Oh to be a Muso!

Whenever I hear and watch musicians I’m filled with longing. Longing for a talent that I haven’t been fortunate to have or cultivate. The ability to express through instrument and voice is pure joy. I know this because when I’m home alone, I sing loudly and without inhibition! It doesn’t matter if I get the words wrong, sing off key or hit the wrong notes occasionally. What matters is the exhilaration of vocal expression and the feeling of happiness it brings.

The jam session had started when we arrived and the salon bar was full, standing room only for the non musicians. We deemed the protocol to be; if you could play an instrument and sing you could join in. Guitars were elbow to elbow, there was a fiddle or two, a bass, a flute, a piano-accordion and couple of ukuleles. And the pub rocked with the glorious sound of musicians playing, singing and toe tapping in tune.

The above is a memory from before Covid, when we spent a couple of days in the beautiful rural Victorian town of Yackandandah. A place special to us because my husband’s ancestors settled there in the 1860’s after migrating from Ireland. Anyway, what does one do in the evenings in Yack? A visit to the local pub was a good start and that’s what we did. The Star Hotel is nothing amazing to look at but it’s where the local and visiting muso’s hung out and where the music scene happened weekly. It was a Wednesday night and billed as ‘Country’ night. Thursday we were told was ‘Blues’ night.

I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than joining with others to make and create a mutual musical experience. Their faces were relaxed as they backed each other in turn to sing or play a piece. They were casual yet serious and relaxed but attentive. On display was a range of skills presented with relative ease. And yet behind each musician, I suspect, lay countless years of learning, practice, experimenting and developing of craft.

And so I’m reminded about the importance of sticking with a passion. The musical world is a good example. Being able to play an instrument with ease doesn’t happen over night, singing in tune with the correct pitch takes time and practice. I’m not sure if natural talent comes into the equation but I’m sure it also plays a role. However, my guess is that doing it over and over again, in other words practice, paves the way to playing skillfully and for ultimate enjoyment.

And so, at the pub at ‘Yack’ we enjoyed the fruits of other people’s persistence, commitment, skill, musical craft and ability. We shared the relaxed atmosphere created by the wonderful musicians’s of Yackandandah.

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Reflection time …

I haven’t blogged for some time. My intentions have been good but somehow the urge passes or is it more that life reflection is hard to capture in words and sentences? I think it’s the latter. Much has transpired in the past eighteen months, life changing events have spun the world upside down and what we took for granted two years ago is no longer so. This post isn’t specifically about covid but it’s fair to say that covid has been a force that’s effected us all profoundly in recent times.

I’ve been reading a book by Julia Baird called ‘Phosphorescence‘. The strap line on this book is ‘On awe, wonder & things that sustain you when the world goes dark’. It’s a beautiful book and raises life issues that I think most of us can relate to. The experience of reading this book challenged me to think more about everyday life, illness, family, friendships and how we human beings, who often don’t have much control over life events, navigate the aftermath of difficult circumstances. As Julia Baird asks, what sustains us?

What is it during these life events that help us through? Is it the talks on the phone to friends and family or the online sessions on just about every imaginable topic? Is it the outside exercise, our own less than perfect backyard gardens or maybe it’s a strong belief in the universe to deliver us from the jaws of the pandemic? Maybe it’s a religious belief or a profound sense in the notion that ‘all things pass’. Or maybe it’s immersing the self in nature, as Julia Baird discusses in her book. Although, I suspect that not all of us can swim in the ocean each day or walk in a rain forest, but we can all have something that gives us hope, lightness and reassurance.

What I mean by reflection, is to to give serious thought or consideration to a situation or a notion. Reflection can also apply to reviewing or thinking back on the past. So, I use the term loosely for the purpose of this writing.

Recently I’ve spoken with several friends who have experienced complicated illness. Conditions that have been challenging and in some cases. I also have to put my hand up for this issue. During the last year, I have faced unwell times that both bothered and worried me. I’m okay but it’s shaken my sense of well being and like my friends in similar but different situations, it’s awakened the notion that good health can’t be taken for granted. In conversation with friends, I’ve noticed how we have dropped into discussing past events in our lives and how those events have effected our current coping strategies. Reflecting on how we manage and what works can be a helpful process and one that sparks new possibilities.

I suspect that being reflective or thinking about what sustains us in life is not something we necessarily do without reason. It’s not until our equilibrium has been unbalanced that we seek out a process to make sense of our situations.

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Frayed at the edges …

This is the first blog on this site since Christmas. Well, let’s just say I haven’t ‘published’ anything. I have written a couple of pieces but my my words seemed not worthy for the chaos the world is enduring at the moment. In fact I’ve moved through various emotions and feelings in the last six months, some times feeling hopeful and at other times panicked. But mostly my senses have been a little frayed at the edges.

Being frayed at the edges feels like waiting for something to happen that will provide assurance or fix the problem. And when this doesn’t eventuate in a time frame to  alleviate discomfort, anxiety is created that manifests both physically and emotionally. Equally, I think that occurs in our communities. Of course, we all react differently, depending on personal coping mechanisms and the level perceived or real threat.

Recently, a family member’s partner tested positive to Covid-19, which meant they had to quarantine together. The risk of the other member contracting the virus was very high. So for over two weeks we waited, from afar, for symptoms to manifest. The infected partner’s symptoms remained reasonably mild and the other person waited for their turn! Finally, and a little miraculously, the tests came back negative and they were both finally cleared. The relief was immense, for them and the family.

The stress that our family (and others in similar situations) carried during this time extended above the frustration of general isolation and restrictions. The concern of not being able to help or see our younger family members should they become seriously ill or need hospitalisation was immense. We suddenly became helpless and at the mercy of the an insidious virus and a game of chance.

As I write this today, I’m grateful. I’m also relieved for our personal situation but so aware of  others going through the same ghastly and helpless feelings and not being able to do a darn thing about it. Our situation could have been much worse but it took me to a place that certainly left me, a little frayed at the edges!

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Another year and we have much to do …


Here we are again, with Christmas a week off and a new year looming. Each December I usually reflect on how well I’ve achieved the goals I’ve set for myself during the year. Well, it doesn’t pay to linger for too long on the past, focus on the year ahead, I say.

But, this year I’ve been particularly troubled by extravagance. So much so, that I’ve tried to curb thoughtless spending (no laughing), by only making minimal purchases and those deemed absolutely necessary. And I’ve also made myself consider where I purchase from, by supporting small businesses, self-employed individuals and rural and regional group enterprises. So far so good, you’re thinking …

Now, I can’t say that I haven’t strayed from this approach at times, I have. I’ve made a couple of online purchases, I’ve spent too much money in large supermarkets, I’ve bought rubbish chocolate because the box looks good and I’ve bought expensive chocolate because I was worried I might run out over Christmas. I bought twice as much cheese as I needed for a platter and spent the next two weeks sending my cholesterol levels through the roof. And, if that’s not bad enough, in a really awful flash back moment, I purchased three more rolls of Christmas paper!

Yes, I can hear you sniggering, but be kind it’s Christmas and I’ve tried! In fact I’m rather exhausted, plugging away trying to be ethical, correct, thoughtful, sensible, anti-consumerist, environmentally sound and feeling like a failure by not always succeeding. But, I’m pleased enough with my efforts this year and I intend to exceed my success rate in 2020.

Seriously, we have to change the way we live our lives, how can we not. To remain complacent is to remain ignorant to the very real risks we face as a nation and a universe. The time for thinking we as individuals, families and communities don’t have a roll to play is over. Yes, we have much to do in the next year.

Have a happy and safe Christmas.

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Book review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

This book, I’m sure, has been reviewed within an inch of its book life. But, I can’t stay silent on this one. By far the most challenging, harrowing and meaningful book I can remember reading in a long time. And I’ve read a few!

The book is full of contradictions, unwavering loyalty, love and steely attachment combined with violent, risky and almost unspeakable happenings. Resilience in all its forms weaves through this tragic but uplifting story. And I’m reminded that, where there is ‘bad’ there is often ‘good’ and we should never forget it.

Eli and August, the two young boys in the story will break your heart but capture you forever. Their lives ricochet between heroin dealers, criminals and parents who have their own hellish demons to conquer.

Trent Dalton, the author of Boy Swallows Universe is undoubtedly a writer and journalist with amazing ability and courage. In an article published by Harper Collins in 2018, Dalton said, ‘All of me is here. Everything I’ve seen. Everything I’ve ever done.’

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Determination and grit…

A few weeks ago my sister completed a half marathon. It’s her second in two years. She ran it over a challenging course in terrible conditions, rain and cold. The trail was difficult, slippery and murky.

Anyway, I was super impressed and admire her success. And it’s not just because she’s my sister or that she’s relatively new to running, it’s because she’s a woman in her sixties (oops, hope I don’t get into trouble for that little bit of info) and she epitomizes the role determination and grit plays in meeting goals. 

We can’t all run half marathons but most people have their sights set on completing something that’s important to them.  Producing a piece of art work, volunteering for a special cause, finishing a course or degree, painting a house or planting that unique garden, are just a few ‘want to do or complete’ dreams that come to mind. How many of us fall short of crossing the finishing line by giving up too early? I know I’m guilty.

However, in light of my sister’s mighty effort, I’ve decided to sharpen my determination and grit tools and proceed toward the finishing line with a few overdue projects! And no, I won’t publish my list just in case I run out of D & G…

 

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For the love of the Irish

I’ve just returned from Ireland, you know, the evergreen place that captures the imagination of so many. Even without Irish heritage, unlike my husband who’s ancestry is all things Irish, I’ve learnt to love the place. But despite the rich green countryside, the small quaint villages, soda bread, Irish stew, stone fences and old churches, it’s the people who really make Ireland.

It was our fourth time in Ireland and our second time in the little village of Bruree in Limerick. We stayed in a mill cottage beside a running stream and our hosts Jessie and Dick welcomed us back with beer and talk. And that’s what Ireland represents to me. People talk to you, they tell you things, especially if you stay in their ‘neck of the woods’.

My husband’s family originate from around Bruree and nearby Charlesville. Over time the process of documenting these family lines and stories has lead to meeting many warm and generous people.

Just last week, the night before we were to return to Australia, there was a knock at the cottage door. Standing there with an old brown case in hand was Paddy, a man my husband met the day before. He told us he went looking for old photo’s and memorabilia and found them on top of a wardrobe. That was the start of a fascinating session around the kitchen table. Thanks Paddy, you are one of the generous people I’m talking about.

And then there is Eileen. She’s ninety-five and a local icon. She welcomed us into her home, talked and laughed with us and told us stories of family members well gone. She surprised us by, at one stage leaving the room and returning with a hand written book in 1832. It was the original copy (before it went off to the printers) of a book written by a distant ancestor of my husband.

And so, we arrive home with fond and warm feelings toward our Irish friends in their beautiful countryside and lives steeped in history….

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What our stories tell us

This year, I’ve been preoccupied with publishing my first novel, Finding Eliza. Actually, it has taken over my life, every day there have been numerous emails to answer, events to attend and decisions to make. It’s been a stimulating  time but a time to reflect and appreciate a process that has resulted in the making of a book, my book.

Holding my book in my hand for the first time gave me joy, goosebumps and anxiety all in the same moment. What if it’s not okay, what if the readership don’t like it, what if, what if, what if? There have been moments of doubt since and certainly before, releasing Finding Eliza but also some memorable experiences. So many special and heart warming moments when people whom I’ve never met before, tell me about their own lives and how the book touched them in different ways.

They want to know why I write, how I thought of the story. Then, after satisfying their initial curiosity and perhaps ensuring I’ve passed the test, they tell me their own story. So many wonderful and special stories about life, migration, love, sadness and loss and the stories keep coming.  I’m humbled by the conversations I’ve had with people who have so graciously bought and read my book.

I’m also humbled by the many, many emails and texts that have flooded in over the months. People tell me they cried when they read the story of Knill searching for his mother. Others related to the description of places in the book that they themselves had been to and others wanted to know what happened to certain characters beyond the last page of the book. Some readers said they didn’t want to finish the book because it meant severing contact with the people in the story with whom they had become attached.

For me, the writer, I had similar feelings about leaving my characters after the book was released. I had lived with them in my head for years , especially the last two years. They were part of my daily thinking – closing the cover on the last page was hard. I did in the first few weeks, secretly re-read a few chapters, to gather the closeness again. After all, they were part of me, I was part of them.

I remember, years ago at a workshop, accomplished writer, Paddy O’Reilly said that a writer has to ‘love their characters’. I recall, much to my embarrassment now, that I wasn’t so sure about that and of course voiced my opinion at the time. She graciously allowed me to think it my way, but I’ve since learned that she was absolutely right. I love my characters and for me there is no other way to write. I have to say though, the process of loving the people you write about, even if they are difficult, has to develop during the process. It’s a love that’s steeped in understanding and it’s gathered along the way.

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about the people I have met and exchanged heart warming tales about their lives. Stories of courage, abuse, love, sacrifice, dislocation, family secrets, countries at war and resilience, the list goes on. I guess, in the last months I’ve discovered the human spirit in the simplest and yet the most complicated of ways. Everyday people, have the best and most meaningful FE_Hi res stickerstories to tell. More about this another time.

Writing my book was just about telling a story. A fictional story but for me there were aspects of self, family, community and above all I hope it represented the humanity of ordinary people and their lives. The process of writing Finding Eliza taught me about how much there is to love and admire, sometimes amidst difficult circumstance and survival. Our stories tell us this, time and time again.

 

 

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Book launch in the little town of Majorca

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It was a beautiful day in the tiny township of Majorca. The sun shone and a sense of Autumn drifted across the small hall.

The afternoon tea tables were weighed down with scones, slices and cheese platters whilst the finger food was heating in the small kitchen. The urn bubbled in readiness for tea and coffee and the sparkling wine and mineral water was chilled for serving.

Finding Eliza stood proudly on display and stacks of books sat in anticipation of finding a new home. I was nervous, the MC was cool and collected and the launcher, stood with professional calm.

Cars began arriving and parked along the roadside, people began flowing into the historic hall. Then without warning the hall filled and the event was ready to begin. Friends, family members, friends of friends, writing colleagues and locals, all at Majorca to support the birth of a historical novel partially set in Central Victoria, Australia.

The presentations happened, the crowd was generous, books got signed and the food and drink enjoyed. Finding Eliza was finally launched. A memorable day with fabulous people.

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Finding Eliza book launch…

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I’m excited to let everyone know that my book ‘Finding Eliza’ is to be launched at 2pm on Sunday 22nd April 2018, at the Majorca Hall in Majorca (Central Victoria). 

This story has been a long time coming. It’s changed as I’ve changed. The characters have developed as I’ve developed my craft as a writer. For reasons that sometimes evaded me, I have persevered with getting this story to completion and shaping it into a novel that I can now call complete. I have learnt so much about the world of writing, publishing and the demanding stages and processes that are required for a book production.

Knill McMillan’s life is perfectly ordinary: country upbringing, caring parents, best mates with his cousins. He is a young man with the world before him. But he’s always had a sense he doesn’t quite fit in, doesn’t quite belong. And then one night he is brutally beaten. As he lies bleeding on the ground his attacker calls him something that he is unable to get out of his mind. And so begins a journey he never envisaged – to understand who he really is, and where he really belongs.

 

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