Monday, February 28, 2011

Mia Freedman is in the Fibro

Mia Freedman's latest book launched into bookshops around the nation today. Mia Culpa: confessions from the watercooler of life (Penguin) is the newest installment in her series of books about her life, her thoughts, and, always, her opinions. She has discussed magazines, motherhood and mistakes. She now takes on pubic hair, social media and that moment in life when you go from being cool to being... not. Among other things, of course.

All of which provides the perfect excuse to drag her into the Fibro to answer a few questions.

The disclosure: Mia and I first met 1000 or so years ago (mine, not hers, because clearly she is not as old as I am) when she was editor of Cosmopolitan and I was dabbling in freelancing for the first time. I remember sitting in her office, surrounded by smiley Cosmo covers, wondering if I was wearing the right shoes. (In my defence, the Cosmo offices have had that effect on stronger women than I.)

She was bright, smiley, clever, gorgeous... the kind of woman you'd find reasons to dislike given half a chance. But she was also warm and friendly and, as she remains, incredibly supportive of other people's talents, insecurities and efforts. It was thanks to her that I got to write the now world-famous Hairy Armpits story. The rest, as they say, is history.

So yes, thanks for asking, I have great admiration for Mia's work. I don't always agree with her, but I respect her for tackling the big issues head-on on her website Mamamia and most weeks her Sunday Life column makes me nod in acknowledgement and laugh out loud.

Plus, she has graciously agreed to answer my five questions about blogging, branding and the boundaries of personal writing. So what's not to love?

You often draw on your own experiences for your columns, blogging and writing - what are your boundaries for your personal style of writing?
Mia Freedman: "Well, it's always changing. I have to be careful. Just when I thought I was very clear about my boundaries in writing, I recently told a story at a dinner party which completely embarrassed my son. Not that that's particularly difficult - he's a teenager - but his age is problematic. So much great material for me to write about and much of it is about my own experiences and reactions as a parent of a teenage boy, but I'm on eggshells there...

"Generally, I try to have a rule that everything is okay so long as I'm the punchline. I go to great lengths to protect my friends and family - I'll never put my writing in front of their feelings or their right to privacy. But mostly they're very accommodating. Which is lucky, because otherwise I'd have nothing to write about!"

I remember reading somewhere that you'd rewritten parts of Mama Mia, your memoir about magazines, mistakes and motherhood, because you felt you'd crossed over the line into 'too personal' - can you explain what 'too personal' means?
MF: "Memoirs are extremely difficult and sensitive because you're not just writing about your own life - you're writing about the lives of everyone in your life. So there were some things in there that were not mine to share and needed to come out. My choice. They didn't affect the story.

"The first draft would have been a bad book, actually - too raw, too emotional and just a bit all over the place. I kept probably 80 per cent of it and the end result was more balanced. Just as personal, but more layered and thus, in my opinion, a better read."

What do you see as the difference between blogging and writing for other media such as books and magazines?
MF: "I haven't written for magazines for years, although my column appears in a newspaper magazine... Still, that's different. It's not a monthly glossy or a weekly tabloid. Every type of writing I do - from Twitter to books - is different. It requires a slightly different approach and, often, a different tone. Since I'm constantly flitting between social media, Mamamia, my column and books, I barely even have to think about it now. Although, books can be a bit of a gear shift. You need to lengthen your concentration span, which is reduced constantly by tweeting and blogging.

"The slowness of books is both my biggest frustration and greatest joy when it comes to that medium. I'm into a pretty fast turnaround and short deadlines - with Mamamia, we often post within minutes of having an idea and Twitter just publishes practically before you've even thought something through (danger! danger!). But taking it slower and having more time to refine what you're going through to say is a luxury. I've come to see writing books like that."

Bloggers and writers are often encouraged to 'build their brand' - but is there a downside to your name becoming a brand? Do you think people fail to separate the 'brand' from the person, resulting in personal attacks?
MF: "The brand is the person in many ways, at least it is for me. It's too much effort to have to turn a brand on and off. I'm just myself, flaws and all. Hence the name of the book! I am inextricably linked with what I do and what I say and I'm fine with that. I don't take on any commercial arrangements that I don't believe in and I'm always transparent about them. You have to be!

Mamamia, the website, is about to undergo a big change, morphing from blog to fully fledged web magazine by all accounts - what's the reason behind that? Will there be less Mia?
MF: "Mamamia hasn't been a personal blog for a long, long time. There's only so much one person can say! And I never wanted to do a personal blog or a mummy blog. Love them, but it wasn't for me. I wanted to create something for a broader audience, with lots of voices, all as relevant and important as mine. I will assume the same role on the new site as I've been taking for a while on Mamamia - that of editor and publisher. So, in short, not less Mia, no. But more of everything else."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And we danced

The scene: Pitt Street Mall, Sunday morning, restless shoppers swarm between the buildings, scaffolding looms overhead, a man in a tuxedo plays the electric violin, an ever-increasing crowd hums along as 'Memories' (think Barbra Streisand) weaves through the air.

Mr4 takes my hand. He twirls under it, Ginger Rogers style. He turns back to face me, holds out his other hand. I take it. He begins to twirl.

"Dance with me Mummy," he says.

I laugh. Round and round we go, with a couple of pirouettes and an occasional heel-toe polka thrown in. The crowd makes room for us.

We dance.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Rewind

My, how quickly the weekend rolls around when there's a Rewind to enjoy! It seems like only yesterday that we were singing about silvery moons in June, and now here we are again. July has proved a problematic month for our mixed tape of Rewind pleasures. There are a few songs about July - Google tells  me that Ocean Colour Scene had one out in 2000 that made number 31 on the UK singles chart. It was called 'July'.

I'm not familiar with it.

Nor am I familiar with Katatonia's 'July' or 'The July 4th Song (The Day Kobayashi Went Down)' by McSAPRR (I get the impression not too many people are familiar with this one).

But, undaunted, the Weekend Rewind goes on. And it's easy - follow the Fibro if we are not already friends, and then link up one of those fabulous posts languishing in your archives. Pop around and comment on a few other links, to share the comment love, and there you have it. The prompt this week is July, so your post will preferably be something from July 2010 or earlier. But don't fret if you don't have one - just link up something that you love.

That's it! Let the Rewind begin! This week, I'm offering up the origins of the Concert Face. Oh, one thing, I'll be offline for much of the weekend doing, you know, real life stuff, but never fear - I will visit each and every link upon my return. Looking forward to it.

And don't forget those other Fibro-famous linkys, Maxabella's Grateful and Blog Gems at The King and Eye (Sunday/Monday Aussie time). I'll be there - you should be too!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Now we are four

When I told Mr4 this morning that he would be seeing a doctor today he asked why.

"I'm not sick Mummy," he said. "I'm on holidays." Any day that is not a preschool day is a holiday as far as he's concerned.

I went on to explain that he had to go and have his four-year-old needles. He wanted to know what a needle was. Given how much he screamed last time he had one, I was sure he'd remember. Clearly the two-year-old brain blanks out the pain of the immunisation process. Much as the maternal brain does with labour.

Mr7 was keen to elaborate. "They poke medicine in you," he said. "It hurts a bit."

Mr4 thought about that.

"I thought you went to the doctor to make you feel better," he said. "Not to get hurt."

Much discussion ensued about what kind of pain it was, how much pain there was, did we really need to do it?

Yes, I said, we did.

And so we did. Via a milkshake, and with the promise of a surprise if he was brave. And he sat up straight on my lap and didn't even blink as two nurses approached from either side and jabbed him simultaneously. "That was all right," he said, as he climbed down. "Now, where's the surprise you promised me?"

Four is really very big, isn't it?

{image: cheezelsmurf/flickr}

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How (not) to use Skype

For the latest in what is fast becoming a series on How (Not) To Do Stuff, I roadtested Skype. I remember first hearing about Skype a few years ago when the earliest of my Early Adopter friends emailed her entire list extolling its joys and insisting we all sign up. Given that like attracts like, it will surprise no-one to discover that most of my friends are also Luddites and we all screeched with (cyber) laughter (it looked something like this: LOL, LOL, LOL).

Why would we want to look at each other while we talked? Isn't the whole point of the phone so that you can sit around in your pyjamas and pretend to be professional?

Or maybe that's just me.

Suffice to say that my Early Adopter friend had to make new friends, probably on Skype, just so she'd have someone to talk to.

Fast-forward a few years and the technological revolution has even touched The Fibro. Today I not only conducted my first ever Skype call, but it was recorded and will be available for the whole world to view via the Sydney Writers' Centre website in a few weeks. A situation that combined three of my least favourite things in the world:

a) Answering questions instead of asking them.
b) Being captured on camera (which I abhor, be it still or video)
c) New technology.

Pressure, much?

I did all the right things. I downloaded Skype, read the how-to manual, signed up for an account. Easy. I even tidied up the portion of my office that I thought might be visible via the computer's camera. I was ready. Ten minutes before the appointed time, I attempted to open the application, so that I could work out how I'd work out that I had a 'call' coming in.

No dice. "Your operating system does not support this version of Skype."

Cue: panic stations. It took me five mintues of Googling and faffing to work out that I'd downloaded the latest version of Skype onto my not-latest-version operating system. It took another five minutes to find a version that my not-latest-version operating system would support. Twenty seconds before the appointed time, I had something open on my computer and my fingers crossed.

It worked. I saw my interviewer, she saw me. She asked questions, I attempted to answer them in a meaningful manner whilst determinedly not looking at the image of myself in the bottom left hand corner. Of course, it wasn't until after the interview that I thought of all my best answers. You know, the succinct, witty, intelligent ones. But that's par for the course and can in no way be blamed on Skype.

In hindsight, all that panic and faffing was probably for the best. I was so busy fretting about the technology that I had no time to worry about whether my hair was frizzy or how many chins I was featuring at any given time. I remembered to look at the camera, not the screen, so hopefully people will see my eyes, and not a fab view of my eyelids (thanks Lady Estrogen!). And I didn't even have to take another friend's advice to shut down the computer if the questions got too hard and pretend it was a 'dropped line'.

So here I am. Almost fully functioning member of the 21st century.

Next step: updating the operating system.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can I ask you a question?

I read today, in O magazine (so it must be true), that asking a lot of questions can help "keep your mind nimble" (their words, not mine) as you age. I was kind of excited by this. Not only because it seems that Misters 4 and 7 will be incredibly sharp 109 year olds (I figure it will take them this long to run out of questions). But because I will be too. Well, maybe not 109 (my Bio Age score at the gym the other day was close to that now). But sharp.

To give you an idea of why, I thought I'd run you through some of the questions I asked today. This does not include the questions I had to answer (which included such gems as "why does that car look funny?" - answer: because it's a hearse - and "where is that story that was due today?" - answer: the dog ate my homework). Just a small sample of the ones that originated from me.

"What do you want for breakfast?"

"Where are your shoes?"

"Where are your shoes?"

"Where are your shoes?"

"Why did you change the time for Reading and not tell me?"

"What do you think of this story idea?"

"What is career resilience?"

"What foods should we eat for more energy?"

"How can I network when I have to pick the kids up after school?"

"How does Skype work?"

"What would life be like for a country solicitor?"

"Would any woman in her right mind drive 1000km to talk to a man who 'needed space'?"

"Do you really need that receipt to finish my tax?"

"What is the difference between a bully and a bitch?"

"When do you need this by?"

"What are the 10 essential things that everyone should know about insurance?"

"Where the hell did I put that receipt?"

"Where are your shoes?"

Of course, I have barely scraped the surface. But, as you can see, I am well on the way to a very nimble mind in old age. Also well on the way to making my children sleep in their shoes.

What about you? Are you asking a lot of questions? Are they meaningful questions?

{image: Jamie'sArt/etsy}

Monday, February 21, 2011

Do we need another Vegemite?

It seems that Kraft has introduced a new version of Vegemite for little tykes. Aimed at the 1-3 crowd, My First Vegemite has what's described as a 'toned down' flavour. Still all the B-Vitamins to make you as bright as bright can be, but less salt, presumably to avoid that screwed-up face that non-Vegemite lovers bring to the table when they try the Black Beauty for the first time.

I read about it in the weekend's papers, and it made me wonder.

Both of my boys were major fans of Vegemite from day one. Mr7 used to like it with avocado on toast. Mr4, never a fan of anything green and squishy, just took it hard up, right from the start. In fact, I don't know too many kids, if any, who don't like their Vegemite. As long as it's served right, that is - a thin scrape, not plastered on like brick render. (If you need further instruction in the making of the Vegemite sandwich, you'll find a recipe here, along with several ideas for variations, such as 'marbling' your Vegemite.)

As I make school lunches in the morning, I often find myself thinking about overseas mums and what they put on sandwiches every day. If it weren't for Vegemite, my boys would be having bread and butter most mornings. I know, I know, I should be sending wraps and mini quiches and other inspirational lunches, complete with love notes, but, really, most days it's a Vegemite sandwich, an apple, a yoghurt and some crackers. Your basic Aussie school lunch through the generations.

So I'm interested in what you think. Will you try My First Vegemite? Or will you stick to the tried-and-true formulation and make your kids like it? And, if you live outside Australia, what exactly do you put on kids' sandwiches every day? I really want to know.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Swimming Pool

Last November, Diminishing Lucy wrote a lovely blog post about her deep affection for her public pool. I was reminded of her post today as Fam Fibro enjoyed an afternoon at the Fibrotown pool. It was another hot, scratchy, irritable February day. We were all climbing the walls, if a little listlessly. The Builder came inside from a morning of outdoor chores, sweat dripping from his nose, and asked what we all wanted to do in the afternoon.

"A swim!" was the uniform response.

"Inside or outside," he asked, thinking of the joy the boys got from visiting our local indoor swimming complex.

"Outside!" we shouted. I wanted to go for a drive up the road, to a secluded little rockpool we know.

"It's a long drive to swim in a pool," he said.

We decided, instead, to drive five minutes down the road to swim in a pool.

The Fibrotown pool looks almost exactly the same as it did when I used to ride my bike down there with my sisters. The joy of the pool is that it's within riding distance of just about every street in Fibrotown. There are some new benches and a new shade structure, but other than that, it's like stepping back in time (albeit carrying a little extra weight into the frame).

Teenage boys were staging a bombing contest, taking a run-up across the grass and then launching themselves over the lane ropes marking the area for serious swimmers. Fortunately, the serious swimmers stayed home today as not all boys were successful at clearing the ropes.

Little kids in too-small cossies stood for ages at the canteen, trying to decide what to buy for their 80c. Unfortunately, you can't get a Chocolate Paddle Pop for that anymore - but we still had one. Who goes to the pool and doesn't have a Paddle Pop? No-one I know, that's for sure.

We ran into the family of one of Mr7's classmates and stood around in the shallow end, throwing the children between us, to their great squeals of delight. We even braved the waterslides, which I remember from my teen years - though I don't recall them being so high or so fast. Mr4's enthusiasm waned a little after he received a face full of fibreglass, bouncing off one of the high walls around a fast corner. But he's keen to go back 'next time'.

The Fibrotown pool is under threat at present. It is old (see above mentions to my teen years, which we all know are some years ago) and apparently leaking. It also stands on a prime piece of riverfront land. Which does not stand in its favour in the eyes of some, who can see better use for such land.

I remember stretching out a towel on the lush green grass surrounding the pool when I was 15, wearing my first 'grown-up' swimsuit. It was also lush green and was, in true 80s fashion, cut high enough in the legs to reveal my (very serious) hipbones. There may even have been a white belt involved. Maybe.

I hope that my boys have the opportunity to have memories like that of their own. Ideally, without the fashion victim swimsuits in the picture.

{image: via WeHeartIt}

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekend Rewind

When I was in about year 9, I was in the school musical, which was nothing like High School Musical, even though it was one...a high-school musical, that is. For our musical, we dressed up in Ye Olde Time clothes and sang Ye Olde Time songs. Think Bicycle Built for Two. Yep, that Olde Time. Not a cute cheerleading outfit or spunky jock to be seen.


So, why am I sharing my teen humiliation with you? Because it's (Olde) Time for Weekend Rewind. And one of those Ye Olde Time songs we sang was all about the light of the silvery moon (not the sun but the moon), wanting to croon (to my honey I'll croon love's tune).... It went on... Honeymoon (honeymoon, honeymoon), keep a smiling in June (not May but June)... etc.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that it's time for Weekend Rewind - that oh-so-fabulous linky where you dust off an old post for some new comment love - and the prompt for this week is June.

Thanks for sticking with me.

All you need to do is to link up a post from June 2010 (or earlier). But because it's February and I'm feeling hot and frizzy, I'll also take a wintery type post. Or a summer post about swimming, water, breezes...Anything cool. Oh, and don't forget the comment bit - please try to visit a few other links to show you care.

To get you started, I'm sharing a post from June 24, 2010, the day that Australia gained its first female Prime Minister under rather breathtaking circumstances. But try explaining that to a six-year-old boy. It was a day that I was very grateful that I knew the basics of chess.

Okay, what have you got for me? Let the Rewind begin [insert fanfare]!

PS: Also, don't forget to join me as I join my other favourite weekend linkys - Maxabella's Grateful and Blog Gems at The King and Eye (Sunday/Monday Aus time). They're both very friendly!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February: Hair today, gone tomorrow

As far as months go, February is a bit of a bust as far as I'm concerned. It has none of the hope and optimism of September, none of the frenzy of December, none of the laidback appeal of January. It is a hot, sweaty, humid, frizzy chore of a month. A month of over-priced love statements, detoxing, back-to-schooling, dragging ourselves from holiday mode to oh-no-this-is-real-life mode. There is a good reason why magazines run all their money and careers stories in February - people's minds are on the nitty-gritty. And, frankly, it's not helping anyone's collective temperament.

Today was a classic February day. Steam rising from the ground, sun burning on my neck, moisture in the air turning into sweat on my arms, hair standing out in a Rhea Perlman-like halo (don't remember the barmaid from Cheers? look her up - she never met a hair straightener she liked). Yep, I'm channelling Sideshow Bob. Charming.

Over the past 25-odd Februaries, I have spent more money than I care to think about on de-frizzing hair products. Serums, mousses, oils, waxes, glosses - you name it, I've gone there in lightweight, heavyweight and superweight strengths. Guess what? None of them is a match for February. Not one.

The only thing that February has going for it is that it's short. Always look on the bright side, that's me.

{image: SimpsonsTrivia}

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tips for writing features #5: Stick in the middle

Despite my best intentions, I did nothing useful today. I made a few phone calls, collated a few notes, sent a few emails. Anything but face the article that needed writing. It sat there, looming large, dark, silent, brooding.

It wasn't the Muse I was waiting on. It wasn't a format, or a fact, or a quote. It was a beginning.

Find the beginning for a story and you'll find the story. I've written before about armpits and angles. About navigating your rowboat in a straight line through a sea of ideas. All of which is just fabulous in theory. But sometimes it just doesn't happen.

So what's a girl to do?

You start with what you know. What I know, for this particular story, is the middle. I have already decided that it will be an intro/q&a/ending format. I don't know the intro. I don't know the ending. But the middle - well, that's a matter of wrangling my questions and quotes into submission.

This I can do.

Hopefully, once it's done, an intro and an ending will have suggested itself. Simple, really.

Now all I have to do is to do it.

{image: via WeHeartIt}

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fibrotown Fable V: And the big men chop

Last weekend was Show weekend in Fibrotown. We went last year. And the year before. We ran into many friends in town that morning who weren't going. "We know we should, it being our local show and all," they said. "But..."

I was with them, I confess. I had a million 'Buts' as to why we didn't need to go. These included, but were not exclusive to, the fact that both boys were attending a two-hour putt-putt birthday party that same afternoon. Two hours of putt putt is enough to put them both into cranky pants territory - pulled up very high.

The Builder, however, was keen. "It's only once a year," he wheedled.

Why yes, it is. But when you've been to about 15, they blur into one. Particularly when you can pretty much map in your head the location of each and every exhibit and attraction. Right down to the 'House of Fun', which was on its last legs when I was a teenager.

Then he played his last card. "The woodchop finals will be on."

I love the woodchop. Love it. I remember my Dad taking us to some obscure field down the coast a bit when we were kids, specifically to see David Foster make chopsticks of a log in about 30 seconds flat. It was worth the journey.

And so we went.

First stop, the tractors for a quick clamber and ride. Then to the Fire Engines where Mr4 was totally indulged by a benevolent rural firefighting volunteer who spent ages going through every nook and cranny of the truck. I intervened when he was at the point of showing the over-excited Mr4 where the firefighters kept their sunscreen. Then both boys got to, wait for it, actually hold the firehose and spray water, thanks to a lovely friend of my Mum's who also volunteers. I thought Mr4 was going to pass out from the thrill.

We went to the woodchop. Mr4 was fascinated. He wanted to sit there all afternoon. Another convert.

We wandered the muddy fields and tracks, dodging the swarms of teenagers strutting their stuff as the afternoon died and the evening came to life. Cut-off shorts - and I mean short - were the only trend to be seen and it was a rare girl under 20 who dared to try something else. Groups of girls, all Babylissed into clones of each other, each lash perfectly outlined in architectural mascara, met groups of boys with large Adam's apples who looked as though they'd been standing in wind tunnels since breakfast. Against a backdrop of flashing lights, throbbing music and the incessant whoosh, whoosh of the Octopus, they stood about awkwardly, preened, flirted a little and walked on.

So has it ever been, so it will always be.

I sat watching young men hurl themselves up ramps on motorbikes, wondering how their mums coped with sitting through such a show each night, but more interested in why hot chips that have been sitting in a Show food van for potentially hours always taste so good. Salty. Vinegary. Delicious.

We played the requisite game on the Clowns. Mr4 won a prize with his 16 and chose a fluorescent green shark with a wicked smile. He wanted to give it back when he saw the glitzy plastic Samurai sword that Mr7 was given for, essentially, losing.

At Mr4's insistence (okay, mine), we went back to the woodchop on the way out. Four father-and-son combos contested heat one of the RMB Lawyers Cross cut Sawing. The winners proved that size is not everything when it comes to sawing. Mr4 was in raptures. He would have stayed all night.

"Fancy taking up the cross-cut saw?" I asked The Builder. His return glance was thoughtful.

We left the Show with two glow-in-the-dark light sabres (Mr7, without prompting, bought himself and his brother one each with his pocket money, which was worth the price of admission). One was broken within hours.

At preschool on Monday, Mr4, with his friends The Kings, played woodchop.

{image: via WeHeartIt}

Monday, February 14, 2011

'Fess up: How many empty jars do you have?

On Friday night, The Builder made his Fibro-famous spaghetti bolognaise, full of super-secret ingredients, including a jar of pasta sauce. After we had wolfed down his amazingly good dish (I figure exuberant praise might result in more cooking from The Builder), I did the washing up. Because we all know that the joys of the washing up can never be underestimated.

I washed the pasta-sauce jar, dried it lovingly and put it away in the cupboard - alongside the 500 other jars that I have lovingly washed and put away, awaiting... what, exactly?

I have a colony of glass jars settled in my corner cupboard. Waiting. Apparently breeding.

While I occasionally use one to shake up a salad dressing and I have been known to make a batch of chutney or relish, the chance of me ever needing 501 jars all at once are extremely slim. And, even so, I still covet these blue Mason jars and consider adding them to my motley collection of IXL, Vegemite, mayonnaise and jam jars.

It's one of my worst examples of 'you never know' hoarding. Beetroot aside.

And now I need to know, just how many jars do you have? Lurking in the cupboard under the sink or stashed away in another secret location. Just how many.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

So you want to write a children's book?

Like every other parent in the history of the world (okay, those who think about this kind of stuff), I've considered writing a children's book. I can tell a story, you know. You should hear the one that I used to tell Mr7 about his bear Bronte back when he was two. Bronte went in search of a pink ribbon. She had to drive many, many miles to find one. It had rollercoaster thrills, laughs and even a moral. It was... meh.

The truth is that 'knocking out' a kids' book is no mean feat. As any writer will tell you, writing short is much, much harder than writing long. Every single word has to work so much harder when they're limited. Which makes children's author Karen Collum's achievements all the more admirable. With two picture books appearing on the shelves almost simultaneously (Fish Don't Need Snorkels (UK) and Samuel's Kisses, launched in Australia today, New Frontier Publishing), plus When I Look At You (UK, 2011) and a junior novel, Operation Raspberry, out in 2012, you could say that she's on a roll.

Given that she also has four children, it's surprising Karen has time to breathe. But, lucky for us, she found time to pop into the Fibro to answer a few questions for aspiring children's book authors.

Do you find that people think 'children's books are short, they must be easy'? How far from the truth is this?
Karen Collum: "Many people do assume that picture books are the easiest things in the world to write due to their brevity. In reality, I believe picture books are the pinnacle of skill, talent and creativity (then again, I'm probably biased!).

"For me, every single word in a picture book has to fight for its place in the manuscript. Does it propel the story? Does it add to the rhythm of the text? How does it sound when read aloud? Anyone can write a 500-word story, but the masters of picture books - such as Wendy Orr, Mem Fox, and Jackie French - manage to use those 500 words to weave a tapestry of story that is simply divine."

Do you work on one book at a time? How long does it take you?
KC: "I have multiple projects on the go at once, although they're usually at different stages of development. I have a notebook for recording ideas on the run: phrases, images, characters or story arcs that might be useful. The next step is to write the first draft. Sometimes that feels as easy as being a scribe; other times it's as difficult as squeezing words from the proverbial stone. I use a template during this phase, which enables me to think about the text in terms of a standard picture book format of 32 pages. I can think about where the page turns and see where the natural breaks in the text fall.

"I then put the manuscript away for as long as possible - sometimes for 12 months or more - and come back to it with fresh eyes and a sharp knife to begin the editing process. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few months as I agonise over every word. I also workshop the manuscript with some trusted critique buddies and listen to their feedback - which I don't always take on board, though I do always consider.

"The time frame varies, but for me it's a minimum of a 6-8 month process to get a picture book from the idea stage to the point where it's ready to submit."

Do you illustrate your own books? If not, how does the illustration process work?
KC: "I would love to be able to illustrate, but sadly my artistic talents are almost non-existent. As my friend and fellow picture-book author Kathryn Apel says, we non-illustrators have to paint pictures with our words. One of the best things I can do as an author is to allow room for the illustrator. The best picture books are the ones where the text and illustrations join together to create something so much greater than the sum of the individual parts.

"Once a publisher accepts my manuscript, they choose an illustrator they believe is a good match for my text. Most of the time authors don't have input to this process. It can be hard to let your precious manuscript go, but I firmly believe that the publisher wants nothing more than to see the book become a roaring success. They choose a certain illustrator for good reason.

"My experience with this process has certainly been a positive one. The illustrations for Samuel's Kisses [by Serena Geddes] are better than I could ever have imagined."

What do you think it is that makes our most beloved picture books stand the test of generations?
KC: "For me, timeless picture books are those that reflect our inner experiences and emotions. The classic that springs to mind is Where The Wild Things Are [by Maurice Sendak]. I think that it is still such a loved book because every child has felt overwhelming, powerful anger and wished they could be far away from their family.

"A modern picture book that I think will have longevity is The Princess and Her Panther by Wendy Orr and Lauren Stringer. All children are frightened by something and this book explores fear in a safe, poetic and beautiful way.

"I also think that some picture books stand the test of time due to their beautiful language. Some books are just divine to read aloud again and again, like Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson."

What was your favourite book as a child?
KC: "I read a lot as a child, but funnily enough I don't have a memory of any one particular picture book. My dad used to read us bedtime stories every night and I have wonderful memories of warmth and togetherness, even though I don't have a specific title that stands out for me. I did, however, love the Berenstain Bears books and learned to read independently with The Bike Lesson."

And I ask you the same question - what was your favourite book as a child? 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend Rewind

This weekend can't get here soon enough for me. Oh wait, it's here. [Insert sigh of relief.] Which means it's time for the Weekend Rewind. [Insert wild cheering in the streets.]

In keeping with our current month-by-month playbook, today we'll be featuring May. I confess to be struggling to find a noteworthy song about May. Which is disappointing, it being the month of my birth and all. Apparently Arcade Fire has one called 'Month of May', but I am not young enough or cool enough to be able to hum that one.

So I'll skip right to the Rewind bit. The drill is this: you dust off an old post (preferably from May last year or earlier, or featuring something about May, but you know I'll take anything so don't fret), you link it up below, you browse through the other links and leave a little comment love, just to be friendly. So easy. So much fun. So...

My offering for this week is all about that May institution: Mothers' Day. Specifically how Mothers' Day, like motherhood, rarely goes to plan.

Okay, that's it. Let the Rewind begin! And don't forget to visit those other wonderful one-stop weekend linky shops: Maxabella's Grateful Saturday and Blog Gems at The King And Eye (Sunday).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When your imaginary friend is an evil genius, eat popcorn

Alla Hoo Hoo, Mr4's imaginary friend, has been very quiet for a while. No parties. No forklift. Not even mention of the 98 children. Mr4 tells me that this is because she is working on a "very big, very super new invention".

Intrigued, I asked him what she is inventing.

"A popcorn maker," he replied. "And she's making it out of boxes. In a special workshop on the other side of the world."

"But we already have a perfectly functioning popcorn maker (named Cornelius)," I said. "How will Alla Hoo Hoo's be different?"

He thought. "It's broken," he replied.

She is clever that Ms Hoo Hoo. Instead of building an incredibly small window of functional operation into the device's planned obsolescence (as most electrical appliances appear to have), she has decided to skip that step all together and take us directly to the point where we must buy a new popcorn maker as soon as we leave the shop with the one we just bought. Sheer evil genius.

I can see why she's been so quiet.

{image: via}

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So, I'm writing this book...

It occurred to me today that I have a matter of months to complete the manuscript for a book. An actual book. To be published by Penguin Australia in 2012. The working title is I want a career and a life!: How to thrive as a working mother, and I'm writing it with the fabulous Kate Sykes, founder of (which, if you haven't discovered it yet, is an incredible resource for working parents).

So far, so exciting.

Except that I'm a journalist and, as discussed previously, I tend to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-deadline style of journo - which means I'm frantically typing the night before a story is due. All well and good when you have 1000 words to produce. Not a great approach when you have thousands and thousands and thousands  to deliver by a set date.

The good news is that it's not my first book, so I do have an idea of what's involved. I've previously introduced my little pink book (Credit Card Stressbusters), and I've also ghost-written an autobiography in the past (no, I won't tell you which one). But this book is the one that's due in a matter of months. And the bad news is that I do have an idea of what's involved.

Why am I telling you all this? Motivation, of course. Now that I've told you all it has to be done, there's a serious accountability factor.

Feel free to crack a whip any time you fancy it.

{image: Anchor Division}

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

All about books: Georgette Heyer

During my recent visit to the library, I picked up a Georgette Heyer novel. Full disclosure: I love Georgette Heyer. I used to go to RWA Conferences where delegates would be raving about her and think 'huh? isn't she like Barbara Cartland?". Then I tried one and discovered how wrong I was.

If Barbara Cartland is a box of Roses chocolates - over-sweet, over-moreish, and destined to leave you feeling slightly ill at the end - then Heyer is a box of top-quality, dark chocolate Belgian truffles - rich, interesting, totally satisfying at every turn.

Heyer, who died in 1974, wrote Regency romance. I almost wrote 'writes' there, because her books are timeless. Her world-building is such that you'll be checking the credits to see if she wrote during Regency times. Sometimes the language is annoying - the book I just read, Charity Girl, is littered with words such as 'fuzzing', 'cogging' and 'sleeving', with the occasional 'glumping' thrown in - but, overall, the arch tone, general wittiness and likeability of her characters drag you along for the ride. She just writes so damn...well.

Sunday Times columnist India Knight describes her as 'unbeatable'. I tend to agree. For romance, escapism and sheer fun with an historic twist, I've yet to find her equal.

Have you tried Ms Heyer? Do tell. And if you need further information, visit Tales From The Village and Madame Guillotine, who have also recently declared their affection for Georgette.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How (not) to exercise

Today I caved in and joined a gym. Despite my last post on this subject. Despite my vows to walk and cycle, because I like exercising under my own steam, in my own time, outside.

At the end of the day, I wasn't doing those things. Oh sure, I walk. Several times a week. Have been doing so for years. But it's just not working like it was. I've got fitness and fatness issues. I'm not fit and I'm putting on weight. Which would be fine if I was happy with that. But I'm not.

So today I caved in and joined a gym.

And then... I didn't exercise.

That walk I usually enjoy on Mondays? I didn't attempt that walk. Because I've joined a gym. And somehow that was enough for one day.

Houston, I think we have a problem.

{image: Found In Mom's Basement}

Sunday, February 6, 2011

And the winner of the Sydney Writers' Centre course is...

Well, here we are. Ten days, 69 entries and a whole lot of excitement later, it's time to announce the winner of the brilliant five-week online writing course at the Sydney Writers Centre. Be still my beating heart.

I had so much fun reading through all your entries, whittling them down to a short list of... 12. Not the world's shortest short list, but a girl does her best. There were so many fab pitches. From the humorous to the heartbreaking, the witty to the writerly, the poetic to the purely mischievous. The best of them ticked all the boxes on my originality/angle/voice wishlist, as well as showing the benefits of some research.

So, without further ado, I hand over to Valerie Khoo, director of the Sydney Writers' Centre who, along with her team, has chosen the worthy winner.

"It was great to see so many wonderful entries in this blogging competition," she says. "We've been thrilled at the quality and sincerity of comments. We wish we could have awarded more prizes - but there can be only one winner. Congratulations Dovic - we look forward to seeing her at the Centre or in our online course soon!"

Congratulations indeed Ms Dovic - enjoy your Magazine Writing Stage 1 course, and thanks again to everyone who entered.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekend Rewind

Exciting times are afoot in the Fibro. As I write this, there are less than two hours left in the competition to win an online course at the Sydney Writers' Centre. So many fantastic entries to wade through...

So, we're going to keep this short and very sweet. Weekend Rewind is in the Fibro! All you have to do to take part is to follow the Fibro if we're not already friends, link up a classic post from your archives, and then comment a couple of the other links, to share the love. Simple. And fun. And oh so rewarding!

Today's prompt is the next logical step in our cavalcade of calendar entries. That's right, April. April Sun in Cuba. April in Paris. April Come She Will. No shortage of songs about April for our mixed tape. Hopefully, no shortage of posts from April for you to choose from. If you have no April posts (2010 or earlier)... well, I'll leave it up to you... Something about autumn? Fall? Falling?


My offering this week gives a little bit of insight into Fibrotown... it's what you might call personal.

Can't wait to see what you have for me! And don't forget to slip over and visit Maxabella's Grateful linky - I'm very grateful to Maxabella and Multiple Mum for all the help they've given me over the past week, letting people know about the writing course comp. Very grateful indeed. Sisters rock.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Six minutes in a leaky boat

Mr7 has a plan.

As discussed during our boating excursion on Sunday, he wants to sail to New Zealand. When he told me, I laughed and said, 'sure, we can do that', thinking of the four of us in our Rubber Ducky sailing the Tasman...

I should have known better.

Mr7 has a plan. He has designed a three-storey boat (see image) and is constructing a list of things we will need. So far it reads:

Fibre Glass
two beds
Life Jackets

He has established an Inventing Club at school and has recruited a classmate whose father 'makes glass'. He will provide the 'marine-grade glass' for the bottom of the boat. Glass-bottomed, apparently. They will work on it all term and we will be ready to set sail in May. For my birthday.

"Perhaps you could start out building a model?" I asked, torn between wanting to encourage his rampant creativity and wanting to protect him from the disappointment that will surely come when he discovers that building a three-storey boat in the backyard is not a one-term project.

"We can't sail to New Zealand in a model," was his, reasonable, response.

All I can hope is that he discovers a new passion over the weekend. Or we may be spending six minutes in a very leaky boat.

PS: Speaking of creativity, don't forget that we're into the last day of the competition to win an online writing course at the Sydney Writers' Centre by leaving a comment/pitch here. Don't miss out!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sweating on a storm

In my mind, I am sitting here, writing a witty, fabulous, thought-provoking blog post. Of course, in my mind, I am also sitting in an air-conditioned office, sipping a tall, iced glass of something, being fanned with palm leaves by gorgeous young men... hmmm, perhaps we'll leave that right there.

It's hot. Real hot. Too hot to type. Way too hot for a witty, fabulous, thought-provoking post. If you ever wondered about the insulation quality of your basic fibro cottage, I have to tell you that it's a very low quality. Like non-existent. If it's 40 degrees celsius outside, it's probably 42 degrees celsius in here.

In here, where I am trying to write as the sweat trickles down my arm, dropping into little pools on the keyboard. My fingers are sliding into nchytsl - whoops, sorry. Typos are part of the territory.

Anyhoo. I'm hot. But I'm not cowered in my house with my precious documents double-wrapped in plastic and my five precious children gathered close. That would be my Cousin A. In Townsville. Awaiting Cyclone Yasi. In its path, along with other members of extended Fam Fibro.

I rang her this morning. She told me it was eerily still. No birds. Not a breath of wind. I asked if she was okay. "Oh yeah," she said. "Just waiting."

"You're not leaving?"

"Where would we go?" She has a point. The storm is apparently 500km across and due to go as far inland as Mt Isa. It is big.

A is the most practical woman I know. I travelled in Europe with her for two years and it is because of her that I managed to find my way home. I have the sense of direction of an indoor plant. She is a homing pigeon. We would walk out of a hostel and I would unerringly turn in the wrong direction - away from the station/church/okay, pub that we were looking for. She would gently grab my arm and haul me and my backpack back on track.

I am sweating for her. In more ways than one.

Fingers crossed for a cool change in the Fibro - and an all-clear text from Cousin A.

A light breeze is a blessing. The rest Mother Nature can keep.

Update: finally got that text: All well here. Relief all round.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What is real?

Always good with a difficult question, Mr4 surpassed himself yesterday.

"How do you know something is real?" he asked.

Immediately, I was transported back to Philosophy 101 at Sydney University during my much-briefer-than-it-should-have-been flirtation with an Arts degree. A dark, institutional-green room. Cold. Full of mature-age students (I went to uni at 20, after I'd started my cadetship). I wanted to read the texts, have a quick chat, go home. Everyone else wanted to debate the nature of a chair ad nauseum, working on the theory that if they spoke the loudest, they'd win the argument.

My mind flicked back and forth through remembered snippets of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle. How does 'I think therefore I am' relate to reality? Perception versus reality? I remember doing something on beauty. What makes us beautiful? Is something innately beautiful, or do we make it so?

None of this proves helpful. Mr4 is still looking at me, questioning, wondering. I think some more.

He is four.

"If you can touch it, it's real," I finally say.

"Oh, okay," he says, turning back to LazyTown.

Conversation over. And I didn't even have to bring up Alla Hoo Hoo. If only everything in life were so simple.

Got a better answer? Any advice on what I should have said? I'll be making notes for next time because if there's one certainty in an uncertain world, there will be a next time.

{image: Eames chair, via}
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