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!
Over 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.
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.
It’s taken about four years for ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing‘ to come from first idea to publication. This is a good thing in a way as it’s given me plenty of time to get used to the idea that I’m going to have to answer the question – what is your book about?
What I usually say is – ‘It’s a story about a woman doing a pilgrimage to the Australian big things.’ I’ve noticed when I say this that people often look puzzled, so then I add, ‘you know, the Big Prawn, the Big Pineapple…’ And then their faces clear.
But before the Big Things, there was the pilgrimage…
Undertaking a pilgrimage usually hints at a desire for transformation or redemption, which is the case for my protagonist. The story opens at Byron Bay railway station on New Year’s Eve where Arkie plans to end it all. However, as you may know, you’d be waiting an awfully long time to throw yourself under a train in Byron Bay. Arkie is a trendspotter who has carelessly lost in quick succession her husband, her lover and her ability to spot trends,. Hence the need for a pilgrimage.
When I originally started writing this book, I envisaged a story about a woman walking the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, which is a trek taking 60 days and going to 88 Buddhist temples. I read a lot of books about it and it sounded wonderful, but I wasn’t sure when I was ever going to find the time to do it. So, rather than hold off writing the book until I could research the pilgrimage, I decided to write about someone who wants to do it, but can’t. Arkie, I decided, would have her pilgrimage right here in Australia.
The idea for the big things came to me one day as I was driving past the Big Prawn — more or less as it does for Arkie in the book.
So that’s what my book’s about – a pilgrimage and big things.
PS. The Eiffel Tower is not one of the Big Things in the book, but I was there and my book was there and I couldn’t resist…
I will be doing a number of events in the coming weeks and I’d love you to come along. Here are the details:
Tuesday 10 February 2015 – Sydney
1:00 PM Ashfield Library – Details here.
6:30 PM Margaret Martin Library (Randwick)
This is a free event however bookings are required online http://randwickcitylibrary.eventbrite.com
Thursday 12 February 2015 – Lismore
12:00 PM Literary Lunch
La Vida Restaurant and Bar, 3/178 Keen Street, Lismore, NSW 2480
Tickets are $35 and include a two-course lunch and a glass of wine. Tickets are available via the Book Warehouse Lismore, (02) 6621 4204.
Thursday 26 February 2015 – Gold Coast
10:30 AM Elanora Library
This is a free event but bookings are recommended by phoning the library on (07) 5581 1671 or online here.
Friday 27 February 2015 – Victoria Point, Qld
10:00 AM Victoria Point Library
This is a free event but bookings are recommended by phoning the library on (07) 3884 4000
I am also doing a blog tour, starting today! Hop over there if you’d like to follow along.
I hope things are going well for you as the year ends. It always seems like the days are speeding up at this time of year.
It’s less than two months now until my new novel ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ hits the shelves, and Christmas is coming so I thought I’d post a little extract here to celebrate…
It has been precisely a year since Adam left me.
On the streets, New Year’s Eve partying is in force, but here on the station, all is quiet. Byron Bay has turned out to be not at all what I needed. Despite determined efforts to be cheerful, to smile at strangers, to exercise and swim, even to have a Reiki treatment, I have slid further and further over the line.
My feet are placed squarely on the white mark beyond which you may not pass. Two steps and I will be over the edge.
Why a train? Why not pills, drowning or a blade? Perhaps I was thinking of Anna Karenina – the snow, the rushing wheels, the final jump. I always have been fond of trains.
How did I come to this point? Perhaps it is as simple as a loss of pleasure. That’s how it seems. The world feels tuned to black and white. This black and white world has been mine for a year now. It no longer seems likely that it will change.
A Dali print used to hang in the bathroom which Adam and I shared. Every morning and evening, the drooping clocks mesmerised me as I brushed my teeth. They hung off tree branches and walls like melting cheese on a hot summer day. If time was really as soft as a camembert cheese, would I bend it back and do things differently now?
A raindrop lands heavily on my head and a clay-like smell drifts towards my nostrils. I check the battered timetable I have plucked from the drawer in my motel room. The train from Sydney arrives at 21.20. I do the figures again. Fifteen more minutes to wait. I tap my feet on the concrete, watch spots of rain decorate the rails, try to focus my mind, so I will be ready.
The voice is an unwelcome distraction. I thought I was alone.
‘Would you like play bingo?’
The girl is a strange figure in this setting – neatly cut hair, glasses, a short-sleeved collared shirt tucked into too-high jeans. A briefcase hangs from one hand. Most of the Japanese I’ve seen in Byron are hip. They have jagged-cut bleached hair and low-slung shorts. This girl shares one thing with them – a surfboard in a silver cover is slung over her shoulder.
She doesn’t look like a surfer.
Bingo. I could almost laugh. Do I want to spend the last moments of my life playing bingo? With a girl who has no dress sense? Let me just think about that. Hm, no. I picture the irony. Did you hear? She was playing bingo. Before she jumped. Sad. She used to really be someone.
‘No thank you.’
The girl bows. ‘Sorry.’ She turns to go.
I feel bad. She seems lonely. She wants to play bingo. I don’t want to leave this life feeling selfish. Pretentious and delusional maybe, but not selfish.
She swivels back, her eyes apologetic behind her glasses.
‘How do you play bingo with two people?’
A few links…
Moya Sayer-Jones will be launching ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ at the Northern Rivers Writers Centre in Byron Bay at 6pm on January 30th. All welcome and you can find more information here.
I will be talking at:
– Ashfield Civic Centre in Sydney at 1 pm on February 10th. More details here.
– Margaret Martin Library, Randwick, Sydney at 6.30 pm on February 10th. More details here.
– literary lunch at La Vida Restaurant, Lismore at 12.00 on February 12th. More details here.
– Elanora Library on the Gold Coast at 10.30 am on February 26th. More details here.
My clever son Tim Eddy has made a book trailer for me which you can check out here.
‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ is available now for pre-order in e-book or print. You can do this via the Random House website here.
Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The day was cold but the conversation warm…
According to session chair Lisa Walker, both novels explore the liminality of leaving or returning home, and although the stories feature starkly different protagonists, they share thematic qualities.
A small crowd of die-hard book lovers endured polar winds, looming mud, and darkening skies on the festival’s chilly final afternoon, to hear Cole and Simpson read at the last session of the Byron Bay Writers Festival. It was well worth the wait!
Imagine, in a world void of men, being home-schooled in an isolated valley, the only one of five siblings still left at home, with a deafening silence building between you and the only other…
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You wouldn’t think changing a hotel’s name would cause such a stir.
I knew that even if I lived to 100 I’d never be a local, but I hadn’t counted on becoming the town pariah in my old age. Not that I care.
I can thank Kenneth’s sister’s son, Derek for the name.
“These scones are fully sick Aunt Jean,” he said to me while tucking in to some afternoon tea after football training.
Well, I saw red. I had him by the ear, before he could stutter out an explanation.
“It…it…it…just means they’re totally awesome.”
The things they come up with. You have to laugh. But the name grew on me. I suppose you could say it was a bit of an ‘up yours’ to the ladies of the CWA. They wouldn’t have me on the committee because I’m from east of the Divide. Not that they said so, but I knew.
The ‘Settlers Rest’ was Kenneth’s first love. And his last. You’d think it’d been in the family for generations, not knocked up in the sixties, the way he carried on about it.
He’ll be turning in his grave now. I’m counting on him getting over it before we meet again.
“The traveling salesmen, that’s our market,” he’d say. “They know a quality hotel when they see one.”
“Move with the times Kenneth,” I’d say. I’d show him the young people in the street with beads in their hair and bags on their backs. Christ knows what they saw in this town. Australiana, I suppose. “We need to get some of them in here. That’s the market of the future.”
“Dirty troublemakers, the lot of them.” Kenneth would say, banging the jugs down on the bar. “Scare off our clientele.”
I always thought they looked nice though. I’d see them down at IGA, pondering over groceries in their foreign accents. It made me wonder what supermarkets were like where they came from, that they seemed to find ours so strange.
Kenneth’s mother hasn’t spoken to me since the sign went up. Her loss.
I’m quite proud of it, especially the smiling Buddha that Derek painted. He said that’s what they like and it seems to’ve worked. He’s a pretty talented kid, though his mother doesn’t think so.
Kenneth was wrong about one thing. The traveling salesmen love my backpackers, particularly the girls. Dear little things they are, with their pierced noses and threadbare clothes. They probably like it here because I remind them of their grandmothers.
I’ve been run off my feet since I got into Lonely Planet. Try Jean’s traditional Australian cooking, it said. Seems that not only are they exotic to me, I am exotic to them.
My scones are their favorite.
“Is this a spashal Orstaylian recipe ma’am?” a lovely American boy asked me.
Got me thinking. I wouldn’t mind seeing a place where they don’t make scones. What do ladies bring to cake stalls in those countries?
If I close my eyes I can picture them leaping out of a Cadillac in sunglasses and high heels with a plate of Pecan Pie in America. I can see them skiing down through the pine trees holding a steaming Apple Strudel in Austria. But what do the mothers do in Japan when the school needs to raise money? Hold a sushi stall?
I asked one of the young Japanese girls.
“Yes, yes, sushi,” she smiled and nodded.
I’m not sure that we understood each other. The idea that there might be completely different ways of doing things wouldn’t leave me alone. Night after night I worried about it. If it wasn’t supermarkets in Sweden or petrol stations in Peru, it was toilets in Tokyo or ice-cream in Indonesia.
Eventually I knew I’d have to find out for myself.
I’ve sewn the Australian flag on my new backpack and I’m counting down the days.
I can hear Kenneth turning in his grave right now.
This short story was a winner in the ABC Regional Short Story Competition in 2005 and was read on ABC Radio National.
I jumped at the chance to read Tiddas, because while I have read Anita’s memoir, Am I Black Enough for You? I had not yet read any of her women’s fiction. Anita, a proud Wiradjuri woman, has created a whole new genre in fiction — Koori chick-lit. Her novels are about smart, urban, Aboriginal women who like to shop, but are also socially aware and deeply rooted in their culture.
With Tiddas, she departs from her four previous novels about footloose singles by introducing us to a group of women on the cusp of forty. The title of the book means ‘friends’ and the story revolves around five tiddas who grew up together in Mudgee, but have found their way to Brisbane.
The action in the story takes place over about a year and uses the device of a monthly book group meeting as a marker for the changing seasons and lives of the five. The nature and value of female friendship is the thematic backdrop to the way each tidda deals with the central issues in her life.
There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. Having grown up in Brisbane, I loved the setting — the river, the joggers at Kangaroo Point and the gorgeous jacarandas that feature on the cover. The tiddas, Izzy, Veronica, Xanthe, Nadine and Ellen are well-rounded and despite, or maybe because of, their faults they are all likeable and fun to be around. On one level this is a study of issues relevant to all woman of this age — sex, fertility, career and relationships. But the book also gives an insight, through the tiddas, into Aboriginal culture and politics. Izzy, for example, aspires to be Australia’s Oprah, while Xanthe is a cultural awareness trainer and Ellen a funeral celebrant. I found the tiddas’ journeys realistic — their friendship waxes, wanes and sometimes falters. As in life, not everyone gets tied up with a ‘happily ever after’.
Tiddas is a warm-hearted book, which delves gently into both personal and social issues in a way that feels intrinsic to the story. I became involved in the lives of the tiddas and read the book quickly, finishing it with a sense of having been enriched by some lively and intelligent company.
Those of you who live near Byron Bay are lucky because Anita Heiss will be in our town soon…
I will be discussing Tiddas with Anita at the Byron Bay Library on March 14 5.30pm for 6.00 (Phone 6685 8540 to book) and she is also running a workshop on writing women’s fiction on March 15 (see www.nrwc.org.au).
You can find out more about Anita and the Byron Bay event here.
This is my first post for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge
I was tagged in this fascinating blog chain about how writers write by Kate Belle. Kate and I met at the Elizabeth Jolley Conference, which was the prelude to the Romance Writers of Australia Conference, in Fremantle. As I recall we managed to walk out of one session and — unknowingly — in by another door. Strangely the session we’d just walked into was identical to the one we’d walked out of. It was baffling.
Since meeting Kate, I have gone on to read her novel, The Yearning, which is a beautifully written and very sexy story of a girl’s ongoing obsession with her much-older lover. Kate’s second novel is out in a few months and it sounds like a ‘can’t miss’. Find out more about Kate’s writing here:
So, let me tell you about my so-called writing process…
What am I working on?
I’m finalising my next book which is due for publication in early 2015. It is a story about a trendspotter who has lost her ability to predict the next big thing. So in an effort to find her mojo, she sets off on a pilgrimage with a difference – a big difference.
I am also in the very early stages of something rather different (for me) — a young adult novel. I’m a bit out of my comfort zone, but so far, I’m loving it.
And, I’m just about to submit my thesis for a Masters in Creative Writing – so fingers crossed for smooth sailing there.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, my first two books ‘Liar Bird’ and ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ fall into the genre of chick-lit or romantic comedy. They feature quirky protagonists and are both set on the NSW far north coast, which is where I live. My next novel is a bit of a departure from that as it features an older protagonist and it isn’t as much of a classical rom com, in fact she has some fairly serious issues to deal with. But there’s still plenty of humour and romance and for those who like quirky, I’m pretty sure it ticks that box too.
My writing probably differs from others in its genre in its particular sense of humour. Humour is such an individual thing and all I can do is follow my mind where it takes me and hope others find it funny too.
Why do I write what I do?
Good question. I’d like to pretend it’s a deliberate choice, but in fact this seems to be the only sort of story I can write. I’ve played around with a lot of different styles of writing, but I keep coming back to stories with a humorous bent, written from the point of view of a female protagonist. This goes for my current young adult project too. When you’re on a good thing…
How does my writing process work?
I would love, love, love to be a plotter, but the only time I seriously tried to do this I failed dismally. As soon as I had a plot outline, I completely lost interest in the story. The only thing that keeps me writing is a desire to see how the story is going to turn out. I start with a character I love with a problem she needs to resolve and hit ‘go’. And yes, I do end up in cul-de-sacs and dead ends — it’s inevitable and it’s infuriating, but that’s what first drafts are for. I rely on my writing group to tell me to keep going when I’m convinced — as I often am — that I’m writing the stupidest story ever.
I would now like to introduce you to two writers who will be revealing all about their process this time next week.
First up, Susanna Freymark. Susanna and I first met at a writing retreat near Byron Bay, many, many years ago and we have also spent a week at Varuna together. As I recall Susanna’s writing process involves loud music and frequent trips to cafes. Her debut novel, ‘Losing February – a story of love, lust and longing,’ was released last year and was described in The Hoopla as ‘un-put-downable’. I can vouch for the fact that it is.
You can find Susanna’s website here .
Jennifer St George is a Byron Bay based writer and we first met at my book launch for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’. Late last year, I attended Jen’s launch for the print release of ‘Sweet Seduction’, which is a compilation of her two novels, ‘Seducing the Secret Heiress’ and ‘The Convenient Bride’. Jen’s books get rave reviews for their characters and blazing hot passion. I did notice that plenty of people were fanning their faces during the reading at her Byron Bay launch.
You can find Jennifer here:
Susanna and Jennifer will be posting about their writing process next week so head on over to their blogs to find out more about this mysterious and individual thing — the writing process.
Thank you to everyone who hopped along and commented on my blog. I loved hearing from you all about your superstitions (or lack of). It was absolutely fascinating. In fact I’m beginning to think I should write a book about it….
I drew a winner randomly and the lucky reader is Erin, who blogs here. I’ll be getting that book off to you quick smart, Erin.
I don’t think of myself as a superstitious person, but I do have a tendency to see meaning in things that may be meaningless to others. Often the world seems deeply mysterious to me. Perhaps that comes with being a writer. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in Byron Bay.
I have recently returned from a month in Japan. It was my fourth trip there, so clearly I like it. One of the things I particularly enjoy is seeing the Shinto shrines dotted all over the country. Everywhere you go there is a Tori gate that welcomes you to the spirit world. The Shinto religion has many gods and even objects like trees or rocks are revered for their kami or spirit.
On one of my previous trips to Japan I discovered the Seven Lucky Shinto Gods. Soon I started seeing them everywhere. They seemed to be calling me, so I bought a little model of the gods and took them home. My Seven Lucky Gods look a little like the seven dwarfs. They are all plump and smiling. Each one is about the size of a thimble and dressed in brightly coloured robes.
I am a bit of a collector of objects of significance. When I start a new writing project, I am often scanning for a touchstone that will symbolise the story. The object sits next to my computer while I write and it seems to give me courage. I suppose that’s superstitious, but writing is a leap of faith and you take help where you can.
I am currently working on my next novel, which is to be published by Random House in early 2015. The protagonist is a trendspotter who has always been able to predict the next big thing. Until one day she finds she can’t. She needs some help and this is where the Seven Lucky Gods come in.
It wasn’t until I had those gods sitting on my desk that this story really started to take shape for me. It’s been the same for my previous two novels. While I’m a pretty rational person usually, when it comes to writing I need my lucky object.
Do you have a superstitious habit or ‘lucky’ object that you rely on?
Comment on this blog to go into the draw to win a signed print copy of my current novel ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ (or if you’ve already read that one I can send you ‘Liar Bird’).
Happy Australia Day and a big thank you to Shellyrae from Book’d out for organising this Australia Day Blog Hop!