Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My dream for Christmas 2011

I worked nights over Christmas. Not surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy it. Therefore I have decided that when I am elected Supreme Emperor of the planet (please note that "am elected" is a euphemism for "achieve a devastating military coup"), that emergency services personnel will no longer have to work over Christmas. And it will bring people together in the true spirit of Christmas.

Here’s how it will work:

Nobody knows their neighbours anymore. It’s a sad fact of modern life but, next Christmas, we can change all of that. Nothing breaks the ice like: “Pardon me, my house in on fire.” Bring hoses, buckets, and marshmallows, and remember to have fun. It’s Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Wikipedia Writing Game

I am taking the month off from writing, and by month I mean from now until after my holidays in January. And by writing, I mean the serious part of it, like the editing and re-editing, and re-re-editing until I want to run screaming into the streets calling for blood and revolution. I can’t go cold turkey, but my end-of-year brain doesn’t want to do any of the hard stuff, like thinking, so I’ve decided to make it fun. Therefore, I present to you (ta-da!) the Wikipedia Writing Game.

Go to Wikipedia. Oh, I know that real researchers don’t use it, but we’ve all got it saved to our favourites, right? Go to the main page, and click on “Random article”. Save that article. Now do it again. And again. Do it once more it you feel like it. Keep doing it if you want. There are no rules in the Wikipedia Writing Game.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I was at Brisbane airport the other day, coming through security, when I was stopped for one of the trace explosives tests. I’ve been stopped for a few of these. I don’t think I’m being targeted because I look like a terrorist. I think I’m being targeted because I don’t look like a terrorist, and they can use me as an example to show they don’t racially profile people.

The security officer motioned me over to the side, and said, “Have you done one of these before?”

“A few times,” I told him.

“Ah,” he said with a cheeky wink, “so we haven’t caught you yet?”

“Not yet,” I agreed with a smile as he swiped the little thingy over my hand luggage and shoes. “Hang on, we’re not allowed to make jokes about terrorism in airports, are we?”

“If we weren’t allowed to have a joke, what sort of world would that be?” he asked me.

Um, it would be this world, my little flower, this world. But he was a nice man, so I didn’t want to be the one to break it to him. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Random Chicken

I stopped in at the corner store today on my way to work, to buy a drink. Coming outside again, I noticed a large brown chicken walking behind my car. This is the sort of traffic hazard I am unused to in the city, although I did once brake for a wallaby in the upmarket suburb of Castle Hill. I put that down to heavy flooding at the time. I figured little Skippy had just caught a ride down the hill on a mudslide.

But a chicken! I was struck by the awesomeness of chickens. I was reminded that I want to own chickens. Just two of them. Maybe a brown one and a white one. Can you pick what colour chickens will be when they grow up? I mean, they all start off yellow, right? Like yolk. I don’t know what I’ll name my chickens, but since I will only have two it would be silly not to name them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Things I Wish Would Move Out Of My House: Part 1: The Huntsman Spider

Now that the possums are gone, I can turn to other things. I feel like David must have. It was all like Goliath-Goliath-Goliath before the showdown, but now he’s out of the picture I’m noticing just how much those smaller Philistines annoy me. So now that the possums have been evicted, I’ve come up with a list of other animals I wish would move out of my house.

The first is the Huntsman spider:

The Ode Less Travelled - Unlocking the Poet Within, by Stephen Fry

This review will not be impartial, because I love Stephen Fry. I want to marry his brain. If he published his grocery list, I would buy it. I suspect I would enjoy it as well.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Non-Buyer's Regret

Once, when I was seven or eight, or eight or nine, my family was driving interstate to visit my cousins for the school holidays. Because my dad had a pathological hatred of school holiday traffic, we were going the back way – not the scenic coastal highway, but the drive-for-ages-and-see-nothing-but-semitrailers-and-squashed-kangaroos inland highway.  Also, this meant that my sister and I had been woken up at 4 am, bundled into the backseat of the car with the dog between us, and expected to shut up until at least dawn.

Anyway, we were in the middle of nowhere, disoriented, and sleep-addled. Maybe it was northern New South Wales. It was where the dry scrub and Brahmans had given way to green grass and dairy cows, but I don’t know where. And that was when we saw it, a hand-painted sign on a rusty gate:

For sale: monkey

Saturday, November 20, 2010

All You Need is...iTunes

To commemorate this auspicious time in our history – for those who don’t know, you can now get The Beatles on iTunes – I thought it was time to compile a list of my favourite Beatles songs. Here they are, in no particular order, and on the understanding that if you ask me next week I will have a completely different list.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Juvenalia - The Writer as a Child

The other day my mother bought around a box of old books she had cleared out of her cupboard. She wanted to know if I wanted them kept, because Mum knows that I Never. Throw. Books. Out. I will occasionally allow them to be passed onto charity, but that’s only after I agonise over the decision for a while.

It was kids’ books mostly – a few of The Famous Five volumes, an old hardcover copy of Green Eggs and Ham that had been stitched together with wool, some Mr Men books, and, oddly, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer.  It was about thirty books in total, and I think I’ve whittled it down to the absolutely necessary twenty-eight we must keep.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


In movies, they never give in to the bad guys’ demands. They don’t have to. They’ve always got an action hero ready to rip his t-shirt, bloody up his face a bit, and take down an entire terrorist cell armed with only a Swiss army knife and a supply of wisecracks. 

I don’t have that luxury. Or the Swiss army knife. Well, I do have a Swiss army knife, but ever since I sliced my thumb open trying to close it, I’ve been afraid to touch it. I only got it for the corkscrew anyway. Corkscrews, toothpicks, and nail files – it’s a man’s life in the Swiss army, that’s for sure. The second they add a cheese knife, I’m joining. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

POV: which to choose?

Which narrative have you chosen? 

First person narrative

I like first person narrative. It enables me to relate my inner-most thoughts while also narrating the action. It is the simplest form of narrative, concentrating on a singular point of view, my point of view, as both the narrator and a character in the novel. I am telling you everything you need to know about events, aren’t I? I have no reason to lie.

I love unreliable first person narrators.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Closet Writer

My family knows I write. My closest friends know that I do. Anyone reading this blog knows that I do, but most of my work colleagues don’t have a clue and I’m not really sure why I haven’t told them. It probably has a lot to do with the fear of still being in my same job twenty years from now and having someone snigger, “Hey, Jen, whatever happened to that book you were writing?”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Birthoween

We don't do Halloween much in Australia. But, because my brother-in-law's birthday falls close enough to the date, and the shops are full of cheap plastic spooky things, this year my nephew Tom and my niece Meg decided to dress up for Halloween/Dad's birthday. And my mother, who is an awesome Nanna, sewed this:

I would have got a picture of Tom dressed up as a vampire ("But not one of those sparkly ones!") but by the time I arrived he was already glued to the Nintendo and I didn't really see him for the rest of the night.

So, happy birthday Mark, and happy Halloween, Tom and Meg!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bananas. What possums are driving me.

So, apparently possums eat bananas. That’s not so surprising. What’s surprising is that they can sneak into your house at night, silently eat a whole banana, leave the peel on the floor so you find it in the morning, blame the dog, realise the dog couldn’t reach the bananas, chalk it up as a mystery, then find the rest of the peel on the windowsill of the spare room later that day and know exactly who to blame.

I hate my possums. They are trying to drive me slowly  insane.

It is working. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel.

The Good Soldiers follows the 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Unit from Fort Riley, Kansas, to a fifteen month tour of duty in Rustamiyah, Bagdad. This is not a book that will explain the politics or ideology of the Iraqi war. This is a book about what it’s like to experience war. It follows the soldiers, the commanding officer, the translators, and the families at home who have to deal with the aftermath of severe physical and psychological injuries.  The Good Soldiers pulls no punches.

There’s nothing I can write that will do this book justice. It is pitch perfect. 

Wet Season

For some reason I write very little about Townsville, where I live, and about the seasons, which shape life in the tropics. We still call the seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter, but those terms don’t fit the tropics. We have two seasons here: dry and wet. The dry season corresponds with winter. Days are lovely, nights are cool, and the tourists start to appear. The wet season, summer, is a different story.

My yard - wet season
The following are excerpts from a manuscript I’ve sort of given up on – it turns out there’s only so much you can write before you need to figure out where the hell it’s going. The protagonist, J (it’s not a literary device, I just couldn’t think of a name), works as a security officer in a refugee camp in a dystopian near-future north Queensland. It’s the wet season, and I’ve tried to make it feel as long and oppressive as the real thing.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back-Story, Music & Procrastination

Every character has a back-story.  Even if it’s just the girl who works in the bakery where the protagonist buys his lunch. The reader might not know her back-story, because it might not be relevant, but the author probably knows that she’s twenty-two, she lives with her boyfriend even though she doesn’t see them together in ten years, and she’s worried that she won’t make her car payment for the month.

Back-story is even more important for major characters. Back-story adds depth, even if it’s not immediately apparent. The back-story is your character’s skeleton. You build every thing else around it. You don’t have to see it to know it’s there. It gives structure and form to what would otherwise be an absolute bloody mess.

I love working on back-story. It’s a higher form of procrastination. If I spend hours puzzling out the familial relationships of a character who is only going to appear for a couple of paragraphs, well, that’s not really wasting time, is it? That’s back-story.

The continuing saga...

The possum saga, like the possums, just won’t die.

A few days ago I was confident I had finally evicted the possums from my ceiling, by setting up an exit strategy so convoluted that it wouldn’t look out of place in a prison escape movie:


Out of the ceiling, down the sheet, down the ladder, across the planks, through the bars, onto the windowsill, onto the rubbish bin, into the yard...and watch out for those guards! 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Judging A Book By Its Cover

I was at Big W the other day – I know, I’m such a trendsetter – and I saw this in the book section:

Friday, October 8, 2010

I'm calling it...

I am possum free!


Dune, by Frank Herbert

I have just finished reading Dune by Frank Herbert. For the first couple of chapters I was confused – way too many characters with weird names, titles and religions – and then I got into the rhythm of it. It’s a good sign that as soon as you finish a book you check the back to see what the sequel is called.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stream of Consciousness

I like Stream of Consciousness writing. I like the way it makes associative leaps, and dissects the mental process. I like it, but I can’t write it. The closest I’ve come is with a character called Macquarie. I wrote the dialogue and action when I was sober, and the Stream of Consciousness when I’d had a few. Reading it back later I didn’t know whether to be more concerned for my character’s mental state or mine. Still, it was an interesting experiment.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Not even twenty minutes since I posted about my potential possum success...and I can hear one scrabbling in the roof.


Time to put more paw paw on the ladder, open up the window to give it an escape, and set my alarm for 4 am...

Things I learned about Ancient Rome while researching my novel, Part 2: The Gods of Childbirth.

Childbirth in ancient Rome is a hazardous undertaking. To safeguard the delivery of a baby, there are at least thirty different gods you have to petition, and that’s not counting those who specialise in fertility and conception itself. Nothing says high infant mortality rate like an entire legion of gods enlisted to keep away evil tidings. These days most mothers and infants have a fighting chance, but in Roman times childbirth is perilous, and you can’t afford to make a misstep in your devotions and sacrifices if you want a happy ending. 

Here are the gods whose names you have to know: 

Success! ...maybe

My ceiling is officially possum-free!

At least I think it is. The manhole is still open, and there are some pieces of paw paw on the ladder that remain untouched. I think I'll give it one more night before I claim total victory over my possum squatters. I keep thinking one of the canny little bastards might still be up there, biding his time, his stomach growling, but if there's been no action on the paw paw by Saturday morning, I'm calling it.

I know one of them is out, because I saw it - wedged up in the corner of the carport, looking like a sad-eyed refugee. It would be easier to maintain the rage if possums weren't cute.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Impossible Dream

     Tonight I am Dreaming the Impossible Dream. That dream is to be possum free in a matter of hours. To recap: There is a possum in my roof. I hate it. I suspect it is an agent of Satan.

     Today, on one of my precious days off, I organised for someone to come and fix that bit of the house under the guttering where the possum was getting in. It is called the fascia. So at least I learned something. The nice man fixed the fascia, and now things have gotten interesting. At about 6.30 pm the possum woke up and started scrabbling around. At about 6.32 pm it realised it couldn’t get out, and started screaming abuse. It’s now 8.14 pm and one thing I’ll say for that possum is it can sustain a tantrum.

The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese

      I have just finished reading The Story About Ping, and I’ve decided that I hate it.     

Monday, September 20, 2010

Word Soup

I love interesting, archaic, or bizarre words. From the time I was eight and convinced that Shakespearian English just meant throwing in the occasional "eth" on the end of verbs, as in "I am walkething to the shops", I have loved words. I even love made-up words and nonsense words, because they aren't  really nonsense if people get what they mean, right?  The following exchange is from The Simpsons:

Mrs. Krabappel: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.
Ms. Hoover: I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word.

Here are a few more perfectly cromulent words. These have the distinction that they are all real, and were all once in common usage:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Best One-Liner in the World

UK comedian Tim Vine won the award for this year's best one-liner at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

"I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday," he said. "I'll tell you what: never again."


Source: News.com

Nero's Killing Machine

I have just finished reading Nero's Killing Machine: The True Story of Rome's Remarkable Fourteenth Legion, by Stephen Dando-Collins.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tree Killer

Writing is an odd business, and that’s even before you get to the business end of it. I’ve been writing for years, but I’ve only recently developed the “let's stop stuffing around and see where this goes” attitude. With that in mind, I picked the work-in-progress I felt had the most potential and I finished it. In December 2009 I sent it off to an appraisal service. When the parcel came back in late January I was too scared to open it. It sat on the side table for hours, just sort of lurking. Whenever I walked past I sneaked a sideways look at it. Yep, still lurking. Eventually, having prepared myself for the worst, I opened the damn thing.

The Coast Watchers

I have just finished reading The Coast Watchers, by Patrick Lindsay.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My favourite place in the whole world

If I had all the money in the world, I would live on Tanna. Tanna is an island in Vanuatu. It has black-sand beaches courtesy of the volcano, Yasur. Last year, when I stayed on Tanna, this was the view from my bungalow:

Living on Tanna would be quite cheap, but I would still need all the money in the world because I would have to buy a generator to run my fridge and computer. These are the two modern conveniences I could not live without. I would have to buy a large metal locker of some sort, to keep the rats out of my supplies of sweet potato chips and peanuts. I would also need an internet connection to have instant notification of impending cyclones, tsunamis, and celebrity break-ups.

I probably would not live in a bungalow, actually. I would probably live on an old boat. That way I would not have to rat-proof my supplies, but given that I have no idea about navigation, boat repairs or basic seaworthiness, it might not be worth the trade-off.

I say that I need all the money in the world, but of course I don't. The Ni-Vanuatu people are among the poorest in the world, but, according to the Happy Planet Index, also the happiest. After a few years of living on Tanna I will also know the secret. When people ask me how I like living there, I will tell them I am very happy, thanks. Except by then I'll say it in fluent Bislama: Mi glad tumas, tangkyu. 

Obscure Roman Gods

I love ancient polytheism. A god for every occasion. If I ever start a cult based on the ancient Roman model, I will have T-shirts made up that say "It's no stupider to worship Jupiter". What we lack in faith I hope to make up in merchandising. Here are five of my favourite obscure ancient Roman deities: 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ancient Rome is ruder than you think

     I love ancient history, and it's mainly because of the filth. When I was at school the textbook View from the Forum was full of black and white photos of marble busts, and the world that the text described seemed utterly sterile and lifeless. And it was dull. Sure, I could name the Julio-Claudian emperors, but what's the point of that? I suspected there were things I wasn't being told about Caligula, which is how I learned to dig deeper to discover the world underneath. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I hate my possum

    I hate the possum that lives in my roof. The possum that lives in my roof is not cute like the possum in this picture. The possum that lives in my roof is evil. If it just lived there quietly, spending its days sleeping or doing crossword puzzles, I could handle it. But it’s a noisy possum. And it gets down into the walls, so that when I’m sitting at my desk writing it’s about fifty centimetres away from me, scratching, scrabbling and swearing. I’ll say it: I wish my possum was dead.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Things I learned about Ancient Rome while researching my novel

1.                  Surgery
Ancient Roman surgeons performed cosmetic surgery, including breast reductions, nose jobs and eyelifts. They were all over the blood and circulation stuff, they even knew how to reshape cartilage, but given that they were still in the dark about that whole germ thing, and they weren’t too crash hot on anaesthetic either, it was a very brave or very desperate person who went under the knife. Especially given that these are the knives:

         (From the University of Virginia collection: www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/artifacts/roman_surgical/)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hung Parliament

     Why shouldn’t women be allowed to vote? I’ll paraphrase on behalf of some man in the Olden Days who probably thought he was enlightened. It won’t make any difference, they’ll just vote the same as their husbands.
     It’d gloat at his stupidity, but he’s dead so that seems harsh.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


People will tell you that having cats is a bad thing, and not locking them in at night is the same thing as going out and slaughtering native wildlife willy-nilly yourself. Don’t tell anyone, but I have four cats and I leave the window to the verandah open at night so they can come and go as they please. When it comes to native wildlife I’m told that dogs account for killing more of it than cats, but you know what would really help them survive? Not bulldozing over their habitat and building houses on it. I’m pretty sure that even the brutally efficient killing machines known to me as Moth, Simba, Sam and Grub have killed less lizards in a year than a single Caterpillar.
It’s like than whole carbon accountability thing. Yeah, okay, I’ll stop flying, that’ll help, and meanwhile that smelter down the highway can keep pouring tonnes of smoke into the atmosphere every hour. As though my not flying will make any difference to carbon emissions anyway.
This is your captain speaking. I’m afraid that this flight has been cancelled, because we’ve just received word that Jen will not be joining us. Please return to the terminal, collect your baggage, and go about your normal lives as best you can.
My point is, if my cats were so dangerous to the local native fauna my bread would still be intact.


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