Writer’s Diary #5: “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!”

If you’re a writer, you can probably relate to the idea of there being so many books to write and so little time in which to write them.

I am constantly coming up with great ideas for books, first lines, characters, titles and so on. I have a file for them—well, a few files, actually. I have grandiose-looking title pages with bylines and a copyright line…and no other content. I have outlines, first chapters, premises, character studies, film and stage adaptation ideas.

Image by Dmitry K Valberg

Image by Dmitry K Valberg

The problem is, I am like a child in a candy store: you flit from this piece to that, each one sweeter and more vibrantly coloured than the last. But, sooner or later, you get sick of eating sweets and you crave a nutritious meal.

If you want to continue being a writer, you have to make a decision, knuckle down, and write one book at a time. From start to finish. From cover to cover.

It’s all very well to have ideas, but ideas are cheap. Good ideas are the easy way out if they are not realised: you feel like you’re working on something, but actually, you’re not. Following all the way through on a good idea is much more difficult. Good ideas don’t make you a writer. Writing a complete manuscript makes you a writer. Those two words, “the end”, make you a writer.

I have book ideas from 20 years ago that “might come in handy one day”, just as my grandfather had a shed full of jars of nails, nuts and bolts of different sizes and my father had jars full of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of rubber bands.

I have to realise that I don’t need all those jars of bits and pieces. They will not come in handy.

It’s time to clean out the ideas file and all its cobwebs.

It’s time to get rid of the drafts of my books—they have been published already, so I really don’t need them. I am never going to be such a famous writer that draft marginalia will be worth buckets of money to collectors one day. I don’t have children to pass them down to.

I even have a manuscript written by an old friend of mine who, when she went overseas nearly 20 years ago, asked me to look after it “in case you ever hear of a publisher who wants it”. We lost touch, but I’ve kept it all this time and I’m trying to find her now to see if she wants it back.

There is a finite time in which to write. I have lived more than half my life. I need now to prioritise and to focus on projects one by one that I can research, write, edit, and get published.

Simplifying my writer’s shed with its jars of figurative nuts and bolts and rubber bands will give me more room in which to work, a clear bench on which to craft my works, and a direction in which to proceed.


“Peace is Possible”


At Bloggers for Peace, the Monthly Peace Challenge: Mad Men is to create something that conveys the message of peace: an ad, a slogan, a short film, a poem, a song perhaps.

My modest contribution is this slogan, “Peace is Possible”. It might seem simplistic at first, but it has a powerful message, and that is, don’t give up hope and always think positively. Perhaps the slogan should be “Peace is Positively Possible”.

"Peace is Possible", by Caron Eastgate Dann:  I put together this makeshift peace sign out of bits and bobs—buttons, brooches, earrings (I always knew those buttons you get in tiny plastic packets when you buy something new would come in handy one day).

“Peace is Possible”, by Caron Eastgate Dann: I put together this makeshift peace sign out of bits and bobs—buttons, brooches, earrings (I always knew those buttons you get in tiny plastic packets when you buy something new would come in handy one day).

I was reminded how important hope is for achieving goals by my friend Bryan Patterson on his Faithworks blog this week.

Without hope, we may as well give up. With hope, there is still possibility.

Kozo at Bloggers for Peace has discussed (in the post linked above) the idea that in achieving a goal, it is important to affirm what you want, such as “Peace is Possible”, instead of making a negative statement, such as “No war”.

By envisioning what you want, you can work towards it. This reminded me of something that happened to me 10 years ago. I was working as the branch editor of a magazine, and was particularly unhappy with the way the job had progressed under a new supervisor. However, I felt trapped because I had a big mortgage and needed the regular income.

My friend, who is now a clinical psychologist, asked me what was wrong, and I explained. She said, “So, what do you want?”. I told her I wanted to become a freelance journalist and work for myself from home while continuing my PhD studies. She said that because I already knew what I wanted, I had won half the battle. “Now, you just have to work out how to get there,” she said.

I decided to sell my expensive house for a cheaper one in the same area, thereby halving my mortgage. I could now afford to become a freelance and casual journalist, and did so for about four years, until my PhD was complete and I became a university lecturer.

So, if we know what we want (peace), I reckon we have won half the battle. Now, if we could only work out how to get there…

Check out Fish of Gold’s incredibly cute animal drawings, including the platypus, whose odd looks FOG captured perfectly.

Fish Of Gold

The other day, I showed you how I drew a giraffe and I asked for suggestions on what to draw next.

Caron Eastgate Dann suggested I draw a platypus:

Platypus. Suggested by Caron Eastgate Dann.

Behindthemaskofabuse suggested I draw a dragon:


Kozo suggested I do a calendar of all the Chinese zodiac animals starting with a snake:


But he really wanted me to draw a fox:


And finally, C. R.requested a butterfly:


That’s all for today. I’m spent and I haven’t even written anything. The request line is now closed (maybe).

View original post

The art of food

In response to a challenge from The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge to “detail a three to five step story or process, and illustrate each of the steps with something visual”.

When I took up painting two years ago, I didn’t think still life would interest me. However, I gave it a go and found that I loved painting food. I had  an idea to paint recipes: that is, to paint the elements of a recipe before they became a meal. This idea evolved to include place settings and pre-dinner snacks—anything to do with food preparation, utensils or consumption in the home, in fact. Strangely, I have painted a knife in all of them!


“Cut Me” (above): This is the very first painting I did. It was with trepidation that I took up a paintbrush and loaded it with that wonderful vibrant red. I was pleased with the result, especially the way the knife turned out. It took me about 15 tries to get that reflection right!

Lemon and Knife

“Lemon and Knife” (above): This wasn’t really meant to be a painting at all, just a trial of my new PanPastels, which are a pastel medium pressed into small dishes and applied with sponges. This took me only about 15 minutes at the breakfast table one morning. The knife is special, as it was given to me by my late father when I was about 20. I have used it almost every day in the kitchen since then. As someone on an online art group I belong to commented: “Sometimes the simplest things are the best”.


“Only On His Day Off” (above): Until recently, my husband worked evening shift five nights a week. On his days off, he loved to indulge in some red wine and accompanying snacks. The cloth is one I bought from Bali when I visited in 2005.


“Making Sangria” (above): the ingredients for this classic Spanish drink are peaches, oranges, lemons, red wine and soda water. The red wine was sourced from a shop in Melbourne that stocks the right kind, and it was expensive! There is also usually sugar in the recipe, too, but I thought I had enough elements already.

Salad Niçoise

“Making Salad Niçoise” (above): For the ingredients of this French salad I bought a Spanish onion and bottled olives, Italian canned tuna and anchovies, and Australian extra virgin olive oil. You can also add capers to this salad. I used those fantastic green plastic souvenir salad servers sent to me by a friend in Auckland, New Zealand, plus a wonderful green glass platter given to me by a friend in Melbourne, Australia. Most of my paintings contain elements that are meaningful to me.

Industrial Ballet

This post is written in response to A Word A Week Challenge: Industrial, which you can see more of here.

Suvarnabhumi AirportIn November, I visited Bangkok, where I used to live, for the first time in 11 years. Among the changes was the new airport, Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Su-wahn-na-poom), opened in 2006. I was impressed by the blend of structural engineering and architecture in the design, which its renowned Chicago architect, Helmut Jahn, describes as “archineering”. In 2012, the airport was the most popular location in the world for the taking of Instagram photos, according to the Bangkok Post (read more here).

There is a lot of glass in the passenger terminal, but everything looks sparklingly clean. While I was there, I was fascinated to see this window-cleaner at work. The series of photos looks almost like an industrial ballet. I love the etched glass doors, too.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012


Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

Thainikon 017

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

Suvarnabhumi Airport, copyright Caron Eastgate Dann 2012

Cooking, Grandma Style

I was reminiscing with one of my cousins recently about stuff our grandparents cooked for us in New Zealand. He remembered Grandad Freddy toasting Vogel’s classic mixed-grain bread, then spreading it with butter and, sparsely, with Vegemite (I’m a Marmite girl myself). As far as I know, this delicious bread is no longer available in Australia, so is but a memory to me now.

Just like Grandma used to make.

Just like Grandma used to make. Photo courtesy of  PDPhoto.org

We remembered what Grandad called “toad in the hole”, which was cutting a hole in a piece of bread, then frying it in a pan with an egg dropped into the centre. This was actually not the right name for it, as the real toad-in-the-hole is an English dish made of sausages and Yorkshire pudding batter.
Grandad would whistle while he was in the kitchen cooking. He always made breakfast, and when I lived with them for a year when I was 12 and 13, he also usually made my school lunch. He was a career army man, a Captain after fighting in the Korean War. When I lived with them, Grandad had retired from the army and was working as a clerk for the government department that was then known as Maori Affairs. I’m not sure what he did for them, as he never talked about his work.

Grandma Rita most often cooked the evening meal. I remember her cooking had much more salt, butter and cream in it than my parents’ cooking. She would mash a big pot of potatoes, adding an egg and some raw onion. I always liked mashed potatoes done this way, though my father, her son, did not. Grandma Rita also made tasty girdle scones, and cheese or currant scones baked in the oven. And rock cakes that were impossible to chew! Grandma also liked to make an apple crumble, or perhaps an apple pie with a fancy flower on top made of the leftover pastry pieces.

On the maternal side of my family, Nanna would make wonderful fluffy little pikelets, spread with jam. Also, she would carefully peel tomatoes so they were skinless—I still don’t like tomato skins—and put them on crackers spread with butter. She would sprinkle salt and pepper on them. These had to be eaten straight away, as she said, before the tomato made the crackers soggy.

Harking back to his family’s strong Scottish Highlands origins, my maternal grandfather, Grandad Mac, made porridge every morning, adding a pinch of salt, and believed it was the only suitable breakfast. He always got up very early —about 5am—and if he was staying with us, I would find my school shoes outside my bedroom door, gleaming with polish.

Before porridge was served, there was something better, something so simple but something I love to this day and sometimes still have as a treat: Grandad Mac would cut the crusts off a slice of fresh white bread, then spread it with butter. He would cut it into halves and bring it in to me with the first cup of tea of the day.  As a young person, I mostly drank coffee, but I liked the tea he made. Nowadays, I usually have tea, and my first morning cuppa always brings back memories of Grandad Mac.

When I was 19, I lived with my great-grandmother, my father’s grandma, for a year in Palmerston North while I attended Massey University. Great-Grandma Abbott always served dinner—she called it “tea”, as we did too when I was growing up—at 5pm. It was possible to have the plate kept in the warming drawer of the oven if you were late, but you were generally expected to sit and eat with the family at that time. She always told me off for not having sugar in my tea or coffee—“a girl needs a bit of sugar”—and for washing my hair too often—”I’ve never known a girl to wash her hair so much; it’s not healthy”. My reply? “Yes, Grandma”. One didn’t argue with her.

One afternoon I came home to find that tripe and onions in a white sauce were on the menu. I made some excuse and, to this day, still haven’t tried tripe, though I’m not a picky eater.

Great-grandma never got used to the electric stove. The old coal range on the farm had been far better to cook on, she said. She didn’t like the newfangled washing machine, either, even though she never had an automatic one, only one of those tubs with a wringer above it. Wooden boards in troughs of water had worked better, she said.

I asked her one day what had been her favourite time in her long life. She grinned and said she wished she were back on the farm in Waipukurau, Central Hawke’s Bay, “with all the boys” in the 1930s. She had had seven children, four boys and three girls, but one son had died in the Second World War and another of cancer, while her husband, my great-grandfather, the All Black Harold “Bunny” Abbott, had died about 10 years before I lived with her. She said she loved firing up the range on the farm, ready for the boys to come in from work for a big cooked breakfast at about 9am.

My great-grandmother in 1938 or early 1939 with "all the boys", including  my father as a toddler. Shortly after this, her son Harold (standing directly behind her), would be killed in World War II.

My great-grandmother in 1938 or early 1939 with “all the boys”, including my father as a toddler. Shortly after this, her son Harold (standing directly behind her), would be killed in World War II. My Grandma Rita is seated left, with Grandad Freddy standing behind her.

At Great-Grandma Abbott’s house, left-over meat from a roast was not put in the fridge, but in a meat safe in one of the cupboards. And soup would bubble away on the stove for days, added to from time to time with various leftovers. I can’t remember any of us getting food poisoning.

There was no pasta or rice to be had in my great-grandmother’s house, or even in my grandparents’ houses. I wonder what they’d make of our multi-cultural cuisine these days: one night we might have Thai-style food, the next Italian, Greek, Malaysian, Chinese, Fijian, Spanish, Colombian, or Japanese.

While my grandparents and great-grandparents cooked tried-and-true recipes handed down through generations, we are constantly trying new cuisines—it’s a very different approach to home cooking. Mind you, I still have my old favourites that I’ve been making for many years. But that’s a post for another day.

Through a glass, darkly: the strangest house in my suburb

Glasshouse4I’ve been watching with great interest as this house has risen out of a very small block in my Melbourne suburb of Northcote. All the other houses in the street are period styles, mostly Victorian and mostly renovated. I suspect most have a heritage overlay and have to keep their frontage in line with the original style.

Glasshouse 5

So this new glass house looks bizarre in the street. I actually quite like it—for a raised location with coastal or city or botanical garden or river views. But this street is in a dip. The only views are of the road and the neighbours’ houses. Also, the houses are all close together in this street: if you lived in the glass house, you would have to keep your blinds closed day and night, unless you wanted everyone to be able to look in on you. Then again, perhaps it will be a Big Brother-like experiment.

It’s surprising that the council approved the plans—usually people in streets of renovated Victorian houses seem to want everyone else to adhere to their style too and would have complained when given the opportunity.

On the other hand, shouldn’t you be able to build whatever you like on your own property? And what’s wrong with being a little (or a lot) different to others? It reminds me of this wonderful piece of needlework a friend made for me:


I’d be interested in readers’ opinions. Do you think this house is exciting and innovative, or just wrong? You be the judge.

The secret to writing a bestseller

In his ground-breaking 2006 novel J-Pod, Douglas Coupland reveals on the second-to-last page a recipe for writing books people will want to read:

“Yesirree, nothing could possibly go wrong with everything being so good.

“But of course, in books, good is boring.

“Good is a snoozer.

“Good makes people close the covers and never reopen them.”

—Douglas Coupland 2006, J-Pod, Bloomsbury, London, p.448

These words are posted in response to this week’s  Trifextra Reading Challenge, which asked participants to find a 33-word quotation of great writing they admire. If you want to join the challenge, you can find the link here.

If you think about your favourite books, very few—if any—of them will be all about happy events. The interest comes from tension, adversity, bad luck, conflict, bad choices, addiction, indulging in any of the seven deadly sins and so on. In fact, a happy ending is only so when there’s been a lot of unhappiness along the way.

Cats I have known

Lucy Locket stars as "A Bookish Cat" in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

Lucy Locket stars as “A Bookish Cat” in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

I’ve always loved cats. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’m always happiest with a book, a cup of tea, and a cat. My current cat is Lucy Locket, named for the old English nursery rhyme, which may or may not be a flattering name for her, depending on how you interpret the poem. If I had a second cat, I’d call it Kitty Fisher. (You can read why here ). I did a portrait in pastels of Lucy Locket this week (above).

Anyway, Lucy Locket is an indoor cat, except for being allowed into our enclosed courtyard, because I have had several cats run over, and so has my husband, and we couldn’t bear for that to happen again. Lucy seems very happy and the vet says that, at six, she is in the prime of her life.

I wish my dad were still alive to meet Lucy Locket. I wonder if he’d give her one of his famous cat nicknames. When I was a baby, we had Button—who before I arrived had been treated like a baby and sat at the dinner table wearing a bib. When I was a pre-schooler, we had Bomb (who was smelly) and Loopy (who had one eye). Later, there were part-Abyssinians Abdul, always known as Ringtail, and Omar, known as Other One. Yes. Can you imagine calling them in from outside: “Ringtail! Other One!” Ridiculous.

At one stage, we had three cats at the same time, all of whom hated each other. Sandy was a big pale ginger tom who became Fat Ginger; Thin Grey’s real name was Kelly Jason; and Jawa (named after the creatures in the first Star Wars film) was a pitch-black tom who became Blackness and who lived for 16 years and moved from New Zealand to Australia with my parents. My aunty had an all-white cat that Dad always called White Fright (though I don’t think they called it that!).

I couldn’t have a cat of my own for years, because I was moving towns and countries and living in flats. But my flatmates often had cats. I remember in particular Aunty Huia, a small grey cat named after a TV character of the time. She was one of a menagerie at a flat in the rural town of Warkworth, New Zealand, where I was working as a journalist. We also had German short-haired pointers Apollo and Zeus, Bunny Bunny the rabbit, Casper the bird, many unnamed goldfish, and another cat whose name escapes me now but was something like Molly.

As an adult, I kept on the tradition of giving a cat a “proper” name, but also giving it nicknames. The exception was Patsy, my Abyssinian kitten who mysteriously went missing forever from our enclosed backyard at six months. She was named after Joanna Lumley’s character  in Absolutely Fabulous.

10 years ago, I had a beautiful Burmese cat named Mandalay, but I always called her Babette. She had a brush with celebrity when the famous Australian TV vet Dr Harry examined her when I was writing a magazine story about a clinic he was running. Explaining to me some of the faults in her breeding, he said, in the kindest way, “She’s a lovely cat, but she’ll never be best in show”. I replied, “Oh well, she’s best in Mummy’s show”.

Australian TV celebrity vet Dr Harry with Babette. His verdict: "A lovely cat, but she won't be best in show".

Australian TV celebrity vet Dr Harry with Babette. His verdict: “A lovely cat, but she won’t be best in show”.

At 18 months, Babette was bitten by a tiger snake and nearly died: but $900 worth of anti-venom saved her. Two weeks later, she was run over by a car and killed.

Mandalay/Babette’s successors, sibling half-feral moggies Peter (named for a friend) and Minky (for a Peter Sellers line in the Pink Panther film), became Boy and Schmink.

And Lucy Locket? She’s Punchinella (a variation of the Italian puppet Punchinello, but there is also a Jamaican children’s song called Punchinella Little Fella). Don’t ask me why I call her that; it just seems to fit.