made from the last congealing granules in the bottom of an old jar in the staff room.
This morning, you stopped by the pond to take a breather, to gaze and admire. You revelled in the glorious feeling of freedom. London has its moments. You took a deep breath and watched it plume on the frosty air as you exhaled. You heard birdsong – there’s hardly any traffic on New Year bank holiday mornings.
As you pushed off for the last leg down the hill to the hospital, you envisaged the state of the Emergency Department. There’d be drunks sleeping it off from last night’s revels, cuts and bruises from alcohol induced falls, wounds from fights. You’ve seen it all before. But this year there’s the added factor. How many of them are now positive? If there’s a demographic that won’t be responsibly socially distancing, it’s those crowding into the centre of London to see in the New Year with the help of alcohol.
As you approached the hospital, you counted the ambulances stacking up.
And now, kitted out in full PPE – which, while vital, only impedes the normal examinations you need to make, you have to choose. An elderly, but previously fit man, tested positive, gasping for breath. Or the young reveller, with a near-lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol in his system and severely depressed respiration. He has a history – he frequents the department. You’ve revived him on more than one occasion. He’s only alive because of your previous interventions.
Monday, 28 December 2020
I wasn't able to travel using my passport or, for several weeks, venture further than 5 km from my home, but reading took me to many parts of Australia, New Zealand, India, United States, UK, France, Sweden, Israel, Afghanistan, Kenya, Nigeria with brief visits to Thailand and Indonesia, Ethiopia and Brazil as well as in transit from Syria to UK.
Most of my reading was set in recent years but I also travelled back to the early nineteenth century, late nineteenth century, the early twentieth century, 1920s, the 60s and even did a bit of time travel back and forth and into the future.
My reading has been largely catching up with the dozens of fabulous Australian authors I'd not come across before, indeed, some of my reading being debut novels just out. Women authors far outweighed males in my choices, not because I was aiming to read women, (or avoid men,) but because their books appealed to me.
I've also read many more short stories and flash fiction than usual in online journals. While I read some brilliant flash fiction and short accounts of people's Covid lockdown experiences on 100wordsofsolitude and The Cabinet of Heed's stream-of-consciousness-special (and had a piece of mine published in the latter) I tended to avoid these after a while, opting for non-related themes.
Here are the twelve books That came top in my enjoyment rating.
Vikram Seth: A Suitable Boy
Pip Williams: The Dictionary of Lost Words
Leah Kaminsky: The Hollow Bones
Leah Kaminsky: The Waiting Room
Charity Norman: The Secrets of Strangers
Christina Dalcher: Q
Delia Owens: Where The Crawdads Sing
Tara June Winch: The Yield
Leah Purcell: The Drover's Wife
Inga Simpson: Where The Trees Were
Craig Silvey: Jasper Jones
Joanna Nell: The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home
And in case the worst happens and we get another lockdown, I still have War and Peace on my shelf and I was given an epic 933 pager for Christmas, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Let's hope I can read them without any constraints around me, although neither will be my first choice to read on the train as they won't fit in my bag.
Tuesday, 24 November 2020
The plight of Australian wildlife came to prominent attention almost a year when wildfires swept through much of Australia. The loss of 173 human lives was devastating. This shocking number was massively outstripped by the loss of wildlife. An estimated 3 billion mammals, reptiles, birds were decimated. Retiles and amphibians were the hardest hit.
The desire to help raise money for the important work that conservation agencies were doing to help animals injured or orphaned by the fires along side general conservation projects resulted in the idea for the book and the call went out for contributions that soon came pouring in.
Australia's unique wildlife has been under threat since colonisation. Massive loss of habitat and introduction of non-native species as well as hunting of animals considered to be a threat to farming has wreaked havoc on Australia's fauna for over two centuries. People are increasingly urbanized and dislocated from nature.
My own knowledge of Australian flora and fauna is limited - something I found quite hard when I first came to live here last year. Although no expert on British wildlife, I could identify a number of trees, wild flowers, birds and butterflies. Arriving in Australia I was surrounded by plants and trees new to me. Staying in a Melbourne AirB&B three years ago, I woke to some exotic birdsong. Internet research told me it was a magpie. So different from the British magpies that rattled away in my North London garden ash tree, I wasn't sure if I could believe the information, but observation soon showed me it was indeed the large Australian magpie.
The first bird I saw in the tiny garden of my new house just over a year ago was a - blackbird. I'm very pleased to hear his beautiful song as he sits in a tree-top and sings his heart out but I confess I was hoping for a uniquely Australian bird. They soon arrived. Not many, but so far the garden has hosted red wattlebirds, a very noisy little wattlebird, butcherbirds, a pied currawong, (seen and heard only once) annoying little common mynahs (non-natives) and nearby I see and hear beautiful rainbow lorikeets, magpies, magpie-larks, galahs, sulphur crested cockatoos and, once, a sighting of a beautiful blue superb fairy wren. Venturing further with my sister, an expert birder, I saw and learned to identify a number more, although she saw far more than I did!
Back in my garden, skinks and huge woodlice hide beneath stones and golden orb spiders spin webs. A few butterflies flit around (not yet all identified as they will not keep still) and bees visit my lavender.
Encounters with mammals have been more limited. The lettuce and tomato-seedling eating possums bouncing over my roof at night did not endear themselves to me, but now my tomatoes are flourishing in a cage and my lettuce garden lives in a hanging basket we are on better terms. Sometimes at night we examine each other through my window.
Before lockdown, I met the famous bats/flying foxes of Kew (who now have their own Twitter account after a very nasty local MP suggested exterminating them.) On our walk in Cranborne Gardens, my sister and I encountered a large wallaby, and on our trip on Puffing Billy the train stopped for an echidna to take its time to cross the line. I've encountered an Australian fur-seal having a bask in the sun on a hot day and enjoyed seeing pods of dolphins on a cold grey day while walking the Bay Trail. Now we are able to get out and about I hope my wildlife encounters will significantly increase.
Reading this beautiful book, my knowledge and appreciation of Australia's wildlife is developing rapidly. I've learned of species I'd not been aware of and am learning more about their habitat and nature but this isn't a text book. It's a book of wildlife encounters, some by experts who are studying animal behaviour, others by writers, many of whom have written books I've mentioned on previous blog posts, who have enjoyed unexpected relationships with the animals who live in their gardens or local environment.
This important book is also a call to help make us all more aware of the plight of Australian wildlife. I for one don't want my granddaughters to read about animals that once lived in the country of their birth but are now extinct.
This is a book to dip in and out of, to savour and to come back to again and again. It's fast becoming one of my precious books.
Animal Make Us Human, published by Penguin Life 2020 is widely available in bookshops.
Thursday, 22 October 2020
A Girl Can Dream is published this week in Yours Magazine (edition 361) in the UK.
The story, originally titled A Dress Made for Dancing was inspired by a real person I met through my work. Cathy, a wheelchair user also had dysarthria, a speech impairment, as does my story's Cathy. She also had an admirer called Alan but the rest is imaginary. One memory of the real Cathy, which isn't in my story, is how her speech would improve after a vodka and orange or two when we went for a jaunt to the pub. Sadly, it didn't prove to be an efficacious universal therapy tool for speech and language therapists.
Both Cathy and Alan died many years ago but I deliberately used their names in their memory. I hope they would both approve of the story.
Having said that, there have been a number of edits to my original story. One or two are fine, but many I hate. I wasn't surprised to see it changed from my first tense to past tense but the number of clichés, including its new title, that are now dotted throughout are horrible. The final sentence too, has been changed into another cliché! My image of Cathy in her beautiful blue dress was a lot more glamorous than the illustration. I wanted my story to show a wheelchair user looking absolutely fabulous, and I think the blue cardigan (which was originally a little shrug) is more like the warm winter cardigan I've been wearing during lockdown than anything Cathy would have chosen!