When words fail

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I hugged my kids so tight tonight. So tight they complained and laughed and told me their heads would pop off. I hugged them tight, as though my life depended on it.

Because today, a tragedy unfolded in my little beach-side patch of suburbia. One of those God-awul tragedies that exists beyond the borders of comprehension; an occurrence so impossible to explain, to fathom, to accept that it fizzes inside your brain like a  bomb about to detonate, a sort of frozen-in-time terror.

Today, I drove past a neighbour’s house – a house I pass every day – and my heart was heavy, for I knew that its walls had witnessed death and loss and grief and pain, hardship and depression, and the kind of decision that no person should ever make.

Today I have grappled with humanity’s instincts and I have wondered at what we are capable of. Today I have struggled.

With so few guarantees in this world, so little promise of happiness, safety, health and longevity, today was a day to hold loved ones tight and breathe them in. I smelled my son’s rounded, warm scalp, rejoicing in the youthful aroma of six-year-old boy: sweat, sand, highlighters and vegemite. I stroked my daughter’s hair as she drifted off to sleep, her body still warmed by those extra layers of toddler insulation, her nose dotted with perspiration as she snored against my side, her toes curled back against her little thighs.

Tonight, I drank the wine, I ate the chocolate and I prayed for the people who have been heavily in my minds today. I thought of their pain and wished for a way to erase it; I despaired for the circumstances that led to this, and I am braced for the future grief those closest to this awful event must bear – life will never be normal for them again.  And today I have cried, hot tears that burned my cheeks and offered nothing in relief. Nothing. Sometimes, some acts, are too awful to be accepted.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

 

 

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A sketch, in writing.

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I’ve been at a writing meeting tonight – a great evening spent with like-minded lovers of words, romance and red wine (ahem). We had a fabulous technical workshop to start us off. Harlequin superstar Trish Morey  brought in a picture of a man, and a picture of a woman and asked us to write a short biographical sketch about each of them, then to write a little bit on how they meet.

I haven’t ever attempted this and I adored the exercise. So much so that I’m itching to turn Ewan and Rowena’s story into a full-length story…! I thought I’d share what I came up with, just for fun.

HIS STORY

Ewan St Clair was good at two things, and two things only. He could recite the Latin alphabet perfectly, and in under seventeen seconds – a skill he’d honed to perfection on long nights in the dormitory of Marlebury Public School and that he still pulled out after a glass of unoaked Chardonnay. Surprisingly, it generally had the opposite effect on whomever he was attempting to impress, generally creating the impression that he was, in fact, just ramblingly drunk.

He was also, as it was turning out, discovering a talent for losing cats. Yes, cats. More specifically, the two cats his flatmate Rowena had entrusted him with: keeping alive, adoring, generally treating like Goddamned children for the two weeks she was ‘on assignment’ in Monaco.

He loved the way she did that – said ‘on assignment’ as though Mi5 itself had entrusted her with the very survival of the nation instead of what it actually was; modelling Dior swimsuits for a billboard that was, she’d informed him on at least two thousand occasions, going to be in Times Square. YES, that Times Square.

He’s afraid of two things as well. The smell of wood, from a childhood accident which saw him locked in an ancient attic for two full days; and being asked to play, watch or discuss any kind of professional sport.

Life is hectic and varied: Ewan has just taken every penny of his trust fund to open his own vegan café in Hampstead. Well, Café might be overegging it, it was more of a wardrobe with a seven year old cappuccino machine and the twenty six seats he’d bought at a furniture auction.

HER STORY

Rowena hated two things in life. The two days before a fashion shoot that required her to live on ice water, vodka and miso soup; and the fact that these shoots required her to leave her babies.

And by babies, she meant cats. Raisin and Toast, the two little strays she loved more than she’d ever loved another flesh and blood human. Not that she was particularly spoiled for choice. A Russian spy mother who’d ended up in that horrible prison (you know the one? Where in-mates are only allowed out for an hour a day?) and a father who’d gone underground, leaving her to be fostered out to a string of parents until, at fifteen, she was emancipated to Anna Wintour’s step-sister who did everything in her power to turn Rowena Main (Of course, she’d been Mastoyevic at first, but Main sold better in fashion bios) into a superstar.

At twenty one, she looked to have everything she could ever want. Money, fame (the right kind of fame – the one that opened doors but still allowed her to walk down Park Lane without being accosted by scum paparazzi who wanted to photoshop an extra five kilos to her hips and sell the image to OK!).

She was scared of two things in life. The first was her parents’ connections catching up with her. She thought about it every time someone took her photo and her fame increased and wondered if she needed to turn her back on the addictive lure of fame… and she was drop-dead, can-hardly-breathe, adrenalin-flooding terrified that her flatmate Ewan would realise she was in love with him and run a million miles. Because of course he’d never go for someone like her…

HOW THEY MEET

“The add says ‘no pets’.”

“They’re not pets.” She genuinely looked as though he’d dropped his pants and asked her to spank him right there in the middle of his Park Lane penthouse. Her shock was a tidal wave surfing towards him, so too her affront. “They’re really just like very small, very furry, super quiet and considerate people. They’re better than people. Look! Do you know anyone who makes this sound when you stroke their head?”

She ran a slender, manicured nail over the small spot of fur in between the paler cat’s pointed ears. The cat emitted a rumbling purr and slanted its eyes, regarding Ewan with completely open, unconcealed contempt.

“I think if I went up and started stroking people on the crown they’d knock me one,” he pointed out with the calm logic that came easily to him.

“Pleeeaaase.”

Ewan shifted his weight to the other foot, dragging a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry,” he shrugged, and saw the confusion slip across her features like a cloud ransoming the sun.

“You won’t know they’re here,” she said, her lips pouted – but not in a way where she was trying to be hot. This girl didn’t need to try. She was the last word in unassuming beauty, with her caramel tan, wide-set eyes, ski-jump nose and legs that went forever. “Please?”

He shook his head, thinking of the warning his parents had given him after Alexander had moved out, taking with him his drug bust and penchant for rock music and leaving behind a string of late-night, doped out callers looking for their next score and an unmistakable eau de pot.

“Will you at least show me the place?” She arched her brow and Ewan knew he should say no. Should tell her, firmly, that this was non-negotiable.

But then the one in her handbag, Raisin?, fixed him with an assessing, golden stare and Ewan found himself nodding slowly. “Fine,” he opened the door wider. “Just a quick peek…”

I’m three! I’m three!

It’s my third book birthday! Three years since I published THE ITALIAN BILLIONAIRE’S BETRAYAL and what a whirlwind it’s been.

I’ve had reason to reflect on this journey recently. I’ve had the incredible, wonderful experience of accepting a publishing deal with Harlequin Mills & Boon (a very long-held dream), and I’ve also had the good fortune of connecting with some incredible romance writers and readers through the Romance Writers of Australia, and this has led to many interesting conversations about process, ambitions, styles and difficulties.

I remember the day I self-published my first novel as though it were yesterday. I’d been at a fourth birthday party for the son of very dear friends. It had been a lovely affair, yet I was restless. Unfulfilled. Wanting in some way.

That sense of discontent had probably been festering for months, but on that day, surrounded by the squeals of happy children, upbeat conversation with loved ones, and frosty Autumnal sunshine, I was ready to snap.

What was I doing? I loved to write. I loved it (and still do) passionately. It is a fever in my blood. Not just writing, but story-telling. World-making. Thinking up people and problems and breathing life into them with each stroke of the keyboard. It is a seductively, hypnotically, all-consuming pastime and I knew, on this day, three years ago, that it would continue to hold me firmly in its thrall forever and ever.

On that day three years ago, I came home and, as my husband bathed our kids and settled them for bed with a  book, I poured a glass of Shiraz and sneaked into our bedroom, where my computer was set up (an old, rickety, loud PC we’d bought second-hand). I blindly followed the convoluted maze of Amazon’s instructions to self-publish. It took thirty minutes… and changed my life.

Gratitude is easy to have. I’m grateful for my children. I’m grateful for my insulin pump, for wine, for my husband, my house, the ability to put good food on our small table. But when I think about how easily I could have pushed this dream aside, accepted the limitations conferred by the unlikelihood of success, I feel like I am drowning. This was an almost-impossible-dream. A pinprick of hope in the darkness of self-doubt and for some reason, perhaps even without conscious thought or reckoning I chased it, and the lightness enveloped the dark.

Three years after I pressed ‘publish’, I am holding in my hand the print copy of my first book for Harlequin Mills & Boon, my forty fourth book, and I am walking on air every day I get to wake up and write for a living.

Happy book birthday me, and thank you for reading.

PS Book Birthdays are TOTALLY a thing. Here’s the post I wrote last year, to prove it.

 

 

Monachopsis

Travelling is one of the best things you can do in life. Sometimes I think it’s also one of the worst.

I grew up in the Gold Coast hinterland, a beautiful small mountain community with rainforests and gum trees, timber houses, kind people, tiny shops and that villagey sense of everybody knowing everyone. By virtue of its geographical location, it was degrees cooler than the muggy Gold Coast and Brisbane, with cool breezes offered in relief to summer’s intractable persistence.

Brisbane was ‘the big smoke’. The ‘city’ we would come to in order to visit grandparents, see exhibitions, or have a ‘day out’. As I got older, and more independent, I would catch the train from the foot of the mountain into the city, whiling away hours at the State Library (pretending to be a studious grown up… Very Dawson’s Creek of me), or meet up with friends so we could just kick around the busy streets and explore on our own.

My now-husband and I moved to London in 2005. Intending to spend six months or so, we stayed four years and began to feel completely at home in the ancient city. We made good friends, life-long friends, established favourite restaurants, knew our train timetables back to front, began to understand the complexities of Britons – their love of tea, consternation over weather, adoration of cricket, hatred for (the remarkable) public transport system that runs like arteries and veins over the country. The little convenience stores (express versions of their bigger selves) that sold ready-to-cook foods, tiny little 1/4 pints of milk and all sorts of groceries that were different and therefore exciting. The free newspapers handed out each morning and afternoon to ease the rigours of the daily commute.

After four years, though, we yearned to come ‘home’, to think about starting a family and ‘settling down’. My husband isn’t from my part of the world; he heralds from further South. South Australia, to be exact, and we thought it only fair that we spend a year or two in his fair city before resuming normality in my home-town.

Only we moved to a little beach-side suburb of Adelaide and found happiness and comfort. We loved everything about the lifestyle. There is an inordinate focus placed on food and wine in Adelaide, something that sits well with us. The people are relaxed and friendly, the city ridiculously easy to navigate, and it’s cuddled on all sides by areas of incomparable beauty. Watching Autumn settle over the Barossa, the sky heavy with mist, the air thick with smoke from the wood chimneys that are a staple in these houses, is something that fills my soul with magic.

It was a long time before I didn’t wake up longing for London, in a physically wrenching way. It took a long time before I stopped wondering if we’d made the wrong choice, if we were foolish to give up the incredible lifestyle we had built for ourselves, the friends, the ease with which we travelled to Europe. Had we lost a part of ourselves by leaving London?

Yes.

I’ve come to realise that every change brings with it loss. I felt I had a foot in London and Adelaide for many years, and I still find I can hardly think about the life we left behind in London without a pang of remorse and painful absence.

This weekend, we’ve travelled to Brisbane to catch up with family and friends, and there’s a poignant bitter-sweetness about this morning. I’m sitting in the hotel room, overlooking the glorious sweep of the Brisbane river with its network of writhing, pulsing bridges and highways, the stoic CityCats making their way proudly from pontoon to pontoon, the vibrant flamboyance of South Bank is a short stroll away and everything glistens.

But I’m an outsider. After more than a decade of living away, I have memories but no connection. I love my adopted city but I’ll always be an outsider. I don’t support one of their football teams as though my life depends on it (it’s the wrong code for me, anyway). I don’t have childhood memories of the landmarks that are being swallowed by modern life (skate parks, drive-in movies). I am always cracking the top off the egg, trying to find my way and, to some extent, faking it.

I think about my children and there’s a sense of sadness that they won’t grow up knowing what it’s like to hear the chorus of crickets at sunset in rural Queensland; they won’t pick leaches out from between their toes after running bare-foot through the creek bed; they won’t know what it’s like to be woken just after four with the Currawong’s morning call. And there is something imperceptible in our memories, a vibrancy that shapes them, made up of light and smells and sounds and tastes. The light in Queensland is particularly beautiful – but no more so than Adelaide. I think it just feels that way to me because it shapes all my childhood memories and I cannot catch it again.

There is a flip side to this sense of Monachopsis. I am new and exploring, and charting an adventure that I hadn’t foreseen. I have made wonderful friends, and when I think about it without emotion, I know that Adelaide is a wonderful place for us to live. We love the beaches, the beauty, the pace and the climate.

But today I’m feeling nostalgic and I’m wondering if people are happier when they stay firmly entrenched in their own homes. Travel, yes, but only to vacation, never to live. Never for long. Always knowing where home is and returning to it with the conviction that there isn’t anywhere else in life you’d rather be…