Terra Australis Cognitus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

As usual for me, I’m already plotting and researching the next book, whilst still finishing the current manuscript. And, as usual for a writer drawn to magic realism as a socio-political storytelling device, it involves truth-telling of the macro (historical events, including injustices) through the micro (everyday life).

The next book comes from my fascination with the intersection of European superstition, religion and science during the 17 to 19th centuries, and the impact that has had on First Peoples (Australia). Focusing on the baggage that explorers, privateers and other pirates carried with them as they sailed the seas in search of fame, power and fortunes, I’ve delved back in to the history books.

Of course my envisioned fictional interpretation will include invasion, massacres, genocide, land/resource theft, and forced assimilation. It will look at the culturally biased reasoning behind these abhorrent actions. The foundations of systemic racism in Australia. In a way, this next story is an attempt to deconstruct racism and explore hope, through fiction as opposed to twitter rants.

Honestly, I am tired of talking about racism. I’d much rather we were at a stage of collective consciousness where it didn’t exist anymore. Or at least a critical mass working on mitigation of the harm racism causes. Instead, in Australia we are still having the ‘yes that is racist. And that. Can you at least listen? Urgh!’ conversation.

Delving in to Australian history, discussions about racism need to include facing up to theft. How can we talk about justice if we can’t talk about injustice? And as Australia was founded on a rolling-wave of robbery, then let’s talk about that.

In the seventeenth century, the legend of Terra Australis Incognita played on many a man’s imagination. The mythical unknown lands of the south were once thought to contain riches beyond belief, and perhaps a few scary monsters. The idea of Terra Australis came from a theory of balance – land mass/es of equal weight of those in the north must exist in the south.

Although scientific exploration was behind the searches for this unknown southern land, it was commerce that enabled the journeying. France, England, Portugal, Spain and Holland were all racing to find the best sources of spices, fabrics, wood, precious minerals, and more. And that meant finding the safest, most economical passages to these foreign lands. Wars were staged, pacts were made and unmade, unsavoury weather was endured, and new sea routes were opened. And still, the myth of Terra Australis Incognita existed.

Whilst it was England that first mapped the entire perimeter of the great southern land, documenting that it was indeed a separate continent, over a hundred years prior the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot on this land. And the Spanish were the first Europeans to note that it was not connected to nearby land masses, such as New Guinea, as previously thought.

There were a few factors that stopped these other European nations from invading the territories of the First Peoples of the great southern land. And there was also the more ethical nations that came here to trade decades before the Europeans, such as the Makassans.

Of all the nations, it was the English who invaded, and set in place many decades of theft and violence. And they brought with them the seeds of systemic racism. Would things have been different if another European nation had ‘claimed’ this land? Probably not. Although, there is a slim possibility that they would have plundered the resources, and then left.

Terra Nullius was the lie that Australia was founded on. A culturally-biased belief that the land belonged to nobody. And this conclusion was reached by the English invaders’ believing that the First Peoples were not equal to them. In fact, they were not even seen as people. The earliest colonisers may have tried to justify their rationale with science, and even religion and economics, but at the very root of the violent occupation was racism.

And so the many decades of *Terra Furatus commenced. Theft of land. Which could not have occurred without Hominem Furatus. (attempted) theft of humanness. (*excuse the Latin via Google)

Racism is the denial of another’s humanness. This denial occurs on an individual basis (discrimination, antagonism, violence etc) and systemic (forced assimilation, inequitable services/treatment, police/custodial violence etc). Until systems of power (law, policing, governance, economics) and systems for people (education, health, commerce, social services) acknowledge inbuilt unconscious bias, then much needed societal change will be difficult to bring about.

The crimes of colonisation need to be acknowledged. The violence and theft need to be taught in schools and universities, and in workplaces/sectors. And this includes a more honest discourse on the world views of those who did the deeds – the explorers, the privateers, the missionaries, the pastoralists, the mavericks, the scientists, the politicians, the ‘heroes’ of history. Even if that is uncomfortable for those who now reside on stolen lands. There can be no justice until the past is acknowledged. And myths are debunked.

There was never a Terra Australis Incognita. It was just a myth that led to invasion and centuries of ongoing settler colonisation. To the First Peoples who’d been living on the great southern lands for 80,000 years, and to their neighbouring nations across the seas, this land was Cognitus > known. What was unknown before the arrival of Europeans was racism. And the many injustices that have racism at their core.

Justice is the logical next step. And justice can take many forms – treaty/ies, truth-telling, land rights, retribution, repatriation, plus more. But justice won’t be possible until the widespread unconscious bias is no longer denied, and the harmful impacts of racism are addressed.

The past can show us the way forward. Researching history leaves me in awe of the courage and achievements of those long dead. Imagine what future generations can achieve if we, the present, are committed to being brave, truthful, and empathetic. Many nations around the globe seem to be in a dark age, but I still have hope.

Illustration: Hendrik Hondius’s plate. Originally published in 1637. Above version is from Jansson’s Grooten Atlas, showing Tasman’s explorations of the western coastline of New Holland, ‘Nova Hollandia detect Anno 1644’, the southern tip of Van Dieman’s Land and an edge of New Zealand. Source: State Library NSW – http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/collection-items/polus-antarcticus 

Support me to keep writing
If you like what you read on this site, please consider supporting me to keep on writing. There’s a PayPal button on this page (see top right-hand corner. Or drop-down box on some hand-held devices)

Or buy some leftover stock from my ex-bookshop – all heavily discounted.

And I am also on Patreon

You can also find me on
twitter @1KarenWyld

Instagram @meanderingwyld

 

When being a writer is no longer fiction

20170905_140449Spring is here – in theory. And August is finally over. Its my least favourite month of the year. Now that September has arrived, the weather might still scream winter but there are strong signs of new beginnings.

Post-bookshop, I’m finally getting back on my feet. I’m still in debt, but not as severe, and I’ve almost caught up with mortgage arrears.

There is a mountain of books on my dining room table, which I really need to clear. Now that I’ve mastered the set up of a basic eCommerce site, I am selling the leftover books at discounted prices. Shipping is set for Australia, but if you send me an enquiry I can give a quote for overseas shipping (note: it won’t be cheap).

If you were wondering – yes, that is a photo of me. For those that know me offline, you’d know how much I hate photos of myself. So this is a very rare photo. But this week I had to bite the bullet, do a quick read up on ‘how to take selfies for the middle-aged & ugly’, and then just do it! Because I had an opinion piece accepted by Al Jazeera, and they insisted on a bio photo. So the choice was to run and hide (like I usually do when the word ‘photo’ is mentioned), or to just do it. This time, I made the choice not to hide.

Talking about being published, I’ve had a piece published on the Indigenous X site. It’s about ongoing administration issues with government funding for First Peoples in Australia. This article was updated and republished on Independent Australia as Not ‘Closing the Gap’: Nigel Scullion and Indigenous Funding Failure .

Seems like I’ve become an accidental journo. Later this month I have a reporting assignment at the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association’s conference. In addition to being a great Indigenous-led organisation, its their 20th year, so I am really looking forward to their conference.

The conference reporting I am doing is in collaboration with Croakey news services. The first conference I reported on was for First Peoples Disability Network in June. I wrote two pieces on that event, including a conference wrap up, as well as tweeting and live video interviews.

I’ve had some consultancy and freelance writing work post-bookshop, but its not resulting in enough income to support a household. So I’ve started applying for jobs. I’ve had a couple of interviews, but not landed a job as yet. Looks like I need to keep promoting my consultancy services.

I recently started managing the newsletter, blog/website  and twitter account (@FNAWN_) for First Nations Australia Writers Network. FNAWN is a great organisation, and I’m pleased to be contributing to their growth.

And time for the really exciting news – last week I discovered that I had made the long-list for the 2017 Richell Prize! This was such an unexpected surprise. I entered the first three chapters of my work-in-progress, Where The Fruit Falls. The prize includes mentoring, to help shape a draft into a manuscript that is hopefully publishable.

The Richell Prize is presented by Hachette Australia, in memory of Matt Richell who passed away suddenly in 2014. Partners in this prize include The Guardian and Emerging Writers Festival. The short-list will be announced early October, and the prize winner in November. I’m not expecting to make it to the next stage, but that won’t stop me from feeling very pleased to have got this far.

And it gives me renewed inspiration to finish this manuscript. Its been put on hold for far too long, due to sorry business, family responsibilities, financial crises and, in general, the ups and downs of now being a member of the sandwich generation.

Anyway – onwards and upwards. And, now that spring is in the air, perhaps I can even dare to dream of getting back on a motorbike…….

Support me to keep writing
If you like what you read on this site, please consider supporting me to keep on writing. There’s a PayPal button on this page (see top right-hand corner. Or drop-down box on some hand-held devices)

Or buy some leftover stock from my ex-bookshop – all heavily discounted.

And I am also on Patreon

You can also find me on
twitter @1KarenWyld

Instagram @meanderingwyld

Lot 2: son of a basket

 

This second item in my Silent Auction of Stories is hand-made. By me. And it has a story.

First, what is it:

This basket has been made with natural and dyed raffia, using a pierce-and-sew method. It features two side-handles. It’s a fairly large basket, being 16 cm high with a diameter of 34 cm.

Its story:

Did you know that baskets are actually just stories in another form? Each one holds stories. And you can feel these when you pick them up. They have within them the story of their creator, and how they were feeling at the time they made the basket. And the stories of the land they were made on, and the conversations overheard as each layer of the basket was created. So no wonder I, a storyteller, weave baskets.

This basket is a replica of another basket I made. Both were made early in my weaving phase. I prefer the original but this son of that basket is okay. And has an interesting tale.

In 2007 I was selected to be part of a Womad artist in residence program, facilitated by Sandy Elverd. It involved a group of textile artist from around the world, working with the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.

There were about 20 women, and we worked solidly for about five days to create an installation that was a feature of Womadelaide 2007. We created a life-sized desert camp scene – fireside, utensils, people, camp dogs and fauna all made from grasses, wool and other fibre. The basket and fibre-bushfoods on my home page were made as part of that installation. That basket has it own story – but that would be too much of a digression.

Working with the Tjanpi Weavers on that installation was an amazing experience. I learnt some new weaving techniques from some of the most prominent Aboriginal weavers in Australia. And time spent in a weaving circle is full of laughter, cultural learnings, and lots of sharing of stories.

I’d recently started the Southern Weavers Group, as part of my role as a community development officer. This project provided a regular social activity for local elders, as well as a means to talk about health, diet and lifestyle (due to funding through an arts and health program). Younger women also participated in some of the activities, such as weaving camps. It developed into a social enterprise, which is still in existence, as the elders are paid to teach weaving in schools and community events. These sessions involve raising non-Indigenous people’s awareness through sharing of stories.

I used a train-the-trainer approach, by accompanying one or more members of the group to workshops and conferences, so we could learn both business and weaving techniques from other First Peoples around Australia. Some of the women had learnt sedge-grass weaving from their elders, as children, so the program was both a re-learning their own cultural weaving and learning new techniques from other regions.

One day, while making grass-sculptures and baskets with the Tjanpi Weavers, I felt a bit guilty that I was there and not any of the elders from the Southern Weavers group. So I asked if I could invite a few, and the next day Aunty Rose came with me. Aunty is now gone, but I still remember spending that day with her and the Tjanpi weavers. That is one of the stories that are within the baskets we made.

As an artist in resident, we were provided with weekend passes to Womad, where we ran weaving workshops for attendees. I’d never been able to afford to go before, and had always been curious, so this was a little bit exciting. Until – guilt set in again.

The arts-patron that had funded the Tjanpi Weavers project at Womad popped in to check on our progress. Speaking with her, I mentioned the group I’d started and how good it would be if they could go to Womad and see this installation. So she gave me a few day passes for them.

Grateful, I gifted her with a basket. It was the original of the one pictured above. But much better. I loved that basket, but it felt right to give it away.

A few days later, I escorted a group of local elders to Womad. There wasn’t enough tickets for everyone so, as usual, I let them choose who got to go. A younger woman, who is a talented artist, missed out. She, like me, had never been able to afford Womad tickets, so she was a little bit disappointed. But it worked out ok, as all the elders got tired quickly and chose to go home. So I rang her and arranged to meet outside the gates, to give her the wrist-band that I’d asked one of the elders for. We had to take it off very carefully, to not damage it or her wrist. (shhh don’t tell Womad).

In the meantime, the group of guest artists were preparing to leave the installation tent and go see a performance. It was a singer and choir from their Country. Ahead of me a young girl was struggling to push an elder in an old wheelchair with flat tires. I jumped in and gave her a hand. Once we got to the stage, the sun was setting. The performance was amazing. And I felt privileged to have watched it in the presence of elders who were related to the performers.

As soon as it finished, I got a text to say that my friend was nearly at the gate. So I walked out to find her. Sitting under a huge fig tree was an old man. He beckoned me, so I went over there. He told me, proudly, that his son was going to perform inside the gate. He couldn’t afford a ticket, so he’d sat outside, hoping to hear the performance. The performance I’d just witnessed. I told him that his son had just been on stage. I noticed his look of disappointment at not hearing his son sing.

So I told him the story of his son’s performance. How beautiful his voice was, and the choir backing him up. I told him some of the names of the elders I’d watched the performance with, and he said they were related. I told him how some of the elders had been crying with pride. And as I told him this story, he had tears running down his cheek.

I then saw my friend, and said good-bye to him. As I walked back inside the magical space of Womad, I was a bit emotional. Firstly, because I just had an emotional interaction. And secondly, I was damn angry. Pissed off at the exclusiveness of Womad. Annoyed that even when Aboriginal people are included on the stage, we are still excluded from the audience because of those damn overpriced tickets. And deeply sad that this proud father did not get to see his son perform, in front of his kinsfolk.

Anyway, I digress once more. Later, missing the original large orange basket that I had gifted, I made this replica. Which is why it is a son of a basket. This basket might not have been at Womad, but it has been infused with the joys, creativity, sadness, and connectivity of my experiences of participating in the 2007 Womad Tjanpi Desert Weavers program.

Let the silent auction begin!

A refresher on how this will work:

  • If interested in the item, you can send me your confidential bid via twitter DM (@1KarenWyld) or by using the contact form on this website.
  • Remember to factor in packaging and postage when you are bidding.
  • Once at least one bid has hit the reserve level, I’ll close the auction and contact the highest buyer.
  • Bidding is restricted to people residing in Australia only, due to delivery costs.

If you aren’t interested in owning the item, but you did like its story, then feel free to contribute to more stories. There is a PayPal pay now button in the upper right-hand of this page. Or you can use my PayPal payme account.

Also see Lot 1: The Maiden

Lot 1: The Maiden

This is the first item in my Silent Auction of Stories. If this item could only be explained in three words, those words would be: hope, strength and resilience.

Item description:

Rose-coloured glass with gilded designs. The handled-jug is 25 cm tall. It features what could probably be called a wood nymph. She is leaning against a tree, playing a wind instrument. The six glasses are 14 cm tall, and are decorated in gold ferns. The set is in perfect condition.

Its Story:

This set was given to me in 1985. I was 21 years old, moving into my fourth accommodation after leaving the family home. It felt more like my first real home since moving out. Which could have partly been because I was in the nesting stage of my first pregnancy. Almost all of my income was going into rent, but to have a place of my own felt good. Who needs fancy furniture? Or food? Luckily, I vomited throughout that whole pregnancy, so I didn’t really feel like eating anyway.

I digress. So I had just moved into this old shack on a cliff, overlooking the sea. Surrounded by nothing either side of me, with the sea out the front, I could easily ignore the other houses some distance behind me. The place was haunted, but that is another digression.

My sister’s friend gave me this jug and glasses as a house-warming present. She’d found it in an antique shop – she’s always had an eye for pre-loved treasure. It was my very first house-warming present, so it was indeed treasure. I put it in a place of honour, and admired not only the lovely pink glass and fancy gold design, but the woman on it. She symbolised me, a young woman – free, single, and alone. Well, as much as one could be with a baby on the way.

Once that baby arrived, I was still young and single. But not alone. In addition to my daughter, my sister’s friend moved in. She had the second bedroom, whilst I had the bedroom over looking the ocean. Our lifestyles were a little bit in conflict – I had a baby who wouldn’t settle, and the housemate had parties and boyfriends. And parties there were. An isolated house on a cliff is soon filled with young people, and bands, and more people.

Luckily, I had a baby who didn’t like sleeping. She did like people. And playing with the musical instruments whenever a band came over to practice, with an audience in tow. Oh my! How did we survive!

And how did this lovely jug and glasses survive that? I had it tucked away safely. Which was a good thing, as my daughter was walking by the time she turned 10 months. And climbing on chairs, up onto shelves, or out the door by the time she was 11 months.

By the time she’d turned 2 years old, we’d moved to the country. Where it was quieter. In an old farmhouse, in the middle of a vineyard. My rent would be reduced every row of vines I tied, which was a bonus. But working in a vineyard with a stubborn toddler is near impossible. We lived there for a while, but had to move out when someone broke in and stole my rent money and lots of belongings.

This nymph jug of course didn’t get stolen. It has lived in twelve other houses with me. I moved often not because I wanted to, but because that is what the rental market was/is like. Which is why I really don’t want to lose my house; the one I built and am paying off.

This glass set survived parties, an adventurous toddler and many house moves. It’s also survived a house fire, two boisterous boys, and numerous cats. It some how didn’t get targeted by my abusive ex-husband, who had a thing for hunting down items that meant something to me and making me watch as he destroyed it. Which is how I developed a non-blinking poker-face. But I digress again.

I’m no longer The Maiden. I am fast approaching my Hag stage – and have the grey hairs to prove it. I have loved, treasured and protected this jug and glasses set, but its time for this gilded wood nymph to find a home without me.

Like me, she is strong and resilient. I hope someone likes her enough to bid on her. And will treasure her as much as I have.

***

Let the silent auction begin!

A refresher on how this will work:

  • If interested in the item, you can send me your confidential bid via twitter DM (@1KarenWyld) or by using the contact form on this website.
  • Remember to factor in packaging and postage when you are bidding.
  • Once at least one bid has hit the reserve level, I’ll close the auction and contact the highest buyer.
  • Bidding is restricted to people residing in Australia only, due to delivery costs.

If you aren’t interested in owning the item, but you did like its story, then feel free to contribute to more stories. There is a PayPal pay now button in the upper right-hand of this page. Or you can use my PayPal payme account.

Silent Auction of Stories

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I can’t believe its nearly four months since I had to shut down my bookshop! Time does fly. Financially, I wasn’t doing too bad post-shop. I finally caught up with overdue mortgage payments, and was able to pay bills (mostly) on time. And I was still living frugally but without the high-level stress every time I answered the phone or opened a letter.

As much fun as working from home (aka in my PJs) has been, the freelancing work has dried up. So I have amped up the job hunting…..right in the middle of financial year end/start. Not great timing.

That (new) pile of bills isn’t going to magically disappear. So its sale time!

Here’s how this will work:

  • Every few days, I’ll do a blog post featuring an item that’s on offer via silent auction.
  • Each item will have a short write-up on its ‘story’. ie where it came from, what it means to me, etc. I’ve always been fascinated in the stories behind belongings, so hopefully I can also tell such tales.

Silent auction:

  • If interested in the item, you can send me your confidential bid via twitter DM (@1KarenWyld) or by using the contact form on this website.
  • Remember to factor in packaging and postage when you are bidding.
  • Once at least one bid has hit the reserve level, I’ll close the auction and contact the highest buyer.
  • Bidding is restricted to people residing in Australia only, due to delivery costs.

If you aren’t interested in owning the item, but you did like its story, then feel free to contribute to more stories. There is a PayPal pay now button in the upper right-hand of this page. Or you can use my PayPal payme account.

Time to go searching for an item, and share its story. Stay tuned!

 

I have patrons for my writing!

The last couple of weeks I’ve been peeking through the growing pile of debts, at my computer screen – reading arts grants, job pages, and other sources of potential income. And, as usual, spending too much time procrastinating on Twitter.

As is often the case for me, it was on Twitter that a potential solution was found. A means of managing the practicalities of living AND pursue my long-time dreams of writing. Another artist I follow on Twitter, Alysha Herrmann, was promoting her page on somethings called Patreon. What is this……

Curious, I did some research: starting with a read of the official blurb on the Patreon site. Ah, another crowdfunding platform. This one is aimed at linking arts patrons/supporters with creators. So they can do what they do best – create! There is a choice of per project, similar to other crowdfunding platforms, or monthly contributions, which sounded a bit different.

I’ve read a lot about crowdfunding, but have not gone there before. Some sites and projects are great, some not so. So I did some more looking into Patreon. I searched for reviews exposing the darkside of Patreon. Scam or not? And other than people saying how hard it is to attract patrons, supporters or backers, I didn’t find anything too worrying.

Having self-published my debut novel, I know it takes nerves of steel to promote yourself as an indie. But I’ve also learnt a fair few social media skills along the way. Why not give it a whirl? Nothing to loose, and perhaps something to gain.

First up, the platform is really easy to use. Very similar in usability to Google+ or Yammer. Setting up a creator profile takes about the same amount of time and skills as designing a WordPress blog. My newbie tip: have at least basic skills or find someone to help you.

The most time consuming part is what to say. So do some thinking about your goals, rewards, creator needs, and capabilities before you start. It will make it easier. Look at accounts by artists/writers/designers similar to you – what are they wanting, what are they offering, what tone do they use?

Patreon recommends using videos to attract sponsors, but that’s not my thing. I have a morbid dislike of putting my image and voice out there. Many introvert creators are the same. So I had to make sure my written words could do a good job of promoting me. Luckily, I’m a writer so could manage this without too much stress.

Setting up the financial side of a creator account was fairly easy for me as I already had a PayPal account, and had my financial details nearby. I’ve been selling my book online for three years, so the USA tax forms weren’t daunting. It was great that they have the form ready to fill in electronically. Many other US-based platforms don’t give users as much help and information.

Links to commence promoting my page was not too difficult for me, again because of my experience as an indie author. I already have a fairly strong author platform (i.e. social media presence) so it was fairly simple to link these accounts.

Coming up with goals, rewards, background, intended use of funds etc wasn’t too daunting for me, as I’ve years of experience working in project management, grants writing, research and policy. All I needed was to downplay the corporate speak, don’t overshare, and write a clear plan for potential backers. I’ll go back and tweak these sections, once I get the hang of crowdfunding.

So I set up my creator account, wrote embarrassing things about myself, invented some rewards, and clicked the launch button. Simply by posting on Twitter, I had three patrons within the hour, and reached six by the next morning. For a newbie, and having peeked at other accounts, I think that’s a promising start. I still have to do a proper launch, but its a good start.

And something that surprised me – although very grateful to my first patrons, I didn’t suffer from my normal feelings of not being worthy, guilt of taking other peoples’money or other forms of self-doubt. This is an important milestone for me. And a massive step to overcoming my dislike of being too visible – as well as my fear of success.

If interested, my Patreon site is here. I just used my real name to make it easier for people to search for me, as I read that Patreon’s search engine is one of its weaker points.

Feedback is welcomed. I see typos every time I look at the page. So its still a work-in-progress. I won’t mind if you point out more typos.

Would you like to support me to develop my career as a writer, but the thought of monthly payments put you off? You still can. Simply use the PayPal button on here (ie WordPress blog) > over there in the right-hand sidebar (not visible on mobile devices). I also have a PayPal button on my Wyld Words bookshop website, for people who’ve expressed an interest in helping me keep another local bookshop from closing.  I love book lovers   🙂

Okay – time for me to get back to being a bookseller / writer.

Such as it was…..

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Here is another snippet of what I’m currently editing. Its some years past the previous piece I shared. Its from a work-in-progress, which will hopefully become my second novel, called Where The Fruit Falls. Its a rough draft, but I hope you enjoy the read.

As the last plutonium-loaded cloud settled over the red sands in the south-west, many miles away three strangers emerged from a sister-desert; seeking rest from a road seldom travelled. Even though they had entered town cloaked in dawn’s light, news of their arrival had spread before the last rooster finished crowing. This flurry of curiosity was not because it was unusual on the gibber plains for people to suddenly emerge from out of nowhere; others have arrived in such a manner. Nor was it unusual to see strangers, even though the town was in the middle of nowhere; as the train, in passing, often spewed out adventurers, government officials, wayfarers, those of a missionary-bend, and other lost souls. And it was not the shock of seeing a young woman unaccompanied by a man; for strong, independent women were a familiar sight in the desert terrain. No, the inquisitive stares behind curtains and the gossip that raced at the speed of wild-fire was fuelled by the peculiar guise of the two girls that walked alongside the woman. For even in this era of fast-tracked social change, it was still unheard of for one of her kind, for the woman’s bloodline was unmistakable, to be travelling unaccompanied with a white girl.
And such a pretty little girl, a precious rose – many would add to their recounting of the tale. Obviously cared for, loved dearly, despite the marks of a long trek clinging to her clothes – others would remark to their neighbours later that day. Such flawless, milky skin – sighed many behind sun-withered hands. And what eyes, they pronounced, like precious opals – they all pronounced. Even though, in all reality, her eyes were more akin to a less precious but equally enchanting gemstone: malachite.
Once they could tear their attention from this child, they took in the other girl; reluctantly at first. They openly appraised this child, and not with kindness in their eyes or truth in their hearts. This other one, wearing the trials of the road so well, brazenly strode into town; or so they thought. With the steadied gaze of a sun-browned cameleer from days long gone, this girl kept her bright blue eyes focused on the road, ignoring the crescendo of disapproval. Clearly she hasn’t been taught her place in the world – some muttered. She needs to be knocked down a peg or two – grumbled others. Such arrogance, but what can we expect from the likes of them – verbalised a few. Giving them the vote will ruin this country, mark my words – others predicted.

That last comment drifted down the street, carried by the wind, towards the town’s edge, where it floated over the unseen boundary and fluttered around a gathering of makeshift homes. Those still trying to catch a few moments more of sleep tried to shoo the words away with the flick of a hand, not at all concerned about being bitten in exposed places. Others took a broom to the nonsensical declaration, sweeping the air until that unwanted opinion was encouraged to move on. As smiles of redemption began to brighten sun-toughened faces, they soon realised that there was now an unpleasant smell in the air. One by one, the fringe dwellers gathered outside, trying to locate the source of such a rank odour. An old man caught the eye of another, and then another, and another, Until soon they were walking away from the town, carrying only the essentials. They hadn’t needed a second whiff, for they had smelt this unpleasant odour many times before. Younger kin, refusing to follow, instead walked closer to the main part of town, allowing curiosity to be their guide.
Standing unseen, in the shadows cast by the rising sun, they saw the town-dwellers staring at a trio of travellers. The new spectators were also taken aback by what they saw, even if their comments were vastly different than those already dying in the dust or floating off on the air. For rather than seeing what was different, they had immediately noticed the similarities. Eventually, everyone began to see. It’s something in the bone structure, some thought – such high cheeks. No, it was the way they both moved, the way they hold themselves, certain aura. They could see that those girls had shared secrets, for they speak in a clandestine language only known by twins. Those young ones were the mirror images of polar opposites.
Never before had the townsfolk seen such non-identical twins; one white and the other brown. Only the fringe dwellers could see the truth of the matter, even though it was so very obvious: both girls were in fact black.

While all this was unfolding, the woman kept moving, oblivious and quite accustomed to the astonished stares and whispers of strangers. As she walked down the main street, such as it was, the woman took no notice of fingers clasping at almost-closed curtains, nor did she acknowledge the slack-jawed affliction that her progenies left in their wake. Steadfastly she walked up to the veranda of the general store, such as it was, dropped her bags and shook the red dirt from her skirt. Leaving the uncanny twins sitting on a pile of road-worn bags, she walked into the store, with her head held high enough for trouble to find her.
A short time later, the three of them turned a rusty key in a dusty lock, entered a pre-loved shack and set to turning it into a home; such as it was.

Work In Progress: chapter one

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This is an extract from a manuscript I’m currently re-working. Its just a rough draft, so don’t expect too much. And formatting is even rougher. Despite its many flaws, I hope you enjoy reading it.
(I found the above image on Pinterest, I don’t know the original source)

 

As the door closed, pushing back spring’s last attempt to invade the eventide cottage, Maeve heard a fluttering of tiny wings. Instinctively the corner of her lip rose slightly, just enough momentum to displace wrinkled skin. That sound took Maeve back to a forgotten moment, when she had intimately known such wings beating against her own chest. Back to a time when the younger Maeve had not yet discovered corporeal yearnings. However, that was then, this is now. Maeve Cliona Devlin had slowly and surely shed all sense of innocence but, as life tends to be cyclic, carnal matters had long since been replaced by a more ascetic view. Nestled in a wrought-iron bed that had seen better days, Maeve did not have a sense of nostalgia for the distant undulations of a life lived well, as she was more than content with the uncomplicatedness that ageing granted.
Brigid entered the room quietly, not wanting to disturb her grandmother. She was obviously unaware of the fluttering wings that had caught the attention of her grandmother. It could perhaps be said that the young woman was generally oblivious to many nuances, both the everyday kind and the extraordinary. Still, Brigid shuddered unconsciously as the coldness of her grandmother’s house hit her. Brigid didn’t notice that shudder squeeze through just a sliver of a gap, as she shut the door closed. Her grandmother did but took no offence, as she was had the good sense to know that not even a shudder would willingly spend time in a space where light was fading.

Maeve patted a space beside her, ‘Birdie sit down. Tell me about your day.’
Brigid walked towards the small kitchen table, placing upon it a well-laden basket, ‘Let me catch my breath first, Mamó. And I should open a window, let some fresh air in.’
The older woman nodded, as a few moments more of waiting were of no consequence. It was enough that someone had arrived, fleetingly bringing sunshine to the gloomy space Maeve had entombed herself within. She felt no animosity towards family, not really, but sometimes it felt as if they had already executed their final good-byes. Only the granddaughter willingly remembered the old woman at the bottom of the garden. Numerous times a day, Brigid brought her MamĂł distractions from the outside world; to dilute the endless hours of waiting. The others, when they remembered, came out of a habitual sense of duty. Those strapping children on the brink of manhood, that physically reminded Maeve of beloved male kin left behind on a distant shore, rarely stepped over her threshold.
In the bluntness of age, Maeve no longer felt any attachment to the sons of her daughter. Unlike the familiarity she had for the oldest grandchild, Brigid: her Birdie. The grandsons didn’t know of Maeve’s sense of disconnect. Even Margaret, her daughter, was unaware. Perhaps those bonnie boys reminded Maeve too much of home; of love lost, and lands never to be seen again. Or perhaps the way they filled a room simply reminded Maeve that she was shrinking.

Opening the window, Brigid caught sight of a small black and white bird. Maeve raised her head seconds before the bird broke out in song. It was a cheeky tune, alluding to promised embraces and stolen hearts. At least it was to Maeve’s well-travelled ears. Birdie didn’t hear the same tune. She heard spring blossoms and warm afternoons. And had a sudden longing to hide in the long grass, to watch wispy clouds make patterns in the blue.  Maeve smiled, as the bird-song had brought back cherished memories. In cahoots with an old woman’s fancy, the wind floated through the open window to kiss Maeve’s paper-thin skin; bringing lost whispers of forever and ever, and then some. It had been decades since her husband had passed, but some things are never forgotten. Kisses on yesterday’s skin last forever.
If her eyes had not grown milky, Maeve might have cast them over the room she now lay in. Not much more than that one room, Maeve had practically built this cottage with her own hands. The room she now lay in served as lounge, kitchen and bedroom. Later a small bathroom had been added by her son-in-law. Not an inside laundry though, as Maeve had insisted on using the tarnished copper tub in the detached laundry out the back; right up until her sight had completely gone. If she had the ability to look around the room now, she would have found more than a few shadowy memories lurking in corners, but none of her husband. He had never set foot on this land that Maeve had built a home on.

Setting sail as a young bride, Maeve had disembarked as a widow. The grief of leaving behind her family, knowing she would never again see the emerald island of her childhood, was overshadowed by the loss of her first and only love. His body had been sent to the bottom of the sea mere days before land was sighted. Having recently returned from war, he had been far from robust. He was certainly no match for La Grippe’s frenzied tango; this unwanted dance partner had barely raised a flamed hue on the other passengers’ cheeks, before dancing him to the end of time. Stepping away from the rail, having witnessed their shared dreams become entangled in the shroud that floated from sight, Maeve turned her thoughts to staying afloat.
Fortuitously, before his fated journey, Maeve’s husband had the foresight to secure a modest slice of land in the country they had chosen to sow their marital future. When Maeve arrived alone, heavy of heart and womb, she took comfort in the realisation that her love’s legacy was a patch of good earth. Using coins that had weighed down her hem during the ocean-crossing, Maeve purchased timber and set to work. Ignoring strangers that scoffed at her determination, she welcomed extra hands when offered. Unable to pay for their labour, Maeve acknowledged her new neighbours’ kindness with lovingly prepared food, resulting in full bellies and warm laughter. This did not gain her any friends among the women in the small town by the coast. Not to begin with. Once word had spread that Maeve was not only recently widowed but expecting, primly downturned mouths became welcoming smiles. Maeve soon had a one-roomed home and caring neighbours to shelter her for decades to come.
With her bridal trousseau finally unpacked, Maeve made her acquaintance with the land. Removing a sea of stones, she put them aside for a future wall. She imagined a simple wooden gate sitting between low stone walls, opening to a path that led to her front door. On either side of the path would grow an abundance of fragrant herbs and flowers; familiar plants from her homeland. These pleasant images made time pass quickly as she tilled the land, building callouses on her long-fingered hands.
First Maeve planted the sprouting potato eyes that she had kept damp all through the ocean crossing. Unbeknownst to her husband, who had sworn that his bride would never have to eat another potato for as long as she lived, Maeve had hidden precious peelings in her luggage. She had listened attentively at the feet of her elders, and knew that there are times when the most humble of vegetables makes the tastiest meal. Reassured that a good future-crop of potatoes nestled in the Spring-warmed earth, it was time to prepare her modest home for the little stranger’s arrival. Having been so intent on grieving, building and planting, Maeve had put off pondering the child she was growing. Until mild pains in her lower back reminded her that time could not be controlled.

At first sight, her daughter’s resemblance was confronting – dead man’s eyes on a healthy cherub. Later Maeve fond comfort in these bluest of blue eyes. The midwife, and female visitors, had laughed at the inexperienced mother, before kindly informing her that all newborns have blue eyes. Maeve knew her daughter’s eyes would never change.
Maeve named the child Margaret, a moniker an expectant-father had chosen. And even though she knew it to be foolish, she conferred her with Boudica as a middle name; as she felt her daughter might one day need strength from the homeland. There was no saint’s name given, for grief had caused Maeve to question, and then abandon, her once ingrained faith. Shortly after her milk was flowing, Maeve had returned to the field. And with help from her neighbours, she brought in the first crop of potatoes.

‘Mamó, are you alright?’
The old woman startled. Dragged from days past. It took her a few moments to recognise the voice.
Maeve coughed, ‘I’m fine. Quit your fussing.’
Brigid moved away from the open window, and perched on the edge of her grandmother’s bed.
Maeve reached for her granddaughter’s hand, ‘How are the apple trees?’
‘Father managed to get rid of those woolly aphids. He made up something smelly, to wash them away.’
‘That man was born with a green thumb. You mother did right finding him.’

The apple trees, and other fruit trees in the orchard that surrounded the cottage, were important to Maeve. They connected her to many people, and the home of her childhood. Maeve and her husband had brought cuttings of fruit trees from home, wrapped carefully in dampened moss and cloth. With careful coaxing, Maeve had got those trees to adapt to a new climate, and to bear fruit for generations of offspring.
In addition to creating this orchard, Maeve had made preserves, pies and other treats. She sold the excess to neighbours, and then later at the local market; where she had been selling potatoes and other vegetables for years. This had enabled her to live modestly, and to support a child.
Those earlier years were tough. At first she was lonely, far from family and widowed so young. Although devoted to her daughter, Maeve was never without affection of a different type. There would only ever be one true-love for her, but that did not stop her from taking a lover here and there. In her cottage on the outskirts of town, Maeve was able to be discreet.
As Margaret grew taller, it became apparent that she had not inherited her mother’s green-thumb. Instead she had her father’s wanderlust. She left home too soon, travelling north-west to follow a young man. A few years later she returned, causing quite a stir.  Having children out of wedlock was considered wicked, but not uncommon. Still, the colonialists could not fathom what Margaret had done. Maeve did not see things the same way as her neighbours. Instead, she was instantly besotted with her grand-daughter. She marvelled at her curly dark-brown hair, so like her own, and eyes of deepest brown. The first time someone had dared call her little Birdie a piccaninny, Maeve had flashed them such a look of contempt that no one ever said that word again. At least, not when Maeve was in ear-shot.
Not everyone had ostracised Margaret. It wasn’t long before she had fell in love again. And soon, perhaps too soon, she was expecting another child. This time as a married woman. Maeve accepted Frank into her home and family, even before she had discovered he was skilled in horticulture. Frank’s presence in the home also provided Brigid protection from the Protector.
With the cottage now overcrowded, Frank built his wife a house of her own just before their son was born. Three years later, Brigid had three blue-eyed brothers. Although it was a nice home, and her brothers were nice enough, Brigid spent most of her spare time at her grandmother’s cottage.
Maeve and Brigid shared many things. Like those soft curls of the deepest brown. And they both had wide-awake eyes, although Maeve’s were hazel and Brigid’s brown. They also shared a love of birds, believing that birds talked to them. Which is why Maeve called her granddaughter Birdie.

‘How peculiar,’ remarked Brigid.
‘What is it child?’
‘That bird that was singing just now has perched on the window sill.’
Maeve shifted in the bed, ‘What does it look like?’
‘Small. White on black.’
Nodding sagely, Maeve replied, ‘Ah. It’s already that time.’

 

Before the tale of the little white on black bird can be told, other birds must be heralded.  Three, to be precise. For a conspiracy of ravens was taking place just outside the small cottage at the bottom of the garden. The first one had settled in the tree out the front of the cottage. Then two. Maeve knew it was only time before the third would appear, but she was ready.

These large black birds did not frighten away the smaller bird. A willie wagtail goes where it will, does what it wants. And what it wanted was Brigid’s attention. It had first appeared at her bedroom window, on an unmemorable morning a few weeks past. It took a few days before Brigid noticed it; first by its cheeky song and later by its persistence. That bird sang at her window every morning, greeting her as she woke to a new day. The novelty soon wore off for Brigid. She’d open the window, to swoosh it away, but that cheeky bird just hopped around a bit, before recommencing its song.
Her brothers also tried to get it to go away, rushing at it with flailing arms, but still the bird sang. On the third morning of the third week, that willy wagtail was at the door, waiting for Brigid. When she walked to the washing line, it followed, chirping away. When she went to the shop, it hopped down the road in front of her. She couldn’t go anywhere without that bird.
In the fifth week, sick of its carrying on, Brigid’s stepfather chased it away with a shovel. Not with malice, just frustration. It made the family laugh to see a tall man yelling at a tiny bird. By the time Frank had shut the door, that bird was already out there again, singing even louder than before.
That bird was beginning to annoy the whole family, so it was time her grandmother told Maeve what that little bird was saying.

Maeve knew the secret language of birds. She had learnt it from her grandmother, who had learnt it from her grandmother. Surprisingly, these local birds weren’t that much different from those in her homeland. For example, Maeve knew that those ravens were waiting for the third to arrive. And once it had, it was time for her to leave. Although she’d miss her Birdie, Maeve knew that her granddaughter had a journey of her own to go on. Who would be leaving first was still undecided.
Maeve told her that small bird had a message for her. A message that needs to be heard in a faraway place. So that willy wagtail would not be going away anytime soon. Instead Brigid must follow it. Brigid had no plans on going anywhere, ever. She laughed at her grandmother, and laughed even harder when she was told about birds and destinies.
There are two types of birds: those that lead you to good fortune, and those that lead to trouble. And it’s often too hard to tell the two apart, until it’s too late. Maeve had a feeling that this bird was the type that would escort a young woman to find love, but she had no idea if that would end up as being fortunate or trouble.

The day the third Raven appeared Maeve didn’t need to be told. She had already felt its presence.
‘There’s now three of them,’ Brigid said, as she closed the door.
Placing a warm plate on the bedside table, Brigid removed the cloth that covered her grandmother’s dinner. A pungent but pleasant aroma hit Maeve.
‘Leave it,’ she said.
‘It will go cold, Mamó.’
Maeve shifted slightly, letting out a pale sigh. Brigid helped her to sit up, fluffed the pillow, before re-settling her grandmother. With sightless eyes, Maeve looked towards the window.
Brigid lifted the fork, ‘Have just a little. Its roast lamb, peas, and mashed potatoes with gravy. I made it for you. Please Mamó.’
‘Just the mash, then.’
Brigid carefully lifted the fork, and placed it on her grandmother’s tongue. Maeve thought of potatoes and ships. And a husband resting on an ocean floor. Suddenly, she longed for his embrace. The memory of his strong arms around her shoulders was still vivid as if it was only yesterday.
Yes, it was time.

Did you hear….?

Did you hear the news?

They found…
A pile of discarded clothes.
An old drunk.
A crumpled bird.
A boy.

Did you hear he took….
A bike.
A pack of smokes.
A jumbuck.
An orange.

They hunted him down….
In a ute.
On horseback.
On foot.
On Facebook.

He was killed…
In revenge.
By accident.
In blind-rage.
With hate.

Its his fault…
He shouldn’t have stolen.
He shouldn’t play hookey.
He shouldn’t be black.
He shouldn’t be.

They arrested…
Your neighbour.
Your friend.
Your father.
Your son.

The boy’s family is…
Grieving.
His family is grieving.

 

 

And begin again…….

My view of the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

My view as a First Aid volunteer at the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

I’ve really neglected my blog this year. Going from weekly posts to monthly to whenever. I could blame it on a severe case of writers’ block. Or be honest and call it procrastination. Maybe take the angle of too busy dealing with grief & loss. Or just too busy. I’m sure I could come up with some great excuses, but to be honest it’s because I got bored with reading my own work. How can I expect other people to read my blog if I find it boring?

Why is it boring? I’m over writing about myself. My “writer’s journey” or reflection on “the craft”. Blah blah blah. I’m also over writing about who and what I’ve lost. I’m over being whiney. Making everything about me. Writing trivial fluff when there’s more important issues that need writing about.

So, its time to begin this blog again. And to get back into writing. Less wasting time on social media. More nose to keyboard.

And its time to get back out into the world. My new bookshop can do without me for a while. (Oh yeah, I opened a bookshop recently. That’s one of the many distractions-from-writing that I’ve been doing lately). Those that now depend on me can survive without me for a while. I’m running away from home.

Tomorrow I’m flying to Bali, to once again volunteer at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Honestly, I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea. Sure, now that I work 7 days a week (another story I’m over talking about) I really need a break. So why am I using scarce money to go overseas to volunteer? If I’m going to max out my credit card, wouldn’t it be better to sit on a beach with a cocktail?

Why? Because I need some humility. And some fresh air and exercise wouldn’t go astray, as all of my jobs (I have a few – another dull story) involve sitting. Also, I need inspiration to get creative and Bali is the Island of Creativity. I need to be challenged by ideas; Ubud festival always has a great mix of speakers and themes – covering a range of important social, environmental and political issues.

Ooops. I’ve made this about myself – again.

Anyway, tune in to this blog or via instagram, facebook or twitter as I’ll share my trip to Bali. And I’ll do summaries of the sessions and guest speakers at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Perhaps share reflections of being a volunteer. My aim is to make my writing less about me, and more about others. Let’s just see if I can……….

There’s no fantasy – just realism, with a sprinkle of hope.

Hat and photo by me.

For the past two years, I’ve participated in Zoe Brook’s annual blog-hop. This year, life got complicated. However, I put my name on the list, hoping by the time late July came around, life would have stopped wobbling, and I’d be writing again. Well, things have settled down (a little) but I’m still not writing. Haven’t written for about five months. And it’s now late at night on the 31st July, and this year’s Magic Realism Blog-hop is coming to an end. So it’s now or never. But how can I write a post when I’m still dealing with so many huge changes (aka chaos)?

Perhaps it can be done with magic realism.

If you’ve ever read some of my previous posts on magic realism, or comments in online groups, you’d have noticed that I’m a tad protective (aka pedantic) about my favourite literary mode. That’s not a typo. Magic realism is not a genre. And it’s certainly not fantasy. I will let Glen Guest, a first-time Magic Realism Blog-hopper, explain why its a literary mode. And as far as discussing why magic realism is not fantasy – that will have to wait.

I’m only just coming out of this fog I’ve been in. I’m just not capable of theories, fancy words and deep discussions right now. I can’t possibly write coherently about magic realism; a difficult, intangible, mostly misunderstood subject.

Rather than withdraw from the blog-hop, I’ve decided to apply magic realism to steer me further out of the fog. If, as I’ve argued many times, magic realism is about meaningful aspects of life, both the micro and macro of ordinary and extraordinary lives, and a safe way to talk about difficult moments in shared histories – then why not apply this literary mode to what’s happening in my life? Autobiography, with a touch of magic realism. As it’s a literary mode, and not a genre, then this is possible. And doing so would also serve the purpose of personal healing, not just allow me to meet a writing commitment.

So I did. And this is the result > The Man Who Would Live Forever

And with that, I will now crawl back under my warm bed-covers, to the safety of my ship on a sea that is beginning to calm, now that this latest storm has passed.

 

If you’re wondering about the hat in the above photo: I made that recently for a Mad Hatters social event, that my work colleagues and I attended. After weeks of sorrow (massive job losses at work, loss of role models, death and illness in the family etc), I just didn’t know how I could muster the right energy to attend a social event. Knowing a break would do me good, but still immersed in grief and loss, I made my own hat. It has symbols relative to loss and hope, death and life: skull (death), snake (life), rose (beauty), moon charm (creativity), Star tarot card (hope); and feathers of a peacock (luck), willy wagtail (trickster), eagle (guidance), and raven (wisdom). Dressed wholly in black, I wore my hat with pride and danced off some doom & gloom.

 

blog-hop-2015-dates

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Over twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

The Man Who’d Live Forever: A Eulogy

That moment between dreaming and awake, listening to my heart beat. thump….thump….thump

The phone rang. I picked it up, even though I’d normally ignore it this early on a Saturday morning. Some how I already knew. The sound of the beating heart was not mine. And that sound – that heart – had stopped.

At the gathering, words were spoken. Stories shared of a brother, a cousin, a friend. A workmate. A running buddy. A husband, life-long mate. 

As I read out my mother’s words, her eulogy, the sounds of a distant ocean gave me courage. Laughter was shared as I spoke of how my parents met. Only I heard the sounds of a tail, softly hitting the cold ground.
The soldier with the red beret, when spying the mermaid for the first time, had no doubts. He even said so, to the mermaid, the day they’d met: they would marry. With a flip of her tail, she laughed him away. She was still young; enjoying her freedom after too many years spent in harsh captivity. Determined, he wooed her, in the dance hall by the sea. And not long after he whisked her away, across the plains of red sands, in a tiny red convertible. Too soon, both uniform and fish-tail had been put aside, and the convertible was exchanged for a much larger car.

In present time, as the speeches unfolded, similar threads could be seen. A good man. Quiet. Humble. Determined. Health-concious. Fit for his age. Cheeky sense of humour. And achievements were listed. What wasn’t voiced, but heard by all, was the shared-shock. The disbelief. How could he be gone so soon? He wasn’t supposed to die yet. Not until at least a century of years had been spent on this earth. If anyone could live forever, it was him.

Nice memories, but who will speak of a father? Will not one of you come forward?

Not the ghost-brothers, although they are certainly here, unseen, to bear witness. My older brother will share memories in his own time, with friends. Not the absent sisters. Although their distant whispers are heard by some. Feathers flying, beaks reaching for soft spots, talons scratching. Even monsters have fathers.

Yes. And somewhere, deep inside, they hold close memories of childhood.

Can you not give a eulogy? Speak of a father, who was somewhat mysterious but still beloved.

No, speaking up would anger the sisters further.

Poor excuse! You’re just scared.

Scared of what?

Of accepting he’s gone.

Be grateful that there were no loose threads, nothing left unsaid between you. Be glad that he lived a good life. And remember that he died doing what he enjoyed most in the world – running beside an ocean.

It is now later. So much has changed. So many challenges have been confronted, dealt with, absorbed. The process of grieving, accepting and letting go will take some more time. That is how it should be. So now its the time for treasure hunting, finding good memories.

To recall a childhood. We didn’t have much, but we had space – an old falling-down rented farmhouse. Like moths to a light, we would fly wildly, occasionally returning to circle around our father as he worked in the shed or out in a paddock. If asked, he would show us what he was doing, passing on knowledge that we were too young and foolish to pay attention to.
The third oldest of six, I was the first to master the art of riding a bicycle, thanks to my father. Although he used an unorthodox (ie dangerous) teaching method, it worked. And it also set me on the path of overcoming fear. He would take us to the top of a small hill that met a rocky road, which ended at a stone barn wall. Holding on to the seat, he’d instruct us to start peddling, following behind us, holding on to the seat. It was at that moment when I turned, to discover that he was no longer holding on, and I was a few metres away, that I had to make a split-second decision. Let fear get in the way, so I’d wobble and eventually fell over. Or keep going, and watch the wall get closer. Or believe that I can do it, and steer the bike away from impending impact, and off down the road. I took the third option. And learnt how to take control of my own path.

A short time later, my fascination with horses developed. There were two, plus one donkey, during my childhood. And none of them were fond of being ridden. My favourite was Arabella. When I first saw her, in the auction ring, I knew she was destined to be mine. More unicorn than horse, she would only let young maidens handle her. Even though she tolerated my company, she’d rarely let me on her back. Sadly she had a most tragic accident one stormy night. I shed a tear the next day, as she was carted off. Not because she was destined to be the food of caged kings, but because I had loved her.

My father was somewhat an absent father, even when present. As a travelling salesman, there’d be times when he was gone for weeks at a time. And when finally home, he would don running shoes and head off. For hours and hours. Behind his back we would joke that he ran to get away from us; far away from the noise of so many wild children. Perhaps he did. Still, it was what he loved doing. He ran and ran, right up to his last moments on earth.

As a quiet person, he’d also escape to the solitude of his own space – in an office full of books. As I got older, I’d sneak into that space when he was away from home. That library was a place of learning, full of non fiction; mostly books with maps on how to be a better person, how to set goals, and personal growth. In that library I developed a passion for learning. A short while before that, my father also helped me to combat my dyslexia – gifting me a gadget that taught speed reading. Memorising the patterns of words opened up pages of new worlds for me, and once I could read, I devoured any book I could find.

Then I grew up and moved out. Soon busy with children, study, work and interests of my own, time with my parents became rare. Even rarer after they bought that ancient caravan, and became grey-nomads. Happily drifting around Australia, chasing the sun’s warmth for the sake of ageing bones. 
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to make an effort to communicate differently – to ask questions, consciously collect family stories. And over the past eighteen months, although they were usually in another state, I had a few unexpected opportunities to spend time with them. Increasingly, it was in those moments that he’d share stories, mostly of relatives that I had never met or barely heard of.

With time, those memories, those stories, will become even more important. Now, they help me to stay strong. To accept that the young soldier has gone. As has the son, brother, husband, friend, uncle, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather.

Still, he lives forever. Even though, all too soon, people will have forgotten what he looked like; needing photos for prompts. And sometime in the future, perhaps after a hundred years have passed, he will be spoken of no longer. His features will no longer appear in the faces of children. Particular characteristics or quirks no longer attributed to him.

Still he lives forever. In the blood, the DNA, of those who are yet to be born. And, perhaps, the good deeds they are yet to do, the personal goals they will achieve, will have been possible because of my father’s legacy. There is no ending, not really.

On Country

100_1817An ancient ocean roars under the red dirt. Hush. Be still for just a moment. Hear its thundering waves crashing on unseen shores.

This vast ocean was there in the beginnings, as it will be in days not yet begun. Alongside their gentler brethren, massive creatures once tumbled in the ocean’s depths; jaws chasing tails. This harsh water-ballet continued until the meek inherited an evaporating body of water. With budding legs they crawled onto land and spawned. With the passing of time, their descendants and descendants’ descendants’ procreated. Each generation becoming less and less like their forebearers, as they roamed unhurriedly, populating a new-born world.

Creatures of all sizes and shapes have left their marks on terra.  Pawmarks in an empty creek bed, claw marks on fossilised trees, impressions of a thumping tail across a gibber plain. Alongside a slithering trail in red dirt, footprints appeared – the biped had arrived.

The originals co-existed alongside mega-beasts, taking only what was needed. Until time circled once again, and the era of colossal rulers was no more. By the time their bones mingled with dust, other creatures already roamed the earth. Beasts of many sizes have lived alongside us, playing witness to both extraordinary and commonplace moments throughout time. Together we have watched mountains birthed, oceans recede, and whole species return to the earth from whence they had sprung. Compared to all that has come before, these ripples sweeping over Country now, heralding the arrival of a new beast, they are nothing. The tide will once again turn, as dictated by eternity’s ebbs and flows.

The ancient ocean isn’t trapped underground, confined to the interior basin. This briny mother has sent her progeny far and wide, to travel further than you or I could ever imagine.  Droplets of this ocean can be found in sun-warmed rock pools. They are carried along by snaking rivers, or nestle in shallow puddles in lush fields. Dewdrops ride on the wings of birds, eager to try exotic flavours in faraway lands. The earth’s tears keep watch from omnipotent positions in the mists. Thirsty wisps of clouds travel far and wide, growing fatter and fatter, until they can hold no more. Spilling their loads over land and sea, this generative liquid is quickly absorbed. The circle is complete.

The ocean travels far, but never once forgets from whence it came. People soak up this ocean too, catching its life force as it falls from the skies; unaware that the water that caresses their upturned faces was once home and sustenance to long-forgotten creatures. When all else has departed, water survives in its many guises. Cry not for those that are gone, for traces of ancients waters live on within us; connecting us to all that is, was and will be. We are all one, kin to that ancient ocean.

“Grandfather, who are they?”
The old man turned, brow buckled from eons of sun, wind and rain. He blinked, focusing on the girl who stood by his side.
Shifting from one leg to the other, the girl pointed towards the raising sun, “Over there. Can you see them? What do you think they want?”
“Country,” replied the man, as he looked out on the plain of red dirt. “It’s always land they seek.”
Nodding, the girl looked up at the old man, “Under the name of which god do they now come to claim what is not theirs?”
“These ones worship something called ‘the economy.’ They appease it by making big holes, to take out the shiny rocks that have slept within the earth since the beginning. And, to make matters worse, they create a mess in the process. Such destruction that they almost sully the eternal waters.”
“It’s not theirs. Neither the land or waters.”
The old man shook his head gently, “No. And it’s not ours either.”
“Why do they not care for Country? Why do they seek to own what cannot be owned?”
“They still don’t understand.”
“Are they simple or something?”
Sighing, the old man turned away and walked towards a cliff-face. He put his hand on a rock-tapestry of browns, reds and blacks, “Not all of them. Some have listened, shown that they are willing to learn.”

“Grandfather,” cried the girl. “Why are you leaving? Shouldn’t we do something?”
“There are enough warriors here to deal with this. Or, should I say, there’s a deadly mob keeping an eye out for Country.”
The girl chuckled, “Don’t”
“Don’t what?”
“Try to sound young. It won’t work, you’re too old.”
“I’m not old! I’m only a few hundred of thousands of what these goonyas call ‘years’. Come, lets rest until the next time we need to visit Country.”

The girl watched her Grandfather walk forwards, through the rock. Turning back towards the plain, she noticed something waving in the early dawn light. Shielding her eyes with a raised hand, she looked to the east. A large black, yellow and red cloth undulated in the wind. Underneath this banner stood hundreds and hundreds of people. People of all ages.

“Grandfather is right,” she said under her breath. “The People will weather this current storm. After all, they’ve been here a very long time.”
She walked towards the edge of the rock platform they had been standing on, and jumped. Disappearing, with barely a ripple, into a small rock pool that lay on the red earth.

Inked

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Freshly Inked – let the healing process begin! (Friday 13th 2015)

Last week I got inked for the first time. The process reminded me of the arduous and painful road to publishing. Just like publishing my first novel, getting a tattoo had been on my wish list for many decades. It’s not something I rushed into. And it’s not something that didn’t require a lot of plotting, research, preparation and courage.

Firstly, I did a lot of on-line research into the pros and cons of being inked. Then I checked out styles of tattoos – there are many different types. I found watercolour tattoos appealing. Then I had to find an tattoo-artist specialising in this type of tattoo. This process was similar to all the hours I had spent researching the pros and cons of the different publishing pathways. Then, I chose self-publishing. Or, as we like to say in the biz – indie publishing.

Once I had located a tattooist with a strong portfolio in watercolour tattoos, and an arts background, the next step was dreaming up the design. Like a book, a tattoo tells a story. I have many stories I want told, so I needed to be specific; choose just one. There is nothing worse than a plot that is too complex or all over the place. I wanted to be inked with an autobiography. So I chose a raven to depict my Celtic/Anglo heritage, and a snake for my Aboriginal Australian background. This way, I also honour those that have gone before me. The snake, an earth creature, is grounding. It’s also representative of creation, life force and death. There is no life without death, no happiness without sorrow. I don’t see that many snakes around any more, but I’m always seeing Little Ravens on the side of country roads. Especially when I am tired, as if reminding me to be more conscious of where I am going. The bird is air energy, freedom and the arcane. The splash of colour is a magic spark; its inspiration and creativity, possibilities and playfulness. With a few stars thrown in, just for fun. All together, this image represents elements of me.

Conveying the picture from my imagination, and the story behind it, to the tattoo-artist was similar to the process of commissioning a cover for my first novel. I wanted to be clear, so as not to waste anyone’s time with too many drafts, whilst also not supplying an over abundance of information – to allow the artists’ own creativity to flow. I think this approach worked, because both my cover and tattoo needed only minor tweaks to the initial drafts. I think this came down to being clear on what I wanted, trusting the artists and being able to communicate changes in a constructive manner.

Design down, and research done (from horror stories to recovery tips), I should have been confident. Instead, I woke up full of doubt on the morning of getting the tattoo. What the hell was I thinking? A middle-age woman getting a tattoo? Was buying a motorbike and solo-travelling overseas not enough to quell the mid-life craziness? Did I really have to tick everything on my to-do list? To silence my inner nag, I packed a nana bag to take to the tattoo shop – water, e-reader, travel pillow, android phone and back up battery, Rescue Remedy and an emergency Protein Bomb. Walking in with my calico bag full of ‘what ifs’, when everyone else went in baggage free, I felt a bit silly. However the water, phone and Rescue Remedy did come in handy. Just like all the prep I did to ensure my manuscript was the best I could write at that point in time, and was ready for the pre-publishing process.

When I got to the studio, I read and signed the legal form. I made sure everything was explained to me, and threw in a couple of foolish questions. Knowing that the only foolish question is the one you didn’t ask. Big breath – it was time to break skin.

I won’t lie or act tough. That first cut was the deepest. Being on the bridge of my foot, it hurt. Nothing I couldn’t handle, though. What’s a flesh wound after birthing kids…walking on fire…operations…etc etc. More than anything, the pain was annoying. Except when it was over my ankle bone, or hit a nerve in my foot. That was particularly painful. Anyway, I had my phone for distraction. I micro-blogged the process for a while, via the twitter handle #TweetATattoo. Sure, there weren’t many people following, but it took my mind off the pain – sort of. There were a few people on Twitter who were curious about getting a tattoo of their own, people my age, so were interested in hearing how I went. This was similar to the pre-publishing stage. There is a very vibrant and supportive network of writers on social media. It was through a few on-line groups, meeting like-minded people on Google and Twitter, that I gained the confidence and information needed to self-publish. I could not have got through the pain of publishing, or getting a tattoo, without a few people willing to be my cheer squad. And now that I’ve published, I pass my hard-earned tips on to others.

Towards the end of getting inked, a friend from work popped in. Micro-blogging ceased (sorry everyone), and laughter began. Laughter is one of nature’s best pain killers. Even though I was getting a bit tired of the process, and the dull pain, having someone familiar to talk to made those last minutes fly. I was also appreciative to have a second opinion when the tattooist asked if it looked done. Just before I chose the final draft for the cover of my novel, from a choice of three diverse concepts, I asked friends and co-workers for their opinions. I ended up going with the one I liked at first sight, but felt confident it was the right one because of other people’s input. I shared the drafts of my tattoos too, and got some feedback that led to the final design being much more than what I had envisioned.

It’s now the end of day three, and so far the healing process has been easy. The swelling is hardly noticeable, and there is no redness, seeping or soreness. I have been taking care of it, though. Which might be contributing to the healing. Unlike publishing. After the pain of formatting and uploading a manuscript to on-line distributors (Indies will know that pain I speak of), the real work started. Marketing. Trying not to feel despondent when sales were just a trickle. Waiting for the first review.

As with my writing, this tattoo is still fresh. It might look good now, but I’ve still the scabbing and itching stage to get through. It’s all part of living with ink. I can prepare, lessen risks, but I can’t totally control the process. Once the first cut has occurred, and the ink is dried, a tattoo is forever. As is a novel. Once inked, you can never again have clean skin, or a blank page. No regrets – my story has been set free from my imagination.

 

I was inked by the talented and sure-handed Jess Hannigan – check out her website Little Miss Jess Tattoos   I highly recommend Jess, especially if you are interested in watercolour tattoos. She is based in South Australia, but I believe she occasionally attends tattoo conventions in other states.