Thursday, 30 June 2022

Book 3 ... published


Alex and I were married on December 30 ... a few years back now. It is a lovely time of the year to celebrate our anniversary as we are often with friends and, if we are extra lucky, in France. There, the seasonal festivities are layered with extra cosiness as we watch the snow fall, cradle beakers of hot wine with our gloved hands at the Christmas markets, rug up properly to go on cheek-reddening walks and indulge in our French mountain meals.

Making the trip from Australia, does; nonetheless, add a degree of difficulty to gift giving. But, my husband is ingenious and romantic - he always has been - and our last anniversary in France was no different to any other. His gift was a painting, or a little photo of the painting, that would hang on our wall when we returned to Australia after our Christmas holiday.

We had come across artist Robyn Rankin before heading to live in France and the first of her works that we purchased was the delightfully titled "To dither a daisy and lots of love too." It featured our two girls. No, it wasn't a commissioned piece but it could have been as it exuded joy and gave us happiness: just like our girls. Even the physical characteristics were not too dissimilar. 

As for my new gift "She just knew her toes were magic," it took me back to my childhood: that magical period where, if I had managed to kick my feet just a little bit harder and swing a fraction higher, I would have flown and joined all the other dreamers gambolling in the clouds. 

When I was thinking about a cover for my newest memoir With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s, I reached out to Robyn to see how she would feel about her swinging girl - my special anniversary gift - being my cover. 

Robyn thought it was a splendid idea and together (and once again with Alex's design help), we have come up with a beautiful book cover ... don't you agree?

I invite you to head to her website for details of both the artist and her paintings. 

And, of course, if you would like to continue to journey with me as I revisit my early years, I would love to have you along for the ride.

Here again are my three books. Clicking on the links should take you to where you need to go wherever you are in the world to make a purchase.

Merci et bonne lecture

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