On Thursday, I met my editor, Catherine Milne, for the first time. Melbourne welcomed this Sydney visitor a deluge and a tram strike, but there was the Writers’ Festival to compensate. We talked until the coffee shop staff politely indicated that they were closing for the day. I had lost track of time and felt as though I had known Catherine for years, which I suppose in one way, I have. We go back to ‘Book of Lost Threads’ days (2009-10). So now I have a readers’ copy of ‘Mercy Street’ and confirmed publication date of 14 December.
My mother turned ninety-two today and we had a small family lunch. Her grandchildren are forming a queue to see her and her room is full of flowers. She’s even been adopted by the in-laws of all families. Great to be a matriarch. And at ninety-two she’s still doing the cryptic crossword.
I went to the Melbourne Writers' Festival today. The session included Graeme Simsion, Damon Young and Monica Dux. I could only drool when Graeme spoke about his sales figures.' The Rosie Project' is original and funny and he deserves all his sales. Damon is a philosopher who, apart from things philosophical, writes children's books.' My Nanna is a Ninja' is an intriguing title. Speaking as a nanna, it's good to see that some children's books eschew the nanna with walking stick and woolly grey hair. Monica Dux was warm, encouraging and funny, with lots of good tips for radio in particular. I enjoy her columns in The Age and was pleased to find she is as she writes.
I don’t know why this always happens. Just as my ms is due back for further work, I have an idea for a new book. Should I get started or wait until I finish with my proofreading? I might just write a few hundred words while the idea is still fresh. I’ve had a whole month since I last worked on Mercy Street and could have been happily writing while I waited. A well-weeded garden and a freezer full of soup is one consolation.
I was speaking at a book club in Anglesea recently, and Liz, the convener gave me a photograph of a Big Galah in a town called Kimba in South Australia. Those who have read 'Book of Lost Threads' will remember Sandy's plans to build a 'Great Galah.' I swear that I had no idea at the time of writing.
This got me wondering about how many other big things are waiting for us in communities around Australia. I can think of the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the Big Pineapple in Qu...eensland, the Big Merino in Goulbourn, a Giant Rocking-horse somewhere in South Australia and I think there's a Big Yabby, or Prawn somewhere too.
I do remember an activist group threatening to build a 'Giant Turd' when there was talk of piping sewage off their pristine beach. I can't remember where it was. I hope they won the fight.
Below is the big Galah in all his (or her) glory.
The Big Galah
Situated at Kimba, half way across Australia, the Big Galah was built by Roger Venning and family. It is eight metres high, two and a half metres wide and weighs over two tonnes. It is constructed of steel, high tension bird wire, fibreglass and gel
Today is National Bookshop Day and it’s time we reminded ourselves of the importance of bookshops in the lives of booklovers.
When I was a child, I received new books for Christmas and birthdays, so from the time I was quite young I associated books with something special. And so they are.
Probably because of my reading, I also became a great seeker of treasures. My cousin and I used to visit the local tip in the hope that we might find something wonderful – a wishing chair, a jewelled sarcophagus, a Roman helmet or an old trunk filled with gold. The tip was strictly verboten but, Goody Two-Shoes though I was, I knew that all would be forgiven when I came home with my booty.
After school, my friends and I used to go into the ‘Second-hand’ Shop on Queens Parade – another forbidden place. We would sneak in and prowl around until the old man who lurked behind his dusty merchandise, darted out flailing his arms to drive us off. What more evidence did we need that there was treasure to be found right there, on the way home from school? And we had discussed the ethics. It was only fair that when we found the treasure, we shared it with this man, nasty and suspicious though he be.
Is it any wonder, then, that I decided to be an archaeologist? This prevailed until someone told me that you had to dig up dead people. That turned me right off.
So – what does this have to do with National Bookshop Day? Every time you enter a bookshop, you are on a treasure hunt – not a lacklustre virtual hunt, but a real, physical experience. You can pick up the books and feel their newness. (I like to run my hands over the cover.) After reading the blurb, I scan little snippets to see if I want to read more. I pick up another book. Do the same thing. Agonise. I can only afford one, but I’ve now got four I could very well buy. I talk to one of the staff. Bookshops must be one of the last bastions of real customer service. Staff know their stock. They can recommend. They can order. They can find the book that you heard reviewed on Books and Arts – the one where the author’s name might have started with a ‘B’ or that could be an ‘F’? Anyway it was about someone who accidentally…’ The treasure is found and someone else does the digging.
I am took my young granddaughters to a Dragon Day at the Eltham bookshop today. They had great fun and came home with some colouring in, bookmarks and a dragon story each. They are not only little treasures, but like me, treasure-seekers.
I have just received an email from Harper Collins with the cover for Mercy Street and I’m delighted with it. It is amazing how many midwives assist in the birthing of a book and I’m fortunate to have among these a talented cover designer. Sadly, I can’t share it as it’s under wraps at the moment.