Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fibro Q&A: Now here's a BIG idea - start your own magazine

I first 'met' Jo Pollitt and Lilly Blue when they got in touch with me sometime last year to ask a few random questions about blogging (none of which, from memory, I could answer...). Further investigation unearthed the fact that they were starting a new magazine for children, featuring art and words and wonder. I admit I struggled to get my head around the idea when I first read about it, but I did love the images they put up on their blog and Facebook page.

I received a copy of the very first issue of BIG Kids Magazine in the post this week and couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Mr7 couldn't believe how cool it was... he has spent a lot of time this week leafing through its pages, and is already planning his submission for the next issue.

I invited Jo and Lilly to the Fibro to answer a few questions about how the magazine started - and why they thought the world needed BIG Kids Magazine right now.

What made you decide the time was write for a new magazine?
Jo Pollitt: "Firstly, I wanted to buy one that my own son would love and couldn't find it! (Now he is the 'senior' editor of BIG.) Both Lilly and I believe that kids are so much smarter than the commercially driven work that is generally projected at them en masse. There are very few Australian magazines for kids that are responsive to the imagination of a child's world (outside of games, movies, and TV characters), and we felt that it was imperative that there be a choice in the market that reflected that world with more of an open and challenging viewpoint. And that would also be cool. Because kids are cool."

Why a children's creative-arts magazine?
JP: "We are artists ourselves and this is our area of expertise. We are also voracious magazine readers! Many little girls I know want to grow up to be dancers, and are always very interested when they find out I am actually a dancer and Lilly is an artist. That these professions are our 'day jobs' means we know some incredible creative artists and had a feeling they would be generous when it came to sharing art and ideas side by side with kids (and they are!).

More than ever before, the world needs great thinkers and visionaries and we feel it is our responsibility to encourage, value and provoke creative thinking and curiosity in kids. Through the BIG pages, hierarchies of art are broken down and new conversations emerge between the work of kids and artist grown-ups."

What was the hardest part of getting the whole project started?
JP: "Without doubt, the formalising of the business-related paperwork and the defining of our current partnership has been the hardest. I had not seen Lilly for 12 years (we have only skyped once and have still not met) so the working out of roles and sharing of dreams and future imaginings has been an extremely intense journey! The creative rigour between us is invigorating, and allows us to plough through the less fun parts. We both share a work ethic that is relentless and have high expectations of the other, which provokes questions, the occasional cross-fire and many shared long-distance celebrations. As mothers who work from home in baby sleep times and after hours, it is always a challenge to meet those expectations!"

Why did you decide to print the mag, rather than doing an e-zine as per trend?
JP: "We wanted kids to be able to hold the artwork in their hands, to be able to scribble an immediate response (the pages are matt and fab for random responses!). We wanted parents and kids to be able to sit side by side and share pictures, stories and ideas. We want it to be able to be thrown on the playroom floor, to be picked up or tossed about at will (it has a sturdy spine!). We wanted the magazine to be available in 'play time' and not relegated to the 'screen time' culture that is already so pervasive. We want to encourage a love of reading, a love of art, of dreaming, and provoke some questions about the big world we all share."

I notice that the theme of the next issue is Treasure Islands - how can parents and kids get involved?
"Draw us a map of all the places you have been - they can be real and/or imagined - and send to (there are guidelines on the website) and we will feature it on the BIG blog and possibly even in the actual pages of the magazine. Register to participate in the BIG child artist response project (CARP), and an artist will create something in response to your child's map-themed artwork with the two works then published side by side. Or write to Luca ( with specific things you'd like to see in the magazine or tell him the things you like/don't like in this one."

You can subscribe to BIG Kids Magazine here. You'll love it (and the kids will too).

PS: I'm taking a little blogcation while I enjoy some time with my boys next week. I'll be back on Monday 10 October - see you then!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Does anyone know anyone who... wants to be called G-Mom?

As I've written before, finding case studies and 'real people' to answer random questions for feature stories is a lot easier in the age of the internet than it was in the early days of my career. You can cast your net a lot wider - and keep your friends at the same time.

But it's not a one-way street. The worst part about being a journalist is that many of your friends are also journalists - so you're in the front row when they're casting about for 'real people' themselves. This is much like being in the front row at a Comedy Event. You can be pretty sure you're going to be embarrassed at some point.

Sometimes, however, it's easy. When my friend David Astle, who writes the Wordplay column in the Spectrum section of the Sydney Morning Herald gets in touch, you can be fairly complacent. He's never going to be looking for people to strip off to show the world 'What real women look like'. I need more friends like David.

Anyhoo, David contacted me, looking for people to share, wait for it, the names by which their parents go when it comes to Grandparenting. I will let him explain:

The issue relates to how more and more Boomers seem to begrudge the ageing allusion of such old-skool monikers as Grandma, or Grandfather. What titles/names have your own folks and in-laws adopted, now with Buzz and Woody on the scene?
Who got Pop and Nan? Does either shirk at the 'oldness' of Gran or Gramps? Are first names preferred, or have you conspired some other family-fied handle? Or maybe you've heard some cute variations out there.
The more I looked into this, the more interested I became - did you know, for instance, that there's a list of 'trendy grandparent names' at Grandma and Nanna have been dumped in favour of, wait for it, Mombo, Gidget, G-Mom and Pebbles, among others. If she wanted to be 'playful' on the other hand, she could be Bamboo, Boomie or, um, Muff. The Grandad side of the spectrum includes such monikers as Mellowman, Granite and Slick.

The pressure.

At our house, The Builders' parents went 'old-skool' (and Dutch) with Oma and Opa, while my Dad is called Pops because that's what we've always called him (too many Archie comics in our youth, perhaps?) and Mum went for Gran. Easy, cool, dignified.

How do you parents and in-laws choose to play it?*

*I know that David will be eagerly reading the comments section of this post, looking for information for his column. If you'd rather David didn't use your response in his Wordplay column on this subject, please say so. We know how sensitive Gran-and-Pop politics can be... Otherwise, your comment may end up being part of David's story. 

[image: luckily, these signs from primsnposies/etsy can be customised...]

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Things no woman should see

There are things no woman should see. Things that, once seen, simply cannot be unseen. Things that, once seen, require action.

Things like the tops of the kitchen cupboards. Those very high ones. Wa-a-y up there out of sight. If you've never looked at the top surface of those cupboards, I suggest, very firmly, that you simply do not.

Today I looked upon the tops of my cupboards. Tonight I spent an hour perched precariously on the benchtops, clinging on by my fingernails, scrubbing away at the collected grime of, apparently, centuries of kitchen use. Dear God it was ugly.

My new kitchen arrives tomorrow. The contents of my old kitchen are currently reposing on the dining table. Actually, scrub that, on, under and around the dining table. I unearthed a chocolate-making kit that I never knew existed. The large stockpot that I was sure I had, but that had not been seen in living memory. Some really nice little bowls and things for entertaining - clearly we haven't been friendly enough in the Fibro.

And I will go to bed tonight knowing that the tops of my kitchen cupboards are white. It's a saintly kind of feeling, I have to admit.

So... dare I ask? What would you add to the list of Things No Woman Should See?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Making it up as I go along

I'm in an awkward position right now. While I'm not a plotter or a planner by any stretch of the imagination, usually, with writing, I at least have a good idea of what I'm going to say. A notion. A hint.

But not right now. Right now I'm sitting in front of the computer and just plain... hoping. That something useful will appear. I have a deadline. I have a word count. I have half of what I need. I just don't have a clear picture of where the other half will take me.

I'm not sure whether to feel terrified or elated. It could be good. Really good. Or it could all end in tears around the 6000-word mark, when I realise I've backed myself into a corner and can't resolve the ending.

All I can do is trust that it will all work out. And make it up as I go along.

Do you write like this? Do you realise it makes you just a little bit crazy?

[image: I think I need one of those cool lockets from polarity/etsy]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First steps in two-tone shoes

The boys and I went bowling today. In honour of Mr7's soccer presentation, they donned two-toned shoes and slipped and slid their way across the over-polished floors to, well, dump their bowling balls down the lane. Mr4, who'd never bowled in his life, managed a spare with his first two dribbling offerings. And then could never quite match his own success. Once he realised that every bowl would not be greeted with shouts and cheers from the crowd, he lost interest. He did quite enjoy the enormous thump that ensued when he threw his ball, with two hands, from a great height.

In his defense, they were big balls.

Mr7 employed a cunning mix of unorthodox techniques during his games. From an attempt at an overarm throw (not repeated) to a shimmy-shake arrangement that resulted in the ball ricocheting wildly from one bumper to another to a rather spectacular effort where he appeared to forget to let go of the ball and followed it halfway down the lane on his side, his efforts were entertaining, to say the least.

I do have memories of my own first-ever attempt at bowling. We were visiting my grandparents in Far North Queensland during one of our Christmas odysseys. I'm not sure how old I was, but I had received, along with sisters B and C, a rather fetching jumpsuit arrangement for Christmas and we all insisted on wearing them bowling. That's it. I don't remember how the bowling went, but I do recall being dressed in a harem-pant jumpsuit with a little tie around the neck. Which did not match the two-tone shoes.

The boys will probably not remember what they were wearing today. But Mr7 will remember the two trophies that he received for his first (and probably last) soccer season. And Mr4 will remember that he did not receive two trophies. In fact, any trophies at all. I know this because he repeated this fact over and over all the way home.

Are you a ten-pin bowler? What do you remember of visits to the lanes when you were young?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Famous last words: "I'll write my novel when..."

I was watching Grand Designs the other night when, unusually, I found myself shouting at the television. I have been known to shout at the television in the past, but not generally when genteel Kevin is doing his thing. The reason for my vociferous response?

A nice man was building a nice house in France. Part of his reason for creating said house was to install a writing room. Said room was at the top of the house with a wall of windows showcasing a view of rolling French countryside. It would be, he said, the perfect place in which to write His Novel. I remembered a conversation I once had with Australian novelist Allison Rushby about a similar man with a similar dream on that other genteel show Escape To The Country.

"It doesn't matter what's out the window," she said. "You're either going to write it or you're not."

Which is pretty much what I found myself shouting at the television the other night. I then went on to expand on the topic while The Builder watched me, slightly bemused. When I ran out of steam, we resumed polite watching.

At the end of the show, Kevin returned to the house, seven years after it had been built. The man's writing room was now comfortably furnished with not only his desk, but an exercise bike, some boxes, several piles of newspapers, bookshelves, a keyboard, a pile of bags... oh wait, half of that is what's in my office. He had written a book. A guide to buying houses in the French countryside.

I am not disparaging the nice man's dream, nor his efforts. But every time I hear someone say "I'll write my book when..." it makes me wonder if they'll ever actually get round to putting the words on paper.

When I dream of my perfect writing life, it involves a little weatherboard studio, open and spacious, with big French doors opening onto a little verandah. There are big, blowsy, old-fashioned David Austin roses involved. The room is always free of clutter, clean, white, fresh. Small boys are conspicuous by their absence.

If I waited until this place materialised, I would never write anything. So I sit in my cluttered (all my own fault, I know) office, in my Fibro, with my family happily rumbling around me. The view is of my struggling vege patch. On hot, still nights, I can hear my neighbour snoring (true story - the first time I heard it, I thought there was a large, dark beast outside my window and was totally freaked out).

Author Fiona Palmer has been sharing pictures of the writing spaces of some fab Australian novelists. I love having a look. Some of them have beautiful views. Others work at the dining table. Some are out in a paddock. Others in offices that would not look out of place in an accountancy practice. For the most part, they involve a desk and a chair and a wall.

To me, it's not the place that makes the writing special. It's the writing that makes the place special.

What do you think? 


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Where in the world does it all come from?

I found out yesterday that my new kitchen cupboards and benchtops will be installed next week. The thought fills me with great joy. Unfortunately, the promise came with a rider. I will need to empty said kitchen cupboards on Tuesday. In school holidays.

The thought fills me with horror.

We have only been in the Fibro three years. I did a massive cull of all kitchenware when we moved here. Why am I so scared? It's not like I've been randomly buying homewares to fill the space. No new kitchen appliances have made their way into the house (because I already have the best). Except for Cornelius the Popasaurus, but he doesn't take up much space.

No, the problem is simply this. I remember how hard it was last time. Before I even accumulated the jar collection. Before the beer cooler collection began to breed under the kitchen sink. Before the nine Christmas melamine cups and plates (one for all the nieces and nephews) took up residence with the Tupperware and other plastics. Before I decided I needed a zester, an extra colander and eight large white bowls.

Where does it all come from? And, more importantly, where in the world am I going to put it all when it comes out of the cupboards?

[image: I wish my jar collection looked as stylish as this strand of Mason Jar Lights from sweetteaclothingco/Etsy]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The joy of text

Mr4 endured enjoyed another excursion today. This time to the library. I asked him this morning if he was excited. He looked at me as though I'd lost my marbles. "It's the library, Mum," he said. "We go there all the time."

Oh yes.

Mr7 suggested that this time Mr4 and his friends might get to have a look beyond the bookshelves. "When we went in year one, we got to go downstairs," he confided.

"Oh, what was there?" asked Mr4, hope in his voice.

"That's where they keep the boxes of books," said Mr7.

"Oh," said Mr4. His excitement was still not palpable.

He didn't have much to say about his excursion on the way home from preschool. Just that he was tired. That someone had read them a story. They'd eaten fruit - apples and carrots. "Carrots aren't fruit," said Mr7. "They don't have seeds."

I could see Mr4 trying to come up with a rebuttal to this, but he could think of nothing.


"I did learn one thing today at the library, Mum," he said.


"Butterflies smell with their feet," he announced, triumphant.

And, do you know what? They do.

I tell you, these excursions are true learning experiences. For everyone.

What new thing did you learn today?

[image: Erin Nicole/Beauty In Everything]

Monday, September 19, 2011

On hold, til death (or email) do us part

Apparently, marriage is contagious. I discovered this today whilst having my second of four conversations with my newly appointed Senior Advisor from Apple. My problem has been escalated and I am in the hands of a very knowledgeable man. He is. I know because I couldn't understand half of what he was talking about and yet he managed to guide me through the process of booting, rebooting, organising a test user, arranging a test email account, removing an application from a package, installing an application from a package and more. I still don't have email, but I feel pretty sure that we are getting closer all the time. If nothign else, I am convinced that all avenues are being exhausted.

All of this booting and rebooting and unpackaging leaves a lot of dead time on a phone call. You know that time while you're waiting for the wheel to spin around and the whirring to stop and you can hear each other breathing down the line. So we chatted. About how lots of guys in the office are getting married or are newly married. About how they chat about the various challenges. About how the older guys in the office laugh at them and tell them they'll be fully trained and domesticated in a few years.

It was a lovely human moment in the middle of a technological nightmare. Surrounded by bits and bytes and incomprehensible gobbledy gook, it was just... nice. He even managed to take my mind of my major stress for a moment or two as we discussed the use of snoring as a weapon during marital disputes. I suggested he use the snore power for good not evil, but we couldn't actually work out a good use for snoring.

There's no real point to this story. Except to say that I'm (hopefully) nearly there. And I really appreciate the assistance - and the humanity - of the geeks at Apple. Computer AND people skills. No wonder he's married.

[image: LicoriceWits/etsy]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The best day ever*

Small decisions can have big repercussions. I bought my iPhone. I walked around with it in my pocket for 24 hours, getting it out randomly to, you know, check it. When I explained to Maxabella that I was doing this, she laughed hysterically. In fact, we both did.

"You know how when you get your first car and you walk around swinging your keys just so everyone knows you've got one, even though they don't care because they've had one for 100 years?"

"That was you?" she chortled.

"That was me." We had to put the phone down briefly while we rolled around on our respective floors.

On Saturday, I decided it was time to join the 21st century and 'sync' my iPhone. I plugged it all in and was told, very kindly and sympathetically, by my iMac that my operating system wasn't up to the task. All was not lost as I had an 'upgrade' disk, which had come with the computer but never been used. When you're a Luddite like me, you use only a fraction of your computer's capability.

I read the instructions, followed them, backed up my files, hesitated, read the instructions again and inserted the disk. The instructions made it all sound so simple.

You know where this is going, don't you?

Suffice to say that the following 24 hours of my life were filled with dread, uncertainty, horror, shock, stress and the words 'we're going to have to erase your hard drive and then we'll see what we can recover'. About halfway through Saturday, I posted the following status update: "I feel ill. Like a Dementor has sucked out all my hope and happiness. I'm needing me a Patronus right now. In the shape of an Apple."

The good people at the Apple Call Centre (most of whom seem to have names beginning with J) did their best. They didn't laugh at me once. The only time they left me feeling less than reassured was when the first guy said 'oh wow, I've never come across that before'. Not really what you want to hear as your computer dies a slow death in front of you. As an aside, I did back-up. I just didn't back-up my system properly. I thought I was doing it right. I wasn't. So if there's any doubt about your own system, I suggest you check into that right now.

Throughout the day, as I waited for this to reboot and that to reload and the other to copy - all excruciatingly slow processes - the boys were rumbling around the house. Whatever they suggested I said yes to - water paints, water games, craft, whatever - anything to keep them busy and out of my zone of stress. When they appeared, I threw food at them - oreos, strawberries, crackers, whatever. Anything to keep them quiet while I stressed.

At the end of the day, as I tucked him into bed, Mr7 beamed up at me. "This has been the best day ever, Mum. We did so much fun stuff AND we had Oreos."

What could I do? I managed a smile and said 'that's nice, dear', as I headed back to my study where my computer was refusing to restore my system back-up and was now making worrying grinding noises.

The best day ever. It's all a matter of perspective, right?

Have you ever experienced a monumental computer meltdown?

Footnote: I seem to have recovered copies of my document files and, it looks like, photos and movies. So far there's no sign of iTunes or my entire email folder, but I am hoping that tomorrow, when the Apple staff are back at work, a nice person, named something starting with J, might be able to help me with that. Fingers crossed, and more tomorrow.

*title may include irony


Friday, September 16, 2011

Grateful to have a guest post

I have been following Maxabella's progress around the internet this week. You see her here, you see her there, my Lord the girl is everywhere. 

I'm blaming her for the string of 'Run' songs that have been on high rotation in my head this week - Run To You (Bryan Adams), Keep On Running (Spencer Davis Group), Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen). You need to imagine me with an imaginary hairbrush in my hand, singing these songs to my bewildered children. I'm pretty sure Alla Hoo Hoo is singing back up. Anyhoo...

Fortunately for me, Maxabella has washed up in the Fibro in time for a weekend post. Joining in with Maxabella's Grateful linky, which is being guest-hosted this week by the lovely Brenda at Mira Narnie. I'm grateful that she's here.

This week I'm grateful for... silly schemes
I imagine as I write this that I am actually in the (partly) newly-renovated Fibro, tapping away on Al's Mac and listening to the boys arguing on the blue back deck outside my window. Mr4 is growing up fast, but his adoration of Mr7 continues. These days I suspect that Mr7 is quickly realising that he might just have to dispense a little adoration back. Four year olds are tough, man.

Ah brothers, huh? Ah, sisters.

This week I'm grateful for...

172. Silly schemes - especially when cooked up with a chortling sister and no-one else thinks it's even remotely funny.

173. Frozen food* - since getting my additional freezer space courtesy of my good parents, I haven't looked back. Everything I make on the weekend, I make double and freeze some for weeknights.

174. Blue Ribbon 97% fat free Cookies and Cream ice cream - I know that 97% fat free food will send me to an early grave, but have you tasted this stuff? Ooh la la!

*And little mentions

Cheers to a great week where everyone is really nice to you and your hair looks good every single day.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Your chance to vote for a dream

I've always loved a 'do-er'. People who get in and get on with things. Lots of people talk about stuff. About writing a book, or building a house, or saving the world. And then there are the people who just, well, do it.

I met Cate Bolt through Twitter, via a mutual industry contact. Cate is a do-er. She's also opinionated and forthright and no-nonsense. She tweets A LOT. Because she's there to raise money for a cause that means a lot to her. Cate doesn't just talk about how bad things are, or how she wishes things were different. She actively tries to make the world a better place.

Cate's come up against a fair bit of adversity in her life. It's her story, so if you want to know more, you should check out her blog. Suffice to say that she advocates for the homeless and any other number of voiceless people in this country. She has nine children. I know. Every time I complain about some aspect of parenting, she tells me that it will be fixed in one fell swoop by simply having more children. Worried about how they'll grow up? Have more children. Anxious about bullying? Have more children. Bored? Have more children. You can see how it goes.

She doesn't ask for help much. She'll sell you chocolate in a second to support her causes (and you should buy some because it's Fair Trade and therefore Guilt-Free Chocolate), but she won't ask for help. Unfortunately, she needs it now. She has a dream and SunSuper is offering grants that would make her dream so much easier for her to achieve. She wants to save orphaned children in Indonesia, and through education, help make that part of the world a better place. She has worked hard to raise the money for the orphanage and education programs, and the grant would help immensely with ongoing costs.

I'm asking for help for her. Please go here and vote for her dream. It's a one-minute process. You can read more about her story and her dream, vote (via a simple, non-scary log-in), and voila! that's it. It would help her out immensely if she won that money. It's a small kindness to help her with her much larger kindness picture. And you don't even have to have more children to solve the problem.

[image: MiguelRockstar/Tumblr]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


My favourite moment of today belongs to someone else. Two someone elses, in fact. Two males, one large, one small. Lying flat on their backs in the backyard, arms wide on the green, green grass. The Builder in work clothes. Mr4 in a dress-up wizard cloak, his 'Turtle Cat' costume. They are looking up at the spring-blue sky. Laughing. One deep belly laugh. One little belly giggle.

Just thinking about it makes me smile.

[image: youarelikeadrugforme/Tumblr]

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tips for writing features #2*: Stick with good contacts

I'm working on a feature at the moment, and nothing is going right. The experts that I have called are not calling me back. The time frame that's been allocated is simply not enough. I'm fast running out of hours and options. But my many years in this game have given me one amazing asset for moments such as these: trusted contacts.

These are people I've interviewed many times over many years. A psychologist or two. Some financial advisors. Nutritionists, dietitians, parenting experts. Relationship gurus. Fashion experts, beauty experts, organising experts. I know that when I call them, they will give me exactly what I need. They know how my questions work, they know where to fill in the gaps. I know that when I call them, I do not need to explain myself, or my credentials. They know me. Well enough to say 'just put that into proper English for me, will you?' and trust that the quotes will be correct.

Every general features writer needs people like these. If you interview someone for a story and it goes particularly well, ask them one extra question: "Do you mind if I keep your details on file and call you again for future stories?" Chances are they'll say yes. Then you cross your fingers that they like that first story you did together so that the next time you call they're pleased to hear from you.

I keep up my end of the bargain. I don't call too often, I ensure they're credited as fully as I can, I am mindful of their time and keep my questions succinct. It's no coincidence, I'm sure, that my expert team are also people that I really like. They're people that I've connected with - a certain sense of humour, an ability to go off on tangents with aplomb. I've never met any of them face to face. Not one. But I'm sure they'd recognise my voice on the phone.

I'm always looking to add new people to my team. It's important to keep voices and ideas fresh. But I cannot tell you how happy I am that I have them in my life, particularly on nights like this, with that deadline looming.

And now I must go. There's a psychologist I need to email about an interview...

*I know this is out of numerical order, but I realised I forgot #2 in my list!

[image: Speaking of sticking, how cool is this wall decal from Urbanwalls?]

Monday, September 12, 2011

So then I got an iPhone... well, nearly

You may remember that I wrote this post detailing why I wasn't getting an iPhone for Christmas last year. In precis, it had a lot to do with the fact that I was concerned, and The Builder was certain, that I would develop co-dependency issues. At that point, I was very caught up in the cyber world.

But life moves on.

Over the past eight months, two things have happened. One is that my love affair with blogging and tweeting has moved beyond those heady days of intoxicating love into phase two of any relationship - comfortable-on-the-sofa-watching-DVD mode. I am no longer seduced at every turn and bewitched by my new passion. Instead, I have traded in the sexy lingerie for cotton and can be found thinking occasionally (last night for instance), 'not tonight dear, I've got a headache'.

The second thing that has happened is that my trusty hot-pink Nokia is no longer so trusty. Apparently it's developed an 8.5-year itch and has proved to be very unreliable of late. It never has the energy to talk to me anymore and keeps diverting calls and failing to pass on messages. I'd think there was someone else, but, frankly, I think the old thing is past it.

So here I am. At the crossroads. It seems silly, even to an entrenched old Luddite like me, to willfully go out and buy another antiquated no-camera, no-internet, not-very-smart phone, so I'm going to jump on the bandwagon, albeit five years late, and get that iPhone. I think I am beyond being a Late Adopter. I'm just showing up early for the next trend (iPhones are practically old skool now, right?).

All of which begs today's big question - which Apps are must-haves? Anything else I need to know? Lay it on me. I need all the help I can get.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A random post about kindness

My week of mindless activity continues, which means that my week of random thought also goes along its merry way. Today I was gnawing over the idea of Kindness.

Actually, scratch that. I began with Kindness and then segued briefly into why (or why not) women change their names when they get married. I brought that segue home with me, posted a question on Facebook/Twitter about it and watched the whole thing ignite. Answers were fairly evenly divided into the Ayes and the Nos, the hyphenated and the not, those with messy Medicare cards and those with a shared family name. I was left thinking 'now why didn't I write a blog post about that?'.

Moral to the story? Save your big questions for bigger forums.

Anyhoo, back to Kindness.

I read this post on Mamma Mia last week, about how kind words from a stranger can turn someone's day around. "Awww," I thought. I've long thought that kindness is an underrated human trait. Then, on ABC-TV's The Gruen Transfer last night, there was discussion of Kindness as a trend.

Advertisers are using social media to bestow 'random acts of kindness' (RAKs) upon people - usually people with large numbers of followers on Twitter or Facebook. In other words, people whom the advertiser thinks may be of some use in publicising said RAKs (and thus the advertiser) to their social networks. Call me cynical, but I think they need to come up with a new name. PMAM or Pre-Meditated Acts of Marketing comes to mind.

This idea of Kindness as a phenomenon, something people are talking about, interests me. Is it so rare in our world now that we have to broadcast it when someone is kind to us? It's not a new idea. Back in the 1970s, on those long family holidays in the back of the Kingswood Station Wagon, my sisters and I (the TICH was yet to join the Von Tait Family Singers) used to sing a song called 'Try A Little Kindness'. Heaven knows where we learnt it, or who sang it (I could Google it I know, but that would ruin the mystique), but I suspect it was a country singer of some description. It basically talked about how a random act of kindness would not only change someone else's day, but your own.

So now I'm wondering (you know me, always wondering). Have you ever been on the end of a random act of kindness? How did it make you feel? Or perhaps you were the purveyor of said kindness? Was it a spontaneous thing or did you specifically set out to be kind? If you set out to be kind, does that somehow add selfishness to the kindness mix?

Always with the big questions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The proof is in the reading

My editor emailed me today. First page proofs of my new book Career Mums are ready and on their way to me. This is the point where all those words start to look like a book. It's exciting... and terrifying. Already I have been waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Did I put a .au on that website address - when it shouldn't have one? (I didn't.) Did I remember to make those few requested corrections on that case study? (I did.)

I will have a few days to read through the entire book. No doubt several times. Looking for errors, mistakes, anything we may have overlooked. Reading all those words that I have read so many times. Trying to look at them with a fresh eye. Best I get some sleep.

Co-author Kate Sykes and I are already working on an idea for a new book. Yep, before the first one is even on the shelves. That's the way it is with publishing. You have to think long and far in advance. And then act in a rush when (if) things finally start to happen.

Hopefully, I'll have a cover to share with you soon.

[image: YanaFilimonova/Flickr]

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What's the one thing you wish you could do?

I spent some time painting today. After which I tweeted this: "Painting is one of those things that looks easy, but hurts like hell." Watching someone else paint a room is like, well, watching paint dry. Balancing with one leg on a ladder and the other on a window sill whilst performing approximations of yoga moves in order to 'cut in' in a straight line is another ordeal all together.

While I was in there brushing away, however, I had a fair bit of time to think. Which brought me to one of my favourite pastimes - that of mentally filling out questionnaires in my head. No, really. Those witty little columns that make up the front and back of newspaper magazines the world over require a lot of thought. What is my favourite book? What would I eat for my last meal? What, from a long list of unfashionable things that I love to do, would be my most loved ever?

The only question I can ever answer with any certainty is this one: What's the one thing you wish you could do? Most people answer 'sing' for this. But, as I have shared before, lack of ability does not stop me singing, so I disregard that. Nope, the one thing I wish I could do is, ironically, paint. Not walls (particularly after today). Paintings. Works of art.

Actually, I'd settle for being able to doodle.

I am the least visual person I know. My drawing style began and ended at stick figures. So, yes. That art stuff? That's the one thing I wish I could do.

What's the one thing you wish you could do?

[image: Mr4's latest drawing of a Christmas tree is a far superior effort to mine]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fibro Q&A: Mark Dapin shares his writing secrets

I'm quite excited about this week's Fibro Q&A. Usually when I am talking to Mark Dapin, we discuss roundabouts, penguins, social media, beer, driving, children, our mutual friends, the state of the world and the state of our various projects (his more exciting than mine). It is a rare event for me to actually drill him about writing. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm shy (and I can hear him laughing from here...). Maybe I don't want him to know how much I truly don't know. Probably it's just that the conversations about roundabouts are far too scintillating to warrant a change of subject. Something like that.

Anyway, he writes a popular column for Good Weekend, first-rate features, (probably) best-selling non-fiction books, award-winning novels... possibly even poetry (but no doubt that's hidden in a drawer). His debut novel The King of the Cross won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction and his new novel, Spirit House, is now in bookshops. So, despite the fact that he does not look like a writer*,  I took advantage of his extreme shortness** and invited him to the Fibro to view my asterisk collection*** While he was here, I asked him about writing.

Given that you practice so many forms of writing, do you have to take a different approach with each?
Mark Dapin: "Not really. If I'm writing a feature, I try to approach it as if it were a short story. I identify the main characters, give them a narrative arc and - if the storytelling works - use my 3000 words to gradually reveal the mystery at the heart of the story. I try to write an introduction that drags the reader in, and a conclusion that offers a surprise twist, a kind of reward for reading that far. I use the same technique with the chapters in my novels and slightly scaled-down version**** for my column."

You put a lot of yourself into your columns and feature stories - does having such a strong voice make fiction writing easier or more difficult when you have to write from a character's perspective?
MD: "I think every character in every novel written by every writer is, in part, an extension of an aspet of the writer's own character. When a writer pits good against evil, they're really, on some level, just detailing the conflict within themselves. So no, not really. I can write hundreds of different Mark Dapin characters - black, white, men, women, short, extremely tall..."

Did you suffer from second novel syndrome when writing Spirit House? Or did having a deadline and certain expectations help you get the job done?
MD: "Yeah, it was much harder to write the second novel than the first. I had to do almost a year of research. I would never do this again. I advise strongly against setting a novel in Singapore in 1942 when you were born in England in 1963. Also, I did a lot of work with my publisher on the plot, which kept flying off in odd directions."

Given that the role of the author seems to involve so much more marketing/promotion these days, and you also write a weekly column plus regular features, when do you fit in your fiction writing? Are there days when you never want to see another word?
MD: "I just prioritise. I make a (mental) list of what I most want to accomplish in the day, and I do that first. Some weeks, it's journalism every day, some weeks it's fiction all week. It kind of depends on my deadlines and my mood. It doesn't mean the other stuff doesn't get done, just that everything is completed in the right order. And if I get stuck on fiction, I turn to the column. If it get stuck on a column, I write a feature, and so on."

What would your advice be for anyone starting out in the writing game - any genre - today?
MD: "Learn to write. Don't use cliches or formulaic constructions. Read good writers and try to figure out how they avoid repeating the words of others. Every time you finish a sentence, think to yourself, "Have I read this somewhere before?" If you're writing dialogue, ask yourself if real people talk that way, or just characters on TV. Realise that other people are just as complex as you are and a two-dimensional portrayal of anybody - in journalism, or in fiction - is likely to show up the writer as more shallow than their character. Don't be precious. Almost everything improves with cutting."

Spirit House is at the top of my To Be Read pile, covered in a thin layer of renovation dust. I cannot wait to read it. I know that, for me as a reader, it will be funny, and unexpected, and thought-provoking. I know that, for me as a writer, it will be motivating and inspiring and, yes, envy-inducing. You can buy it here. You can also follow Mark's blog, where he writes about roundabouts (oh yes, he does) among other things. 

*have a look here if you don't believe me
**rumour has it that he is just 9cm tall
***My collection will never match his, but the ruse worked.
****This is a genuine Mark Dapin asterisk. Yeah, yeah, 9 centimetres.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Home Sweet Fibro

We are home at the Fibro and the boys are running around in circles in giddy delight. Something about being in their own space, surrounded by their own stuff, is just so happy-making that their little bodies can't contain it. Our new bathroom is an absolute delight, light and bright and white. Pics soon if I can work out how to manage them.

The Builder was determined to wake up here for Fathers' Day, so we spent yesterday in a frenzy of final touches... not to mention ferrying our stuff back from Mum and Dad's house. I don't recall taking so much gear over there. It must have missed us and moved in by itself. But now we are all reunited at the Fibro and all is right with the world. Or it will be, once I remember to pick up those little things I keep forgetting.

Fibrotown turned on glorious weather for Fathers' Day. And we had one of those days where it all went right. Instead of eating McDonald's for lunch on the way home in the car (simply because we forgot to book anywhere forgetting how busy these occasions can be) we ate a civilised meal in a Spanish deli with two surprisingly well-behaved children (I did wonder if we'd picked up the wrong ones at the market by mistake...).

We did some wine tasting (if you haven't visited Morellis Wines near Berry you are missing out - the most stunning scenery and a very cheeky verdelho as well), we bought some antique what-nots. Mr4 was heard to complain at one point that Fathers' Day wasn't really very fun for him but, once it was explained to him that Fathers' Day was not really about him, he subsided.

And then, at the end of it all, home. Who could ask for more than that?

What did you get up to for Fathers' Day?

[image: love this print by DefineDesign11/etsy]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How (not) to finish a Fitness Challenge

I fear I am a great disappointment to the Instructor Ladies at my gym. In fact, given the sad, puppy dog eyes that greet my appearance there these days, I'm suspecting that my fears are well-placed. Shall we just put it out there, right up front, and confirm that my six-week Fitness Challenge has been an unmitigated disaster. I have several very impressive and ever-ready excuses - book edits, renovations, illness, blah, blah, blah - but I don't blame you for not listening. I'm not even listening any more.

The fact is that I wanted to get fit simply by signing up to the Fitness Challenge. As if simply putting my indecipherable John Hancock on the bottom line would be enough to decrease the size of my bottom. Apparently this is not how things work. Disappointing that.

I have one more week to go. The Instructor Ladies - and they are so very nice, I really want to please them - are expecting Great Things. They actually told me that after I left the other day, blaming PMT for my body's obstinate refusal to lose so much as one single centimetre. And they wouldn't pull that tape measure tighter, just to cheat a little millimetre or two, no matter how much I asked. So. Great Things.

I'm wondering if what I need is a new approach. A post-renovations, post-edits, post-PMT kind of approach. I heard about this great new initiative from The Black Dog Institute today. It's called Spring, it costs $30 and you get 30 days of training plans, fitness tips, motivational emails... and it's all designed to focus on lifting your mood. I think my mood is about the only thing I'm capable of lifting right now, so this could be the perfect solution.

And at least I can be secure in the knowledge that even if I follow my usual pattern and do nothing useful regarding getting fit, somebody will benefit from my $30 investment because the money raised goes to The Black Dog Institute, to fund their fabulous work with mental health and mood disorders.

Knowing that makes me feel better already.

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