Cat Nap

This one’s going to another Letter Exchange ad. It has a passage I copied out on the back, comparing sleeping with boxing. I love the term ‘cat nap’ but real cats make me sneeze like crazy.


June 2013: Sent to USA

Glitter Fish

I’m reading Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish: A novel in twelve fish (2001) at the moment, so things piscine are on my mind. I think that’s why I chose this to send in reply to a Letter Exchange listing asking for hand-made art cards.

collage fish

Jun 2013: SENT to USA

Whose story is this, anyway?

I’m 20,000 words deep into a manuscript that I’m pretty sure now will become a young adult novel. It didn’t start this way. It started as the fiction part of an MA. Well, that’s not quite right either, because that tells you the circumstances of its generation, but nothing about the story impetus behind it. The story, or plot, which sparked my interest, goes like this.

There’s a family – Mum, Dad, three kids – living in outer suburban Perth, sometime in the 1960s. The kids go to school, the mum volunteers in the school canteen, the dad works as an electrician. One day the kids come home to find their mother standing outside the smouldering ruins of the family home. The fire brigade has been called, the fire’s out, but the house is unliveable. And their father is nowhere to be seen. As days pass, and he fails to appear, the official line becomes ‘missing, presumed dead’. The family mourn, hold a wake, rebuild their lives, but the only son holds out hope that Dad has escaped. Ten years later, there’s a call from a hospital in Brisbane. Their father, rescued from a shipwreck off the Queensland coast, is calling to make amends and explain away a decade’s absence.

When I starting trying to flesh this out, I wrote a couple of pages describing the father, in the third person. Here’s a snippet:

As he gets closer to work, he can see the light streaming onto the concrete pavement and smell the yeasty aroma escaping. A big, square shamble of a man, as he shoves open the back door, his shoulders graze each doorpost. He ducks his head under the lintel, straightens up to his full six-foot-six and he’s breathing the steamy heat of the kitchen.

This seemed miles away from what grabbed me about the story: the small boy who has to deal with a father who disappeared. So I tried it from the boy’s point of view:

I didn’t really notice how much I needed Dad there til he wasn’t there. I kept looking for him in cracks, sometimes the cracks between the planks on the jetty, sometimes that gap trains make when they pull in to the platform. I use to wedge myself into the gap between the fence and the shed, down the side near Mr Petrie’s chookhouse. There were only feathers and chook poo and once a half-chewed mouse, but if I squinted right on sunny days, I could see him, a comforting presence hovering down there like the Phantom.

This vantage point had a couple of its own problems; one, writing a convincing voice for a ten-year-old is really hard, two, a narrator this close to the story wasn’t going to be able to tell it as the archetypal tale – fire, water, death, rebirth, father, son – that I wanted it to be.

So for the third time I began, this time with a semi-autobiographical narrator, who went to school with this son. Since I was writing about school days, it turned into my school days, and since I went to school in the Blue Mountains I found myself writing about that, and after a number of years, but also before I consciously knew it, I was writing to exorcise my ambivalence about growing up in, and then leaving, this place where, as nature writer and poet Mark Treddinick writes, you live not high, but deep.

The disappearing dad and the bewildered son may yet reappear. If they do, their narrator will tell them in her way, not theirs. So whose story is it, anyway?

Dora, Dorothy, Olivia, Angelina, but where are the others?

Being the mother of a preschooler, I watch* a fair amount of kids TV.

*I.e. I have one corner of one eye on the screen and the other either closed or scanning lines of text in the desperate hope that meaning will thereby leap off the page into my frazzled brain .

And being a feminist, I can’t help noticing that gender imbalance permeates even this *cough, cough* innocent wonderland. Of the current crop of ABC for Kids shows, here are the 11 shows with male heroes, eponymously named:
Thomas the Tank Engine
Roary the Racing Car
Rob the Robot
Fireman Sam
Postman Pat
Bob the Builder
Shaun the Sheep
Blinky Bill
Mister Maker
Mr Moon
Little Charley Bear

Look at all the stuff these dudes get to do! They can be trains, cars, robots. They deliver mail, put out fires, build, make crafty bits, even orbit the earth. Even the soft toys and safari animals are male.

And another three, with heroes that are again male, though it’s not apparent from their titles:
Bananas in Pajamas
Wibbly Pig
Babar the Elephant.

Three more with ‘ensemble’ casts, in which some characters are female:
The Octonauts
Small Potatoes.

One with a girl and a boy (though the boy gets top billing):
Gaspard and Lisa.

And, finally, the measly six with a female protagonist:

Dorothy the Dinosaur
Angelina Ballerina
Little Princess
Dora the Explorer

Wow, I’m really glad all my fellow feminists lobbied and picketed and petitioned and protested for this: so that, in the 21st century, girls can aspire to be princesses and ballerinas. Or, if they’re dinosaurs, they can dance and pick roses, and pour tea for guests. Dora the Explorer is good, I guess, though of course she wears pink. The only one of these shows in which a female protagonist is shown doing a variety of different activities, some of which, God forbid, actually challenge gender stereotypes, is Olivia. (She’s even allowed to dream of being a judge.) She does have two younger brothers, but they’re mainly accessories to her friendship/rivalry with Francine, her best friend, also a chick.

So, the totals.
Male heroes: 14
Ensemble cast: 4
Female heroes: 6
Female heroes in non-stereotypical roles: 3, or one-eighth of the total.

It’s enough to make me cry into my pot of rosy tea. Or down a couple of whiskys.

What’s in a name?

It’s the first thing any rookie blogger has to do: give that baby a handle. Like many a word-lover, I’ve named plenty of things, from pets to cars to (jointly with the fella, bien sur) my two kids. Dog: Green Trouser; car: a white Mazda 808 called Gertie; offspring: Pudding and HP.

But this blog-naming lark is tricky. Like a racehorse’s name, a blog name must be unique. Unlike a racehorse’s name, it’s more effective if the name conveys something about its contents. (Ooh, imagine if racehorses were named that way, it would make race-calling kind of Gothic: “And it’s Five Tonnes of Hay pulling up on the inside, then came Blood Guts Brain, followed by Future Pot of Glue”. Sorry. I do tend to digress.) So, I wanted a blog name that would both roll off the tongue AND stick in the brain. And yes, I know that such a feat is, if not anatomically impossible, then at least kind of icky.

Lots of the obvious choices for a word-nerd were already nabbed, including Wordnerd itself. Wordlover? Tagline “Loving nature while living with fear”. Wordly? Owned by a nerd coding a new blogging platform. Wordworld? Written in a language I can’t read.

So, I started getting a bit more lateral. Scribblemania? A lovely pic of a snowy branch, but no content. Textify? Hello, Spanish conceptual artist, may your endeavours flourish! Hmm…I know, Dotcomma! This was going to be the name of my editing business, mainly because I wanted to answer the phone with “Our website is dotcomma, dot com”. Damn! Yet another blog with a ‘wordy’ title but very little content, does this bode well or ill? I gave up and went to bed.

When I logged on the next evening, it came to me. Readshesaid. And I was content. I love a bit of ambiguity, and what’s more, the name told me what I should blog about. That ‘she’ in the middle is the key.

So here goes.