Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

SHE TOO didn't win but the judge liked us!

When SHE TOO was just an ebook, we (its four authors) entered it into the poetry category of a big competition for new self-published ebooks. Our feedback is just to hand.

We were told that books were evaluated on a scale of 1-5 with 1 meaning 'needs improvement' and 5 meaning 'outstanding'. We were also told that some categories, e.g. Plot and Story Appeal, wouldn't necessarily apply to poetry — but in our case they decided it did. Here are our excellent scores:

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 4

Character Appeal and Development: 5

Voice and Writing Style: 4

The judge suggested we might have done better to arrange the book into categories or sections, but in general the review was very favourable. Omitting the more detailed passages, this is the judge's commentary:

This is a lovely idea for a collection, and what a good description of "(Almost) Harmony"!

This feels like a wonderful conversation among a group of women, and sectioning could give some sense of the variety of subjects.

The combination of four poets was an interesting reading experience too. I found myself reading each poem and only then glancing at its poet, to see if I could guess! And I could. That shows the power of the individual voices within the whole. I began to see not just the themes within the collection but within each poet's collection, what intrigued and plagued her. I also started to notice individual poetic devices.

There's an intriguing undercurrent of anger and frustration about the alluring but intrusive bonds of family. I think this balances well against the expectation that these poems will be "nice poems from nice ladies". The shock of the "real" is that much more striking considering the soft expectation set up by the cover and the introduction. Very good!

— Judge, 2nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards.


We didn't win or even get placed. In a huge field of strong contenders, that would actually have surprised us, though we took the view that 'you've gotta be in it to win it'. We learned a lot from the exercise of entering, though. It immediately threw us into enquiries about achieving professionalism and excellence in an unfamiliar field — and with very little time to spare before the entry deadline.  (I have been a small publisher in the past, but that was long before the advent of ebooks, which have different requirements.) 

I'm proud of what we achieved. It's a good book!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I Found My Christmas Earrings from Andrew!

Some readers may recall a tale of Andrew's frustration at not being able to surprise me with a gift of earrings for Christmas — because he wasn't well enough to shop by himself, and I was handling the money.

That was his last Christmas alive, though we didn't know it then. It was 2011. I didn't find out until some time after he died, when I came across the note in his journal, asking rhetorically how he was going to get the $30 he needed to buy me 'the earrings'.

He didn't describe the earrings. As my earlier entry also records, I tried to honour his wish by getting some I liked, but didn't really know what he had in mind.

This week, there they were in the pharmacy again, just as they were three years ago — beautiful Swarovski crystals in a variety of colours including a deep purple that's just perfect for me!  And then I remembered.

We had been to get his regular blood test to monitor his Warfarin dose. The pharmacy was just near the lab and we ducked in the side door as we went past, as I had some stuff to pick up. He was using his walker, as he always had to by then, sitting on it while I did the buying. There was a stand of Swarovski crystal earrings in all colours, including the deep purple that friends call my colour because I wear it such a lot.

I love Swarovski crystals, So did he; he bought me some lovely pieces of it in the past. I admired the earrings, and asked the price. I seem to remember that he said I should get them. It would have been like him. But money was tight (it's always tight) and I didn't.

It all came back to me when I saw the same crystals there this week. Perhaps they vary their special Christmas stock year by year; anyway they haven't had those earrings again until now. I asked the price. $29.99. Yes, definitely the ones he so wanted to get me.

This time I had absolutely no money left in bank or wallet, after paying bills, posting presents and making sure I had the food and petrol I need. But I get paid on New Year's Eve — and I have an account at that pharmacy. This time I got them!

They are in a little purple pouch, resting on what used to be his bedside table, for me to open tomorrow morning, Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Un-Retreating

Hard to stay in retreat mode with the Sydney siege happening.

Ignorant of anything that might be going on in the world, I turned on the TV late yesterday morning to watch an innocuous half-hour program that wouldn't have interfered, only to be confronted by breaking news — which had evidently first broken a couple of hours earlier.

You can't detach from something like that! Although, half way through the afternoon, when nothing was changing and the journos were reiterating the same information, I did turn off the TV. Turning off the mind from such a thing was, however, too difficult.

I'd already started the day by watching online a live telecast: the funeral of a young man, some of whose family are like my family. He was taken suddenly in a car accident. The picture disintegrated just as his wife broke down in tears while trying to read her tribute to him. Distressing in various ways! I gave up. When I tried to access the archived footage a little later, I couldn't. 'Too soon,' I thought, and turned on the telly while waiting — straight into the siege.

No, not a day for staying cocooned.

Nor can I stay that way today, having woken up to discover the sad ending to the siege, with loss of life and injuries.

I had already realised that it wasn't going to be practical to stay on retreat as xmas got closer. I'd have to cut it short. Following these recent events, I'm cutting it shorter still — reluctantly, but I came too far back into the world while all that was happening; I may as well stay.

I've already said what I could to the family of the young man. And the whole world is still saying all sorts of things about the siege. I can add nothing more.

About the retreat, I can say it was illuminating and that I enjoyed it. How to integrate the results into everyday life is now the question.

I imagine few of us could live in contemplative detachment for long periods; instead I intend to incorporate some practices into my life in shorter, more frequent increments. The possibility of going about my daily life with some different underlying attitudes is also something to explore.

Who's listening?

In passing, I'm astonished that — although I posted a facebook status update to say I would be absent from there during December, and also advised close real-life friends by email that if they needed to get in touch urgently they should text — many on fb, even in the second category, went on blithely messaging, tagging me, and posting to my wall.  Many seemed to assume I was still there, others to be taken aback on getting an inkling that maybe I wasn't. Very strange!

If one of my fb friends doesn't respond to communications for a while, I go looking to see if their timeline sheds some light on this. It seems a simple and obvious enough thing to do! Apparently not.

I suppose it sometimes appeared that I was there. Birthday notifications come into my email, which I did check occasionally. I could and did send greetings direct from there. My blog posts have links by which I can share them to facebook, Google+ and twitter without actually going to those places. I did that too, as I was still writing things during the retreat. 

This doesn't mean I got to see anything else on fb. I deliberately refrained from investigating any 'notification' pings on my iPad. Surely the point of a retreat is to retreat!

I'm seriously thinking that if I do this again, I might de-activate the account next time. (After all, it is so easy to re-activate.) 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Art Afternoon

Slowing down, doing other things than I'm used to, I discover the Saturday afternoon arts show on SBS. I used to watch similar programs on the ABC years ago (on Sundays) then they gradually tailed off. Perhaps they've been on SBS a long time; I just never looked. Too busy keeping busy. Wasn't looking for that today, either, just happened to notice. I'll be looking on future Saturdays!

I love the arts, though I don't consider myself a scholar. They feed me.

It's 20 years since I lived in a big city. We do have an excellent regional art gallery here, with wonderful, changing exhibitions as well as a substantial permanent collection. But it's rather small, let's face it, compared with the big city galleries. And if I want to see top-notch live performances, I have to travel, which I am more and more reluctant to do as I get older and poorer. So it is great to live in an age where I can see so much brilliant art in cinema or on TV.  (And let's not forget online.)

First there was a program on an artist called Edward Hopper, whom I knew nothing about. Now I do. it was fascinating. He was an innovator. He is dead now. (If you don't know about him and want to learn, you must Google. This post is not to describe or discuss his work.)

Then there was a thing called Music in the Air, a history of musical events on television: exactly what I was just talking about, making art widely available — and preserving it too, in the case of live performances.

I listened to that with only half an ear (or rather, watched it only partly) as I also used the time to do a water-colour sketch. I intended to make this sketching a hobby, when I first began doing it some months ago, but I haven't indulged in much of it lately. I've been experimenting with kiddies' crayons too, and with pastel pencils (although the pencils are not new to me). I've decided I like water-colour sketching much the best.

You mustn't think I mean water-colour painting; what I do is different from that. No washes, for instance. I use a small spiral notebook of special water-colour paper. It's nice and thick so the colour won't run through to the other side. (Well, not usually. I have had the odd mishap from over-enthusiasm.) I use a little tin of kiddies' paints like we had at school, with two tiny, skinny little brushes. I found another brush someone had dropped or thrown away on the ground. I thought it was a gift from God, so I took it home and cleaned it, and now I sometimes use it too. It's a bit thicker than the others. 

I have a screw-top jar made of thick, clear plastic which I use for water; carried, for extra safety, inside a plastic bag knotted at the top. And I have four little plastic pots, very small but deep, that I can use to pour the water into to wash off my brushes between colours. They are really for mixing paint, and the lid of the paint tin could also be used as a palette, but I don't do that yet. So far, if I want to mix the colours, I do it directly on the page. Sometimes I paint with plain water to thin the colours, or with a dry brush to make lines across them.

What I have discovered is that it's good not to know how to do it — which I don't. This means I'm free to play and experiment.

After the music program, there came one about a painter and sculptor called Marc Quinn, who is very much alive. Another fascinating show in quite a different way. This fellow is very innovative too. He plays and experiments. I'm sure he knows how to do things, in terms of being trained; in fact they said he had studied Fine Arts — but he finds new ways, new approaches, things not done before.

He was quoted as saying something I like: 'With our desires and choices we create the future. We don't even know we're doing it.' That was in the context of his interest in evolution. The way he explained it, as the long-term effects of human attention and consensus over time, made a lot more sense than the usual New Age version of 'You only have to think it and it's yours'. (You could Google him too.)

I don't relate either of these artists to me with my sketching games, and I don't want to sculpt or paint with oils anyway; but it was still a treat to look at their art, with a knowledgeable guide in each case, and to get to listen to the artists themselves talk about their work.

What a lovely, leisurely afternoon feeding my soul!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Announcement — SHE TOO Calendar. A great gift for yourself or another poetic soul.



A monthly calendar of your favourite pin-up poets and sample poems. Click on the pic to view and buy.

OR
















Buy the book (over there in the right-hand side bar, see) and get a free one-page calendar as a gift (just the rudie-nudie photos as above!).

For details, click here.

Storm Diary

Nature is wild outside. The thunder cracks so loudly, I hastily put up blue domes of protection over my home, my car, the guy next door's unit ... heck, the whole top end of this street, and a few friends' homes elsewhere in town for good measure.  

But I don't think of this until some time after already seeing huge hailstones falling, and fearing for my car, out there by the kerb. The only consolation is that those falling near the house, where it's more usually parked, are even bigger. 

The rain is now torrential. 

Crikey, that was a tremendous crash! I.m surprised my lights are still on. Computers, modem and phone are unplugged, TV is off, and I listen to sharp cracks of hail on roof and windows, sounding as if they'll break the glass, or as if they are coming through the ceiling right into the room.

The only tree close enough to the house to do damage is the frangipani, and that's very sturdy and right up against the front wall, only a few of the top twigs against a window. All the same, I might prune it down below the sill real soon.

I think of another friend's house that may well be at risk, and another's, and another's, and whack up a few more domes. Then I strengthen the ones already in place.

The lights flicker briefly. 

I'm glad this didn't happen yesterday while I was out and about.

Ah, there goes the power off. And back on again almost at once! Just when I was getting up to fetch the torch (which I keep handy) and think about lighting candles (quite handy too). 

Both thunder and rain quieten, and/or begin to  move away.

Later

It abated, and I went outside to check my car. It already had a few hail dints on the roof, acquired before I bought it. I don't think there are more. The neighbour across the road was checking his car roof at the same time, and it was OK. 

We stopped for a bit of a chat; hadn't seen each other in weeks. Then the rain started again, so we hastened back inside our houses. The thunder swung around and came back here for another go, with yet more rain and hail. The sky went very dark.  But now it does seem to have finished at last.

Again, as so often lately, no need to water my garden for a while.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How I Got a New Vacuum Cleaner for Free — a Saga

AND a free carpet shampoo.  And even a spare vacuum cleaner to give to a friend who needs one.

Mind you, this is not a recipe others can easily follow. It was all quite unintentional.

I have a belief that the Universe is always listening, and will give us what we appear to want. (Maybe that is the recipe to follow.) Anyway, I was recently looking at my carpet and thinking that I MUST find the money to get it cleaned again. It was two years since the last time. I also noticed, as a separate matter, that the cheap little upright vacuum cleaner I bought only 15 months ago wasn't working quite so well any more.

So I was sitting out on my front veranda a few days ago, doing some writing, when a van stopped and a young woman emerged and walked up my driveway to ask if I'd like a free carpet shampoo.

It was a promotion for a particular brand of vacuum cleaner. No obligation to buy; the staff got paid for doing the demo.

'We want to create some word of mouth, a bit of a buzz about the product,' she said.

'I know it's a good product,' I told her. 'I used to have one a long time ago. And yes I would like my carpet shampooed. But I can tell you now, I won't be buying.'

Well, it wasn't her job to sell me the cleaner, only to sell me the free demo. She didn't have to twist my arm.

In the course of conversation — they chat you up — it emerged that I'm a poet. So was her mum in Ireland, she said, a  frequently published poet. I didn't know the name, but gave her my card and said her mum could look me up on facebook. She saw that I'm also a professional psychic medium and asked if I could tell her something about a situation that was troubling her. She didn't say what.

'Well,' I thought, 'I'm getting a free carpet clean. I can give her a freebie too.' So I sat down with her, held her hand and tuned in. I got some stuff which meant little to me, but which she seemed to think was helpful. It wasn't a proper reading, just a quickie.

We set a time a little later for the demo. In due course a young man arrived. We moved furniture out of the way, and I perched on a dining-room chair in the now crowded kitchen.

'Don't worry about the cat,' I said. 'He'll clear out as soon as the noise starts.' Not at all! Levi was extremely interested, and perched on another chair beside me to watch too.

Young Man said that Young Woman had mentioned I'm psychic.

'What do you pick up if you, er, look at my aura?'

I tuned in across the room, and started telling him about himself as a small boy in dramatic circumstances. Spot on! He confirmed everything.

'So, am I psychic?' I asked.

'Well, it could be a matter of asking the right questions. I'm a bit of a sceptic.'

'Hang on,' I said. 'I didn't ask any questions before I told you all that.'

I was also given a lot of advice for him, for now and years ahead, which I hope he will take. It seemed very important.

I explained to him that as I was clear I wasn't buying the vacuum cleaner, I'd asked myself why the Universe had brought these people into my space. Maybe they needed something I had to offer? They had both asked, and that's why I gave them each a quick freebie.

He was back in sales mode, telling me that other people often started out saying they weren't going to buy, and then ended up getting one after all.

'Age Pensioners?' I asked, sceptical in my turn.

'Yes,' he said. 'How much do you think it costs?'

"About $3,000?'

'Actually it's more.'

He explained that there were a number of attachments to do a variety of cleaning jobs, and the way pensioners afforded the machine was by not getting all the attachments. There were several I felt I could well do without, e.g. I'm really not going to be sanding any furniture at my time of life.

The amount of dust he removed with deep cleaning before shampooing was very convincing.  But, remembering the early model I'd had decades ago, I said I thought it would be too heavy for me to lug around.

'Try it,' he said. It was amazingly light.

'It seems quite complicated, though.'

'Not at all. Look, all you do is this, this and this.' He did make it look easy.

'Is there any reason that you wouldn't LOVE to have one if you could afford it?'

'Love's a bit of an exaggeration — but I'd like it if I could afford it, yes.'

'Let me phone my boss and see what sort of a price he can offer. If you were to buy it, would you want to pay by cheque or credit card?' I laughed.

'Payment plan, with very small amounts.' I still didn't think it was at all possible.

He got his boss on the phone, and took notes as they talked. Then he told me:

'Because you're not taking this, this, this and this attachment, we'll knock off this much.  Because it's a promotional offer, we'll deduct this much. Because you used to have one in the past, we'll take off this amount. And we'll also give you $200 for your old cleaner as a trade-in.'  [They knew that was more than I bought it for.]  'That brings it down to this amount, and you can pay it off at $32 a week for 36 months.'

'$32 a week,' I said. 'That's $64 a fortnight — I have to think fortnightly because that's how my pension is paid. You know, I think that's do-able.'

The boss came to do the paperwork and started by asking the exact amount of my income — which turned him a bit pale.

'Um, so you'd be paying $32 a week, plus 22% interest ...'

'He didn't mention interest,' I said.

'No, he's not authorised to. I do the paperwork. I think you would find these payments difficult, and frankly I don't think the finance company would cover you. How about I give you the previous model for $25 a week for 100 weeks and no interest? It's just the same, only a different colour.'

Of course I was rapt. And he just happened to have one in his van, so he brought it in, we filled out the forms and I signed everything.

Next morning I told this tale to some friends I was breakfasting with. One of them had a strong intuition I should try it out before the cooling off period was up (only 10 business days). So yesterday I prepared to do that. I looked at the instruction manual. I watched the DVD that came with it. And I nearly cried. I was thoroughly bamboozled. It's one thing to see someone show you, quite another to try on your own.

I have always been intimidated by machinery, and this was a case of: 'Open this, flip this to that side, line up these arrows if you're doing this, or the other way if you're doing that, press this button, make sure this colour is showing for this operation or that colour for that one, adjust this lever with your foot...'

Should I persevere and learn the bloody thing? But no, I wasn't even game to try. I rang up to cancel the contract.

'The manager will phone you back,' they said.

It was the same guy who'd done the paperwork before.

'What happened?'

'It's just not for me.' I told him. 'It's too complicated for me.'

'What? How can it be too complicated?'

But I'd read the documents closely by then.

'Look, according to the contract, I'm not obliged to give you any reason. But I am giving you one. It's just me — I'm an old lady and I can't get my head around it.' Nothing to do with my age really, and everything to do with my head — but the old lady card can be a good one to play.

'OK, I'll get there some time this afternoon.'

I'd already had dinner by the time he showed up that evening. He didn't argue any more, in fact was quite pleasant and polite; just packed up the machine and took it away. Only after he was gone I realised and phoned him back.

'Hey, I need my old vacuum. The one you took as a trade-in.'

'Oh, I'm so sorry. To be honest, I forgot all about it. What does it look like?'

I described it and told him the make. He said it would be late before he could get back to me, but he could leave it outside my door. I said that would be fine. Half an hour later he rang back.

'We already gave yours away to charity. How would you like a [well-known brand]?'

'I don't know anything about them,' I said. 'I'd have to see it. But I'll tell you what I need: light and upright.'

'This is a barrel type. But it's a very good brand. It's worth $700 - $1000.'

'Well, you'll have to bring it for me to look at.' (I can always sell it on eBay if I don't like it, I thought, and then buy the one I want.)

'What time do you go to bed?'

'I'm usually late.'

So at 10.30 he knocked on my door, bearing an upright Hoover.

'Oh, you found me an upright!'

'Wait! We have two for you to choose from,' and up my stairs came his off-sider lugging the Well-known Brand.

Both were light. The WKB was only one month old (!) and very easy to manoeuvre despite the barrel. That barrel had great capacity, I noticed, and it didn't need bags. And this machine would clean under furniture that an upright couldn't fit beneath. It also didn't need any instructions, it was so straightforward. I took it!

'I think I've come out of this rather well,' I said.

Then he asked if I'd like the other one too.

'I have to give it to charity, but we're on our way back to Sydney tonight.' (Thank goodness I'd rung up to cancel when I did.)

'I'm charity,' I said. 'I'm an Age Pensioner; of course I'm charity! I'll find a good home for it.'

He shook my hand goodbye. He looked exhausted after all his running around, and still a long trip ahead.

'I hope they pay you well,' I said.

He shrugged and grinned weakly, with a funny look in his eye. Only later I realised: of course, he'd be on commission.

Oh dear!

Oh well.

Today I phoned a friend who has been needing to replace her vacuum cleaner and told her the whole story.

'This Hoover might not be what you want permanently,' I said, 'but it's free, and it'll tide you over at least.' When I described it, she was delighted.

Thank you, Universe!  I think two quickie readings, and some Reiki zaps through the ether to help the boss on his drive to Sydney, were a small price to pay.

More seriously, I also think Young Man had great need, and that he has great potential. Perhaps what I said was crucial. Perhaps the Powers That Be considered it worth a clean carpet and an almost brand new, good quality vacuum cleaner that suits me nicely.

As I sometimes tell people, I work for the Universe and the pay is good.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A Club I'd Like To Join!

Satirist Jonathan Swift (born November 30, 1667), author of Gulliver's Travels, was a founding member of the Scriblerus Club, along with fellow wit Alexander Pope. This literary society's sole aim was to ridicule scholarly pretension. — Goodreads