Monday 6 June 2022

With bare feet and sandy toes

Being watched as I write

I have just sent my third book to the printers and am waiting for my author copy to be delivered. When it gets to me, I will have that moment of awe, amazement and pride, then I will proof it ... again. How do I feel? A little lost, to be honest. My days, nights, dreams and conversations have been consumed with this project. What is interesting is that, when I talk with other writers, this after-writing time is almost universally hard. For fiction writers, their characters become part of their lives: they create, communicate and live with their characters for months and it is hard for them, ultimately, to say good-bye to that closeness and familiarity. It struck me that, as a memoir writer, the same applies to me. Perhaps it is even more difficult. After all, each time I write, I reconnect with a person from my past and that person happens to be me. And during those months that we are together, I reminisce, I cringe, I puff up with pride and I laugh. I cry too. 

Let me share the title of my latest book: With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s and 70s. In a divergence from my previous memoirs, I don't head back to France. I go further back than that.

My cover is special, but I want to wait just a little longer before I share it, and its story, with you. In the meantime, here is the quote that I use in my front matter, which gives a little taste of the story it precedes.

Overhead in the Paris sky
Two airplanes fought it out one day

And one of them was my whole youth
The other was my days to come

Guillaume Apollinaire

In yesterday's Instagram post, I reflected on being a writer. Ali, whom I met serendipitously, posted a photo of the street in her French village that inspired the cover of But you are in France, Madame. I commented that connections like the one that I have with her have been the most surprising and rewarding aspect of my publication journey.

And, to demonstrate more completely how fulfilling and global my conversations have become, I want to share a beautiful e-card that was sent to me on French Mother's Day by a friend whom I have met through my books. I was so touched by the thought and today happens to be a most appropriate day to look at it again. It is Noah's birthday but, for the first time, I am not by his side to give him a cuddle and celebrate. He is studying for exams at university in Canberra and I miss him⏤and my most cherished role: Mum.

I cannot get the link to work, so let me describe it for you. Music plays in the background as an empty vase fills with flowers, each with its own little gift (see below*):

The message at the end reads:

Hello, Catherine, 

Reading your second book now, and I am once again so impressed with your honesty, your determination, and your love for your amazing husband and children. So universal, and at the same time so personal for those of us who are all French at heart! 

This is partly why I write but if you'd like to throw a little bit of luck and self-belief my way as I step out once again on this solo memoir-writing path, I'll look out for it. 

And if you'd like to dip into my first two books before number three is released, here are the links:

Tulip: there is sunshine in your smile
Cosmos: harmony, peace
Lily of the valley: return of happiness, humility 
Allium: unity, humility, patience 
Lilac: first love 
Lily: birth 
Poppy: pleasure 
Jasmin: grace, elegance, modesty 
Rose: love, simplicity, happiness

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Give peace a chance

I was sitting on the front porch drinking coffee. ‘5 Ernest Hemingway passages that every gentleman should know,’ Alex read from his phone. “Only gentlemen?” and I raised my eyebrows, already put off by the over-used, formulaic title. But I had taken the bait. See, the marketers do know their stuff. 

The first was a banal everyday scene set in Paris, which for some enables any prose to transcend the ordinary without undue effort. 

The fifth passage was from ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ 

Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed. 

At that moment, a cockatoo flew towards us, its wings wide like the spread fins of the male fish. Not striped lavender; pure white. The bird landed on our fountain, slurped, cocked his head and grinned. I’m sure it was a grin. It looked for all the world like he was seeking praise. “Ok. You’re clever,” I acquiesced as I turned my gaze coyly, alighting on a geranium standing tall. I had worked the ground in that spot yesterday, denying the sprawling lavender its unfettered claim, and clearing a space for the hedge it was using for support to push through.

The open face of the lushly red geranium was looking straight at the cockatoo. 

“I can’t fly but I have strong roots and, if you stay by my side, I can stand my ground.” 

 Could it be that nature was sending me soothing messages after my disturbed dreams last night?

Please world, give peace a chance.

Sunday 6 February 2022

It's ok, Mum. I've got this.

Ready for adventure. Noah, age 6, on our way to France

On this day, nine years ago, we put our French life on hold for what we thought would be a couple of years and flew back to Australia. My little boy was little and my three children all still at school. In a few days time that will change. The littlest, Noah, is no longer little and, like his two sisters, neither will he be living at home. 

I know that at this juncture of family life all parents have to say something of a good-bye, and perhaps the emotions of one's last child to leave home is different...more raw, strangely physical. But, Noah is champing at the bit to discover what life has in store for him and it is with pride that I will watch him go. 

He is a dreamer who sees himself sailing the seas, wandering barefoot, playing his guitar campside, exploring the depths of the ocean (with his brand new SCUBA certificate en poche), wearing his Indiana Jones hat (passed down from his father) under the scorching daytime sun of distant archeological digs and debating the mysteries of time and space - in English, in French or in any language born of mutual comprehension - at night. 

Another family member that will miss him

My son, I know that you will be kind, loving and generous whilst living your adventures. 

Ah yes, I see that smile in your eyes and hear the rising chortle that precedes your quip in response. And, in translation, I know that it is saying, "It's ok, Mum. I've got this." 

Cold, wind-blown, but special walk in the mountains

Friday 26 November 2021

"You can't live in that" and straying from the best path

My husband was away so there was no calling out for help. Not that it would have made a scrap of difference if he had been within cooee*. We were stuck in traffic with ten kilometres to go. That doesn't sound like a lot and on any normal day it wouldn't be, but it was no ordinary day. This final year of secondary school for my son Noah has required him to navigate a labyrinth of challenges and yesterday was his penultimate exam in his favourite subject, physics, (no, not French); the one to which he had strategically devoted the maximum amount of study time.

I had already dropped one child at the bus stop and, given that it was pouring with rain, had seen firsthand that the roads were clogged. Ten minutes later, Noah and I were in the car en route to his physics exam with a theoretical good hour up our sleeves. A cheery 'hello' wave to my neighbour and we were off.

We didn't even make it out of our street before there was a build up of traffic. I made a quick decision to vary our usual trajet ... straight into roadworks, onto a mind-numbingly slow 30 kilometre-per-hour school zone, and into three lanes of traffic at a complete standstill.

"Look at the flag on the hill. Shows how strong the wind is," said Noah, oblivious to my rising stress level.

Five minutes crawled along with us a few metres up the road. 

I was desperate to not communicate my anxiety, but wringing my hands and rubbing my eyes (to wipe away the unchanging scene?) was no doubt a less-than-ideal way to do that. 

The strange thing is I had guessed that something would go wrong on this particularly important day for my son. After all, nothing else has gone right this year for him.

But, let me tell you about another mistake that I made. I laugh now but at the time the only thing I could think to do was to hit the 'leave group' button...quickly.

You see, the best place to advertise one of my dresses for sale was not to the FB group 'Rent your maison long term in France'.

"Ha ha. You can't live in that..." and probably worse, but I didn't wait around to read the rest of the comments.

Oh well, today I am sitting in my garage holding a vide-grenier. So far, I've 'sold' one item (for free) to my daughter and it is the curtain of rain that is keeping me company. And, I forgot to post about my Amazon Countdown promotion, yesterday, which would have given readers a chance to purchase 'But you are in France, Madame' for a scant .99c. 

At least, I have nowhere to be, I have a soundtrack to my writing and a hot cup of coffee beside me. 

It's the small things. 

And the big things. 

I did get Noah to his exam on time, kissed him 'goodbye,' wished him good luck, saw him walk around the corner and burst into tears. 

*Australian vernacular - nearby

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Gloves off since writing Book Two.

A year ago today, I started writing my second book. 17 days later it was done. I know that this number is accurate because I still have the dog-eared piece of recycled paper on which I recorded my word count at the time. It has been gathering dust on my desk - my non-efficient filing system for family papers - since then, only re-surfacing last weekend as I tried to maintain momentum and motivation for packing to move to the mountains. That task in itself is huge but it has been confounded significantly by a lockdown of indeterminate length. Morale is pretty low plus our plan to save money by ferrying car loads of possessions between our current and new homes over a period of time may not be possible and we may be up for a quick but expensive removalist job at the last minute instead.

I've had to be strict with my sorting. Whilst I am happy to give away or recycle clothing, kitchen items, furniture ... most things, in fact ... my French teaching resources and the children's mementoes are a different matter. 

So why is a pair of old beige school gloves still sitting on my desk?

They are too small for me, they would not keep my hands warm in my French mountain village, they have my surname and an out-of-date phone number in big black pen on the inside cuff ... and fashionable, they never were. But, here is the pièce de résistance, a no-longer-elastic length of tape links the mitts. It was ingenious really. Thanks to my mother's careful sewing, threading one glove through a sleeve, across the back of a coat and out through the other sleeve, meant that the chances of primary school-aged Catherine losing one or both gloves was magically minimised. Maximised, on the other hand, was the embarrassment. Kids are not shy to point out differences.

My Cray-pas set, too, is sitting on the kitchen bench. A long-but-nowhere-near-as-long-as-a-French-school-stationery list asked for crayons many moons ago, and my birthday is the 10th February. This date coincides perfectly with the start of the school year in Australia. Again, genius parent idea: why not combine the two? The crayons became the present. But so treasured were they, I still have them. I dared not use them, for fear of not being able to use them. (Financial constraints are rarely logical.)

But, if you will indulge me, my writing... let's go back to that.

I know that I didn't know where I was going when I started writing in earnest again a year ago. I didn't have a must-get-through daily word count. I also did not have a pre-determined routine, although as each day went by, my self-imposed, unacknowledged pressure grew. Faster, more, longer. Sounds like a timely Olympic slogan, doesn't it? You know, the cutesy clichés about being a legend, becoming a legend, just starting...all in bold calligraphic lettering and able to be ordered as mounted wall prints for $40 or more. 

I am not intentionally misleading you when I say that 17 days was all it took. Draft one was a wrap in that short time. Passes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ... editing, the cover design, the printing, getting it ready for public consumption took a whole lot more. And there were days when I genuinely did not know where I was going with my story. The knowledge that I had been able to get there once (Book One) kept me going. I allowed myself to trust in the process.

This year, it is different. I rarely write, and finding optimism, even that based on past successes, is so much harder. In a strange way, this is where the gloves come in. Obtusely, although stretched, unfashionable and colourless, they remind me strongly and positively of the person that I once was. Shy but competitive. Intimidated but confident. Not always top of the class but intelligent. I felt that I could go places. Yeah. They are good to have around. Once again, I need to trust. 

PS I hope that you are all doing ok and thank you in advance for your messages and purchases.

PPS Links to purchase digital copies of 'But you are in France, Madame' and 'Weaving a French Life: An Australian Story'.