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This tenting life – birds, books and bush

17 May

I’ve spent five of the last six weeks sleeping in a tent. And while I did love staying in a house in Margaret River – thank you Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival! – I was keen to get back in the tent. Living out of a tent is a very immersive experience. There is almost nothing between you and the environment. You hear every bird call, every shower of rain and every wind gust. It seeps into you, this richness. In the house, I enjoyed the soft bed, the hot water and cooking in a proper kitchen. But I missed the birds.

Camping in the middle of Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

I’ve never been a birdwatcher, but I’m trying. I’ve got binoculars and a bird book and when I see a little brown bird I attempt to identify it. It’s been enjoyable trying to put a name to all those flitting friends.

The other thing about camping is that there is often no phone reception in the places – mainly national parks – where we like to camp. The result of this is that I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve found some treasures here and there, given to me by other travellers or picked up at a roadside stop. I also read on my kindle and listen to audio books in the car. I’ve posted a list of all the books I’ve read and the birds I’ve seen below and chosen a favourite of each.

In a couple of weeks, on May 31st, I’ll be talking at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth and then from June 13 to 16, I’ll be at Geraldton Big Sky Writers Festival. I’ll make an effort to spruce myself up a bit before then, so I don’t look like I just crawled out of a tent!

Emus at Flinders Ranges

Books read over the last six weeks.

‘The Story of a Marriage’ by Andrew Sean Greer

‘Catching Teller Crow’ by Ambelin and Ezekial Kwaymullina

‘The Third Wheel’ by Michael J. Richie

‘Imaginary Friends’ by Alison Lurie

‘A Widow for One Year’ by John Irving

‘The World Made Straight’ by Ron Rash

‘Dead Parrot’ by John Huxley

‘Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John

‘Longbourne’ by Jo Baker

‘Coming Rain’ by Stephen Daisley

‘The End of all our Exploring’ by Catherine Anderson

‘The Passenger’ Lisa Lutz

‘The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells’ Andrew Sean Greer

‘The Big Twitch’ Sean Dooley

‘Life List’ Olivia Gentile

‘The Lessons’ Naomi Alderton

Favourite book: ‘Catching Teller Crow’ by Ambelin and Ezekial Kwaymullina

Birds sighted (and identified) over the last six weeks.

Pardalote

Hooded plover

Flame robin

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo

Wedge-tailed eagle

Magpie

Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Galah

White-browed scrub wren

Richard’s pipit

Eastern rosella

Crimson rosella

Rainbow lorikeet

Raven

Spur-winged plover

Currawong

Black-headed cuckoo-shrike

Little hawk

Swallow

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Purple-crowned lorikeet

Superb blue wren

Port Lincoln parrot

Grey shrike-thrush

Hooded robin

Red-eared firetail

Chestnut-breasted shelduck

White-tailed black cockatoo

Kookaburra

Peregrine falcon

Red-capped parrot

Rufous treecreeper

Rock parrot

Red-capped dotterel

Sooty oystercatcher

Pied oystercatcher

Crested tern

Samphire thornbill

Emu

Red wattle bird

Australian bustard

Golden whistler

Silvereye

White-eared honeyeater

Willy wagtail

Brush bronzewing pigeon

Sanderling

Pacific Gull

Silver Gull

Brown falcon

Dusky wood swallow

Mulga parrot

White-browed babbler

Mallee ring-necked parrot

Pelican

Black swan

Butcher bird

Budgerigar

Wood duck

Caspian tern

Elegant parrot

Ibis

Corella

Favourite bird: Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Heading West

1 Apr

Well, it’s not long now until we pack up the car and start the big drive across the Nullarbor to Western Australia. I think it might be around, oh, fifty hours’ drive from here to there. Luckily, we have a few weeks and plenty of amazing places to see on the way.

I’ve lined up a few writerly events while I’m over there and look forward to meeting lots of new readers and writers.

First up is Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, from the 3-5 May. I’m doing four events on at the festival, including a workshop on flash fiction, which should be fun. After that, I’ll be sticking around for the Young Readers and Writers Festival. Not to mention doing some surfing.

Next, I’ll head up to Perth, where I’ll be talking at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre on ‘Spinning Boring Thread into Comedic Gold’ on May 31st. It’s part of the Sundowner Series and I gather there’s wine involved, which is always nice.

Lastly, I’ll head further north to Geraldton for the Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival from June 13-16. I’ll talk about my novel ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’, and do a reading at a high tea with cake and scones – big yay for that one! Also hope to do some snorkelling on the beautiful Coral Coast while I’m up there.

Never having seen much of WA, I’m beyond excited. If you’re in West Australia, or you’re headed that way, I hope to see you there!

Loving the Apocalypse: Why I wrote a romantic comedy about climate change

20 Dec

2018 has been a big year. In April, my first young adult novel ‘Paris Syndrome’ came out and hot on its heels was my climate change comedy, ‘Melt’. I’ve been having fun doing the rounds, to talk about both books.

With Philip McLaren and Tim Tomlinson at Federal Writers Festival (image by Jessie Cole)

Most recently, I was at the Quantum Words Science Writing Festival in Sydney and the first ever Federal Writers Festival, near Byron Bay. At both of these events, I spoke about why I wrote a romantic comedy about climate change. I thought I’d share a little of that here.

Six years ago or so, I read an article which said that climate change is the most boring subject humanity has ever confronted. To me that was a red rag to a bull. I decided to roll my sleeves up and write a comedy about climate change. And not just a comedy, a romantic comedy.

With climate scientist Lesley Hughes and authors James Bradley and Hannah Donnelly at Quantum Words (image: Writing NSW)

People sometimes look at me like I’m a terrible person when I say I’ve written a romantic comedy about climate change. ‘You think climate change is funny?’ they say. Anything can be funny if you put your mind to it. Humour is a good way of approaching topics that we find hard to contemplate. I’ve read my fair share of dystopian fiction, but I find that there are only so many scorched wastelands I can take. There’s also room for funny climate change love stories.

Climate change is vast, overwhelming and depressing. We’re all to blame and there isn’t an easy solution. That makes it a difficult problem for fiction writers. It isn’t easy to turn it into a story which is small, hopeful and funny. But I’ve done my best.

It’s important to have stories about climate change out there. The more, the better. My book isn’t going to save the world, but it adds to the conversation. I’ve been careful not to harangue the reader. I think novels should be about people who have issues, rather than the other way around.

I’ve always enjoyed writing fish-out-of-water comedies. It’s so much fun placing a protagonist in a situation that they don’t have the skills to handle. ‘Melt’ is the story of Summer. She’s a TV production assistant who, in an unlikely turn of events, ends up impersonating a science superstar in Antarctica. Summer knows nothing about glaciology, penguins or krill and her boss forbids her to talk about climate change.

I put a lot of thought into how to introduce the science. I have a science background, so it would have been easy to overload the book with carbon dioxide and rising sea levels.

Instead I adopted the ‘strip club approach’. In movies, when they have to do an information dump, they always do it somewhere exciting, like a strip club. So, in ‘Melt’, whenever I introduce some science about climate change, I make sure that Summer is sliding backwards on her skis towards a crevasse. Or having a wardrobe failure.

I think comedy can be an effective way to tackle difficult issues. Authors need to woo their audience, not knock them over the head with a message. Climate change is scary, but it’s important to leave the reader with a subtle feeling of hope. Change is possible.

Best wishes for the holiday season and here’s to a fulfilling and positive 2019.  

Acknowledgement:
I would like to thank Create NSW for funding my travel to the Quantum Words Festival.

A touch of Paris in Brisbane

8 Apr

I first heard of Paris Syndrome a few years ago. The condition is a form of culture shock and is particularly experienced by Japanese tourists who become distressed when Paris doesn’t live up to their romantic expectations. It was a strange idea to me, that people could have such an idealised view of Paris that they would fall sick when it failed to deliver. Yet, it is true. Few other cities come with such a wealth of fantasies attached.

Paris is the City of Love, after all, the most romantic place in the world. It is easy to believe that it’s a city full of accordion players and elegant women walking poodles but, as wonderful as the city is, that is not the reality of Paris today.

A few years ago, I dragged my family along on a Parisian literary pilgrimage. We drank café au lait at the Café de Flore, where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used to hang out discussing existentialism. We browsed the bookshelves in the historic Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where writers can sleep for free among the books while working on their novel. We strolled around Victor Hugo’s house, where he wrote Les Misérables, and gazed out at the manicured park and chimneyed apartments outside. In Paris, I felt that I was at the centre of something – in a place where ideas are the lifeblood.

So I was very tempted to write a novel set in Paris, but, well, it seemed a little obvious. I decided to subvert that idea. The jarring clash between reality and imagination which causes Paris Syndrome was more interesting.

I grew up in Brisbane, which has its own charms – it’s warm, liveable and not too big – but it sure ain’t Paris. The character of Happy came to me. A Brisbane girl who dreams of walking the streets of Montmartre. Of skipping stones in St Martin’s Canal. Of popping into a photo booth in the Metro and flirting with an eccentric Frenchman. A girl who is so crazy about the movie Amélie, that she imagines when she gets to Paris her hair will morph into an elfin bob as she rides her scooter past the Arc de Triomphe.

So, while I do adore Paris, I decided to set ‘Paris Syndrome’ in Brisbane. Instead of the Seine, Happy has the Brisbane River. Instead of the Eiffel Tower, she has the much smaller replica which sits outside a café in Milton. Gradually she starts to realise that problems aren’t solved by changing locations. Life unfolds wherever you are.

You can read more about ‘Paris Syndrome’ over on my website.

IMG_1085 (002)

Where it all started – at Amelie’s greengrocer in Montmartre

paris syndrome cover low res

‘Paris Syndrome’ release day and launch

18 Mar

It’s always a moment of mixed emotions when a book goes out into the world, but ‘Paris Syndrome’ is particularly special.

‘Paris Syndrome’ is my first book with a young adult protagonist. The first novel I ever wrote, which will never see the light of day, was a young adult fantasy, but I turned to adult fiction after that. Many years ago, a publisher said to me, ‘You know, you have a great voice for YA.’ I never forgot that, and at last decided to give it another go. I have always loved reading young adult fiction. Things seem closer to the bone and that adds extra power to the story-telling.

So today my protagonist Happy goes public. She’s a quirky Brisbane girl who’s obsessed with Paris. I loved writing her story and hope she goes well. Bon anniversaire Happy! If you live in my local area, I’d love to see you at the launch.

And if you’d like to watch a 15 second book trailer with some accordion music to get you in a Parisian mood click here

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!

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.

 

 

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.

Big Things – a taste of Nostalgia

19 Mar

big banana 1972In my book, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’, my protagonist Arkie and her friend Haruko are sometimes bemused and sometimes captivated by the Big Things they encounter on their journey. While they agree that some Big Things are better than others, it turns out that even the most lacklustre have their attractions. The Big Pelican has eyelashes to die for and a rather flirtatious look about it and inside The Big Shell, Arkie can hear the roar of distant seas. The Big Prawn is rather intimidating. A twenty-five metre prawn would be enough to make me flee the water forever, Arkie reflects.

While Big Things first started in America it is probably safe to say that no other country has embraced them with quite the gusto of Australia.  Big Things were originally conceived of as extra-large agricultural products, designed to show travellers how country folk live. They were, in effect, farming theme parks. But that original intention later expanded to embrace practically anything that could be reproduced in a super-sized form.

Big things kicked off in Australia in the 60s with the Big Scotsman, The Big Banana, the Big Stubby and the Big Staircase.  While some folks were sporting Afros and peace symbols, eating pork with prunes and carrying flowers, others were busy building Big Things.

The 70s was the decade of pet rocks, hot pants, pineapple cheese balls, curly perms and platform shoes. It also brought us the Big Captain Cook, the Big Crab, the Big Macadamia Nut, the Big Pineapple, the Big Penguin, the Big Mower and the Big Cow. Quirky times.

Some will remember the 80s as being all about pedal pushers, Rubik’s Cube, prawn and avocado cocktail, big hair and acid-wash jeans. But, more importantly, this decade also brought us nineteen big things including the Big Bulls, the Big Mandarin, the Big Avocado and the Big Chook. It’s a wonder people got anything done at all in the 80s with all those Big Things to build.

To me there is something quite surrealistic about Big Things. They raise questions such as, why would you build a Big Cow? Or a Big Prawn for that matter? I suspect that the answer is, Why not? As Arkie says, they are an opportunity to reflect, Magnified to many times its normal size, a cow forces me to consider the essence of ‘cowness’. Cows of course are sacred to Hindus and are often revered as a symbol of wealth and abundance in other religions too. Is building a Big Cow therefore a subconscious effort to call forth good fortune?

Even if you don’t believe, like Arkie, that Big Things are deeply meaningful, you may still think, as I do, that there is something weird and sweet about them. I don’t know about you, but somehow they always make me smile.

PS. The photo is taken circa 1972 of my sister and I with my mother at the Big Banana.

This blog originally appeared at Starts at Sixty.