July 8, 2014

Finally, some book news!

Freia Lockhart's Summer of Awful won the Children's/Youth Literature Award in the 2014 Australian Family Therapists' Awards for Children’s Literature. Aside from being superchuffed about receiving my first award, I'm so pleased for my little book, which I fear I really neglected in the post-baby haze that was 2013.

The award committee said it was a 'good depiction of family working together through the crisis, healthy role modeling, good boundary setting, open and honest communication, intergenerational support all encompassing the ability to be courageous and determined'. Noice!

December 27, 2013

2013 in numbers

In the spirit of Freia Lockhart, here's a summary of my year:

Novels published: 1
Sleep-ins past 9am: 1
Dinners out without Little Ms Marmalade: 3
Books read: 76*
Hokey-pokeys sung: 98
Hours spent blending, mashing and otherwise soggifying foodstuffs to render them suitable for consumption by toothless members of the family: 105**
Raspberries blown on a cute, round tummy: 256***
Nappies changed: 2190****

The fact that I've struggled to come up with two points that don't directly relate to being a mum pretty much sums up 2013 for me. Hopefully this time next year my roundup will include, at least a word count of a work in progress, if not a finished manuscript.

Happy new year, everyone. May 2014 bring us all good things (and a double dissolution election for Australia).

* Does not include board books or the number would be far more impressive! For the record, my YA favourites this year have been, in no particular order: Wildlife by Fiona Wood, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, After Iris by Natasha Farrant, Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil and A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty.
** That would be Ms M, Mr Fantapants and I still have our teeth.
*** Ms M again.
**** I initially put down what seemed like a random high number (1280) but then I realised that - Ms M being a rather, ahem, regular girl - I could actually estimate this pretty accurately. The true estimate shocks even me.

December 18, 2013

Rant: YA has a history. Read it.

Jennifer Hubbard's recentish post on the history of YA novels reminded me how much it gets my goat when people carry on as if YA didn't exist before the 1990s (at the earliest - in many cases people seem to think Twilight was the first book ever written aimed at young people). I should add that the people I'm referring to are not readers, who I can forgive for thinking that YA began when they cracked the spine on the first YA novel they ever read, but librarians, booksellers, people who host writing panels, reviewers and even YA authors themselves.

I began reading what we now think of as YA when I was about 8. (I had an older sister and a dedicated children's library whose staff didn't bat an eyelid if you read 'above your age', unlike our school librarian who kept trying to force me to read Milly Molly Mandy.) It started with light, romantic books that epitomised the image of teenagerdom I already had in my mind via Gidget movies, The Brady Bunch, and other assorted American series from the 50s/60s that were still being repeated on Aussie TV in the early 80s. I distinctly remember reading Beverly Cleary's Fifteen and Sister of the Bride and imagining going on my first 'date', which I thought would probably be with a nice, cleancut boy from our neighbourhood. From there I moved onto more contemporary fare, scouring the library shelves for books by Paula Danziger, Betsy Byars, Paul Zindel and, of course, Judy Blume. (Interestingly - to me and no one else, I suspect - I didn't read these authors' middle grade novels until I was older and had run out of books with teenaged protagonists to read.)

Now, when I see one of the books that made such an impression on my young self at an op shop or garage sale, I snatch it up greedily. My bookshelf includes well-worn paperback copies of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, I'll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip and Pardon Me, You're Stepping on my Eyeball, all of which stand up well to rereading three decades later and up to four decades after they were written (attested to by the fact that many of them have been republished since the YA boom).

As well as the books mentioned above, YA 'classics' I love and heartily recommend include:
  • The Pigman by Paul Zindel, which taught me that weird can be wonderful. (Actually, that's true of all of Zindel's books.)
  • Forever by Judy Blume, written in response to her daughter's plea for a book about teenagers who have sex and don't die, a la Love Story. (Not only that, in Blume's world they use contraception and even orgasm, which may have raised my hopes about teenage sex but was also a better education than they offered at school back in the dark ages). This isn't my favourite Judy Blume novel, but each time I read it I think it's still groundbreaking.
  • The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (have tissues handy)
  • The Pistachio Prescription by Paula Danziger
  • The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations by Ellen Conford (actually, pretty much anything by Ellen Conford)
  • It's OK If You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein (anyone who thinks 'new adult' is new should read this and pull their head in)
Yes, YA's come a long way in terms of recognition, particularly in the last decade or so, but let's not forget where we came from.

The writing hasn't dated, even if the cover art has

November 21, 2013

Stereo Stories at the Big West Fest

As part of the huge program for this year's Big West Festival, kicking off tomorrow, Mobile Radio will be broadcasting live from various locations and events.

As well as live event coverage, MR will feature work by various local sound makers and writers, including a selection of Stereo Stories by westies. Listen out for my contribution on The Ramones' 'Beat on the Brat' during Braybrook's Big Day Out, 2-4pm this Sunday.

Tune in to 99.9FM or stream it on mobileradio.org.au.

November 19, 2013

PND and me

A year ago this week I was in my first week of solo daytime parenting. Mr Fantapants would leave for work early in the morning and I'd pray that five-week-old Ms Marmalade wouldn't wake up for a couple more hours, and that she'd sleep again at some point through the day, and that I could maybe have a shower at  some point, or at least get out of my PJs. Only a few days into being a full-time mum, I was flailing; exhausted and mystified by the wailing little eating-machine that barely slept. If she dozed off in my arms I was so relieved that I'd sit pinned to the couch, staying as still as possible, twitching only those muscles required to flick through my blog feed on the ipad.

One of the (now sadly defunct) parenting-focused blogs I'd started following late in my pregnancy had a post to mark Postnatal Depression Awareness Week. I read the blogger's experience of PND with a pang, more of resignation than recognition. Throughout my pregnancy I'd been aware that, as someone who had experienced depression and anxiety off and on (mainly off, thankfully) since adolescence, my chances of experiencing PND were greater than the average one-in-ten statistic. But I'd also been determined not to become part of that statistic. So determined that I flicked through to the next blog post, telling myself that my tears were just those of an exhausted new mum.

A week later a heatwave struck Melbourne. Ms Marmalade and I were still glued to the couch all day every day, moving only to change nappies or preform essential ablutions. We were yet to get air conditioning installed and the small pedestal fan barely even moved the dense, humid air around the room. Our clammy skin stuck together with sweat and tears, as we took it in turns to wail or made a miserable chorus together. In a brief moment of clarity, I thought back to that blog post and knew that it was time to face the fact that whatever I had was way beyond the baby blues.

Remembering the blogger's advice, I called PANDA. Half an hour later I'd not only received some counselling over the phone but they had also called the maternal child health nurse at my local council, and put me in touch with my GP. The best part of all was when the counsellor asked if I'd like someone to call me again the next day to see how things were going. It was like I'd crawled out of the desert and someone was waiting for me with a small but icy-cold glass of water.

While the council was unable to help me beyond offering a sympathetic ear, my GP sprung into action as soon as I told her I wasn't coping. Within three days Ms Marmalade and I were admitted to a mother-baby unit for some much-needed sleep (on both our parts) and time to figure out what was going on and how it might be improved. I can't say the week we spent in the MBU was fun, but we emerged from it in far better spirits.

Of course, my PND wasn't cured in a week. I (reluctantly, at first) went on antidepressants for the first time in my life and also spent time talking with a psychologist. But by the time Ms Marmalade was 12 weeks old, my outlook on life was very different: not necessarily rosy, but definitely tinged with pink around the edges. Counsellors from PANDA continued to call me regularly until the day I realised with happy surprise that I had nothing to tell them. The counsellor bid me a very optimistic farewell and invited me to call back any time I needed to.

Since being diagnosed, I've been surprised how much of a taboo topic PND still is. Some people (especially women) look shocked when I tell them about my experience, as if it is a shameful admission of failure as a mother, others have been grateful to find someone with whom they can talk openly about their not-so-maternal (or paternal) feelings. I'm sharing my story here in the hope that it might reach out to a new parent the way that blog post did to me. If you're not sure whether what you're feeling is normal, and especially if you fear it's not, take the first step and call PANDA or your GP. I promise you that life on the other side of PND is worth it, for you and for your family.

November 10, 2013

Stereo Stories

Well, Supernanny has moved on to the next family in need and tomorrow it's back to me and Ms Marmalade. While I've enjoyed going into the office a couple of times and hanging out with my fabulous and lovely colleagues, and being able to catch trams and sit somewhere other than the front seats of the bus and having lunch with friends at cafes that do not supply highchairs, I'm really looking forward to getting back to being a mum. (Remind me of that on Wednesday afternoon, which is about when I expect the novelty to have worn off.)

I didn't quite make my goal of posting every weekday while I was on parental leave, but I did post more frequently than I've ever managed to before and while they were not the most riveting or well-written posts this blog has ever seen, I do have a sense of satisfaction that I managed to write something after such a long break from writing. I also posted a little extract from Finding Freia on Stereo Stories, an ace blog about music and memories.

November 6, 2013

Pinterest: an author's new best friend

I've been using Pinterest for about a year now and I lovelovelove it.

For years I've tried to organise and save useful links in a format that would actually be useful, but all the tools I tried (browser bookmarks, Evernote, saved posts in my feed reader) ended in the same result: when I finally needed to refer back to one of these links I couldn't find it. Now, Pinterest is my all-in-one solution. I have boards for sewing projects I'll get around to one day, household hints (is there anything bicarb can't do?!), chook-keeping and, if course, writing tips.

And if you love peering into other people's lives as much as I do, Pinterest is perfect for stalking lurking inquiring minds. As well as following people you know or finding those who share your penchant for garish 70s wallpaper, you can browse what random strangers have pinned and get a sense of the sort of person they are, like a character sketch. The downside of this is that everyone on Pinterest can do the same to you, which I don't mind in general (I'm not so interesting that anyone would be shocked by anything I pin, although they might be surprised to see an entire board devoted to exercise and other healthy pursuits since clicking the Pin It button is as close as I come to actually doing these things), but am a bit more shy when it comes to stuff I'm writing or planning to write. Enter private Pinterest boards.

Private boards were introduced a little while ago. You can now lock boards you've created so that only you can see them and, if you ask me, they are a  writer's best friend after Scrivener. I use private boards for:
  • character development - a collage of my main characters' style, favourite music, memories,  dreams and nightmares
  • setting development - a visual reference for certain settings and composite building/city/neighbourhood maker
  • plot development - quirky or interesting images that might inspire scenes or subplots.
And, of course, if you're doing all this pinning to support your writing practice it's not procrastinating, it's research. Yep, research.