Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

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One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

87, Not Out.

Happy 87th Birthday to my Father.

My father was born on November 17, 1931.

Just for context, the world was still in the grip of the Great Depression, Hitler had not yet risen to power in Germany, Thomas Edison had just passed away, and Al Capone had just been sent to prison for tax evasion. Don Bradman was playing cricket for Australia and Phar Lap had won

My father grew up in Rotterdam in The Netherlands before moving to Australia with his parents and sisters. Life was certainly different after WWII, and even more different on the other side of the world where the seasons were back to front, everyone spoke English, and water swirled down the drain in the opposite direction.

If someone had told Dad in 1951 that those were not the biggest changes he would encounter in his life, he probably wouldn’t have believed them. There was, however, so much more to come, such as:

Marriage. Dad and Mum married in 1953 and enjoyed almost 58 years together.

December 19, 1953.

Four amazing and incredibly talented kids.

Yep, that’s me giving the photographer the stink eye. Cute, eh?

Colour TV.
Electric typewriters.
A change of career from industrial chemistry to bookstore owner.
Computers.
The CD.
Mobile phones.
The Internet.
Smart phones.
Digital books and music.
Studying online.

Dad has taken it all in his stride. He hasn’t let new things scare him off or make him feel obsolete. Time after time, he has shown his willingness and aptitude to give something new a red hot shot.

He hasn’t always found new technology easy, but once he’s got the hang of it, he’s proven that he can send a text or an email, make a call, and waste time on Facebook and Instagram as effectively as anyone can. He has been studying Biblical Hebrew online. He has the Kindle app on his iPad, on which he reads the books his daughter has written, which he has purchased online from Amazon. He also uses the iPad to listen to his son’s sermons and keep in touch with his relatives around the world. His grandchildren send him pictures of their kids via instant message, and he saves them on his phone to look at them again later.

I’m proud of my dad. Things aren’t always easy for him now, especially health-wise, but he’s still going and he’s still doing his best to enjoy all those things that make his life interesting and entertaining.

At the age of 87, he is not only the father of four but also grandfather of seven and great-grandfather to six.

He’s had a quiet day today, but he has been spoilt with a few special treats and received some phone calls from friends and family that he has really enjoyed. We’ve enjoyed some time together, too, and I treasure the moments where we can still just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

I know it won’t last forever. Nothing does.
But my dad is still on the wicket with a score of 87, not out. Howzat?

For Sale: Part Of My Soul

Why my writing matters.

Sometimes I wonder what people think when I say I write poetry.

Cute little greeting card verses? No.
Lofty, unintelligible, old-fashioned rhymes about flowers and oil paintings? No.
Trite rhymes that talk about love and sunshine? No.

I have to admit, I’m very tired of the “That’s nice, dear!” kind of responses.

I’m also more than weary of the sensation that I have to just about stand under a red light on a dimly lit street to get people to take my poetry seriously.

I’m not talking about my readers here. I’m talking about people I interact with in my daily life, be they co-workers, acquaintances, family members or friends. Other than a very small number of individuals within those circles – for whose support I am ever grateful – it feels like most people in my life prefer to pretend I’ve never written a word.

I know they’re not my main audience. I don’t expect them all to love everything I write. In all honesty, most of them have never even picked any of my work up to read it.

The question remains, though: Why aren’t they more willing to support me? Do I mean so little them that what matters to me is of no value, either?

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I have commented on numerous occasions that there is a part of my soul in every poem. My poems speak my pain, my love, my joy, my life lessons, my resolutions, my fears, my anger, my insomnia, my restlessness and my contentment. Some of them are the very essence of my desperation to survive and my will to live. Some of them could only be more “life and death” if they were actually written in my blood.

Do people not understand the bravery that it takes for an author to put their words on paper and unveil them in front of the whole world? That kind of vulnerability is, quite honestly, terrifying.

I experience this far more profoundly with my poetry than I do with my fiction. It’s far more personal, and it’s definitely more revealing of what’s in my own heart and mind than any of the stories I write. That’s why I am so committed to crafting each poem to say exactly what I want it to, in a way that is beautiful to read, and with careful attention to the music and structure of each poem. If I’m putting my soul out there for other people to read, it’s going to be the best that I can make it.

My readers tell me that my poems encourage and move them. The ultimate satisfaction as a poet is knowing that my words matter to the people who read them. They get it. And thank God they do, or else I’d be feeling more dejected than ever.

The other weirdly encouraging thing is that this isn’t something that only I experience. These are thoughts and feelings that are remarkably common among the writing community, and I have come to learn that they are common to all creative people, whatever medium they work in.

It’s why I am so thankful for my community of fellow authors and poets and other creative people who encourage and celebrate one another’s creativity and the courage that goes with it.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for my “additional family” that are known as the Indie Fabs – they’re my posse, my constant encouragers, and my soft place to fall when things are hard.

It’s why I am doubly grateful for those few family members and friends who support everything I do, read everything I create, and cheer me on relentlessly.

It’s not overstating things to say that I am still here because of my writing, and I am still writing because of them.

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A One-Off Inscription.

There is more truth than most people realise in the jokes about authors killing people off in their books.

Yesterday I signed a paperback copy of my latest book for my best friend. I have written something personal and unique to her and our friendship in her copy of every one of my books.

Yesterday’s effort was by far my favourite.

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You should understand that this is not a promise I’m willing to make to just anyone. Anyone who has read ‘A Poet’s Curse’, for example, will have worked that out very quickly.

Jokes are frequently made about authors putting people in a book and killing them, but most don’t realise just how satisfying and therapeutic that can be.

Oh, we change the name and some minor details, but the important thing is that we know who we’re finishing off, even if the rest of the world doesn’t. And you know, it is important to conceal the true identities of our victims because, in the end, nobody wants it to backfire or get ugly.

I have, in fact, had a number of people ask me if a particular poem or story was about them. Rather than confirming or denying anything, I’ve gone the “self-examination” route. Each of them received the same answer: “If you think that’s a possibility, I suggest you to take a long, hard look at yourself and how you treat people. It might be time to do some repairs.

As an author, I can have my macabre little cake and eat it, too. And as an extra reward for good behaviour, I get to keep my best friend. Bonus!

Square Peg, Round Hole.

A response to intolerance.

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to pressure someone to conform. Why are they so intimidated by someone daring to think for themselves, pursue their own dreams and make choices according to their own preferences?

And what I really don’t get is how they can say they love someone and yet reject particular qualities that makes that person who they are.

These are the thoughts that have contributed to a poem I finished recently.

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The imagery is macabre and horrifying. The message is dark. None of that will surprise anyone who knows my writing.

I won’t discuss the details of the situations that led to it being written. Suffice to say that there are people in various “circles” in which I live and move who have, at one time or another, exerted significant pressure on me to be less individual and more compliant with the way they like or want things to be.

I have some bad news for them.

I will not submit to their peer pressure. As adults, they should know better.
I will not moderate my politics, my social conscience, or my rampant individuality for them.
I will not be submissive or silent in response to their bad behaviour, intolerance and hypocrisy.

If they don’t like it, they can go and boil their heads.

Of course, that’s all excellent news for me. In the immortal words of the Monty Python team, “I’m not dead yet!”

 

 

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The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

One Door I Won’t Slam Shut.

A reflection on the experience of being completely, utterly rejected.

In the course of my life, I’ve had – as we all have – friendships and relationships that have faltered, grown distant and faded away.

A couple of times, I have had someone say to me that they never want to talk to me again. Once, and only once, it has been my decision to completely shut off contact. On those three occasions, I have had no difficulty slamming that door and leaving it that way. Nobody does a door slam like an INFJ, after all.

Last night, I read the equivalent of those words again. “Nice knowing you. I won’t ever talk to you again.”

It’s different this time. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could slam that door.

What I really want to do is reach through that door, grab her and pull her back through it. I want to hug her, and see for myself that she’s okay, and tell her I love her. And I can’t do any of those things.

I’m locked in by her decision. She’s 16 and has asserted her independence and her right to do whatever she wants. Check mate.

As with many of the decisions she has made lately, I have no choice but to wait and see what happens. I do hope that she will come to understand exactly what it is she has asked for – sooner rather than later – and decide that it’s not what she wants at all. In all honesty, I don’t know if that’s realistic or not.

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I am not her mother, but as her “other mother”, I have lived with her and loved her as my own since she was nine years old. Any influence I may have had over her or her decisions in the past is well and truly a thing of the past. She is quite obviously able and free to decide who she wants to have in her life. What she doesn’t realise is that my care and concern for her do not shut off simply because she wills it, as though it were some kind of emotional tap. She doesn’t get to decide that the time we spent together means nothing. And she cannot stop me, or the rest of her family, from loving her, missing her, or worrying about her.

Rejection is never an easy thing to experience. It really, really hurts. Even so, I know that my hurt is nothing like what her mother is experiencing— it’s a mere fraction of that.

Today has been an emotionally messy day in a succession of similarly messy and fraught weeks. I know we will get through this somehow. I have to keep telling myself that.

Like everything else life has thrown at me, I will face this head on. Maybe I can’t change anything, but I will not let this drag me down and defeat me.

Expect more poetry, though. It’s the only therapy I can afford.

Reciprocity: Magic or Myth?

A short lesson in how to be a positive and encouraging person.

I want to start by saying that the intention of this post is not to present myself as some icon of virtue or being any better than anyone else: I am definitely neither. But there are some things I am good at, and one of those things is supporting and encouraging other Indie authors.

I have always been very clear about the fact that nothing I do in the Indie Author community is done with the hope of receiving anything in return. I am more than happy to buy and review the books I do, share posts, help answer questions, and encourage others as much as I can.

You might be tempted to assume that, as a result, I have a veritable army of people ready to fall over themselves to do similar things for me. Well, that would be nice!

In fact, that’s very rarely how it works. More often than not, those who are generous with their time and energy receive very little in return. That’s life: I accept that, as do others I know in the same situation, and keep going.

There seems to be a groundswell of folk, however, who have taken it upon themselves to resent others that they perceive as being “more successful” or “more popular” than them, and to insist that they’re not going to do anything for anyone who hasn’t done anything for them.

Just last week there was a situation where a friend tagged some people in a Facebook post to ensure that her post was seen, and didn’t some of those tag-ees complain! One of them took the opportunity to launch a personal attack and completely degraded the conversation into a most hurtful state of affairs. Another had plenty of very demeaning things to say, not just about the friend in question but also those who sprang to her defence.

Well, isn’t it a good thing we don’t all work that way? What sort of a world would that be. where we all carried on like six-year-olds in the playground?

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Folks, that is not how we Indie.

Assuming that someone will share your post because you shared theirs will sometimes work out that way, but often not. Hoping that someone will buy your book because you bought theirs is not at all realistic.

There’s one thing you can be sure of, though: If an author – or anyone else, for that matter – is horrible to people, those on the receiving end are not going to forget that. There is absolutely zero chance that they will share the post, buy the book, or attend a Facebook event for someone who has abused or belittled them. In addition, the chances of their friends doing any of those things are remote. Tearing someone else down on social media— or anywhere— is entirely counterproductive.

As Indie authors, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to find readers, sell books, write the next number one bestseller, and get noticed by the universe. We’re all tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, blogging and whatever-else-ing we can in the hope of putting our books, or whatever it is we’re doing to make our way in the world, in front of appreciative eyes who want what we’ve got to offer. We’d all like to be able to quit our jobs and pay the bills with our royalties.

2015-11-27 10.51.43 Choose The PositiveBut here’s the thing: this isn’t a competition. Readers will always be interested in another book, another genre, another great read. There is absolutely no need to snuff out someone else’s candle so that yours can burn. We make more light and warmth together than we can on our own. This is something that my friends, especially the Indie Fabs, and I have experienced and proven time and time again.

Encouragement costs nothing. It doesn’t even take much time or energy. If someone asks you for one or two clicks of a mouse button that doesn’t end in costing you money, where’s the harm? If someone does something praiseworthy, commend them. If someone has a great cover, or hits the bestseller list, or writes a great book, congratulate them… and then go one step further by telling others. Who knows? You may even find that they do return a favour one day, or you might discover that someone has done something for you out of the blue, just because they can.

Reciprocity as most people perceive it is a myth. But initiating goodwill by being positive and encouraging? That’s magic. And that is how we Indie.

Opposites Attract.

This is what happens when you marry a book nerd.

We live in a small town where my husband knows absolutely everyone.

This morning as we drove down our road, he commented on a block of land that sold recently.

Him: Somebody named Finch bought that block.

Me: Was it Atticus?

Him, suddenly doubtful of his local knowledge: I don’t know.

Me: Never mind. Probably wasn’t.

This is what happens when you don’t read anything but live with a book nerd. Poor bloke.

Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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