Paris Syndrome

30 Oct

It’s only five months now until my debut Young Adult novel, ‘Paris Syndrome’ is published and I’m in the thick of proof reading. HarperCollins have been kind enough to send me some reader copies – this means they are un-proofed and they don’t have the final cover. They contain mistakes. Possibly many mistakes. (Thank goodness for editors!) They look pretty good to me though.

Here’s what HarperCollins are saying about it over on their website.

Can romance only be found in Paris, the city of love?

For fans of John Green, this funny and poignant coming-of-age story is about that crazy thing called love. And how it can be found anywhere.

Happiness (Happy) Glass has been a loner since moving to Brisbane and yet still dreams about living in Paris with her best friend Rosie after they finish Year Twelve. But Rosie hasn’t been terribly reliable lately.

When Happy wins a French essay competition, her social life starts looking up. She meets the eccentric Professor Tanaka and her girl-gardener Alex who recruit Happy in their fight against Paris Syndrome – an ailment that afflicts some visitors to Paris. Their quest for a cure gives Happy an excellent excuse to pursue a good-looking French tourism intern, also called Alex. To save confusion she names the boy Alex One and the girl Alex Two.

As Happy pursues her love of all things French, Alex Two introduces Happy to her xylophone-playing chickens whose languishing Facebook page Happy sponsors.

But then sex messes things up when, confusingly, Happy ends up kissing both of the Alexes. Soon neither of them is speaking to her and she has gone from two Alexes to none …

In a preemptive celebration, I’m giving away one of the reader copies over on Facebook. If you’d like to play ‘spot the mistakes’, head over there. Otherwise, hold on for April!

Impossible Things – Science, Denial and the Great Barrier Reef

1 Aug

My essay, ‘Impossible Things – Science, Denial and the Great Barrier Reef’ appears in the latest issue of Griffith Review. This is a personal essay about my experience of working in scientific research on the Great Barrier Reef in the early 1980s and looking back on that today, knowing what we do about the effects of climate change on the reef.

The essay was prompted by a feeling of shock, grief and guilt after the coral bleaching in the summer of 2016 which killed over half of the northern section of the reef and a quarter of the reef overall.

I started going to the barrier reef as a teenager studying biology at university. They say that memories laid down in this period of your life are the most vivid and that’s the case for me. If I ever need to conjure up a picture of paradise, I think of being on a little boat off Lizard Island and looking down into the water, seeing giant clams and reef sharks and plate after plate of coloured coral stretching down into the depths.

Although my life took me away from the reef for many years, hearing that so much of the reef had died felt like news of a car crash. I had to go back.

So this is an essay about returning to the reef. It is also a reflection on the erosion of confidence in science as a decision-making tool and how this relates to the denial of climate change in Australia and overseas.

I will be on a panel at Byron Writers Festival on Saturday morning (5th of August), where I will join chair Julianne Schultz as well as Jim Hearn, Bri Lee and Phillip Frazer, talking about The Perils of Populism.

Bad Pilgrims – Cycling the Shikoku Pilgrimage

13 Mar

In April last year, I spent three weeks cycling the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan. We only got to Temple Forty, but we had an amazing time. Here’s my article in Metropolis Japan.

Bad Pilgrims

My husband, my son and I are in a fast food store in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, about to embark on a pilgrimage to the eighty-eight Buddhist temples which ring the island. This pilgrimage usually takes six to eight weeks to walk. As we only have three weeks we plan to cycle. That should be plenty of time, we think.

The pilgrimage is my idea. I have been obsessed with it for many years. I have, in fact, written a whole novel about a woman who wants to do this pilgrimage. It is counter-intuitive to do it now, when I have already written the book, but I like to mix things up.

‘I will not complain if things do not go well while on the pilgrimage, but consider such experiences to be part of the ascetic training,’ states the oath in our guidebook. As our plan is to ride 1200 kilometres on a bike designed for short urban commutes this seems ominous.

The commandments in the guidebook are more specific, ‘I will not harm life, steal, commit adultery, lie, exaggerate, speak abusively, cause discord, be greedy, hateful or lose sight of the Truth.’ While we finish our hamburgers we debate whether this means we can’t eat meat. We decide that it probably does.

After a couple of false leads, we find the bike hire down in the basement outside the train station. The staff, two friendly gentlemen, seem surprised that we want the bikes for three weeks. We hand over a bond of thirty dollars per bike and set forth with no other identification needed. Only in Japan.

At the first temple I persuade my family that we all need to buy a hakui, or white vest. This identifies us as pilgrims. The writing on the back asks Kobo Daishi, the revered founder of the pilgrimage, to keep us safe. At any rate, it will be good for visibility on the roads.

I also buy a tote bag, some paper ‘prayer slips’ to give to people who help us and a brocade-covered book which will be stamped at each temple. There is a range of other paraphernalia which we decline.

Our guidebook says that Tokushima area, our starting point, is the place of spiritual awakening. As we cycle around the island we will pass through the place of ascetic training, the place of enlightenment, and finally, the place of nirvana. That’s something to look forward to.

The procedure for temple visits is outlined in our guidebook and, if done correctly, would take quite some time. We distil it to a ten minute version which includes bowing, hand-washing, bell ringing and book stamping.

Despite our efficient temple visits, by the end of day one we are already behind schedule. We’ve fiddled around with our backpacks – on back or in basket? – dealt with a flat tyre and experimented with GPS and riding attire. The walking pilgrims smile and wave at us as we go by. And then again as they go past us shortly after. I sense we are becoming a running joke.

We had intended to spend the night in the bell tower of temple six, but shortly after temple five it is getting dark and starts to rain. We find a little henro, or pilgrim, hut beside the road and call it a day. The host of the shelter, an old man, drops by and soon returns with two more tatami mats for sleeping. He mimes a squatting action and points at his house to indicate we can use the toilet. We buy pork curry at the convenience store down the road and skulk out, hoping no-one will notice what bad pilgrims we are. The rain patters on the roof and we curl up on the tatami mats in our sleeping bags. Extraordinarily, this pilgrimage is unfolding just as I’d imagined.

The next day brings the start of the osettai – traditional gifts to pilgrims. I buy some mandarins and an old lady throws in some dried sweet potato. I give her one of my prayer slips and she looks chuffed beyond belief. Throughout the journey we are showered with lollies, hot drinks and fruit. I feel like the whole island is cheering us on.

On the third day we tackle temple twelve, the ‘pilgrim crusher’, named for its location on top of a mountain. We push up a 400 metre pass, then on the long ride down I get a flat tyre and we retire to the nearest village for repairs. Some lovely ladies insist on giving us lunch as osettai and we even manage some conversation. When we eventually make it to temple twelve there is snow on the ground.

After a week we hit Kochi prefecture, the place of ascetic training, and finally leave the walking pilgrims behind. We stay in henro huts plastered with prayer slips, in free rooms in temples and in our tent. We aim to find campsites with the hat-trick – hot baths, a convenience store and a toilet.

We camp next to a ropeway station, on a rocky point with crashing waves, beside a lively frog pond and in a patch of wasteland with a large boat as a wind shelter. After an eighty kilometre ride down the last wild river in Japan we find a campsite in the dark and set up to a rising orange moon. We sleep in a temple garage and watch sunset bathe the bell tower in a soft golden light.

I learn that singing keeps your spirits up when you’re on a narrow ramp in a dark tunnel and that the less you have, the easier it gets.  I also learn that large grapefruit will always be given as presents before climbing hills. I think I am becoming a pilgrim.

At temple forty, the furthest point from temple one, we run out of time. Hiring a large car, we dismantle our bikes and slot them inside. We return the car at Takamatsu, one days ride from Tokushima. Even though we have not reached nirvana, or even enlightenment, we have passed our ascetic training with flying colours.

We ride into Tokushima to find that the long-heralded cherry blossom season has at last arrived. Every time the wind blows, petals fall like snow. We wheel our bikes back down into the basement and the rental man seems pleased to see us. After some confusion, where we pass money back and forth between us, we establish that there is no more to pay – the deposit is enough. Our bicycle hire has cost us less than five dollars a day.

We’ll be back. How could we not when enlightenment and nirvana are still to come?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cynics on the Camino

23 Jan

It’scamino been an awfully long time between posts on this blog. But I have an excuse – I have been off exploring. Among other things, I walked the Camino pilgrimage in Spain, something that’s been on my hit list for a while. I was very happy to have this article about my walk published in The Age Spectrum: 

Hiking 800 kilometres across Spain was my idea. Several friends had done it. All said it was life-changing. I didn’t need a walk to change my life, my motivation was more mundane. My husband, my two sons and I had decided to travel for six months. We liked to walk and the Camino would be cheap. Done deal.

My main mistake was not allowing enough time. It shouldn’t have been hard with six months to spare, but flights out of Santiago were so much cheaper a few days earlier. Thirty days will be plenty, I decided from the distance of Australia. We don’t have to do it all.

But as soon as we start, not finishing is unthinkable. It is a mission. We have to complete. We do the maths. Twenty-five kilometres per day with no rest days will bring us in on time. We are all fit and used to walking, we’ll be fine.

‘A hell day. Collapsed in albergue,’ reads my journal. We are used to wilderness and hills. The hard surfaces and endless stretches of flat terrain wear us down. My boots disintegrate, leaving deep blisters as a mark of their passing. My sons and I remain stoic but my husband, an intrepid and enthusiastic bushwalker, moans constantly. ‘I only want to finish so I can tell people how bad it is,’ he says. I take to walking well away from him. I have enough to deal with. ‘I wake up with a horrible cold, a deaf ear, a sore knee and a HUGE bedbug bite on my cheek. Only two more thirty k days and we will be back on schedule,’ records my journal. We feel like prisoners on a forced march. But we will not stop.

We bond in shared mirth at our guidebook, which was pressed upon us by a delightful American woman at the start. Our guide, John Brierley, suggests that we attach a sign to ourselves – ‘I am a pilgrim who walks in silence. Peace be with you.’ He meets the devil – identified by his black-feathered staff – on the track and cries with delight upon locking eyes with a silent shepherd. In our weakened state, we also find the trackside graffiti hilarious. ‘Don’t quit before the miracle,’ says one scrawl and ‘If God wanted us to stay in one place he would have given us roots,’ declares another.

I’ve had better walking, I’ve got to say. It is pretty in parts, but nothing compared to Tasmania, New Zealand or Scotland. But still, it grows on me. The albergues – dormitories where we spent the night – are a revelation – remodelled mediaeval churches, mudbrick hillside cottages and architect showpieces. Many ask only for a donation and throw in breakfast and dinner as well. Most of the wardens, or hospitalleros, are big-hearted and generous. They practice what they preach. One night in an ochre-walled town we drink too much red wine while the hospitallero farewells the sun with his bagpipes. Other wardens, like the one we call the coffee Nazi, have clearly had enough of pilgrims.

The towns are remarkable too, each one distinct. Some are seedy like Wild West towns – red-dirt streets framed by looming cliffs. Others are pretty, all cobbles and flower boxes and bright-blue doors. Ancient villages clinging to hillsides remind me of Nepal. Opulent cathedrals and churches are a given, as is the twiggy mess of stork nests in their eaves.

The other pilgrims are also extraordinary, though often bizarrely annoying. Valentino, a handsome middle-aged Italian, struts up and down in underpants and gold chain and snores like a chainsaw. The over-religious Australian, ‘I’ll thank God by taking a photo,’ Cynthia and the ‘I’ve got five Camino apps, but this one is best,’ Seattle guy are also memorable. As is the English mountain bike rider determined to ride her bike on every inch of the track, no matter how narrow and rugged. ‘You can feel the power on the path,’ she says. We become very fond of a young German couple who turn up magically with information whenever we lose one of our party. This happens more often than you’d think, considering the whole way is marked with yellow arrows. The spirituality and niceness of everyone gets a little wearing at times. Where are the bogans, we wonder?

They say that everyone cries or finds romance on the Camino. Some do both. My moment comes without warning at the Iron Cross, the highest point on the walk. It is the place where traditionally pilgrims place a stone in memory of those who are not with them. I trip on a rock and fall flat on my face in front of the cross – the metaphor is not lost on me. Then, remembering my parents, who died within a month of each other, I start to cry and don’t stop for over half an hour. A nice American woman helps me up and insists on taking my photo. I look miserable, covered in dust and tear-streaked. The Camino has broken me.

Later, my husband cries too, when watching a child play hide and seek. He finds it poignant. I think we may both have Stockholm Syndrome. My younger son escapes unscathed but my older one falls for a Turkish girl he meets in Leon and, skipping the last section, hitchhikes to Santiago to be by her side. A few days later we run into him by chance outside Santiago Cathedral. He is perched on a stone wall smoking a cigarette and looking melancholy. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

I asked my husband the other night how he feels about The Camino now. ‘It was a profound experience,’ he says and he’s not even joking. ‘It was humbling.’

‘I wouldn’t mind doing The Camino again,’ says my younger son out of the blue as we chat on Skype one evening. Oh memory, you are a fickle beast.  I’d do it again too.

 

 

Winner of the Australia Day Blog Hop Giveaway

30 Jan

Thank you to everyone who visited my blog and a big thanks to Shellyrae from Book’d Out for hosting the blog hop. I have randomly chosen a winner and it is Gemmie Alliston. Congratulations Gemmie, I’ll have that book on it’s way to you very soon!

Australia Day Blog Hop Giveaway – My ‘Gap Year’ Pilgrimage

24 Jan

2016australiaday-bloghopOver the last ten years or so it seems like everyone I meet has just done, or is about to do, a pilgrimage.  Those who have returned talk about it ecstatically – it was life changing, they say. The idea attracts me. I visualise the experience as a chance to take stock and maybe change direction.

Some say the modern-day rush of pilgrims began in 1987 after Paulo Coelho’s book ‘The Pilgrimage’. The Camino pilgrimage in Spain now has over 200 000 pilgrims each year, compared to 600 in 1985. But the phenomenon is broader than this. The Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, a 60 day trek to 88 temples is also booming.  Over a decade its numbers have tripled to 150 000 pilgrims every year.

Traditionally, pilgrimages were taken in order to cleanse the pilgrim of their sins. They offered a state of transition which led to transformation. Bad luck with jobs, health or romance are common reasons for pilgrims to set out on the Shikoku walk. Young Japanese women commonly walk alone to recover after a breakup.

A few years ago, inspired by pilgrims’ tales, I started to write a novel about a woman walking the Shikoku pilgrimage. I bought a lot of books and became quite an armchair expert, but I could never find the time to go. The book was on a roll so, loathe to put on the brakes, I got creative and changed the setting.

Arkie, my protagonist, travels no further north than Noosa and no further south than Sydney. She is a ‘do it yourself’ pilgrim, finding transcendence on the highways and byways of my local area on her way to the next ‘big thing’.

In a stroke of serendipity, my husband, my two grown-up kids and myself have now found ourselves perfectly timed to take ‘a gap year’ together (actually a gap six months.). We are planning to do a pilgrimage walk in Japan and also walk the Camino.

arkie cover 2Most people write the book after they do the pilgrimage, but I thought I’d try it the other way around. I’m sure there’s another book in there somewhere.

Leave a comment on this blog to go into the draw for a copy of ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing.’ The prizewinner will be announced on this blog on January 31st. And go to Book’d Out to check out the rest of the blogs with giveaways on the Australia Day Blog Hop.

My story ‘Romantic’ in the Review of Australian Fiction

8 Dec

RAF_VOL16_ISS_5My story ‘Romantic’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Emma Ashmere, ‘Seaworthiness’. Emma’s first novel, ‘The Floating Garden’ came out this year and you can find my review of it here.

The Review of Australian Fiction is an online magazine that aims to support Australian fiction by publishing stories by established writers partnered with an emerging writer of their choice. In 2012 I was published in the RAF as an emerging author, introduced by Venero Armano and three years later, I am now honoured to be able to introduce Emma.

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are keeping an author in coffee!

Read a preview here.

 

A wandering tale – finish my story to win a 5 night holiday

6 Aug

If you’re heading along to the Byron Bay Writers Festival and you wouldn’t mind a 5 night luxury holiday then this ‘finish the story’ competition is for you. All you have to do is pop along to the Elements of Byron tent and register, read the beginning of the story which I’ve written and then write a 500 word ending within 2 weeks of the festival. The details of the competition are here. And that picture is me in the setting of the story.

Author Lisa Walker at one of the Elements of Byron sites for A Wandering TaleI’ll also be on two panels at the festival, ‘Meet the Locals’ at 9am Saturday and ‘Pathways to Publication’ at 4pm Sunday. Hope to see you there!

This is how the story starts…

I wake from a dimly remembered dream. There was a whale. And a rainbow. As I drink my morning glass of water and lemon juice it comes back to me. The whale had blown a rainbow out of its spout. I wash my glass in the sink. The image delights me.  

On my train to the city I ponder the dream. It was a sign, I decide. I need to do something inspiring. Go somewhere that will lift my spirits. I fold my newspaper as the train pulls into Town Hall. I have it – I will go whale watching. In Byron Bay.

The idea dances in my head as I jostle my way up the stairs. Byron Bay – it must be twenty years. Had I really partied on a beach-front roof as lightning forked across the sky then stripped off and run naked into the sea?  I shoulder my bulging handbag as I push through the turnstile. It’s hard to imagine now.

That evening after dinner I buy flights on impulse in a mid-winter sale and pick a place on the internet. It looks beautiful – nestled next to the beach, amongst paperbark forest and wetland. Perfect. I book for three nights – Ruby will love it. I imagine us bonding again as whales leap in front of us. We had so much fun together on that whale-watching trip to Nelson Bay, six years ago when she was ten.

Ruby has been so moody since the divorce. Even when she’s home she shuts herself in her room and barely speaks to me. I miss her – this holiday will be my chance to get to know her again.

A rediscovered slice of Sydney’s history – ‘The Floating Garden’ by Emma Ashmere

29 May

the floating gardenThe Floating Garden is the debut novel by Northern Rivers local, Emma Ashmere. It is set in Sydney in the 1920s, where the arches of the Harbour Bridge are still making their way through the air towards each other. Down below in Milson’s Point, a colony of misfits are losing their homes as construction proceeds.

The Floating Garden interweaves the stories of two women. Ellis is an eccentric who runs a boarding house for women and girls while Rennie is an artistic Englishwoman in an unhappy marriage. When Rennie plucks up the courage to leave her abusive husband, she finds a temporary home in Ellis’s guesthouse, which is about to be demolished.

Both women look to each other to provide security – Ellis needs money, while Rennie needs a bolt-hole to hide out from her husband. As her Milson’s Point home disintegrates, Ellis relives her escape to Sydney at the age of sixteen. Her unlikely saviour was the charismatic, scheming theosophist, Minerva Stranks. She also hints at a troubled liaison in the past with Minerva’s protégé, the fragile Kitty.

I loved so many things about this book, but the characters were especially delightful. Ellis has many secrets, not least of which is her anonymous authorship of a controversial gardening column under the name of Scribbly Gum. The flamboyant Rennie hails from a life of privilege and has a hard time adjusting to her new circumstances in the poorer part of town. Her effort to blend in and cope with her situation provides a subtle touch of humour. I also enjoyed learning more about theosophy – a spiritual belief system which was very popular in the 1920s.

An early review has compared this book to Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and there certainly are some similarities. Both books explore the wider events in society through the lens of the people affected and both focus on a working class group of colourful individuals. Like Tim Winton, Emma Ashmere has a fine hand with exuberant Australian types.

The author has a PhD focusing on the use of marginalised histories in fiction and her novel does a superb job of bringing this fragment of our past to attention. The Floating Garden is a beautifully written, gently humorous and highly detailed slice of history. It also has an absorbing story-line which kept me turning the page.

This is my third review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

The house with a ‘poo corner’ – ‘Home Truths’ by Mandy Nolan

11 May

Home-Truths-final-cover-724x1024‘Home Truths’ is Mandy Nolan’s third comedic memoir, following hot on the heels of ‘Boyfriends We’ve All Had (But Shouldn’t Have)’ and ‘What I Would Do If I Were You.’ In ‘Home Truths’ she turns her shrewd gaze to all things domestic. And as it turns out, the home is a very funny place.

As a child, Mandy used to wander the streets at night, looking into other people’s windows. She enjoyed the surreptitious peek into their private world. This book is an extension of that early fascination, asking the question – who are we when we close the door?

Mandy introduces us to her childhood, in a small town near Kingaroy, which was of course Joh Bjelke-Petersen heartland at the time. Here in Wondai, she develops a syndrome that stays with her – Fear of Missing Out on Living Somewhere Better.

Leaving Wondai for university, she hooks up with a wild bunch of girls in a share house in Brisbane. This quickly becomes a squalid mess, with a special feature ‘poo corner.’ The girls are too lazy to train their cats to use the kitty litter. This hideous living experience is the harbinger of Mandy’s later self-confessed cleaning fetish.

Moving up in the world, we venture into the stressful territory of home building. Here Mandy meets the ‘coping guy’ who she imagines as, ‘some sort of super dude who can handle demanding, difficult and obstreperous women like me. I’m up for the challenge…’

Via homelessness and living alone we land in the fashion-challenged life of the ‘at home worker.’ Popping down for a coffee in a pair of black pyjamas Mandy is told that she looks ‘very corporate.’ It’s easy to let standards slip in a town like Mullumbimby.

Mandy delves deep into the psyche of the home – the psychology of missing socks, the optimum number of decorating cushions and the difficult art of Feng Shui. ‘Why change your behaviour when all you have to do is move the bed?’ Boarding up her daughter’s room seems the best solution to a tricky Feng Shui problem in her house.

Full of laugh out loud and uncomfortably honest moments, ‘Home Truths’ is an incisive and exuberant examination at our homemaking instincts.

This review first apppeared in the Northern Rivers Echo.

 

Mandy is launching ‘Home Truths’ in Lismore on May 14. Tickets from the Book Warehouse on 66214204.

I will be on a panel with Mandy Nolan at Bellingen Writers Festival on June 7.

This is my second review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.