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Oh dear!

Saturday, 07 May 2022 14:32

 

Oh dear!

 

 Now I discover that another eight months have gone by since my last entry into this News & Events page, and one could wonder if anything has happened since the start of last September. Yet so much has occurred, visits from interstate family, the Adelaide Festival months, including Writers’ Week, and much much more.

Our annual boat trip with a group of friends in a houseboat on the Murray River, a Christmas that was at the same time a fraught family time (why is it that, as they tell us, Christmas is always a time of family disturbances and stresses?) but at the same time a season of rejoicing.

The great pleasure of having my eleventh book, Witnesses, accepted by Wakefield Press for publication late this year/early 2023.  And the writing, a long-term project, of my twelfth book, Finding Emma, a sort of parallel to In Search of Anna, and now completed in first draft but needed close and careful editing and revision.

Through it all, the ongong saga of Covid, with masks still mandatory as we dutifully fronted up to vaccinations: number one, two, three at the specified intervals, and finally my fourth, given by special permission a week before legally allowed, so that I’d have had four before leaving for Europe.

Because yes, I am still going to Germany (tomorrow, in fact) for the postponed 2020 Passion Play. My invitation as an Australian press representative still stands, and the play will indeed go ahead – a decision only finalised in March. What a travesty it would have been after all the rehearsals, the implementation of the Hair and Beard decree on Ash Wednesday last year, and all the PR, if it had not been produced.  I’ve contributed my bit to the publicity, with two full page articles in South Australia’s main newspaper, The Advertiser, and lots of public speaking. Many more events as guest speaker after my return …

But not accompanied by David, whose doctor warned that, after his bout with aggressive cancer two years ago (now fully recovered, DG) and all the associated chemotherapy and radiography, his immune system was still compromised  - so going to a possible super-spreader event like the Passion Play with its opening day of 5000 people from all over the world in a vast undercover auditorium would not be a Good Idea.

So, instead, he is sending my daughter Sam in his place (her third time at the Passion Play – and ironic, in that her father paid for her to go in his place to the 2010 Play, before he died – but as she says, this time it was medical prohibition, true, but not another death …

Tomorrow we leave, flying to Doha then Munich. Very exciting. On the trip home, Sam will return to Adelaide from Doha, while David will fly there from home, and join me for two weeks in Kathmandu, to see Felicity, whose three year appointment as Australian ambassador to Nepal is almost half over. How fast that goes! So at least there he will be, presumably, under better conditions in the embassy, rather than wandering around Europe, so it’s acceptable to his doctor. Her Excellency has planned for us a wonderful two week stay, and after two years of no overseas travel this will be a terrific experience. Roll on, tomorrow. It’s going to be interesting to see what international flights are like by now, after years of none – though I view with fear and horror the idea of twenty hours flying – in the mandatory mask! Is anything worth that? Of course it is!

 

 

They said 2021 would be better .....

Friday, 20 August 2021 17:21

Well, what a delusion that was! Better? At best, it's been more of the same. More truthfully, it's been worse. In 2020 we still believed it would all be over soon. It wasn't.

I've not added to this News blog for so long that it's gathering cobwebs in cyberspace. But in the last eight months, we've seen disaster on disaster. World-wide escalation in an out of control pandemic, with countries fighting for vaccine supplies and an unbelievable surge in anti-vaxxers. Madness. Any casual glance at the death tolls among the unvaccinated makes the bogey of blood clots seem slight, and the idiocy of freedom rallying "We have the right to say 'No'!" staggers anyone rational. In Australia, lockdowns in our major states that seem never-ending, an economy that is showing disaster for so many small businesses, families in deprivation as governments attempt to provide support for basic needs, all make our vaunted 'safety in isolation' claim look feeble. Meanwhile, it's hard to recognise each other in this masked world, and the automatic check-in with QR codes in all places we enter has become second nature.

Add to that the nightmare spectre of climate change in a country where leadership seems to bury heads in sand, despite a world of natural disasters with record-breaking temperatures, out-of-control bushfires, massive flooding and polar warming, and it's little wonder that we seem to have lost our way. Now, the events in Afghanistan, with the heart-breaking losses of all the hard-won freedoms after withdrawal of US and Australian troops, and the horrific scenes of desperate people trying to escape the victorious return of the Taliban, with its promise of Sharia law  -  all more than we can cope with.

Any compensations?  Yes, lockdowns brought a curious freedom. No meetings, events, responsibilities in public life. Just the chance to live peacefully bunkered in our homes. Time to write, so I managed to finish the historical fiction novel, and then get on with a long-cherished plan: a second volume of my 2014 book 'Bystanders'  with its new perspective on Biblical characters. Or, in many cases, people who might have been there -but, until now, weren't! I've now completed sixteen more of these: eight from the Old Testament, another eight from the new. I've loved this project. The research into so many different eras has been fascinating, and the creation of these characters, telling their stories in their own voices, is the writing I most enjoy. The basic stories are now finished. Next the introductory preambles to each, needed in an era where Biblical literacy is low at best, non-existent for many. Then the Study Guides for each story, as I found the first volume was often used as study group material by church organisations. The stories nearly all raise relevant social issues of today's world - so have been popular with church home groups.

Apart from that, great rejoicing at some lovely reviews, just received, from the Studio Journal reviewer, who says they will be published in coming editions. I've put them on this website - you can find them by clicking on the latest reviews for both 'In Seach of Anna' and 'Marking Time.' The sorts of reviews that make you keep writing even when rejection slips make you wonder why! A few poems published, and so life goes, somewhat hesitantly, on.

On New Year's Eve

Thursday, 31 December 2020 10:57

Endings - and what a year we are ending today. I see that it's many weeks since I last added to this column, but given the sort of year we've had there's almost a sense of triumph in having got through to this point. A year marked by endurance, as COVID changed all aspects of our lives. For us, lockdowns and isolation scarcely made an impact, because our work from home could continue. But we watched with horror as death tolls mounted in so many countries, and these are still today, as we prepare to enter 2021, reeling under rising infection and death rates where whole communities have lived for months under drastic curtailment of normal living. Even in Australia, the Victorian experience has made us all so aware of how confined life can be, and today spasmodic outbreaks in NSW and border closing are once again impacting on many people.

Not tonight the happy New Year's Eve gatherings, as numbers are severely restricted. No more the beach parties to see the year's close. No more the huge crowds watching fireworks. Tonight we are urged to stay home, or in small groups, to watch one-time major fireworks in Sydney Harbour restricted to a television seven minutes at midnight.

For us personally, the saddest COVID effect was on overseas travel, where our three planned trips were all cancelled - most hurtful the loss of the Oberammergau Passion Play with my treasured invitation to be an Australian press representative at the opening day, but this at least has been simply deferred to May 14, 2022. Or has it? Will we be able once more to travel by then? Financially bad too, as some of our travel had only been booked after what we now learn was an insurance cut-off point, and so not all our booking payments could be returned. And we can't help wondering ... by 2022 in our mid eighties, will we be physically able to travel? So many illnesses, deaths, funerals among our peers this year - a sense of mortality can't be ignored. Maybe New Year's Eve evokes a greater recognition of endings?

In theory, the opportunities for writing were great. Unlimited! But, while David has forged ahead with his new book, I seem to have become stuck in one of those flat periods. It's been good to have some encouragement from publications, poems in journals like Tamba and Polestar, and selection for the huge In My View   West Australian coffee table book of photography and matching writing, a short story in an American online journal with the unlikely title of Potato Soup Journal (yes, it's published in Idaho) a Haiwaian magazine from Tinfish Press, and various other small publications here and there. But work on my major effort right now, a historical fiction murder mystery set in ancient Egypt, has stalled badly, though it's led me into many fascinated hours of research into Middle Kingdom and later in the Egypt of the Pharaohs.

I guess a real disappointment has been the slowness of sales for Marking Time - my major work of 2020. I'd hoped this book might find a broader audience, and it's hard to know how much COVID is responsible. I've worked hard at publicising it, with many author talks and guest public speaking events at libraries and organisations, and very pleasing radio coverage - lots of interviews - but sales have languished in spite of wonderful responses from readers, and some very positive reviews. The writer's lot is not an easy one. Maybe 2021 will be better ...

With this optimistic thought I'll bring this long-delayed update to an end.

Marching on ....

Thursday, 17 September 2020 11:04

And it is - marching on. Time, I mean. It's been a busy six weeks since I last updated this column. Back then, I was musing over COVID and chances of launching my new book. By now I've faced the realities of this corona virus world, and decided that a proper formal book launch really isn't viable. I'm sad to miss out on the CEO of the Cancer Council SA, whose willingness to guest speak at a launch for Marking Time - A Chronicle of Cancer I'd very much appreciated. He and his Promotions Director have been so helpful and supportive about this book that they reinforce my belief that it could indeed be of real value to anyone on the cancer journey. Yet even more than being a book about cancer, it's a book about relationships, and the importance of love in all our lives. Someone suggested that a better sub-title might have been 'A love story.' Simon Bartlett's beautiful art photographs accompany each poem, and  the book is an art as as well as a poetry production.

So, reluctantly, I abandoned the idea of a big launch. Instead, it's available for online buying on this website, and I'm trying to get it into bookshops. Dymocks also have been very supportive, and I'm starting to get bookings on a number of radio programs and also as guest speaker in organisations and libraries. But marketing is hard work and totally exhausting. Sad result is that I've done very little new writing, and that's a frustration for me. I just hope that Facebook and word of mouth may publicise and sell copies of this book - I genuinely believe it has a lot to offer readers, and the feedback so far has been most enthusiastic. That's reassuring!

We did, however, manage a mini-launch (Trybooking, limited numbers and carefully distanced seating) of the 2019 Friendly Street Poets anthology, number 44, which I'd co-edited with Nigel Ford. Kaleidoscope is a lovely book, with some superb poetry by so many of Adelaide's best poets, and a monthly art photograph prefacing each section. Nigel and I look at it with a sense of pride and pleasure, and are just so glad that it's finally been released. The planned April 7 launch was of course a COVID victim, but September 7 was a long-awaited joy.

We look ahead, and wonder what the future holds. Safe, so far, in South Australia,  we watch with horror unfolding events in other countries, and feel for Victorians in their total lock-down.  It's worth our taking the precautions we do, and we need to resist complacency. Even as we enjoy normal life here, and once more get to restaurants, theatres, concerts, it's with the recognition that life is different - and everything is precarious.

 

A moving and heart-warming journey

A time of misery and some joys

Tuesday, 04 August 2020 16:26

 

A strange and terrible time, with COVID-19 ravaging the world, and anguish at home with the sudden death in Brisbane at the end of July of my only grandson, James Lawson Volk. James’ funeral, from which I am  just returning, was both sad and yet celebratory of a much-loved life. It has brought our family close together as we gathered to mourn, and I have cherished the time in Brisbane and on the farm near Kingaroy, and the chance to re-connect with people I love so much.

 So now I return to a mandatory two weeks isolation, result of a northward flight that transit-stopped at Sydney Airport. (Bad mistake in booking my trip!)

  Before that, much hard work preparing the new book, Marking Time – A Chronicle of Cancer, which is now ready for launch and distribution. But how, in this COVID-dominated world? I am thinking in terms of just making it available on my web site, and distributing from home and the publisher (Immortalise Press) until a proper launch can be held. It’s encouraging that the CEO of the Cancer Council SA is willing to launch the book officially, when this can be done. Another launch still in jeopardy is the Friendly Street Poets Anthology, No.44, which I co-edited with Nigel Ford. We are still hoping a smaller launch of this book, with limited numbers, may be possible at the September monthly meeting of the organisation. Perhaps. We’ll see what the coming month brings.

 But in all this woe, a few bright notes, such as the information that my poem, ‘Dichotomy’, has been short-listed for the prestigious ACU Poetry Prize, and the acceptance of several other poems by various journals and magazines. Moments that make me feel encouraged to keep writing, which is such a fulfilling part of my life.

 

 

Bewildering, amazing, yet rewarding

Saturday, 30 May 2020 07:41

I look back now at the February entry in this page with a sense of wonder. In that, I was rejoicing over David's remission from the devastating cancer of the previous year and writing confidently of our travel plans and the much-anticipated opening day of the Oberammergau Passion Play in southern Germany. Life looked rosy. Ah, the optimism. Oh, the naivete.

At that time, the word 'corona' really just meant a crown - how my years of Latin always kick in - and COVID 19 was something that people were beginning to talk about ... Little did most us realise just what impact it was going to have on our lives, and how our world would change. Now, almost four months later, it's hard to believe how unaware we were. Since then we have watched the growing panic as first European countries were devastated - we watched gadual release of news from China, then saw rising death rates in Italy and Spain, and turned new attention to things we'd never thought about, like wet markets in Wuchan. New words entered our vocabularies and soon 'pandemic', 'social isolation' and 'lockdown' became part of never-ending conversations. We watched nightmare spiralling of infection and death rates as country after country succumbed, and soon all Trump's assurances crumbled and the USA became a world focus of horrified attention. National economies have been destroyed, and our lives have been fundamentally altered. We  have seen unemployment figures skyrocket, office buildings empty as 'work from home' became the new way of life, small business fold and fail, large enterprises falter, and government support become the lifeline that has kept survival possible for many.

Yet, in all this, there has been much good. We have learned new ways of interacting and care for others has assumed greater importance. In isolation, family life has become closer, mainly for the good   - though rising rates of domestic violence have also been a sad spin-off. Lack of public gatherings has changed our social life, and the development of Zoom conferencing has taught us all new ways of communication. I've really liked zoom poetry gatherings of many of my writing groups, and short story sessions of Literati has also shown what is possible. Zoom church has made it possible for me to share Sunday services with interstate family! For me personally, and I feel so guilty saying this when many have suffered terribly, this period has been a time of peace and respite, with obligations ceasing and so much more freedom to write, to talk, to sit in the sun and read, to meditate during the mandatory long walks (no, I have NOT missed the gym and dread going back to it!)  - time just to be, and not always to have to do. So - and how bad I feel admitting it - I'm sorry that lockdown is coming to an end and life is resuming. Though it was very pleasant to go out to dinner last night at a restaurant for the first time in months  - maximum numbers permitted 10, and all well-distanced at isolated little islands of tables.

Time to write was wonderful. I've followed through with the plans to go public with A Chronicle of Cancer and have had great support from and the blessing of the South Australian Cancer Council, who believe this book can be, as I hope, a real source of support to cancer sufferers and their families. That justifies publishing it. I'm working with a small publishing house, Immortalise, because this way I can have much greater say in production, so it will be, as In Due Season was, a beautiful book, with carefully chosen art work accompanying each poem. Most of the pictures are the photography of a close friend, some have been sourced commercially, and a few I have taken myself where nothing suitable to fit a poem was available. It's in the process of production, and I look forward to its release.

I look forward also to being able finally to launch Kaleidoscope, the Friendly Street Poets annual anthology which I co-edited last year. It too is a lovely book, and the copies are in boxes in my garage - the planned launch date of April 6 was of course cancelled. As was the big Canberra launch of my daughter Felicity's new novel, Desire Lines, a brilliant book which, even without the big public launch, has attracted wonderful reviews in all major newspapers and journals. These disappointments are mirrored in the loss, not just of all our travel plans, but particularly my cherished invitation to be an Australian press representative at the opening of the Passion Play on May 16. Right now, we should be just returned from that  - it too was, of course, cancelled. But I've been assured it will now be held on parallel dates in 2022, and that my invitation stands. Something to look forward to.

So for me life has gone on well. It has been rewarding time in so many ways. As well as Chronicle, I've written more poetry and had acceptances from a few magazines, and have started, with great diffidence, the planning of - and research for - another historical fiction novel, again sparked by an old family story. But how these get transformed as I write anyone who has read In Search of Anna will realise. But why, at this stage of life, I commit myself to yet another stretch of years on an enterprise like this I don't know. I guess because I love doing it.

Climbing the mountain

Friday, 14 February 2020 19:58

 

Last entry, now four months ago, saw us in the chasm country, with a fair few plunges into the depths. It’s proved a challenging time, particularly for David, who had an unexpected and devastating reaction to a round of methotrexate which landed him in intensive care during a hospital stay of two weeks. They only told us afterwards, perhaps fortunately, that this could have been an end of road affair …  Sometimes it’s better not to know. Through it all, he continued stoic and positive, and the outcome has justified his optimism. The final PET scan after the last round of chemotherapy gave us the January good news that he is in complete remission from his ‘aggressive’ Stage 4 bone cancer.

 

 While we know that things like this are not ‘curable’ it is, as our haematologist told us, smiling for once, ‘the best possible outcome.’ We  walked sedately out of his office, but almost danced down the corridor. Also the glad tidings that he is free to travel, so May will see us able to accept the invitation to the opening of the Oberammergau Passion Play, a cherished plan that we thought would have to be scrapped. So we’ll make this just a short trip, and defer the rest of our projected travel until the end of the year. Now while the two nights in a glass igloo in northern Finland is back on the agenda, Iceland we think will have to wait another time, as the chances of much touring in that country in mid-winter ice and snow are really not realistic.

 

 During these months Christmas came and went, with family visits and gatherings, but it has all passed in a blur of tests, scans, three week chemo cycles, and hospital waiting rooms. What has kept me going, once again, has been writing and editing. Many, many poems about what was happening in our lives:  approximately fifty ‘cancer’ poems in what has now become a collection called ‘A Chronicle of Cancer’. I’m half considering publishing this, mainly because I recall how many people have responded so overwhelmingly to ‘In Due Season’, the poetry collection I wrote the year my much-loved husband died from multiple myeloma, or blood cancer. That book still sells frequently, and I get warm and appreciative letters and emails from people who have found it helpful to read their own thoughts and anguishes articulated in someone else’s words.  So maybe another poetry collection could have a similar value to those going through the experience. Ironic, isn’t it, that I lived through blood cancer with one man, and now bone cancer with another. This time there’s been a better outcome!

 

It’s been reassuring, during these months, to have had poems published in journals like ‘Studio’, ‘The Mozzie’, ‘tamba’  and ‘Polestar.’ Also I’ve found satisfying the regular magazine production I’ve been involved in: the quarterly ‘Chatline’ for my church, the monthly Newsletter for my Probus Club, but, even more, my co-editor role for the 2019 Friendly Street Poets Anthology. This is a prestige poetry collective, and the annual outcome of the monthly meetings is the Anthology. I’ve found it stimulating and a real pleasure to edit this journal, and I look forward to its launch in April.

 

So while it’s been stressful – and challenging – the months have also been hard-working and productive.  Probably the best coping mechanism one can have.

 

 

 

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 ....

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