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Time rushing by

Saturday, 10 February 2024 15:27

 Four months on …

 End of September, that was my previous entry – no wonder I feel ashamed of being so slack. But what a four months it has been.

The long-anticipated, much-planned trip to Scandinavia fell into a mighty hole when I was diagnosed with pneumonia two weeks before departure. First my own doctor, then the chest specialist he referred me to, were adamant. Definitely no travel. Not only was that a source of great sadness; all those plans, the places we’d booked, the return to Tromso, the glass igloos in Finland, the people like my dear friend Lotte in Germany we’d arranged to spend time with … not only these gone – but, because it was too late to cancel these bookings and get any return, it was a massive financial loss. We are still now, four months later, doing battle with RAA Travel Insurance to recoup these losses.

            So a very different December from the one we’d planned!

            To comfort ourselves, we arranged a two week trip to Tasmania. At least, we consoled ourselves, it was ‘overseas’! Well, we did take our car with us on the boat, and set off on the Spirit of Tasmania for a time that proved both really interesting and very enjoyable. Best of all, I resumed my old travel practice of writing a poem a day. So rewarding, to be writing again – it added an extra dimension as we explored the ancient forests of the north west, the mighty rivers and mountains of the centre, the convict remains in Sarah Island and Port Arthur, the quirky fascinations of the MONA gallery, gold-panning as part of the Western Railway experience, the delights of whiskey distilleries like Hellyers … so much to do.

           But back to Melbourne for a planned five days with friends and relatives, only to find on the first morning there that, to our shocked dismay, we were testing positive for Covid. After avoiding it for four years and with five vaccinations, this did come as a nasty surprise. No Melbourne time and another set of plans foiled. Straight back into the car and home for two weeks isolation in Adelaide. Beginning to feel jinxed, but at least we’d had the Tasmanian holiday.

            Now it’s into full-scale planning for the launch of the new book. Melbourne artist Stacey Zass has created a lovely cover design for the front, and it’s all falling into place for the launches of Finding Emma. The first, with West Torrens Mayor Michael Coxon as host, and Matthew Williams, SA Consul for Germany as guest speaker, will be on March 20, and next week invitations should be sent out. In April, another launch at the Jindera Pioneer Museum, with Albury Mayor Kylie Cook as the speaker, and then two days later an Author Event at the Albury LibraryMuseum. By then Emma will be well and truly out in the world – it will be interesting to see how she is received. Fingers crossed. I’m hoping to see many people, friends old and new, at these events. It’s all both exciting – and also a bit apprehension-creating. I’m really hoping this book gets a favourable response …



Again, time passes

Tuesday, 26 September 2023 07:39


Again, time passes

How quickly months pass never ceases to amaze me. I look back and see that my last entry in this ‘Latest News’ page was back in April – and suddenly it’s September. So ‘latest’ may be true, but there’s a lot of ground to cover.

 It’s been as always, a busy time since the launch of my recent book, ‘Witnesses’. Many public speaking events, with one of the pleasantest an author event at The Ark bookshop on a spring day in the Barossa Valley. People gathered in the courtyard between historic buildings in the glorious morning sunshine, almond tree in full blossom, birds singing, to listen to me talk about my life as a writer and the twelve books I’ve had published over the last fourteen years. However, most of my public speaking has been about Oberammergau and my book ‘Passion Play’, still much in the public mind following the 2022 five-month season of the postponed 2020 play. The more than forty talks about this famous event that I’ve given during the last years shows that interest in this famous Oberammergau event is still high.

 Between this and travel, the months have flown by swiftly. We made a very satisfying five week trip north, driving first to Queensland for oldest son Nick’s sixtieth birthday (now that a scarey moment when your children reach ages like that!) followed by a long slow meander down the south-eat side of Australia on what we labelled a ‘people tour.’ And it was. Our travels became a series of catch-ups with relatives and friends, some dating back to our early years. Many Brisbane friends, of course, from my eight years there, then family in places like Lismore, Sydney, Canberra, Bawley Point, Albury, Melbourne, and a final visit to Ballarat as we made a reluctant return to Adelaide. The sort of time one looks back on as utterly satisfying, with nostalgic moments and much reminiscing.

 But now my attention is fixed on two future moments – our long-anticipated return to Scandinavia, this time to the glass igloos in Finland, (maybe this time we’ll get a better look at the Northern Lights) then on north to board a coastal steamer for the trip down Norway’s west coast with a three day stay in Tromso, a place we loved within the Arctic Circle. Back on board to continue south to Bergen, next a flight to Hamburg, and travel north again to stay with dear friend Lotte in Schleswig Holstein. Home for Christmas.

 After that the second future moment will need full concentration on planning for the release of next year’s book, currently being edited at Wakefield Press in readiness for the March 20 launch. ‘Finding Emma’ is another historical fiction novel, a companion piece to the 2019 ‘In Search of Anna’. Put the date on your calendar because I hope to see many old and new friends at that launch.



Under two months - an improvement!

Sunday, 02 April 2023 18:32


This entry is much better than the long stretches last year when this page was unattended!

So much has happened in this time that it’s a pleasure to write about, especially the terrific book launch for ‘Witnesses’ on March 16. The invitations I was planning to send in my last entry did go out, and the responses were way beyond my optimistic hopes. Everything was set up for the Hamra Auditorium at the West Torrens Library, but soon I was getting phone calls and emails from people eager to attend, but finding it booked out. The maximum of 100 for the venue had been reached. Problems.

A great suggestion from the West Torrens Mayor, a lovely man: “Why not use the Thebarton Community Centre?”  A quick look at that magnificent building convinced me, so we had a bigger and better venue for the 150 who attended. A great night, with excellent wines from my sponsor winery, Jericho Wines (thank you) and the usual outstanding catering by my Immanuel Lutheran Church friends (a huge thank you). Kevin Richardson, always a polished MC, was followed by Dr Lynn Arnold, a spell-binding guest speaker who showed me qualities in my book I hadn’t seen before. Then I had fun talking about the book’s background and reading excerpts from it. Great support from the friends who managed the drinks and food tables, and a well-patronised sales team on the cash and credit card desks. Lovely to have grand-daughter Ali managing the card machine with aplomb and efficiency. A very satisfying night.

Now it’s on to the hard work of marketing the book, with good responses from my radio contacts and newspaper and magazine friends. Review copies have gone to all the usual journals, so I wait to see what publicity I might get. Waiting also to see what the reaction of Wakefield Press is to “Finding Emma.” Always a nail-biting time ….

But we take a break now and go to Norfolk Island for some much-anticipated R & R time. Making plans also to revive the travel that Covid cancelled back in 2020, and venture north  later in the year to mid-winter Finland to stay in the famous glass igloos, then travel by coastal steamer down the west coast of Norway. Fjord time. Back to our beloved Tromso, and hopefully dine again at Emma’s, one of our favourite restaurants. South to Bergen, then Hamburg, and a week with our dear Lotte in Schleswig Holstein. Seems a long way off, but the months will pass all too swiftly.


Witnesses by VALERIE VOLK

Saturday, 04 March 2023 04:08

After nine months ...!

Friday, 03 February 2023 20:18


I’m appalled to find that my last addition to this page was during last May, just before daughter Sam and I set off for Germany and the Passion Play at Oberammergau. Now, having been so remiss for so long, I really will be struggling to reconstruct so much of 2022. Here goes!

            The Passion Play was, as always, a deeply moving experience, and the little town of Oberammergau as charming as even. Wandering down familiar streets, spending afternoons in our favourite coffee shop, the Café Krönner in the Dorfstrasse, sharing sumptuous German cakes with Sam this time instead of David (really sad he was missing it all), meeting old friends, and valuing those who came from various part of Germany to see me, and enjoying the valued experience of being the official Australian press representative at all the Opening Day events …   it was all a delight. Since being home, I’ve written and spoken about this amazing production to so many groups that it’s now deeply embedded in my mind. It truly is one of the world’s most remarkable events, and to have seen it change and develop during the four decades I’ve been attending has been fascinating. After 400 years it’s as relevant today as ever, especially with the 2022 emphasis on social issues and the way Christ speaks to these.

            From Germany, a reunion with David in Doha, then he and I flew on to an equally- anticipated two weeks with oldest daughter Felicity in Kathmandu. She is now into the third year of her appointment as Australian ambassador to Nepal, and the experience of life in the embassy was a revelation. No sinecure job, this, but a hard-working way of life in a role that she fills with consummate skill. I heard plaudits for her from everyone we met, and watching her in public engagements was a pleasure. A glow to a maternal heart, and I basked in reflected glory. Delightful also the sight-seeing in the capital, and the trips to heritage cities like Bhaktapur and magnificent scenery of Pokhara. The flight around the Himalayas (desperately trying to check which peak was Everest) was another unforgettable experience.

            Hard after all this to come home to what turned out to be a packed and hard-working rest of the year. My life turned into a flood of public speaking engagements, with everyone interested in the Passion Play and its dramatic history and, of course, a chance to publicise my 2014 verse novel, Passion Play, about travellers going to the performance. Pleasingly republished by Wakefield Press, with a new more relevant cover, in time for this once-a-decade event. It’s good to see it selling again, and I’m still getting 2023 bookings from clubs, libraries, organisations, to talk about Oberammergau and its play.

            Being on the speaker circuit has taken a lot of the last year; so too has the revision of Witnesses, and the planning for its launch in six weeks’ time. I’m fortunate to have Dr Lynn Arnold to launch the book, which he’s enthusiastic about, and support from place like the Hamra Auditorium and Jericho Wines, who will provide the wine for the event. Now it’s time to send out the invitations.

            In with all this was a splendid family Christmas, with everyone home with us in Adelaide. Son Nick and wife came from Queensland a few weeks earlier, as did David’s son and his partner, but the three girls with assorted grand-daughters came from interstate, and even Felicity on a week’s private holiday from Nepal. Having them all around the Christmas dinner table was a joy. Especially as, as week earlier, we’d had builders and scaffolding in the house as a glass roof section and a big head-of-stairwell window were replaced. Finished just in time.

            Looking back it’s small wonder that my writing life has suffered. Fortunately going to regular meetings of the five poetry groups we belong to has provided the impetus to keep writing, and I’ve been pleased to have had a number of poems published in various journals during the year. Yes of course, a bit of writing based on Kathmandu and mountains – how could that colourful city and those spectacular mountains not have stimulated writing!

            Now I wait to see, when the Witnesses launch is over, how Wakefield will feel about publishing Finding Emma. Fingers crossed.



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

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