Wednesday, September 18, 2013


The wind is buffeting the house and odd spurts of rain and hail are bucketing down. We are close to the end of our epic run of ill health (touch wood), but I'm huddled under the quilts, shivering and feeling decidedly unwell.
So, as in all cases of just-over-everything, I'm returning to the ultimate comfort: the cup-of-tea-book.
I categorise these books thus both because they're perfect for curling up with a cup of tea and because they bring as much warmth and comfort and cocooning familiarity as a good cup of tea.
Cup-of-tea-books are highly individual and I think it unlikely that any two person share the same cup-of-tea-books, but here are mine.

Between Silk and Cyanide - A Codemakers War by Leo Marks. I have no idea why I count this as a cup-of-tea-book, as it's a memoir of the second world war and deeply distressing when agent after agent is captured and killed, but I do. I think it's because Marks' writing style appeals to me so very much. Because Marks' passion and wit and searing intelligence are so very addictive.

Anything by Patricia McKillip - I find her work so very easy to get lost in, beautiful, intricate and dreamlike. This time I read Od Magic and a new one to me, Ombria in Shadow. I am still pondering the ending which wasn't quite as satisfying as I expected. I'll have to re-read it before giving a considered opinion.

J.K Rowling. I re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this week. Although at times it seems Rowling's determined to kill off a beloved character per chapter, I forgave all for the Snape scene and 'Always'. It's been so very long since I last read the Deathly Hallows that I had forgotten nearly everything and it was like reading it for the first time all over again.

Miss Buncle Married by D.E Stevenson. The first book in this duo, Miss Buncle's Book, about an author who writes a book set in her own village and then sees the village transform as it interacts with its published version is more gripping, but the sequel is also very appealing in a quiet, not-a-lot-happens-but-it's-all-very-cosy sort of way.

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley was fascinating. This is the first of McKinley's books with a male protagonist, and set in a sort of alternate now... except with Dragons. I was particularly gigglesome at discovering she'd made the dragons Australian-mammal-y and given them pouches. With McKinley's newest (long awaited) release Shadows coming up, I think I'm due a wallow in old favourites. I think Chalice and Spindle's End are first on the list... but The Hero and the Crown... but Beauty...

I've discovered a new cup-of-tea-book, a regency-romance-meets-magic in Sorcery and Cecilia or The Magic Chocolate Pot - by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, I'm presently halfway through the sequel The Grand Tour and looking forward to book three The Mislaid Magician. They are delightfully frothy and very fun.

Very soon I'll move on to Georgette Heyer and Diana Wynne Jones, particularly Howl's Moving Castle and Castles in the Air.  I might throw in a few Bill Bryson for good measure. Douglas Adams and Gerald Durrell are strong contenders. I'm willing to bet that before long I'll be re-reading Tamora Pierce (Okay, I'll admit it, I just ordered her latest on Amazon pre-order...) And I'll be surprised if I don't read Kipling's Kim and The Jungle Books at some stage in the next few weeks... which will of course lead me to re-reading Pierce's Wild Magic. And yes. I'll probably fit Pride and Prejudice in there somewhere. I mean, what else goes with a cup of Earl Grey quite so well?

I'm not quite sure where everything else is going to fit in around my reading, but sometimes a good-cup-of-tea-book (okay books) is a necessity. Looks like sleep is going to have to go by the wayside.

Do you have any good cup-of-tea-book recommendations?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekly Stills

- Poppet, napping. She doesn't have a set nap time anymore, but that day she took herself off to our bed, curled up and fell asleep. We were having unseasonably warm weather - now gone. I'm presently wearing two jumpers.
-Tarrago Reservoir. We decided to find a midway point between 'neighbours' that live at the foot of Mount Baw Baw and decided on Tarrago Reservoir. We've often driven past it and I've always commented I'd love to see it close up. It was stunning - although the actual water was fenced off to keep it cleaner, there was a lovely park area with picnic seating and barbecues.
-Sprocket - marching with stick.
- The green hills of home. I keep meaning to take more photos of the rolling, richly green hills that surround us. Every time we go for a drive I ooh and aah over them. These were looking across Tarrago Reservoir, but the land all around is similar.
-We arranged a meet-up with one of the Sprocket's friends who's been overseas for most of the year at the miniature railway at Eltham. It was a massive hit. The trains go through tunnels and over bridges and the bells of level crossings ring out. The kids had a ball and we'll definitely be back. We were on a diesel train so it went quite fast.
-One of the trains at the miniature railway. My great grandfather used to make model trains, about half the size of these ones, but they could still pull about 7 kids around the mini track in his backgarden, all of us wearing big coats and hats to protect us from the cinders, so I got all nostalgic.

Joining with the wonderful Em of The Beetle Shack for weekly stills. We actually stayed in the city for the weekend and I had plans for all sorts of fascinating city shots... but somehow I never got around to getting my camera out! 


Sprocket - Holding a worm he found when we were out on an adventure. We managed to persuade him the worm would be happier if he put it back and didn't bring it home to his worm farm.
Poppet - Her little ankles crossed as she sleeps. Wearing an old pair of her brothers shorts and displaying her 'pretty' toes

Joining with the lovely Jodi of Che and Fidel for a portrait of my children once a week, every week in 2013. I'm running a little late, but it's been an out-of-kilter week and we haven't taken many photos. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Enya Ran Off With My Story

I truly wasn't expecting Enya to run off with my story.
She was supposed to be a bit player. She was supposed to take centre stage in the not-quite-prologue and then drift off into the ether, having delivered my (ahem) darling, outrageous Jack into his story.
The two thousand words I'd planned on giving her somehow stretched into six. And even then she didn't have the grace to keep well away from where she wasn't wanted, but kept butting in at major plot turns.
"See, I come in here. This is where I step in and save the day," she kept interrupting.
"No. No you don't. You're done. Your story's told," I tried to tell her.
"In you dreams. This is where I come in and you need to deal with it."
"But. But no. I have this chapter planned. And you weren't in it."
"Then re-jig it. Because I'm definitely in it. What else would I be doing with myself? Why wouldn't I be here?"
And I couldn't think of any real answer, so I had to leave her in.
I'm leaving her spelling with the Irish one - Eithne, the spelling that's in the original myths she's found in. But it's pronounced Enya, just like the famous Irish singer. And oddly, I've discovered that my mythical Eithne/Enya and the singer, Enya, live not far from each other, with only a stretch of sea between,  although obviously they're separated by a few thousand years and well, reality.
Eithne's won the day. She's derailed my story completely, so much so that I'm even thinking of giving her her own books. We'll have to have serious words first, obviously. She'll have to learn to actually listen to me.

Yeah, I don't think it's likely either.
Any tips for getting unruly characters in line would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Weekly Stills

-Sprocket and Poppet, checking out the rock pools.
-Sprocket, searching for crabs.
-Bare feet enjoying salt water and rock.
-Poppet running to the sea.
-The kids along the shore. I love Sprocket's curled toes as he checks the temperature.
-Sprocket and Poppet, blissful in the mud.
-Voila! My first ever crochet. I made the long and lovely journey into the city by train this week and a wonderful schoolfriend taught me (or at least valiantly attempted) how to crochet. I always feel bad I haven't made the kids a single solitary scarf. I started on a baby blanket when I was pregnant with the Sprocket - and it's still sitting, half finished, in a drawer in my parents house. But no more. I am determined to get crafty! I'm not aiming high, I doubt I'll ever be up to booties or bonnets, but surely a scarf or blanket can't be too hard. Can it?
-This gorgeous baby (eleven months old, I'm not sure where the time went!) was an inspiration and great help while I was learning to crochet. She was also suitably impressed with my rather gorgeous yarn.

Joining with the wonderful Em of The Beetle Shack for weekly stills, moments from our week. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Sprocket - playing in the mud. The kids got the garden hose and transformed the front path. They had enormous fun playing. The bath water turned brown when I finally carted them inside!

Poppet - With Baby Cubby at the beach. You can see Baby Cubby has his sunhat on. You can also see the strawberry from our picnic around Poppet's mouth. We had the warmest day since autumn, and the kids and I headed for the beach to celebrate.  As we searched for crabs among the rocks along the high tide mark the air held the gentle scent of the wattle and coast-flower blossom, a lovely reminder of Spring.

I did wonder about my choice of photos today - the little boy in the mud, the little girl (in pink!) with her teddy - after all they were both in the mud and both at the beach, so why these photos? But these were the ones I came back to.

Joining with the lovely Jodi of Che and Fidel with a portrait of my children once a week, every week in 2013.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Beloved Read-aloud Books

When I was a kids librarian, I had a list of things I looked for in books to read at Storytime. 
Once I'd shortlisted by theme, I'd look for wow factor, so pop-ups were great, not too long, and interactive was a big plus. I wanted as many books as possible with things to encourage kids to look and comment and yell out. And the stories had to read well, I didn't want to be tripping up on words or having to change too much.
Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne was one of my favourites. It's about a little girl who takes a basket of fruit to her friend in the next village, but along the way different animals steal her fruit, until at the end the basket is refilled in a very surprising way. The kids love yelling out 'the elephant's stealing the mango!' and 'the monkey's stealing the banana'! while the illustrations are beautifully vibrant.
Now, as a parent, my requirements have changed.
While I still love interactive books, pop-up books are a tad delicate for everyday use and come out on special occasions. When I'm not trying to keep the attention of sixty odd wayward tots, 'short' is no longer on the list of requirements. Stretching my kids imagination and enlarging their world, I try to read increasingly longer and more complex stories.
What remains is the read-aloud-factor. If I'm going to read a book aloud a hundred odd times (or more), I want it to flow. I want it to almost trip of my tongue and feel good.
There's a definite delight in finding a picture book that reads well. You would assume that they all would, as basically, that's the main point. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, ideally cuddled up in bed. But it doesn't take a lot to jolt the rhythym, and while there are certainly some that almost seem to read themselves, others I find myself cutting out some words and changing others. 
When I was a kid I used to love listening to my Dad read stories, not picture books, but chapter books. The Jungle Books, the Narnia Books, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (he pretty much skipped everything that Strider wasn't in as too dull, which possibly explained my perplexion when I came to read them later,) The Magic Pudding.
He has a strong Glaswegian accent and he'd roll the 'R' reading Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, as if he was really savouring it. I read Rikki Tikki Tavi to my Poppet recently (my Sprocket was around, but as he was climbing the furniture, rather than tucked beside me, I don't know if it counts), which was the first story without pictures I've tried. She listened enraptured. The words were strong enough. I did change some to make it a little easier for her, but really, I don't know if I needed to. Dad had strong preferences for bedtime reading based on how books read aloud, and how enjoyable they were to read aloud, and now I get it.   
Authors that truly understand the read-aloud are Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo's Child, Cave Baby) and Mem Fox. (Where is the Green Sheep, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Both authors make strong use of rhyme and rhythm, and it makes such a difference. I love the beat and flow, and the kids love it too. They can guess the words that come next, they can recite whole passages, there's a familiar structure through the books and lots of repetition. The story can be clever, but the rythym and rhyming is soothing, for them and for me.
Do you have favourite read-alouds? 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

thank you

As my kids grow so fast I enjoy taking photos, trying to get the 'them-ness'of my little ones, capture the defining moments, play with the light. I love how it makes me stop and take note of the small details, to try to see things in different ways and from different angles.
I'm realising how personal taking photos really is. As soon as you pick up a camera you make decisions, mostly unconscious, on what you want to capture - the intimate or the dramatic, close ups, landscapes, domestic scenes or the outdoors, photos saturated with light or more moody, jewelled tones.
Before my kids were born most of my photos were of the outdoors and the natural world, people only rarely making an appearance. Now, my photos are normally of my kids and I'm 99% of the time the one behind the camera. The kids don't pay much attention - that's just what mummy does. They pretty much ignore me and keep on with the busy-ness of being kids. 
But awhile back I attended a workshop, and was asked to take photos of all the other participants, and let them take photos of me. 
And I realised how difficult it is to have a camera pointed at you. The unease of it. "Ah... do you want me to stand any particular way? Smile? Not smile? Ah...Um. Is this okay?" 
And I realised how much harder it is to take photos of people that aren't deep-down known to you, whose stories aren't written on your heart. How much of an imposition it is.
So, in gratitude to the lovely women who let me stick a camera in their faces, and then patiently waited while I played around with the light meter for five minutes. Thank you. I learnt so much. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Editing. Re-editing. Editing Again.

The great re-edit. I'm at it again. Every time I think I might possibly, almost, see the end in the distance, something else comes up at me from behind. You missed me, you missed me, nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh. 
And I realise I need to get back at it. That glimmering in the distance? A mirage. 
I'm back at obsessing over three adverbs in the first chapter. Are they necessary? Do they detract from the flow? Are they worthy? And then I wonder how many minutes (hours?) I've spent obsessing over three damn words. And the truth is, the first chapter has been gone over with a fine tooth comb. I've re-read it, altered and changed it a few hundred times, my beloved has read over it, a friend in America read through the whole manuscript, my parents have read it, and at least sixteen people in my online writers group have written online critiques. (To all of whom much, much thanks!) I've pored over all the comments, trying to make sense of all the conflicting advice and work out who the higher authority on comma placement might be.
I've read it front-ways. And back-ways. In my dreams, and probably sideways too. 
The last chapters haven't been under such close scrutiny. I get half way through with my fine-tooth-comb and I sort of get distracted by something shiny in the corner of the room. Or maybe the notion of sleep. Or ahem, another, newer, glossier work-in-progresss.
Not quite so many critiquers have worked their way through to the last chapters. And while the last half of the book was one of the most outrageously fun bits to write (the last 35,000 words were written in a mad, two week rush, in which totally improbable things kept writing themselves) there are quite a few places where I'm not sure what I've missed, but I'm fairly sure I've missed something. 
Now I've decided to read my novel back-to-front. From the last chapter to the first. 
I'm thinking a strong drink is in order. I might have extra peppermint in my peppermint tea. 
Big black plot hole, where are you? I'm coming to find you.
If I go missing, you know where I am. At the bottom of a deep, dark plot hole. Please bring a rope. A long one. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Weekly Stills

-Blossom from the garden. I think this is ornamental plum, but I'm not sure. It's my favourite of the blossom trees in my garden.
-Our trampoline is under our big wattle tree - my Poppet loves scooping up the fallen blossom and throwing it up.
-Wattle blossom, shadows and little hands on the trampoline.
-My Poppet is just discovering the wonder of clothes. Unfortunately, the clothes she likes best are mine. At present she doesn't want to take off a little black silk cami I picked up at an op-shop last week. (You can see it peeking out from under her dress as a kind of petticoat. She wears it as a (very oversized) nighty and has to be (strongly) dissuaded each day from wearing it as a dress. I was looking forward to sharing clothes with her eventually - I just didn't know it would start this young!
-My Sprocket - climbing a tree trunk out over the lake.
-Crab City. We went to the beach for father's day, and the first day of spring, and because the weather was a balmy 25 degrees. This stretch was our playground for the day. This was where we found 'Crabby' last time, and this was where Sprocket made a bee-line for. (Forget the lovely stretch of white sand to the side!)
-My Poppet, exploring the rock-pools. As it has been so cold recently I foolishly didn't pack bathers. Poppet lay tummy down in rock-pools in her dress instead and lolled happily in the sun warmed water.
-Sprocket with one of the many crabs we found. This one was not Crabby, but only Crabby's friend. When it tired of being carried around it gave my Sprocket a nip, which, he assures me, Crabby would never do. Poppet also got a little nip, but the crab in question was only the size of my pinky fingertip, so she was more surprised than anything. (You might note that Sprocket's top is also covered in crabs, we are considering it our good-luck-in-finding-crabs-top and are looking forward to taking it on many more crab-hunting expeditions over the summer!)

Joining with the wonderful Em of The Beetle Shack for weekly stills, little moments from the week.