Tuesday, 22 November 2011


I have a grandmother in my new work.  She started out as just a name in the first chapter. But she’s grown into a real person.  Well, as real as fictional characters can be.

I'd been writing about how the mother of the main character always had flowers in the house. Freesias, yellow, white and purple, in the winter, and lilies in the summer. And then, out of nowhere, a grandmother popped up.  Gran used to annoy her by asking who it was that had died.   With that one sentence I could tell that she was going to be an interesting character. Today, we might say a grandmother with attitude. Back then--I think the book is set about thirty years ago, I haven’t worked out the exact time-frame—we might have said a feisty grandmother, although that’s not really the word I want, either.
Last week, I wrote some more.  The grandmother, I haven’t given her a name yet, is small and bony. She wears soft, narrow skirts and blouses and cardigans, and has brown, bowed legs like a beetle. She’s forgetful; she can’t remember her granddaughter’s name from one day to the next, but she’s also smart, and resourceful.  I’m quite respectful of her, although at this point I hardly know her.  I do need to give her a name though; she won’t be a real grandmother until she has a name. 

I’m talking about her here because I’m trying to work through her purpose in the novel, and why she's popped up.  She makes a good foil for the main character, the little girl, and because she has time on her hands she observes and comments on the family.  I also have this feeling that she’s going to have more of a role further down the track.

I’m not sure how I concocted her, she’s bits and pieces of women I've known or know. The pearls she wears come from my Granny Flo, who always wore pearls. The missing eyebrows that she draws in with a pencil come from my great Aunt Izzie, a spinster, a skinny, forthright woman who lived with my grandparents and that I vaguely remember from my childhood. The soft, narrow skirts and blouses come from women of a certain age, usually from an English background, that I see in places like the library, or the bank. The sort of women who, if it weren’t so hot, might carry gloves. 

Granny Flo
Because I was thinking about grandmothers generally, I started to think about my own. I had three, which isn’t as confusing as it sounds.  Gladys, my father’s mother, died when he was about 21, so I never met her, but his father remarried and Granny Flo, who always wore pearls, became my grandmother. And then on my mother’s side, there was her mother, Ethel.  I barely knew Ethel, either; she died when I was about fourteen. 


Tim’s grandmother was called Marjorie. I met her number of times and liked her. One of the reasons I liked her was that she often said what she thought, which is what the grandmother in my work does. She was also very loving. 


The names are interesting. Gladys, Ethel, Florence and Marjorie.  Florence, of course, is in vogue again.  I have a sepia photograph of my great great grandparents with their four daughters:  Lily, Kate, Edith and Caroline.  Lily, I believe, is one of the top ten baby names for 2011. And Kate has never gone out of fashion. 


I don’t think the grandmother in my work is going to be called by any of those names.  I’ll keep looking. It’s one of those things that I’ll know when I find.        

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Skin Deep

Last Wednesday I went to my skin specialist. I’ve been going to the same skin specialist for almost ten years. Early on in the ten years I mentioned a rough patch of skin on my right temple that had been burnt off by my GP some years previously, but appeared to have grown back. She examined it and said she was fairly sure it was a BCC. She took a scraping, as she calls it, sent it off for analysis and said it would probably have to be excised. Which it eventually was. And because it had grown to almost the size of a five cent piece, I needed the expertise of a plastic surgeon. However, all that is another story and perhaps more relevant to a medical journal.  

The point is that every year I make the pilgrimage to my skin specialist. Once there was another very tiny BCC under my right eye which meant another visit to the plastic surgeon. My skin specialist, her name is Megan, occasionally finds small sun-spots – which she did on Wednesday, two on my right arm – and burns them off. On Wednesday she also found the small beginnings of a BCC on my right shoulder and removed it then and there using a local anaesthetic.

In order for her to examine me, I strip down to my knickers and bra. I start by sitting on the edge of the bed while she checks my legs and arms and face, and then I lie down and she does my back, and then I turn over and she examines my stomach and upper legs. She wears some headgear with what I presume is a powerful microscope attached to it, and as she goes over my body she touches me with one hand. She uses her hand as a guide, to ensure that she travels over every inch of skin. Because I’ve known her for quite some time now, and because she’s a (lovely) woman, I’m perfectly comfortable with this arrangement. 

However, on Wednesday, while she was working I started thinking about what an odd relationship it is. It’s so intimate – me in my undies, her touching me – and yet there’s nothing between us. 

And I started thinking about what if there was something between us, and how I could turn this scenario into a short story. 

On Thursday I got down some sentences. Between Saturday and Sunday I wrote the first draft.  Oh, and I should probably mention that for the remainder of Wednesday, and on Friday too, obviously, I was mulling it over. I’m a great believer in percolation. 

At the moment, the draft is a one-page short story. Flash Fiction. That may change.  In order for the story to grow to more than a one-pager, however, I feel that it needs something more, which I haven’t got. Yet. This is not to say that I am unhappy with it in its present form; I’m not. I think it stands alone quite nicely by itself. 

I have to say, too, that on the weekend I finished reading Lolita.  I admit that has influenced the work to a certain degree. As an aside, I admit, too, that by the time I was halfway through Lolita, I was quite bored with Humbert Humbert and his antics.  Although nothing, nothing, comes close to the seduction of the first paragraphs of Lolita.  As far as I am concerned the book could stand alone on those first paragraphs.

Because I’ve now been trained (thank you, QUT, I miss you already) to investigate and explore how my creative side functions, which up until now I’ve ignored, this is my attempt to document the process.   

P.S. You can go here now to read the finished short short story.


Monday, 7 November 2011

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements

Yesterday morning I made a lemon meringue pie. 

A friend is going into hospital tomorrow and we were going over there for Saturday night dinner, and I promised to bring dessert.  I made lemon meringue pie because he loves it.  I think he loves it because it’s simple and honest. So sweet and so sour.  

My earliest memories of my mother baking are of her making a lemon meringue pie. As a small child I loved condensed milk, and my mother would give me a small amount in an egg cup, which I ate with a particularly small teaspoon to make it last longer. 

While I was melting the butter for the crust I got to thinking about words. I think it was yellow that started me off.  And then warm and, obviously, buttery.  Then I got on to squeezing the lemons and thinking about the quality of the word lemon and how it is so light on your tongue.

And how people have favourite words.  Mine is Tucson.  I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because on the page it looks clunky and awkward;  it looks like a word where you dither over the pronunciation. But when you say Tucson it’s soft and airy and so unexpected. Because of this I thought its origin might be French, but apparently it’s a Spanish word. Another word which sounds light is flummery. Although just when you seem to be taking off with flummery, sort of flying away, the two ems bring you right back to earth.  Flummery is an English dessert. According to Google, Bill Bryson described it as an early form of blancmange. It’s interesting how flummery looks and sounds like it is. Onomatopoeic.  In turn it made me think of flummoxed, a word that I haven’t seen or heard for some time. I think flummery is the sort of dessert you might make when you were flummoxed. 

I went on to separating the eggs.  And the yolks were so rich and so yellow they were orange. I think words are very clever.

When my daughter was small, she and her friend had their own language.  They called it Shubble. I have no idea why, and I don't think they do, either. I asked her now about their secret language and she was very reluctant to talk about it. My son, when he was a toddler, made up his own words. A meatydadda was a concrete mixer. A waddy was a car.  Ergitzed meant he was finished doing something, eating or whatever. I find these words strangely compelling.

Another word I like is relentlessly.   Again, I’m not sure why. It’s not the meaning I don't think, it’s the way it sounds on my tongue.  The hard r, the three els, and the ending in particular, lessly. If I say it over and over I can believe I have a lisp. 


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Hello, the House

I love Wellington’s architecture.

That’s Wellington, New Zealand, to avoid confusion with numerous other Wellingtons all over the globe. (Clearly he was a popular guy.)  I’ve just spent four days there. Some things you should know about Wellington:

It’s very pretty;

It has a humungous number of coffee shops;

It has some lovely pubs, St Johns being one of my favourites, where of course you can get a glass of New Zealand's finest Sauvignon Blanc or a glass of locally brewed beer;

It blows a lot, although it blew very little while I was there.  But there are no pictures of umbrellas turning inside out, or Wellingtonians being blown hither and thither. Although the clouds above did scud past at an alarming rate.

I think what attracts me about Wellington’s architecture is its cleanness and whiteness.  Maybe it looks especially white because the skies are very often grey and it makes for a lovely contrast. Maybe I particularly like Wellington’s architecture because much of it is Gothic.

I also love being so close to the sea.

This morning, when I left for the airport in the near-dark, it was raining.  And when the plane took off it was a matter of seconds before we were clouded in cotton-wool, which was disappointing because there’s usually something worth looking at out of a plane window.  But I was lucky. The clouds lifted when we were somewhere near the South Island and islets of dark green anchored in the slate grey sea drifted below. You’ll have to use your imagination; there wasn’t time to reach for the camera.