Return of the Thrifty Fictionista

Folks, it’s been a veritable age since the Thrifty Fictionista had the urge to raise her head from whatever book she has currently fallen into and poke her nose into cyberspace.  Not surprisingly, it has taken a truly momentous event to encourage her return, and that fabled occurrence happened to be the delivery of a huge box of books (twenty, to be exact) for a truly bargain price (precisely $100, including shipping).

A treasure trove of volumes! Heaven in a box!

As an aside, and before I go any further, please allow me categorically state that this post is in no way sponsored by the suppliers of said heaven-filled box, but it must also be stated that the unfathomable joy of having that many books delivered for such a bargain price has stayed with the Thrifty Fictionista for several months now (given she received it in September).

Every time I want something to read, my now burgeoning bookshelves have something for every occasion. The box included a beautiful hardcover cookbook, a couple of political biographies, an actress’ memoirs, a book on girls and the outdoors (immediately nabbed by Marvel Girl and never seen since), a gorgeous volume of short stories with an invitingly textured dust jacket, several volumes of historical non-fiction, and even a couple of books about women in business.

In all honesty, there were only a couple of books in the box that failed to interest me, but at the ridiculously low price point I was not worried by that at all. I was able to review the contents prior to ordering, and my bargain-loving nature has been well satisfied by the vast majority of the contents. I am set for a summer of reading all sorts of things I would not normally have picked up under ordinary circumstances (which may or may not entail wandering with a slightly glazed expression around bookshops while mentally calculating my current level of credit card debt).

And now, on this Black Friday (which Australian retailers appear to have embraced with perplexing alacrity, despite the notable absence of pilgrims in the First Fleet and – more troublingly – of any concept of collaborating with this country’s original inhabitants that would warrant us celebrating Thanksgiving), the same book seller from which I procured my magical carton is offering not twenty, but FORTY books for $100.

Be still, my beating heart!

Or, perhaps more accurately: gird yourself, my slightly melted-around-the-edges-from-overuse credit card...

Oh yes, folks.  The Thrify Ficitionista has definitely returned…will she be able to resist?

The Delights of Spring

SPRING! The word itself is a delight, and I happen to think Southern Hemisphere Spring is particularly magical.

I haven’t written about my quest for the delightful since midwinter, and have been more preoccupied by the progress of the pandemic and by The Professor’s dementia that I would like to be, so the delights of spring have been a welcome and much needed distraction.

Springtime, here in old Sydneytown, begins at the same time as the final school term of the year and the onset of Eastern Daylight Saving Time. While seasonally spring may be about new beginnings, for Sydneysiders it signals the beginning of the year’s denouement, when we start enjoying warmer weather and longer, increasingly golden evenings.

The end of the year is in sight, and I suspect many of us are keen to see the back of 2020. What a year! Though, on reflection, I could never in my wildest imaginings have known what a strange and eventful year this would be to take note of the delightful I encounter in the everyday — if I only look for it and recognise it for what it is.

So here, in no particular order, are some of the things I have found most delightful this Spring:

Spring Flowers and Fresh Herbs

For Christmas some years ago, The Bloke and the kids decided to present me with a raised garden bed. After it was assembled in the back yard, the following month they arranged a delivery for my birthday: several cubic metres of top quality soil. Not the sort of thing you can easily gift wrap, but greatly appreciated and loved ever since…until this year.

This year I had such great intentions, during lockdown in particular, of getting outside and fixing up the yard. My raised garden bed was looking decidedly bedraggled, particularly since a bunch of baby tomatoes (and other less desirable plant species) had decided to self-seed and subsequently launched a bid for world domination.

Humble new beginnings…it looks much better now…

Finally, a few weeks ago, I found a moment to show those baby tomatoes and assorted weeds who was boss. I removed the netting that had been possum-proofing the garden bed since forever, and I ripped everything out.

YASSSSS!

What a breathtakingly cathartic experience — and one I can highly recommend as a delight! But was what was even more delightful was replanting the raised bed with loads of spring flowers and verdant herbs, and watching each plant blossom and grow. I have relished being able to use herbs straight from the back yard when I cook, and have enjoyed the surprise of seeing colours emerge and change as different flowers bloom.

My Octopus Teacher

I think just about everyone I know who has seen this film has raved about it, but for me the true delight came in watching it with my children. The cinematography — particularly the underwater sequences — is utterly breathtaking, and they were both captivated.

Witnessing the bond between man and octopus was astonishing, especially since (as coastal dwellers) we’ve had to drum it into our kids never to touch any octopus they find in case it’s of the blue-ringed variety. The beautiful but highly poisonous Hapalochlaena is a regular visitor to tidal rockpools near our house, and a single blue-ringed octopus carries enough venom to kill 26 people in minutes, so seeing a human interacting with an octopus in such a carefree manner was quite extraordinary — even if it did come with a deadly serious and timely “don’t try this near home” reminder for the kids.

What I found most delightful about the movie was that it immersed me in a world completely different from the one I inhabit, offering me a window into what it’s like to live below, rather than above, the ocean surface. Clearly Craig Foster has some crazy free diving skills — but it’s his talent with an underwater camera that filled me with wonder and awe.

Free Books

Now this is a delight I would welcome at ANY time, but was one I was extra grateful to receive just before the school holidays. A while back I received an email from a large book retailer, offering me advance copies of a couple of new books. I clicked on the link, not thinking I’d end up with anything in return, and was utterly amazed when a package turned up on my doorstep a couple of weeks later with proof copies of two novels for me to read. Needless to say I’ve already devoured them both, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more of those email gems hitting my inbox!

The Light

There is something about the quality of the light at this time of year that makes my soul sing. I think I summed it up best when I wrote this post five years ago…though reading all my references to Jazz Festivals and NRL Grand Finals makes me realise just how precious delights are in these crazy times.

So that’s it for now folks — just a few of the gems I’ve noticed as Sydneytown greets the Spring. I’d love to hear what is delightful in your part of the world at this time of year…

À bientôt, BJx

Midwinter Delights

Weatherwise, it’s a miserable day here in Sydneytown. Southerly squalls started gusting before dawn, and when the rain hasn’t been slamming us sideways, the sun has straggled out to show ragged strips of grey cloud racing their way north.

After hearing the mere mention of the words “East Coast Low”, I am glad that I officially proclaimed today “Trackie Dack Tuesday” — we have dressed accordingly and hunkered down indoors for the day, listening to Sigur Rós, playing Scrabble, baking cookies and cutting out sewing patterns. We are all a little sad plans for netball training this evening have been ditched, but at least the cancellation means we don’t have to change out of our aforementioned (super daggy) attire. Besides, being at home for the day has given me the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening lately and pinpoint the moments of delight that have captured me since winter began.

Without further ado, here are four highlights from our winter (such as it usually is) so far:

Apricity

winter 1Ahh…what a wonderful word: precise, perfect, and something I cherish. Apricity means “the warmth of the sun in winter”, and I am particularly fond of seeking it out — especially on days when the blue sky stretches high but the temperature drops deceptively low. Recently I have been struck by my appreciation of apricity when chatting with my elderly neighbour over the back fence, shooting goals with my family down at the local neball courts, and curling up with a good book on the lounge beside my beloved cat. Apricity is a true winter delight (and one most felines can point you in the direction of, if you care to follow their lead…which in my view constitutes another reason to join the Cat Race). Besides, in winter a decent dose of Vitamin D is good for you.

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

winter 2The good book I was curled up in the sun with? Well, when I wasn’t on a fiction bender reading all eight of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass books (because it’s school holidays and who actually needs an excuse to escape into a book anyway), I was completely and utterly caught up in Julia Baird’s latest offering.  It’s full title is Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and the things that sustain you when the world goes dark, and it is absolutely worth getting your hands on a copy — not just because the cover is truly a thing of beauty. While I was reading it, this book made me think deeply about Baird’s many and varied insights, and after finishing it several weeks ago I am still pondering her observations, recalling certain turns of phrase, and picking up the book to delve into certain sections again.

Winter 3Chocolate Croissants

Is there anything more satisfying than biting into a freshly made chocolate croissant? Particularly when in it is a perfect ensemble of crisp, flaky, buttery pastry and decadently high quality dark chocolate? Do I even need to begin justifying including this as a delight? I think not…and I am abundantly grateful to have a magical patisserie not far from home where these masterpieces are made every single day. Nom.

Hamilton

What a wonderful coincidence, that Disney Plus released the film version of Hamilton the very same evening the NSW winter school holidays began! For me, the fact that this already marvellous confluence of events also happened to line up with Marvel Girl receiving news that she had been accepted into the high school she was aiming for made it all the more magical. Marvel Girl and I are big Hamilton fans and even bigger devotees of the insanely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, so settling in to watch this massively ambitious piece of musical theatre was an absolute, unmitigated delight. We relished and rejoiced in every rhyme, and since then even Miss Malaprop has been known to sing out a line or two…especially if it allows her render a completely lifelike Jonathan Groff impression to send a fully armed battalion to remind [us] of [her] love!

There’s no better way to end this post than that.

winter 5

 

 

Delights Universally Acknowledged

delight 6It’s been a while since I put fingers to keys, and I’m a little overwhelmed by how different a place the world has become in the past six weeks. These here are crazy times, to quote an old Boom Crash Opera song — which no doubt shows my age (but also proves I’m not old enough to be included in a high risk category based on the number of years I’ve been kicking around the planet).

My own life has had a series of challenges lately, which explains my absense from my little patch of cyberspace, but that does not mean I have taken a hiatus from pursuing the delightful in my world and life. In fact, I’ve become so much more attuned to things that bring delight that I have had to start differentiating between delights and things that make me happy (like hearing my kids laughing together) and occasions of pure, unadulterated joy (such as the moment my beautiful little blue car was driven down the ramp at the Smash Repairers after being fixed, looking and smelling like it had come straight from the sales showroom).

Dark days demand delights, I say!

So rather than limiting myself to a top five or something, here (in no particular order) is a list of truly delightful things I have encountered in the past six weeks or so — many of which you are welcome to avail yoruselves of even if you are in quarantine.

Listening to Whole Albums Uninterrupted

delight 5We all have favourite songs and tunes we could listen to on repeat for days. But every now and then, it is an absolute delight to listen to a whole album in its entirety: just as the artist wanted you to hear it. In the age of the playlist the album is easily forgotten — but you can bet your last roll of toilet paper the artist who recorded it thought long and hard about which songs made the final cut and what their sequence should be on a record. Here are some albums I think benefit from listening to uninterrupted:

  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Ghosteen
  • Max Richter — Recomposed: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
  • Thom Yorke — Anima
  • Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
  • Anything at all by Christine and the Queens

There are so many more…and they can transform doing the ironing or anything else uninspiring into something delightful if you let them.

Snippets of Song Lyrics

delight 3On the flip side (SUCH a bad pun it’s almost delightful), snippets of song lyrics sometimes stop me in my tracks and produce a moment of sheer delight.  Here’s one I rediscovered lately when listening to the Foo Fighters’ song “Times Like These”…

I, I’m a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight

What an image! Love, love, love it. Delighful.

Head Massages

Anyone with hair will tell you that the best thing about having a cut and colour is having your head massaged when they wash your hair at the salon. It’s deeply relaxing, a true act service, and an unmitigated delight. Enough said.

Book Deliveries

delight 4I used to joke my kids know the only two things I have regularly delivered to our house are books and wine, but since I’ve ditched the drink the only things likely to turn up on our doorstep are boxes from Booktopia.  Book deliveries are, to my mind, full of the promise of good times to come — particularly becase they are also likely to involve my favourite armchair and a cup of tea.

The last delivery I received included the tome that inspired my journey of delight, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. Not surprisingly, the volume itself is delightful — it is small enough to hold comfortably in your hands, but not so tiny as to be twee. It’s also beautifully bound in silvery grey, with a lovely slip cover, and contains short essays I want to savour rather than tear through. 

Finishing Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that children become readers in the laps of their parents…

delight 1I still read aloud to my kids. I’ve done so ever since they were newborns and I suspect I will continue to do so for as long as I have literature to share with them and they have the time to hear it. For years now, most of what I have read to them would probably be considered to be above their reading level but which I think they’re capable of understanding.  In any case, since we’re reading together they can always ask questions if there are things they don’t comprehend on first hearing.

The last novel we read together was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I can honestly say that nothing has brought me greater delight in the past few months than hearing both children tell me it was the best book they’d ever read when we finished it. That said, I should qualify that statement by saying I found it equally delightful when my younger child described someone having a colossal dummy spit at school as “doing a Lady Catherine de Bourgh”. Parenting win.

Oysters

delight 2Oh! Delight in a seashell…especially at the tail end of summer. We are so spoilt with our seafood around here, thought in the interests of sustainability we try not to go overboard with our consumption. Even so, The Bloke is and always will be a sucker for a prawn roll — not the variety that looks something like a spring roll, but the kind where you cut open a fresh bread roll, butter it (in most cases generously, in his case obscenely), fill it with freshly shelled prawns and slather those with seafood cocktail sauce. Yum.

Me? I’m an oyster girl through and through, and the Sydney Rocks have been absolutely delectable this year. There is nothing more delightful chilled oysters on a hot day. Like today, even…

So that’s it for the moment, folks.  No doubt we will need to indulge in other delights as the world changes around us. Some of these delights are accessible most of the time, others might have to be savoured even more sweetly when they become available again.

In the meantime, stay safe and well, and be kind to each other.

In delight,

BJx

 

Harry Potter and the End of an Era

HP 5It was always going to happen.

Always.

Two nights ago, the girls and I had three chapters plus the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left to read. Last night, we simply couldn’t stop — could anyone have stopped, I ask you? — and I kept reading aloud, and drinking peppermint tea, and reading aloud some more until the book was finished.

And now, quite understandably, we are feeling a little bereft.

It seems like only a month or so ago that we started reading Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, embarking on our J K Rowling odyssey. In reality, it was several years ago, and we even had a considerable hiatus between books four and five to allow our (very visual and emotionally sensitive) Miss Malaprop to be sufficiently old enough to cope with the content without having nightmares.

There have been so many laughs along the way, as well as tears, as Harry Potter and his friends have woven themselves in the fabric of our existence. Whenever any of us has to read something less interesting or onerous, we trick ourselves into persevering by inserting the words “Harry Potter and the… before the title. Recent examples of works made far more palatable by this process have been Harry Potter and the Land Tax Exemption for Land Used and Occupied Primarily for Low Cost Accommodation, and Harry Potter and the Effects of a One Year Development Programme for Recently Graduated Veterinary Professionals on Personal and Job Resources, and the truly inspiring Harry Potter and the Australian Privacy Principles.

See? Every so much more fascinating once you add in a dose of Harry. A little magic goes a long way in such cases.

But a little magic helps us get through life every day, doesn’t it?

HP2Both my children have the words Nox and Lumos on their bedroom light switches. Both have Hogwarts robes, Gryffindor for Marvel Girl and Slytherin for her sister, in their wardrobes. All three of us have our wands, which chose us (of course) at Ollivanders, and mine (since I am a Ravenclaw) sits beside my laptop, ready for use at any time. I even have my Hogwarts letter, apparently redirected many times over until it finally arrived, courtesy of a dear friend and a then much smaller “owl” who flew it to my doorstep on my 40th birthday.

All of these things are treasured.

The world is not a smaller place now that we have finished reading the books. Rather, each of our universes has expanded to include the realms of possibility, of imagination, and of magic. We are all more conscious, every day, of the saving power of love.

And it was hard last night, really hard, not to tear up when reading the final portion of the seventh and final book in the series to my children, particularly when I read these words:

Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

How fortunate are we, to have the benefit of these so-called children’s tales, and to know their power really is beyond the reach of any magic.

HP1And so we will embark on new adventures, in search of new tales, perhaps with Sparrowhawk as he wends his way from the Isle of Gont towards becoming an Archmage, or with Zaphod Beeblebrox tripping through the galaxy, or perhaps we will stay closer to home, roaming the streets of colonial Sydneytown with Beattie Bow, or dancing in the Anzac Deli with Mareka Nikakis.

Yet I know, deep down, that in years to come my children will more than likely read the Harry Potter books to their children, and will love them just as much then as they do now.

After all this time?

Always.

 

Waking Late and Winter Walks

two

We shall not cease from exploration…

We’ve had the best time.

Nothing makes me happier than hearing my children say these words — particularly when we’ve just spent the school holidays, in their entirety, at home.

I mean, we have left the house every now and then, because good old Sydneytown has turned on a run of truly spectacular winter days. It’s wonderfully warm in the sun, and even though it’s been windy the skies have been mostly clear of clouds. Staring skyward has been like looking up at a shimmering swathe of pale blue silk, stretching high into the heavens.

But the best bit has been the freedom. 

For me, there is nothing more liberating than turning off all the alarms on my phone, knowing that we are — blissfully — not bound by routine for two whole weeks.

Being winter, we have slept in, relishing being able to get up with the sun at seven rather than scurrying out of bed in the dark.  Even better, there have been days when we have stayed snug beneath our bedcovers, reading books or revelling in the very real pleasure of not having to be anywhere at a specific time.

We have enjoyed other simple things, too. We have walked in the winter sun, sometimes with a destination in mind and other times just because we can. We have watched Captain Marvel and endless episodes of The Adventures of Merlin, reminding ourselves that magic should be part of everyday life. We have planted flowers to brighten the back yard. We have played board games and card games while sipping hot chocolate and even hotter coffee. We have baked more muffins than it’s sensible for humans to consume.

From time to time I have marvelled at my children’s creativity, partciularly when they took it upon themselves to transform a large cardboard box into a Viking longboat in the back yard. I have smiled to myself in wry amusement when they protested having to scrub paint out of their pants when their artistic endeavours haven’t gone entirely to plan. I have admired their generosity when they have gone through old books and clothes and toys and worked out what they wanted to pass on to other kids.

And in the evenings, when the winter darkness falls so fast, we have heated our home by making stews and coming up with new spice blends to season homemade chicken nuggets, all while listening to Miles Davis and other jazz greats, or The Bad Plus working their own kind of wonder with instrumental versions of long-beloved songs like No Woman, No Cry. I’ve probably drunk more wine than I meant to, stirring pots on the stovetop and peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips to bake, not because the kids are driving me crazy, but because I am relaxed and happy — and because these are my holidays, too.

We’ve had the best time.

And I have, too.

beach

…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

 

 

2017 in Review: Closing the Book

As another year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve read, seen and heard this year that have affected me in some way — whether by inspiring me, giving me pause, prompting entirely unsolicited dance moves or in-shower solos, or making me think, laugh, cry or even cringe.

So with that in mind, I’ve come up with a bunch of personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in. Feel free to comment on them, or to share your own favourites — especially if you’d think I’d like them!

Today, I’m starting with books. I have decided that this category is open to any book written at any time, not just in 2017. I simply had to have read them during the past year. That said, I thought it was appropriate to include their year of publication, so I’ve arranged them chronologically. I’m not going to give away plot details or critique them fully — just know if they’ve made this list, I think they’re tops.

BLUE JAI’S BEST BOOKS OF 2017

  1. 2017 Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987).  This book was loaned to me by The Professor, and I’m still not certain whether that simple fact made reading it a more poignant experience — not least because the plot centres on the interactions between two academics and their wives. The writing is beautiful, evocative, and reminiscent without becoming nostalgic, and Stegner’s control of the narrative is masterful.  This book stayed with me for a long time after I’d read it, and made me feel like I’d spent a summer or two in Vermont.
  2. 2017 American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001). What a rollicking good read! Normally I read housebrick sized books on my Kindle, but this one I lugged to and from Fiji and am so glad I did. The story of Shadow and Gaiman’s depiction of the battle between Old Gods and New in America is (literally) fantastic, eccentric and kept this Thrifty Fictionista happily engrossed in my holiday read. I even came back and downoaded Norse Mythology, because I wanted more Gaiman goodness.
  3. 2017 H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014). I’m not sure I’ve read any other book quite like this one — and while the subject matter (the author’s way of dealing with her grief following the death of her father) is not easy, Macdonald’s brutally honest emotional journey aligns more perfectly that I ever expected with a wealth of arcane knowledge of falconry and the life of T H White. I never anticipated I would find such subjects remotely interesting, but this book proved me entirely wrong.
  4. 2017 Our soulsOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015). Oh…this story. Published posthumously, Haruf’s tale begins with an unusual proposition and ends up being an absolute joy to read. It’s bittersweet too, it’s true, but — in my view — ultimately uplifting. Like most purists, I suspect the book is better than the movie version, despite fact the film starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Read the book first. Please. (You know it’s the right thing to do.)
  5. 2017 Life to ComeThe Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (2017). Winning this year’s Miles Franklin award, I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this book: the characters are eminently recognisable, particularly to Sydneysiders, but I did not warm to any of them. That said, there wasn’t a single other book I read all year that had my head wriggling like a tin of worms for so many weeks after I’d put it down. Oh — and the writing is seriously, utterly brilliant.

Honourable mentions go also to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which I agree remains as relevant today as it did when first published; Island Home, Tim Winton’s beautifully written (as always) love letter to the Australian landscape and his passionate call to arms to protect it; and finally, The Dry, by Jane Harper, which is one of the best and most atmospheric thrillers I have read in an age.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…

The Thrifty Fictionista Takes to Her Bed…

TF Adventure

I would MUCH rather be on an adventure than have the flu.

So, it finally happened.  I thought, when I got laryngitis a couple of weeks ago (much to the eternal — or perhaps infernal — amusement of my children), that I had done my time with lurgies great and small this Winter.  Or Spring.  Or whatever the damn season is, given that the temperature rocketed up to 34°C two days ago before plunging back to a wild and windswept 12°C.

Unfortunately, my own temperature has been vacillating just as unpredictably: influenza has me in its evil grip, and the Thrifty Fictionista has taken to her bed.  Still, rather than railing against the indignity of barely having the energy to get out of said bed, or boring you with my symptoms, I have managed to haul myself upright for a minute or two so I can tell you what has been keeping me sane for the past three days.

Books.

Books, books and more books.  And even though recently I have been reading things like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which I freely admit I could not read in bed as I found that a bit too disturbing), and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (which I highly recommend — both as a read and a concept), and Jane Harper’s The Dry (which is as fine a debut novel as you’ll ever read as well as providing an unflinchingly accurate depiction of life in small outback Australian towns), I have — as usual — a confession.

TF Kell

I do wish I had a coat like Kell’s…

The Thrifty Fictionista can’t read such things when she is sick.

No, when I am sick, I need magic.

And so, the past few days have I reached for my Kindle (which, with its amazing capacity to deliver whole books into my waiting hands without leaving my bed, seems like magic itself) and buried myself in V E Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy.

On Wednesday, I re-read A Darker Shade of Magic, because it had been quite some time since I had dipped into the world of Red London.  Or Grey London or White London, for that matter.  And given the flu made me feel like I was already well on my way to Black London, I found myself wishing for a coat like Kell’s — you know, the one that you can turn inside out and every time it’s a different coat — and for the ability to wield Antari blood magic.

As Hasari…I wanted to whisper.

Heal…

TF Spells

Oh, for a working spell, not days stuck malingering in bed.

But the flu had other ideas, so I kept on reading and followed the thief, Lila Bard (you just have to love a girl who would like to be a pirate, don’t you?), and the magician Kell on their adventures through the various Londons, saving cities and rescuing (or was it resurrecting?) princes.

On Thursday, I started reading A Gathering of Shadows, and was gratified to discover that it was considerably longer than the first book, as the damn flu showed no signs of abating even when hit with hard core antibiotics and a decent-sized helping of The Bloke’s best Spaghetti Bolognese. I love that Lila did wind up becoming a pirate — ahem, I mean a Privateer — and thoroughly enjoyed meeting her Captain, Alucard Emery, and I relished the magic and mayhem of the Essen Tasch tournament.

And now it is Friday, and I have just downloaded the third book, A Conjuring of Light, hoping that it will bring me just that: light relief from being stuck in this bed.  Still.

So, without further ado, I am going to get on with it, not least because I need to lie down again…but also because I am grateful for the escape.  For the distraction.  For the adventure.

And — mostly definitely — for the magic.

 

 

 

Dirt Music

 

Dirt Music 3

Dancing spotlit in a bodystocking? Not me…I’ll leave that to the likes of Misty Copeland.

So the other night, after a few “light beers” (which may or may not have been entire bottles of wine), a mate of mine asked me whether I had a Favourite Book.

As in, a Favourite Book OF ALL TIME.

And I said…Yes.

Or perhaps I just whispered it.

I definitely held my breath for a split second before I answered, not sure of how my response would be received, or whether it would be treated with the reverence I reserve for Favourite Books.

Because let’s face it — owning up to having a Favourite Book (of All Time, no less) is to to reveal your self, to expose your self as completely and unapologetically as a dancer in a flesh-coloured bodysuit on a spotlit stage.  Which is fine, completely fine, if you’ve spent the requisite years honing your body and your skills to the point that a body-stocking, or a distinct lack of on-stage hiding places, or (God forbid) an audience no longer fazes you, but…clearly, that’s not me.

I write. I read.

I cook. I most definitely eat. And while my kitchen is well-known as a place where dancing is heartily encouraged, I would sooner eat a body-stocking rather than wear one.

Even so, despite my many misgivings (or maybe because I, too, had consumed several glasses of wine), the other night I actually confessed to loving one book above all others.

Now, any literature lover will tell you that the idea of narrowing down the books you couldn’t bear to part with to a Top Ten is an utterly absurd exercise. If you truly love books, whittling down your list to a Top Fifty is a difficult proposition.

But if you have a Favourite Book, you know what it is. If, unlike me, you’re the sort of person who likes to proclaim your Favourite Book far and wide and to encourage every last being in the known universe to read it, you know what it is. If, like me, you’re a little more circumspect about revealing the identity of your Favourite Book, you know what it is. Even if you have trouble admitting to yourself that one particular volume is your Favourite Book, you still know what it is.

And mine is Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.

Dirt Music

So here it is — my Favourite Book. OF ALL TIME.

(Oh dear Lord! Did I just type that for the world to see?!)

Yep, Dirt Music is my Favourite Book of All Time.

And I have decided that I will own up to it, and expose myself to whatever judgements you may make about me as a result of that admission, because it is my Favourite Book.

I could have dodged the issue entirely, perhaps, and said it was impossible to decide between Dirt Music and any number of other books, such as Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or The Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet, to name just a handful of others.  No authors’ names necessary, of course — they’re all tomes that are regularly cited as being Favourite Books. I could even have wrong-footed my friend by pointing him in the direction of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But I didn’t.

Because, deep down, I know that Dirt Music is my Favourite Book.

I’m not saying that it’s best book in the universe — that’s a whole other discussion. And I’m definitely not going to weigh into the whole debate about the Great Australian Novel, either, and whether that accolade goes to Winton’s Cloudstreet or not.  I’m not even saying that you should rush out, buy Dirt Music, and devour it cover to cover — it may not be your thing at all. (I mean, if you want to, of course — go ahead; it might end up being your Favourite Book too).

Nup. I’m not doing any of that.

But what I am saying is pretty simple, really.

For me, Dirt Music, Winton’s tale of Georgie Jutland losing and finding herself in the wilds and waters of Western Australia is special. In the true blue, Bruce McAvaney sense of the word.

I love — no, I utterly adore — Tim Winton’s prose.  I love the tangible physicality of his descriptions of people and place. I love the accuracy with which he captures his characters’ vernacular. I love the overarching presence of the Australian landscape, particularly of the ocean and the coast. I love the way he describes Georgie’s father as Himself, QC — and I love the sheer volume of information and resonance and impact those two words impart.

Dirt Music 2

My super-power: escaping into books…

Reading is such a great privilige, and literacy such an inordinately important gift. And, as Alain de Botton points out, “Of all the addictions, bibliophilia is the noblest and most dangerous.” Where else, but between the pages of books, can we embark on great quests, fight revolutions, ride dragons, or sail further west than west?

I will, I know, continue to read, and always — always — to write. Like Rudyard Kipling, “I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”

And it is beyond comforting to know that I can return time and again to the happy places that lie between the dog-eared volumes that line my shelves, to wend my way along hidden paths towards Rivendell, to walk with Elizabeth from Netherfield back to Longbourn, even to hold my breath as Anna waits for the oncoming train…

But I will always come back, time and again, to Dirt Music, if only to discover, like Luther Fox, just one last time:

She’s real…she’s real…

Muggling Along

HP Harry Potter

Harry Potter: the Boy Who Lived

Nearly twenty years ago, something magical happened that changed the world — and I do mean, quite literally, magical. Back in 1997, we encountered an eleven year old boy with green eyes, untidy black hair, and a lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead for the very first time.

We met Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.

I’ve always loved reading the Harry Potter books, despite the fact that I had just graduated from university when the first volume was published. And whenever the movies are on TV I find it ridiculously difficult to change the channel and watch something else, let alone turn them off.

The scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry, Ron and Hermione and their friends (and occasional foes, if you count Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle and the rest of Slytherin house in that number) arrive at Hogwarts remains one of my all-time favourite sequences in any film — ever.

Perhaps it’s the recollection of the awe and excitement I felt when I first saw the lamplit boats, bobbing on the black waters of the lake with the castle looming above. Or maybe it was the welcoming golden light shining from the windows of the school, promising goodness and safety, knowledge and wisdom within those ancient walls and towers.

HP Hogwarts

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Regardless of what so captured my imagination, the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter has been one that I have been happy — no, make that overjoyed — to return to with my children. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have fallen in love with the characters and the wizarding realm just as quickly as I did, and while Marvel Girl knows that the books are works of fiction, Miss Malaprop (being two years younger) is having a hard time understanding that it isn’t real. Not surprisingly, Miss Malaprop is a firm fan of Harry himself — “because he’s brave” — while Marvel Girl favours Hermione Granger — “because she’s clever and she likes to read a lot”. But they both absolutely adore Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and his fabulous phoenix, Fawkes.

So much could be written about the wonders of these books and the wisdom they impart to their readers, particularly via Albus Dumbledore himself, who conveys many simple — yet powerful — truths.  “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be,” he reminds us, along with other pearls like these:

HP Dumbledore quotes

The quotable Dumbledore — you can get these on Etsy here.

Surviving life in the Muggle world (the non-wizarding realm, for the small handful of uninitiated still among you) is ever so much easier when you have the guidance of the greatest sorcerer of the age to fall back on — Order of Merlin, First Class no less. And the fact that J K Rowling created such an incredibly detailed world, complete with its own rich history, myths and legends, customs and values remains a great and daily inspiration to me whenever I don my fiction-writing hat (not to be confused with the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, of course), and sometimes even when I don’t. (That, in itself, could be the subject of a whole series of blog posts in which it would become even clearer that J K Rowling is one of my literary heroes, not to mention that I believe her to be the undisputed Queen of the Twittersphere.)

HP Muggles“I do believe,” as J K Rowling herself said, “that something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” I’m ever so grateful that there are seven volumes of Harry Potter for me to share with Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop. And when we’ve read each one, and watched the movie afterwards (our latest ritual), I’ll be thanking the Old Gods and the New that there are so many more fantastic lands we have yet to explore. I am looking forward to climbing with my girls through the wardrobe into Narnia, to wandering through The Shire towards Rivendell in Middle Earth, to sailing among the farflung reaches of the Earthsea Archipelago, and — perhaps when they’re a bit (a lot?!) older — to visiting Winterfell, and Kings Landing, and the rest of Westeros.

Even more importantly, I am grateful that I can give my children the gift of knowing that there is always another adventure to be had between the pages of a book.

Wherever I am, if I’ve got a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy.

J K Rowling