About Me

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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chemistry between the old and the young

Christmas is over again for another year. Almost. For most of us, Christmas is usually filled with innumerable special family moments.
This year was my newest grand daughter's first Christmas and, along with her siblings, we visited my 94 year old Mum.

With four children of her own, ten grand children, and seventeen and a half great grand children, Mum never fails to love them all with great abundance.

Visiting her today was not just a special moment from my Christmas this year, but it was totally priceless.

Love you Mum.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A new novel emerges from NaNoWriMo 2012

I am ecstatic! Thanks to the discipline of NaNoWriMo, I now have a brand new novel called Let Angels Fly. Sure, it's only first draft, but I started on 1st November with 'Chapter 1' and I ended up yesterday with 'The End'.

I can't describe the sense of euphoria and satisfaction that I feel.

However, I woke up today feeling a little lost. So ... I am now researching and plotting an outline for my THIRD book. :-)

I'll let the new book settle for a while, then begin the long process of editing.

Thanks NaNoWriMo. Thanks Office of Letters and Light. See you all again in November 2013.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

End of a journey – start of a new one

For the last few months, I have travelled down a pathway that has been quite difficult. Ill health besieged me, and stifled my ability to write or edit. However, today 1st November, is the start of NaNoWriMo – the national novel writing month. As I did last year, I will join over 300,000 other writers around the world for a collaborative, supportive, nurturing, and wonderful feast of creativity.

Over the last few months, I have witnessed the best and the worst of human behaviour. I have endured disappointment, betrayal, and felt the sharp sting of injustice. Today I am going to try to turn the corner and once again breath fresh air, see the silver lining, and enjoy my life.

Good luck to all my NaNoWriMo buddies, and also my writing group – YON Beyond – members who are also participating.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book Review - 'Finding Veronica' by Louise Forster

'Finding Veronica' by Louise Forster

This book is refreshingly original, both in story and in writing style.

I felt so at home with the honest Australian characters - from the two main protagonists, to the dear little old ladies for whom butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. We all know people just like the characters in Finding Veronica. They were real, warts and all, quirky, oddball and sometimes, flawed.

I also resonated with the Australian accents, vernacular, and colloquialisms. The author, Louise Forster, has skillfully taken a slice of everyday life, and put it down on paper.

Forster has captured the eccentricities of everyday characters in a small country town, and created cameo appearances for almost everyone; from the local volunteer fireman, to the undertaker, and the CWA. She has then woven them through a rollicking good yarn full of intrigue, mystery and romance.
Louise Forster
The two main characters, Jennifer and Cal, are extremely likeable and the reader has no trouble feeling for them during the ups and downs of their relationship.

But best of all, this book is funny! Laugh out loud funny! I really enjoyed its originality, the wonderful characters, and the writer's ability to create a sense of fun.

'Finding Veronica' is available at Amazon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nora Ephron - thanks for the fun

Some of my favourite movies are romantic comedies – sometimes called chick flicks. Today, the world lost one of the best writers of movies in this genre. Nora Ephron left this world, but has left a legacy of her wonderful writing, and a legion of fans who will never tire of watching her craft play out across the movie screens, with such wonderful actors as Meryl Streep, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

As a lover of the genre that Nora did so well, I feel very sad. But her philosophy on writing, and on life, show how writing, and reading, was an intrinsic part of her life.
"Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” ~ Nora Ephron
Thank you Nora, for some of my favourite films. You will be missed.

Julie and Julia
When Harry met Sally
Sleepless in Seattle
You've got mail

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rejection letters piling up? You’re in good company.

“The best revenge is massive success”  -  Frank Sinatra

The publishing industry is fickle. Like fashion, it fluctuates according to the perceived market. What was in vogue yesterday may well be a no go area tomorrow.

So, how do first time authors get published? We are at the mercy of the massive, multi-billion dollar publishing industry; we are faced with the juggernaut of e-books and self-publishing which is proving very popular; we have to first get through the publishing house gate-keepers – the Agents.

Well, take heart. Look at this brief and far from complete list of some of the biggest selling authors of all time. They suffered rejection, humiliation and despair, before finally breaking through and getting their first book into print.

Stephen King’s first book, Carrie, was rejected thirty times before finally getting published. He apparently threw the manuscript in the waste bin, but his wife extricated it and made him keep sending it out.

Margaret Mitchell received thirty-eight rejections for the classic Gone With the Wind.

James Joyce was not a good commercial bet with the publishers, receiving twenty-two rejections, and when he was finally taken on, they would only print 1250.

Australian author Matthew Reilly was so sick of being rejected that he opted for self-publishing. Apparently he talked book shop owners into putting his book in the front window alongside all the big names. Talk about making your own luck!
Even J. K. Rowling apparently received twelve rejections for the first Harry Potter book. Can you believe that?

Other great authors such as John le Carré was told his first book was no good, and John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by twelve publishers and sixteen agents before being picked up.

So, I like Frank Sinatra’s idea. Don’t give up, and when you DO get published, be as successful as the above great authors. As the famous saying goes,  Nolite te bastardes carborundorum – don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Unlocking the past – the joys of Research

Turning family history into a novel – a challenging path to take.

I have just finished writing my historical novel, Stone of Heaven and Earth. This story is largely based on the real lives of my grandparents in China, and spans the years 1914 to 1929. I never met my Grandfather, but remember being told their story as a child. Their life together was one of the highest of highs, and abysmal tragedy.

I was able to draw on two memoirs written by my mother and my aunt. I also had a couple of letters, but the actual details were lost over the years.
Before I could start writing, I needed to know some details so that I could bring to life the characters of my story. It took me many, many hours, but I remember a rush of warmth flowing through me when I found my Grandmother and her sister’s name in the passenger list in the Brisbane Courier dated 22 June 1914. No one in the family knew the name of the ship they left Brisbane on. I felt like I had dug up a long forgotten treasure chest when I discovered the ship was the Tasman from the KMP Line, captained by Captain Lucardie. From that moment on, I felt like I was holding my Grandmother’s hand and she was leading me along the journey.

I went with her in my mind. I heard her voice, saw her eyes and her smile. Shed tears with her, and fell in love with my Grandfather with her.

A month spent in China retracing, as best I could, their footsteps, helped me to understand why they loved China, a very exotic land, especially a hundred years ago.
As I walked along the Bund in Shanghai, I knew that my Grandfather had walked there too, on his way to work at the Customs House which still stands proud on the Bund. In my story, I have both my Grandmother and Grandfather walking along that very place, talking to each other, falling in love.

My Grandfather, Oliver Clark, holding my mother aged nearly two
Jack and Annie, Oliver and Darl about 1915
At one stage of the writing process, I felt that the research was distracting me from the job at hand, but I know that I now have an intimate knowledge of the lives and times of these special people. The internet pointed me in the direction of Professor Robert Bickers at the Bristol University in England. He has done a major study of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, my Grandfather’s employer. He sent me the service record of my Grandfather, and even searched for his tombstone, but alas it does not now exist.

Research has given me back my Grandparents, who I am sure are both very happy with my story, as I can feel them with me, and they are smiling.

Passenger list for Misses Houston, KPM Line 'Tasman' 20th June 1914
Dining Room of the Astor House Hotel
The Shanghai Bund, circa 1915. The Customs House is centre of picture, with a clock tower and flag flying
Map showing the foreign concessions in Shanghai
Shanghai, 1912

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Grabbing a Bargain in Bangkok

Two days in Bangkok is just not long enough.

Bangkok, the vibrant capital of Thailand, has some wonderful mega shopping centres, ranging from knock off bargain markets where you can haggle for a good price, to the ultra-luxurious designer shopping centre where you can buy everything from Jimmy Choo shoes to a Ferrari, right off the floor. They are very large, and it is easy for the meandering tourist to get lost, thus wasting valuable shopping time in trying to work out where you are. The staff at our hotel told us that the two best, close by, shopping malls for us were MBK Centre, and Siam Paragon Centre.

So, armed with plenty of Thai Baht and a long shopping list, we set off in a taxi to go and shop, shop, shop!

MBK Centre  is seven floors of shopping, entertainment, and restaurants. You need a map, and even then, you will get lost. Trust me. We entered MBK through the Tokyu Department Store, a very western department store reminiscent of Myer or David Jones. We were looking for something a little more ‘Thai’, and our budget was more aimed at bargains than standard items we could get back home.

We exited Tokyu through a back door, and entered the labyrinth that is MBK. Luckily, we entered on Floor 3, stumbling upon the area where real bargains and good quality goods can be bought. This area is called The Image, and is made up of market stalls selling very cheap clothing, footwear, bags and jewellery. The stallholders in this area are more than happy to bargain, although some of the prices were so cheap that there was really no point. The conversion rate between Thai Baht and the Australian Dollar was 1 THB equals 31cents Australian. In other words, a polo shirt selling for 99 THB was only $A3. I found some fabulous clothes for my grandchildren, really nice, really cheap.

The stallholders here are happy, not pushy, and you get an extra discount if you happen to be their first customer of the day. I loved the way they would take your money, then go and touch it on all their goods in the shop. Apparently it brings good luck to them if they do this when you are the first customer. My travelling companion bought some really good quality designer shorts that he can’t get in Australia for a good price, satin Thai Boxer shorts, shirts, Calvin Klein and Dolce and Gabbana jocks. I managed to get a lined Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie for my daughter for about $40 Australian.

We eventually tore ourselves away and went to level four which is a massive floor of electronics, cameras, mobile phones. All the big brands. I am not sure of how good the deals were as I had not researched the prices in Australia, but I did buy a great set of headphones for $A20. There are designer shops, bespoke hand carved furniture stores, exquisite jewellery stores. We explored every floor, but our feet and legs were crying out in pain.

  • Work out what you want and research the prices at home before you leave
  • Get onto the web site and become familiar with the layout of the place
  • When you first arrive, go to one of the Information booths and get yourself an MBK Tourist Discount Card for even better deals (you’ll need your Passport), and you can also get a free welcome drink of Thai Iced Tea on Floor 5
  • Take a backpack or something to carry all your purchases (they get heavy after a while), although there is a bag deposit on Floor 6 where you can unload some of the weight
  • When bargaining, ask how much, then offer half price, and negotiate a price up from there
  • Put a currency converter App on your smartphone. Makes it so much easier to work out if you have a bargain or not
  • Finally, wear comfortable footwear and take a bottle of water. It’s hard work shopping!

Siam Paragon Centre  is a magnificent, opulent centre which has all the designer stores anyone could want. With seven levels, this Centre needs at least one full day, possibly two, to explore it properly.
You could run into absolutely ANYBODY at Siam Paragon Centre - my friend Brittany Spears

At Basement level, you will find the Siam Ocean World, an underwater fantasy that would rival anything Disneyworld could offer. Next level is totally dedicated to gourmet food! The Main Floor at street level is where you will find the luxury stores such as Cartier, Bvulgari, Burberry, Chanel, Hermes, Armani – oh the list is endless. Go to their website and have a look.

The Siam Paragon Centre is probably the most glamorous and luxurious shopping centre I have ever seen. Alas, we didn’t buy anything here, just window shopped, so not sure if there is any bargaining to be had. I doubt it. But the prices would still be a lot cheaper than at home. There is also an Imax Cinema complex, restaurants, Madam Tussaud's Waxworks, and family entertainment. Check it out!

Chatuchak Weekend Market   is the largest weekend market in Asia and is easily accessed by public transport, including the Bangkok Skytrain. Next time I visit Bangkok I will make sure I am there on a weekend, as it was disappointing that I didn’t get to visit this trip.

With 15,000 stalls spread over a huge 27 acres, Chatuchak Markets boast that it is the place where you can find absolutely everything. Bargaining for the best price is expected, and they say that tourists will be given ‘local’ price. Worth testing.

The markets are open from 6am to 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

We felt we bought some real bargains and have decided it would be worth visiting Bangkok annually to stock up on new clothes. The prices are just unbeatable, and the quality very high. Shopping therapy at its very best!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cambodia: The socially conscious side of Siem Reap

The instant I arrived at Siem Reap airport, I knew it was going to be a special place for me. Visually exotic, the airport architecture immediately indicates that this town of about 170,000 people is intent upon providing for the growing tourist industry. Indeed, almost two million visitors a year stay in Siem Reap, visit nearby Angkor Temples, enjoy first class hospitality, and generously spend the valued tourist dollars.

Siem Reap, like the rest of Cambodia, has endured unspeakable hardships over the centuries. The relatively recent atrocities meted out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s, though, is still in the memories of anyone over thirty years of age, and hit all the regional towns of Cambodia as well as its capital Phnom Penh. Yet I found the local people of Siem Reap to be among the most gentle, friendly, helpful, and charming, I have ever met in my extensive travels.

After more than twenty-four hours of travel, we were welcomed to Siem Reap by the smiling face of Raksha, our Tuk Tuk driver, and transported to our hotel, The Golden Banana, which was to be our exquisite base for four days. With a broad smile and very good English, Raksha made us feel very welcome and was keen to point out places of interest to us along the way, whilst still managing to drive his Tuk Tuk safely on the crazy Cambodian roads.
Raksha, our Tuk Tuk driver, meets us at Siem Reap airport

The Golden Banana is an oasis in a city of abject poverty. Comprised of two properties next to each other – the Boutique Hotel and the Resort - we stayed in the boutique hotel in a luxurious villa a mere step from a large swimming pool, the cocktail bar, and a wonderful restaurant. The first thing we noticed as soon as Raksha pulled up at the Golden Banana was the welcoming, warm and friendly staff who gave us refreshing cool towels to freshen up with and a cool, freshly made juice drink while we went through the formalities of checking in.

The Golden Banana is one of the growing number of hotels who have a seriously steadfast social conscious. The Golden Banana pride themselves on being eco-friendly, using locally made solid palm-wood furniture harvested from sustainable palm forests, and utilising local silk and textile art and crafts.

Our front door

Looking towards the cocktail bar from our front door

Lee, making me a 'Golden Banana' cocktail (pic from GB website)
Our friends in the bar (pic from GB website)
The staff-to-guest ratio at the Golden Banana is close to one to one. We got to know several of the staff quite well during our stay. They are friendly and relaxed, and delight in telling about their families, the villages that they come from, and the studies that the Golden Banana management sponsor as their employer. The staff come from poor backgrounds and their employment not only assists the family of the staff member, but the scholarships that they provide to staff allow for training in various fields from management, to hospitality and tourism, horticulture and business. The Golden Banana believes that education is the key to breaking the poverty cycle for the Cambodian people, and they put their money where their mouth is by providing education for many of their staff and their children. We spent many hours sitting around the glorious swimming pool talking to the staff. We also enjoyed their delicious cocktails, expertly made by Lee. A Cambodian cookbook on the bar caught my eye. The book is produced by a charity organisation called Green Gecko Project which educates, protects and provides love and shelter for homeless street children in Siem Reap. The Green Gecko Project also assists the wider community with initiatives in education and training. At only $20, the book is a welcome addition to my bookshelf, and I am working my way through all the authentic recipes. The food in Cambodia is delicious, and I enjoyed many wonderful Khmer meals at local restaurants, but also in the excellent restaurant within the Golden Banana itself. Delicious local meals such as Lok Lak and Fish Amok now rate amongst my favourites, but the chef’s special Banana Delight just blew me away!
Top: Lok Lak with rice in a banana leaf cone; chicken noodles; soup.

The Golden Banana is also affiliated with several other local community organisations, and during the devastating Siem Reap floods in September 2011, they provided practical assistance to the local people by helping sandbag and by providing food and other necessities.
Every morning we had freshly cut local fruit and homemade yoghurt
The banana supreme!
Imagine how delighted I was to learn about this strong commitment to the local community that the management of the Golden Banana holds. Imagine how much better my holiday in Siem Reap was because of this. Only a short drive from our exquisite accommodation, whole families were living in bamboo and banana leaf huts, some with no walls, many with barely a floor. No electricity, no clean fresh running water. Our Tuk Tuk drive along the levee of the Siem Reap River was an eye opener. The Khmer people are so poor yet so very industrious. Every one of them is working hard, there is no government welfare available to them. We passed little booths selling cans of soft drink alongside big green orbs of coconuts with drinking straws sticking out the top. They mostly grow their own food in little vegetable plots in the marshes under their houses, they fish, they have chickens. It is subsistence farming at its most basic. Yet the little children who wave to us as we pass are happy and seem well looked after.
Dwellings along the river levee on the outskirts of Siem Reap

Little children - sweet kids living life their way

Raksha,our driver, took us to his home where he introduced us to his little four year old boy, Piseta. Raksha earns about ten to fifteen US dollars a day, and very proudly told me that his son already goes to a school so that he can grow up and get a good job. Unlike most of the Tuk Tuk drivers in Siem Reap, Raksha is one of a group who are permanently attached to the Golden Banana.  Other hotels do the same. It means that Raksha was assigned to us for our whole stay for a flat rate of about twelve dollars a day. He would be waiting for us as we emerged from our sumptuous breakfast each morning, and take us wherever we wanted to go, wait for us, and take us home again.
Very friendly and safe, Raksha was another of the staff who were the highlight of our trip. Apart from the beauty, peace and wonderful surroundings of the Golden Banana, the staff are the reason I will return to stay there. From the General Manager to the reception and managerial staff, to Lee the barman and his assistants, to the ladies who cleaned the rooms, every one of them took the time to talk to us, to remember our names, to remember what our favourite tipple was. The staff obviously love their job, and they are a big asset to the Golden Banana. I am so happy to have had the experience of staying there, where a true compassionate and practical social conscience is alive and well, and thriving, helping many beautiful Cambodian families.
Beef Lok Lak: Khmer style beef steak cooked in a zappy Kampot pepper sauce, served with a green salad, garden tomatoes, and beautiful brown Ibis rice at the side. Golden Banana Cocktail: Bacardi White Rum, Vodka, Triple Sec, Crème de Banana joined all together in the shaker with a touch of Fresh Lime juice and Sugar Syrup, shaked well with some ice rocks to result in a fantastic fresh orgasm of flavours. (Best made by Lee at GB)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Late Bloomers – why age is no barrier to becoming a published author

Earlier this year I read an article in the Huffington Post about famous authors who began their writing career quite late in life. These writers are now household names around the world.

As yet, I have not reached the status of published author, and nudging the top end of middle age, I find it inspiring to see that writing is not something we need retire from as we get older. Quite clearly, it seems that a lifetime of working and raising families can only temporarily hinder the creativity and stifle the urges of a writer. Once the gift of more time is bestowed upon us, many writers find that their creative juices flow, unchecked, from the rich tapestry of a life well lived. Life, love, travel, trials and tribulations all provide fertile fodder for wonderful stories.
The writers mentioned by the Huffington Post include such illustrious names as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frank McCourt, both first published in their sixties. Even better, Mary Wesley and Harriet Doerr were well into their seventies!  ‘Watership Down’ author, Richard Adams, was in his mid-fifties, and the ‘babies’ of the group, Raymond Chandler and James A. Michener, were in their forties. 

I decided to do some research to see if any Australian authors were also ‘Late Bloomers’, and came up with some surprising finds.
Elizabeth Stead published her first novel, ‘The Fishcastle’ when she was in her late sixties. Now in her eighties, she has just recently had her fifth novel, ‘The Sparrows of Edward Street’ published.

One of Australia’s most acclaimed writers, Elizabeth Jolley, was fifty-three when her first novel was published.  She was a prolific writer and went on to have fifteen novels published, plus a swag of short stories and non-fiction books. Through her teaching of creative writing to students in Western Australia, (including Tim Winton), Elizabeth Jolley left behind a legacy of successful publications, all receiving significant critical acclaim.

Shirley Painter’s first book was published at the ripe old age of eighty-three! Her memoir, ‘The Bean Patch’ took a lifetime to get written, and tells of her violent and shocking childhood. I can only wonder of the amount of pain Shirley Painter must have endured, and am glad that the therapeutic act of writing her story may go on to help others similarly treated.

Christina Stead, an often controversial but very successful writer, was thirty-two when her first book, ‘Seven poor men of Sydney’ was published.  Christina Stead was listed in Time magazine’s ‘Best 100 novels 1923 – 2005’.

Polish immigrant to Australia, and survivor of the Holocaust, Jacob Rosenberg was first published at the age of seventy-two. His published works covered collections of poems and short stories, plus memoirs.

Glenda Guest, another mature-age first novelist, has won many awards and much acclaim for her novel ‘Siddon Rock’. In her bio on the Australian Literature Management web site, Glenda Guest says “Although I started to write late in my life I always knew that I would become a novelist. I am stunned to be receiving this attention which is a huge boost to my confidence and will help me to press on with writing my next novel. This shows that it’s never too late to start a new endeavour”. Ref: http://www.austlit.com/a-list-f-k.html

So, it is with much excitement and hope that I too now throw my hat into the ring. As I approach the end of the process of writing my novel, ‘Stone of Heaven and Earth’, I realise that age does not dim the prospect of becoming published.

Vale Davy Jones - 30th December 1945 – 1st March 2012

On 18th February, I happened to include Davy Jones and the Monkees in a blog I was writing, and even included a link to Davy singing ‘Daydream Believer’ on You Tube.
Only a week and a half later, Davy Jones died.
I have only fond memories of my love affair with Davy back in the sixties.  He was cute, could sing, and was a true showman.
Rest in peace, Davy Jones.  It was nice knowing you.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Come on baby, light my Kindle

I finally succumbed to the desire to own a Kindle. I have been maintaining that I will never buy an eReader because I love real, paper books, which I do. I treasure them, in fact. I still have books that were my favourites back in the 1960s. Back then I read them, and re-read them, over and over, and can still read them and enjoy them today.

I believe that proper, REAL, books, will never be obsolete. People love them. But I can remember many changes in my long life.
As a child, I can remember my father giving us all a crystal set. A tiny little thing with some wires attached and an ear plug. We could then lie in bed at night and listen to the wireless (radio – ha ha, told you I was old).

In the lounge room, we had a big polished wooden cabinet which was our AWA Wireless.

My Dad used to always listen to the conservative ABC Radio, and at 8pm every night, the whole house had to be quiet while he listened to the national news. He was a news-a-holic, and even had a Bakelite radio on the table next to his bed, which he used to listen to all night

On Friday nights, we used to tune in to a radio serial called The Argonauts Club. I was the youngest in the family, but my brother and sister got to join and become actual Argonauts.  I remember my sister was called Pleaides66.  I was so envious!  After the Argonauts Club, we used to listen to Keith Smith’s Widdle Woundup.  Well, that is what I used to call it.  I was VERY young, you understand.  It was actually Riddle Roundup, and I can still remember a riddle that I heard way back then on our old wireless set.
Q. How do you spell Wattle bark in three letters?
A. Dog.

Ha ha.  I laughed myself sick with that one.  Keith Smith eventually ended up on television when it finally came to Australia.  Although, in fairness, the rest of Australia got TV well before we did. We didn’t get television until well into the 1960s as Mum and Dad were really poor.  It started out as Mum hiring a TV for us during the school holidays, then she would send it back, with us crying and begging her not to.  Poor Mum.  :-/

Our grandmother lived with us. She and Mum were addicted to a lunch time serial called “Blue Hills” which won some records for the longest running radio play in the world or something.  I can still remember the music as it started up. As soon as that would come on, my Mum and Nana would down their mops and buckets, ironing boards and mending, to have their lunch and listen to Gwen Meredith and the others. Looking back, Blue Hills was probably the catalyst for daytime soaps like The Bold and the Beautiful, or Days of our Dreary Bloody Lives, as my Dad used to call it.
But on Saturday nights, my sisters, brother and I would all lie on the carpet in front of the wireless in absolute fanatical expectancy, waiting for …  The Beatle Hour!  We would have to make sure that we had Dad in a good mood so that he wouldn’t crack up and make us listen to some awful classical music on the ABC, or maybe a dodgy old radio play.  

The ‘Fab Four’ were everybody’s favourites.  Everybody under 21 years old, that is. My mother and father thought that their ‘mop top’ hairdos and tight pants were just sinful. Dad preferred Frank Ifield, or the Platters. Mum still preferred Bing Crosby.  But we kids LOVED the Beatles.  John Lennon was always my favourite, and our bedroom walls would be absolutely covered in big colour posters of John, George, Ringo and Paul.  Oh, they were so handsome!  So anyway, every week on The Beatle Hour, we could listen to their songs, and sometimes to interviews with them. It was heaven.

Eventually, our old wireless got moved to Mum and Dad’s bedroom and got covered in Dad’s clothes as that is where he hung them when he got home from work, and a new black and white television took over our lounge room, and our lives.

When I eventually became a teenager, I was way behind everyone else at school who had singles, records.  I was mad keen on the Monkees in Year 8 and one day a girl at school sold me her single of ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ for 50 cents. (They were $1 new).  What a bargain!  My first ever vinyl record! My collection had begun! It seemed everyone else at school had a father who had a job and earned good money to be able to buy their kids records.  I didn’t.  In Year 8 my Dad was admitted to hospital with Tuberculosis and never worked again. We were poor.  I didn’t realise at the time just how poor.  Being the youngest of four children, it was just normal for me to never have anything new.  I always wore hand me down shoes, uniforms, everything.  Oh, how I yearned for everything the other kids had.  When the Monkees flew into Australia in 1968, other girls in my class went to the concert.  I remember the day their plane flew over our house. It was a Sunday, and together with my next door neighbour, Glenda, who also loved the Monkees, stood out in our back yard and waved to the Goddam plane!  OMG, I am almost ashamed to tell you all that.  But as I don’t have that many readers of my blog anyway, I guess I can make a dill out of myself.  “Davy, Davy, I love you!” I called with tears streaming down my face.  I still believe to this very day that it WAS their plane that flew over my house. :-/

Anyway, I eventually left school and got a job in a finance company as an “office girl”.  I had reached the ripe old age of 14 years and 10 months.  Out into the wide, wild world I went.  A shy, scared, unworldly, quiet little thing. I remember that I bought my very first brand new dress (extremely short) for $6 and wore it to our work Christmas party. I had just turned 15. My wage was $17.60 a week.  True.  Single records cost $1 each and albums cost $5.95 (we went decimal here in 1966, no more Pounds, Shillings, Pence. We had dollars and cents now).

And so, my record collection grew. And grew.  And so did I, and eventually there were rumours that vinyl records would soon be history.  “NO,” I cried.  “OVER MY DEAD BODY!”

An army of horrid little cassette tapes filled the record stores. Everyone had to by a Cassette Player to listen to the things.  Sony brought out a Walkman so that you could listen to your favourite music on the go. Many people, obviously with more money than me, replaced their old vinyls with miniature versions, cassettes.  But what about the great books and artwork that we got with vinyl. I loved that artwork.  Double albums had spectacular big posters. My copy of ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ was BOXED, for heaven’s sake, AND included a book!

And so, I held off buying a cassette tape player because I loved my vinyls.  I grew up even more, got married, bought a car with an 8 Track Cartridge player in it and it came with one cartridge – Electric Light Orchestra.  
Then, just at the time when my marriage was imploding, along came the Compact Disc CD.  I was one of the last people I know to own one. No way, I said, was I going to buy one of those stupid things. Nothing sounded as good as vinyl.

Well, today, my CD collection numbers in its thousands, and that is not a lie. But guess what? Can I show you my record collection?  My son recently said I should sell them, that some people collect them because they are antiques and could be valuable. I said, hey, I collect them!  I still love them, I never play them, but I do look at their fabulous art work.

Oh, hang on.  I tell a lie.  I did get rid of one of my vinyls last year. I saw an interview on TV with a famous 70s rock singer from Brisbane, Carol Lloyd. She was talking about how her album, ‘A Matter of Time’, which is a classic and hit number one here in Brisbane and other parts of Australia, had been digitised (sounds painful doesn’t it), and put onto CD. The interviewer asked if she still had one of the old vinyl versions because apparently they are like hen’s teeth.  Carol said no.  So….. I got in touch with the great Carol Lloyd (lead singer of Railroad Gin and Carol Lloyd Band), and I said I would give her my copy.  She was ecstatic!  We met one day in the city. I handed over the precious vinyl. She, so kindly, gave me an autographed copy of the CD.  What a wonderful woman!

So, where was I?  Oh yes.  I bought myself a Kindle the other day. I don’t need one. I just craved one.  Just to make sure I don’t get left behind technology and all the latest trends. But I can assure all my legion of blog fans that I have not given up reading good old paper books. I will NEVER get rid of ‘Alison’s Island Adventure’ and ‘Secret of the Blue Grotto’, but I will enjoy reading books on my kindle and thanking the heavens that I am still alive to see this wonderful technology.

So, don’t put eBooks and eReaders down. They are
just another form of the things we love.
Technology must advance and we can go with it and enjoy it, or be stubborn and miss out on all the wonders that are there for the taking.
The ultra-cute Davy Jones and the Monkees:
Australia's first lady of true rock, Carol Lloyd


Saturday, February 11, 2012

What do I keep, what do I throw away?

The haunting song by Melanie Safka, What do I keep, what do I throw away, has been playing on continuous repeat setting through my mind over the last couple of weeks.
It has been a harrowing time, having to go through all of my elderly mother’s belongings, dividing them up between my siblings and myself, working out who gave her that little green vase, which one of us gave her the little silver letter opener that she used every day of her life.   
The time had come for my little Mum to move out of her humble, yet well-loved home. To move away from her garden which she lovingly tended every day. It was more than just a hobby, she loved feeling the red earth with her fingers, cosseting her plants into bounteous beauty. Every month, she would win a prize at the Garden Club where she was a life member, for a bloom that just knocked everyone’s socks off. She didn’t try to beat everyone else with her flowers, she just liked to take them along to show everyone how beautiful they were.

It was my job to clean out her book case.  I found her set of diaries going back to 1975, the year she moved into this house. I got a shock to find that she had kept every birthday, Christmas card and mother’s day card she was ever given, all bundled neatly together and tied with ribbons that had once been wrapped around a gift. The bundles were neatly marked – Christmas 2001, my 85th birthday, my 90th birthday. She had kept every single one.
But now, like the grim reaper, I had the sad job of throwing them out. In a matter of hours, her house which had contained the remnants and souvenirs of her whole life, had been either divided up, given to charity, or thrown out. I went there just yesterday, and it was like walking into a stranger’s place. The home which had once been warm, inviting, a safe haven, a place to laugh, play and relax, was just a house. Four walls and a roof. The beating heart, my Mum, was gone from 72 Island Street. Gone, never to return, never to sit on the top step waiting for us to arrive. Never to put the kettle on to make a cuppa, to get her biscuits out for a bit of morning tea.

Mum has a new life now.She is in a lovely, fresh room with a view over a garden. She has people who can give her the round the clock care that she needs. She has company, no more long, lonely days. She will have people to cook for her, and no more washing up. The hostel where she now lives is her new home. I hope she learns to love it and be happy there.

Melanie Safka, your song is sad and harrowing. I wonder, did you write it for people like me, who have to make the most of a situation that comes to everyone sooner or later. It is a rite of passage for us all. We live, we move on. For some it is old age that causes this change. For some death, and for others the end of a relationship. We live, we move on.  But what do we keep, and what do we throw away?
The name that I have doesn't belong to me
And there's only a circle where his ring used to be
I'd like to go back to what I was once before
But I'm nobody's little girl any more

What do I keep, what do I throw away
How am I different, what was I yesterday
What can I be tomorrow, when I can't even think of today
How can I ever end my sorrow
When the night doesn't end with the day

When I look around everything seems so strange
And I don't need a mirror to tell me how much I've changed
The things I never thought I could do I have done,
But I'm too weak to stop
And much too frightened to run

What do I keep, what do I throw away
How am I different, what was I yesterday
What can I be tomorrow, when I can't even think of today
How can I ever end my sorrow
When the night doesn't end with the day

Friday, January 13, 2012

One Perfect Day

I have one day left to achieve so many things.  One day left of my annual holidays, that precious few weeks off work in which I try accomplish so many things – dentist, vet, doctor, hairdresser appointments that I just don’t get time to do in my normal workaday life.  I also try to use this time to de-stress from my high pressure job that entails a two and a half hour commute every day. 

So what has happened to my other days?
Well, there was Christmas of course, and that whole week was filled with laughter, fun, family, friends, and eating.

Then there was New Year’s Eve which I spent in the company of my nearest and dearest.  There was the usual retrospective glance back over the shoulder to the year just fading, an analysis of what I should have done, could have done, and would have done if I had had the time.  There was also the mental checklist of what I will do in 2012, what I will achieve for myself and for my family, how I will live, how I will look after my health.

Then there was a blissful week where two days were spent in the peace and tranquillity of a writer’s retreat way up in the mountains.  Bliss.

Then back to earth with a thud.  My poor little Mum who is almost 94 needed me.  She has become extremely frail and virtually unable to care for herself.  So I have spent almost every day until this, my last day of holidays before I go back to work, with her.  Precious time.  It is hard to be seeing this once vital, energetic and extremely sharp little woman unable to do the basics for herself, even little simple things that we all take for granted, like getting up out of bed in the morning.  I feel so sad for her. She is tired, so very tired. She still worries about me and my siblings, all middle aged (or more) adults who are able to take care of themselves.

Mum has a small part in my book, ‘Stone of Heaven and Earth’.  She is just a little girl in it, but in writing the book, I can see where she got her strength of character from. She had a very difficult and sad childhood, not from abuse or anything like that, but from circumstances that most would think could only happen in a book.  She often talks about her father, Oliver, although she doesn’t remember him as he died when she was a tad under two years old.
Mum and her Dad, Oliver, just weeks before he died
When my Mum says to me, “I’m so tired”, I know that she means she is ready to go.  Ready to go and meet her Dad, sit on his knee and hug him. Tell him how much she has missed him.  She will also get to see her beloved mother, Darl, and her brother and sister.  They are all up there.  She will have a ball when she is finally taken up there to join the party.
I will miss her terribly.  She has been the one constant in my whole life.  My friend, my mentor, my Mum.  She hasn’t gone yet and perhaps I am being premature in thinking along these lines, but I don’t think so.  But for now, I just want to make her life as happy, pain free, and peaceful as I can. That’s why I have treasured the days and nights I have spent with my Mum over my annual holiday break. They have been good.
Mum and Karob
So, what am I going to do on this one, last, precious day of my annual leave?  Paperwork, housework, preparation for a busy year ahead.  But I will also pop over and visit my Mum, make her a cup of tea, and chat.  It will end up being one perfect day.

One Perfect Day - Little Heroes.  This clip by Sarah Storer.