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Of mountains, chasms, and merry-go-rounds

Wednesday, 02 October 2019 15:00

It's no wonder that it's been four months since I've updated this web page. An amazing, and in some ways scarifying, four months, that I wouldn't wish on anyone. David, whom I've been engaged to for almost ten years now, had been suffering stray aches and pains for about a year ...   oh well, muscular, we thought. What else can we expect at our advancing years? But eventually got to point of having it checked out more closely ...  A real case of opening floodgates. Soon we were immersed in batteries of tests, Xrays, scans, biopsies, blood tests, CAT scans, PET scans, and a swift move from GP, to muscular/skeletal specialist, to oncologists and finally to the haemotologist, who pronounced the dread 'C' word. Turns out that David has Stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (a resurfacing of an old seemingly cured bout of lymphoma about fifteen years ago) which has now wrought a long-awaited vengeance and come back as secondary bone cancer!

Where all this is leading, we don't know. Prognosis uncertain, but now he's into the chemotherapy merry-go-round (more round than merry, I might add) for at least six cycles of 21 days each. Within each three week period, a first few days after being hooked up on a drip in the Cancer Centre while they (his words) 'pump me full of poison,' a few days when he feels OK and then it hits and the next stretch is totally wretched. Finally, for the third week, he feels normal, and then it all starts again with the next cycle.

Immediate implications for our plans were inevitable. Cancelled the planned trips to Canberra and Brisbane for family holidays, and have put our bookings for next year's eight weeks in Germany on hold. Maybe. Maybe not. The advice was not to cancel until we see what impact the chemo is having, but it's all looking very uncertain. David, being David, stays positive and hopeful, and now, having lost all hair, wears a variety of Irish caps, French berets, and beanies and looks quite dashing. Again, to quote: "All I need is a baguette, a bicycle and a string bag of onions for the authentic Gallic look."

Meanwhile, of course,  I write. Always my preferred coping mechanism. So there is a extensive collection of poems that enable me to make a sort of accommodation with our new way of life and expectations. While I haven't circulated any of these, I've been pleased to have some international acceptance of various other short stories, in places as far afield as Malaysia and USA's Idaho, the last of these in a literary journal with a wonderfully quirky title, The Potato Soup Journal'. Great also to have been short-listed for the prestigious ACU Poetry Prize, even though I didn't make it to the $10,000 first prize  (sigh ...) but it did lead to publication in their book, Solace. Also short-listed for the Short Story Prize in the WAM Festival competition. Also have had several poems published in journals like Studio and Polestar, and others accepted in three forthcoming publications. It all compensates for the 'Thank you, enjoyed this, but not suitable for our ....' messages that also come my way. Often.

So what happens next in our lives is very unclear. We soldier on, trusting and praying that all will be well, that the next scans will show a significant reduction in the tumours, and that somehow we'll still be able to fulfill all the plans made for 2020, including my cherished invitation to the opening of the Passion Play in Oberammergau, as an Australian press representative, and time with all the people we were intending to visit. Who knows?

What a month

Wednesday, 29 May 2019 10:29

They talk about the merry month of May - and indeed it has been! Lots of activity on the writing front, with a number of acceptances (but hey, let's not overlook the rejections though). Good to have my first international publication, a poem in the Red River Journal in Texas, and an invitation to record it for their podcasts, and other acceptances in  Australian literary journals, such as Tamba , Polestar and The Mozzie. Also a busy month with public speaking, including a series of three sessions with the Holdfast Bay Seniors Club, a great evening with about 80 people for Friends of Lutheran Archives (FoLA) and a very enjoyable week in Melbourne. There I found a wonderfully receptive group at the Deepdene U3A club, and also a chance to talk about my writing in a short guest spot at the Reunion Lunch of Palladians, the alumni association of my old school, the Mac.Robertson Girls' High School. Lovely to have a chance to talk about the impact of my time at that school, and my experiences editing both the annual magazine and the monthly Newsletter, on my later life as a writer ....  However, highlight of the month would have to have been the very positive (4 1/2 stars) review of In Search of Anna in the Books Page of The Advertiser's SAWeekend Magazine. Just a short review, but to have their chief reviewer, Katharine England's commendation on my book was a moment to savour.

Meanwhile we begin the planning for next year's trip, with focus of course on my invitation to be an Australian press representative at the opening of the 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play. We'll attend the play as ordinary tourists later in that month, and between the two do some visiting of German relatives and friends. But before and after those focus events, much other planning. We hope to have time in Iceland, and also travel down the fjord western coast of Norway on a coastal steamer. Possibly a short trip from Oslo to Svalbard, where daughter Felicity's new novel (a brilliant work to be released by Hachette early in 2020) begins and ends. David is contemplating some time in Ireland to continue his Gaelic studies and family background research, while I may spend that extra period in northern Germany. So much world to see, and a sense that some time our travel days will have to end. But not yet ....

Success!

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:18

 

Well, looks as if that last 'frustration' posting did actually get published, so I'll have one last try at updating my news of the last few weeks. If I lose this posting, I give up. So, back to January ...

As foreshadowed, I spent the Australia Day weekend at the 150th celebrations in in tiny Walla Walla in New South Wales, where I had a table in the Exhibition Hall  to promote advance copies of In Search of Anna, a sort of pre-launch event, appropriate because the last section of the book is set in that area. A great weekend, where I caught up with many friends and relatives of former years, and had a guest event at the Jindera Pioneer Museum, one of the best country museums I've seen, and a family reunion dinner after. A special pleasure was watching the final day historic parade, with its original pioneer trek wagons and even the Burdack family sulky I had ridden in so often as a child.

Back to Adelaide, with full scale preparations for the formal launch of Anna, at a wonderful evening when 250 friends gathered to hear SA Premier, Steven Marshall, launch the book and David Harris propose the toast for my 80th birthday. Best possible way to celebrate this day, especially as all four of my offspring came from interstate to be with us.

The time we’d spent in Oberammergau last year proved rewarding in many more ways than even the time itself, for all the interviewing I’d done there led to the writing of a number of travel articles. A number have now been published in various magazines and newspaper, with a few out there looking for outlets. But, as a result, I’ve been invited to attend the opening night of the 2020 Passion Play as a press representative  - bonus is that the invitation is for two, so David and I are now beginning plans for our overseas travel in 2020. We’ll attend both the first night as guests then go a second time at the end of May with the reservations we’ve already made. Between the two dates, and before and after, some other travelling, still in planning stage. It’s exciting.

Much of the last few weeks has been spent in marketing Anna, with radio and guest speaking events. But more time-consuming has been David’s move from his Adelaide Hills home to a place much closer to me in suburban Adelaide. Any house move is strenuous, but this especially so, with his huge shed taking inordinate effort to clear out. After all that went to Oxfam, various charity shops, the antique auction market and into the big skip he hired, it was amazing how much was still left to deal with and move into the new place. Inspirational though  - I now feel I ought to be doing the same culling of possessions, however lack the will and stamina to do it. But it’s great to have him so much closer, and no longer facing the daunting long drive between our homes.

So there hasn’t been much writing done in these recent weeks  - mainly poetry, and I’ve been happy with news of some acceptances, especially in the Canberra Times, one of the few places that actually pays for publications.

 

 

 

Frustration

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:08

This is a third increasingly frustrated attempt to add an entry to this page. I've written two extended articles, but both have vanished into cyberspace. This is just an experimental third attempt. Here goes

Almost there

Tuesday, 15 January 2019 23:18

I've reached a most exciting time. After a hard-working Christmas, making last revisions to the new book, and then proof-reading and checking the type-set version, In Search of Anna is now at the printers, and should be due back in good time for the launch on February 8.  I couldn't speak too highly of my Wakefield editor, Julia Beaven. She's been not only supportive and encouraging, but so meticulous in her editing and so thoughtful and perceptive in her comments and advice, that I count myself fortunate to have had her as my guiding hand. Great assistance from all at Wakefield Press, and a lovely cover design and internal design features from Liz Nicholson, while Maddy Sexton has been a tower of strength with publicity and launch help.

I'm looking forward to this launch. Steven Marshall, South Australian Premier and Minister for the Arts, will launch the book at Immanuel College, and the Principal there has been a generous source of support. It's shaping to be a large launch, and acceptances are flooding in.  As the evening is also the celebration of my 80th birthday - a life stage I can't pretend to be at all enthusiastic about - at least I can feel I'm doing something to prove I'm still alive  ...

But, before this, there's a pre-launch event when I'll have the chance to showcase and sell my book at the Walla Walla 150th Centenary celebrations during the Australia Day weekend. Most appropriate, because this town is only a few kilometres from Jindera, where the last part of In Search of Anna is set. I'm hoping there will be a lot of local interest in the book and the event.

Roll on, the next few weeks. Life is both frantically busy and wonderfully interesting.

In Search of Anna by VALERIE VOLK

Sunday, 06 January 2019 17:45

 Sometimes the longest journey is into yourself

We're back

Saturday, 24 November 2018 17:18

Usually I'm saying I can't believe it's three months since I last entered news on this page; this time I'm not all surprised. It's been a packed three months, from our departure in mid September to now, just home a few days ago. A wonderful time, recorded in a 33,000 word journal, and my usual Poem a Day, which has become a pattern over the last few years of travel, this time yielding me 65 poems for the trip. While keeping to this at times requires enormous self-discipline, it's also one of the most rewarding parts of travel for me. Even when, dead tired at night, I wonder why I'm making this effort, the moment I sit down to write, tiredness dissipates, and the poem a day becomes not only a happy writing time but also some of our best memory-joggers for the travel.

Our first two weeks in Croatia were fascinating.From leaving Venice, all too short a stay in this lovely city of old palazzi and gondolas on canals, fortunately before the massive flooding that hit the city several weeks later, we began a brief coach tour to Split, then a cruise of the Adriatic on a small boat (only 36 people - all congenial!) that took us round the Adriatic islands. A lovely time, as we explored, and sampled, oyster farms and vineyards, swam in the Adriatic (well, David did - I chickened out), and wandered around ancient Roman ruins. A final extra four days in Dubrovnik gave us the chance to visit Mostar, and the small country of Montenegro, and also taught us about the difficulties of the breakdown of the old Yugoslavia into these original individual small countries. Time in Dubrovnik also showed us the horrors of the fighting that accompanied these times, and we learned not just about the struggles in Kosovo, but also the devastation of the siege of Dubrovnik itself, and the shelling that destroyed the Old Town, now amazingly reconstructed. A beautiful place.

The following seven weeks in Germany were a very happy time, with catching up with so many friends from the past and much valued relatives. But a highlight would have to be the two weeks in Oberammergau, where the work I'd put in ahead into establishing contacts really was rewarded. Thanks to the efficient and supportive Franziska Zankl in the Press Office,  we attended the huge ecumenical service on October 20, when the original vow of 1633 was renewed. Listening to a nine year old girl speaking the words of this traditional vow for the thousands of people in front of her, rededicating the citizens of Oberammergau to the production of this 42nd Passion Play in 2020, was indeed moving. So too was being part of the excited crowd outside the Passion Play Theatre when the cast list for 2020 was revealed, one by one, on the huge front blackboards. A spine-tingling moment, for this ten-yearly event will bring half a million people from all over the world to Oberammergau. The Press Conference in the afternoon was also another tribute to German efficiency.

For the next two weeks I found myself full-time working: marketing my 2014 book, Passion Play, to shops, hotels, souvenir outlets, with a generally really pleasing response, but also interviewing the key cast members and director of the 2020 Play  - all generous with their time and great to speak to. It will be interesting to see if I can get some of the articles I have now written published in Australian outlets.

From there, further time with relatives in northern German, and a short hotel across the borders in France  - a few days in Strasbourg, using our two country Eurail Pass. Most of our travel, in fact all in Germany and France, was by train, with David hoisting heavy cases up onto luggage racks with impressive (apparent?) ease. It's really hard to  return to 'normal' life after these months away, but bit by bit we're starting to pick up the pieces.

Next job will be the final revisions on next February's book, In Search of Anna, which Wakefield Press tells me is almost through the editing process, and getting the Feb 8 book launch (cum 80th birthday celebration) organised. I think I'll be pleased when March comes. But meanwhile it's Christmas and a family gathering. Lots to do!

Getting close

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 10:06

Getting VERY close  - it's almost time for our next expedition to Europe. This time it's partly holiday, with a tour from Venice to Dubrovnik at the start of our time away. While I have deep wariness about any form of organised 'tour', with its vision of sheep-like herding round Grand Sights (AKA Great Sites), this does look a more acceptable affair, with a small coach land tour from Venice (sadly, only two days in this magic city) to Split, on the Dalmation coast, then a six day cruise around the islands of the Adriatic on a small very new boat -  only about 36 people. An optional extra few days in Dubrovnik, where the boat berths, is also something to look forward to, as it's over forty years since I've been in this part of the world, and it looks truly beautiful.

And after that  it's Germany, with catch-up visits to friends and relatives and, very importantly, time in Oberammergau, which will be something special. While it's 18 months to the next big Passion Play year in 2020, in October this year there will be the important ceremony of the renewal of the 1633 vow that was the origin of this ten-yearly event. It's followed  immediately by the announcement of the cast list for 2020, a big revealing that the whole surrounding area attends. With 1500 people on stage for the play one can understand the local excitement. I look forward to being part of this special time, and also hope to use the opportunity to do some marketing of my 2014 verse novel, Passion Play - the Oberammergau Tales, for sale in shops in Oberammergau in 2020, when half a million people will attend the play.

But, as always, the lead-up time to a trip of this type becomes hectic, and we're into pre-trip panic mode already. Meanwhile, I'm balancing travel preparations with forward planning for my new book, being published by Wakefield Press next February. Right now I'm looking forward to seeing the projected cover before we leave, as flyers about the book, In Search of Anna, are to be distributed in Jindera, the small NSW town where the final section of the book is set. Coincidentally, late in September this year Jindera is commemorating its 150th Anniversary, and big celebrations are planned. I'm sorry that we'll be away at the time, but hope that my coming book may be publicised during the celebrations.

Next week the annual Friendly Street Reader will be published, and as loyal members of this long-established poetry organisation, I'm delighted that both David and I have poems in this anthology. The launch for that is just before we leave, but clashed with the launch in Melbourne of this year's ACU Poetry Competition anthology. I'm truly delighted to have been short-listed for this prestige poetry competition. Sadly, not a major winner, but short-listing  brings publication in the book.

So, out with the suitcases and on with the motley ....

And three months on ....

Friday, 27 July 2018 17:11

 

I’m actually not surprised to find that it’s so long since the last news I posted here, because it’s been an incredibly packed three months.

In May came the two performances of the lovely Requiem that Rachel Bruerville wrote using as text some of the poems from my first published book, In Due Season. It was presented first at the stunning Ukaria Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills, in what must be one of the most beautiful boutique concert halls Australia has. The packed out audience enjoyed a full program performed by the Adelaide Chamber Singers, culminating in the magnificent Brahms Requiem. The program was repeated next day in the city St Peter’s Cathedral to a capacity audience, where the soaring arches and huge pillars added to a very inspiring atmosphere. I found listening to Rachel’s music a deeply moving experience.

June and July were busy writing months, both writing and publishing a number of poems in many journals such as Tamba, Studio, The Mozzie, Poetry Matters, The Write Angle, and others. It’s always so encouraging to see one’s work in print, and to have enthusiastic feedback from readers. It makes worthwhile the blood, sweat and tears – and loneliness – of the writing life.

Much  time was also spent in re-designing the cover of my big verse novel of 2013, Passion Play – the Oberammergau Tales, in preparation for our coming trip to Germany. Here I hope to market this book in time for the 2020 Passion Play itself, where the small German town will once again, as they have done since 1634, produce a six month season of the events of Holy Week. More than 500,000 people from all over the world come to this play, and I’m hoping that Oberammergau shops will stock my book. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In late October this year everything swings into preparation for 2020, starting with renewal of the 1633 vow that lies behind this ten-yearly event. We’ll be able to take part in all these happenings.

But the most satisfying moment of my year was the day I signed the contract with Wakefield Press for the publication of my ninth book, In Search of Anna. This historical fiction work has occupied several years of research and writing, and it’s a book that is important to me personally. An old family story of my great-grandmother coming from a small Silesian village across the world by steamship to hunt for her missing son  in Melbourne, then in the Riverina area, has always seemed to me the stuff of a novel. So on the bare bones of some historical fact I’ve used my imagination to create a whole life for this woman, who is probably turning in her grave at what I’ve invented. The book will be launched next year in February, in an event that will also be my eightieth birthday celebration. Horrors! Where have these decades gone? I’m delighted that Steven Marshall, South Australian Premier, is happy to MC the evening  - as long as no unexpected parliamentary emergencies occur. Fingers crossed.

Right now much of my time is going into planning the book cover for the new book, and then will be the editing process – sadly interrupted by our trip to Germany. But then, that’s not an unpleasant interruption to have ahead of us …

 

 

Autumn Days

Monday, 23 April 2018 15:35

It's hard to call this 'autumn'  - Indian Summer is a much more appropriate title. If Keats were writing his Autumn ode again, he'd be hard-pressed to write Stanza 3, for the earlier idea of an unceasing summer would be much more appropriate. To balance the mellow tranquillity of the season, our days seem to have also been times of peace and serenity. (A sort of interlude that will come to a rapid end in May, when so much seems to be happening!)

First, of course, is the weekend of May 5 and 6, with its two performances of Rachel Brewerville's lovely Requiem, In Due Season, set to words from my first published book of the same title. I've been following the emergence of this work with great interest, and was moved almost to tears when I heard the whole requiem sung at rehearsal by the accomplished Adelaide Chamber Singers. It's going to be a rare privilege to be at the two performances and to feel those words, written at a time of loss and anguish, inspiring  this beautiful music.

Rachel and I were interviewed last week by Emily Sutherland, always one of my favourite interviewers, for her 5MBS Kaleidoscope program. If you are interested it will be aired on Wednesday, April 25, at 6pm and repeated on Saturday, April 28 at 11am. That's 99.9 on the dial if you're not a regular 5MBS listener. Or you'll be able to hear it on  a podcast on the Kaleidoscope page on their website. I'm waiting with great anticipation for these concerts  - a superb program of Bach, Schutz and the Brahms German Requiem and, of course, the new Brewerville work. The Adelaide Chamber Singers will be joined by the Sydney Choir of St James for much of the program.

After that, roll on the rest of May ....

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