Monday, 9 March 2015

the thing, you know, that thing

I'm working on a thing, dear reader. A new thing. It's big. Well, it's big for me. It's not a writing project but it is kind of. I cannot speak of it because if I do the bubble will burst. But the thing is consuming me — every waking moment and well into the night. It is also making me think long and hard about the nature of creativity and creative writing in particular (as well my place in it all). For solace I have returned to the dearest, sweetest, Brightest Button and Best Advice Giver of all, Brenda Ueland.

I had forgotten. Her book makes me cry. When she writes about Van Gogh, I cry. When she writes about William Blake, I cry. Have you read this book? It will probably make you cry. But in the nicest possible way. In an attempt to rein in my muddled thoughts and frantic compulsions, I have made a new commitment to SIMPLIFY. Himself is spinning. He has never seen the house so stripped bare and...luminous. He has hidden some of his belongings. I just know it. 'I must have serenity,' I cried, as I zoomed past him with the Hoover this morning.'I cannot abide clutter!' I declared, as I swept up the knickknacks and bundled them off to a brighter, dust-free future.  
I have worn a path to the Salvation Army bin.

Aside from that, I've had a lovely weekend. I hope you did too, dear reader, I really do.
Until tomorrow
I remain 
Yours in perpetual
Simplicity. xx

a random cupcake. for you, dear reader. xx

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Friday, 27 February 2015

girl friday

It's Friday here in Melbourne, Australia and I have been thinking about you, dear reader. Do you have plans for the weekend? Big plans? Perhaps you are going hot air ballooning or starring in your own play or riding a camel to the markets in Marrakech? I have small plans by comparison but they feel big to me because they involve quite a bit of FREE TIME. I love free time. Otherwise known as 'unstructured time' I sincerely believe THERE SHOULD BE MORE. I have been a glowing citizen this week and have finally caught up on my tax. Gosh it was arduous — and all I did was prepare it for my accountant. I didn't do any of the tricky stuff. But regardless, it was still days and days of sifting and sorting and adding and subtracting and wishing I had a Girl Friday who could simply wave her HB and make it all go away. Having got rid of the Taxation Scourge I suddenly felt light and sunshine-breezy; carefree to the point of dizziness. To celebrate I went to the nursery and...spent some money. Do you love a trip to your local nursery, dear reader? When I was younger (in my thirties) I was obsessed with gardening. My son was little, I was a sole parent and studying for an arts degree and, well, I knew I was going nowhere exotic for a long time. So being metaphorically grounded I literally put down roots. I planted and pruned and watered and mulched and every morning before the day got underway I made a cup of tea, donned my muddy Blundstone boots and clomped outside to do my Matron's Round of the garden. Just to see how everyone had fared overnight. It was a joyful, Zen-like way to start the day. My garden was popular and had countless admirers. During summer, when the day's were long, people would come by in the evenings while I was outside watering and we'd gasbag about this and that, all the while admiring the dahlias and the new woven-wire fence and the glorious crepe myrtle, a magnificent tree that always flowered early. Just as an aside, the house was a timber war service home and oddly enough its kitchen was at the front. Now that's something you don't see much nowadays but take it from one who knows, it's a prime position for stickybeaking...
Eventually, as my fortunes improved and my son and my career grew, I sold my little starter home and moved on. The girl who bought the property fell in love with the garden and I'm certain it was the MAJOR SELLING POINT (as they say in the business). Time raced by and many years later I decided to take a drive out to the suburbs to see my little house. I am sad to report that it was gone. Bulldozed to make way for two Legoland townhouses. I checked the address. I even hyperventilated such was my discombobulation — perhaps I was lost? But no such luck. And what of the garden? Razed. Replaced with concrete pavers and ONE LARGE CONCRETE POT with something spiky shooting up out of it. Even the crepe myrtle who was a dear old lady and had never done anyone any harm, was gone. As Joseph Conrad would say, 'The horror! The horror!'. I sat in my car staring at this awfulness and cried. Steel yourself, Jen, I had to tell myself. Steel yourself, for life is change and all comes to dust. This is something you must get in your head. Look at you. You've changed and so has everyone and everything around you. Embrace change. Make change your ally. Yadda yadda. And then I had an even better thought — I realised that one day the lego townhouses would be rubble. Yes, they would! (And sooner rather than later by looks of them.) And maybe, just maybe, if the next generation was savvy enough the townhouses would be replaced with a park. Or a market garden. Or an urban farm dotted with crepe myrtles just for shade and splendour. Now imagine that! Oh, I felt heartened at that thought. I really did.
Have a cracking weekend, dear reader, wherever you may be. Plant something. Paint something. Read, bake, natter to a friend. Find some time to moodle — even if it's only for an hour. Free time is so grounding. 
Until tomorrow
I remain
Yours in perpetual slow motion . xx

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Friday, 13 February 2015

sparks crackle

A quick show and tell this morning, dear reader. I am taking two art courses at the moment. One at my local community house where I have been going for about a year and another, online course, The Year of the Spark. I will write in more detail soon about the advantages of studying art in these two different ways. But for now, I'm running wild in the candy store! This is not to say I don't have moments (days) of self-doubt and anguished hand-wringing. The dread, the groaning embarrassment, I often feel when I open my sketchbook brings on the most alarming hot flushes. Why, only last night I tossed and turned and was hopelessly restless because, in those wee, dark hours, I was convinced that none of this is worth the effort. I got up at 5.30 and rattled about in the kitchen making Earl Grey and rehearsing my 'I'M USELESS AND I QUIT' speech to myself. Then I lit a candle. Then I sat down and drew a farmer rat tending his rhubarb, and then I drew a little girl crying, and then I wrote two pages of absolute drivel and then I felt better. Is your creative journey like this, dear reader? Is it up and down and round and round? How do you nail your demons? I'd love to know! In the meantime,I'm back on the polka dot horse and plodding onwards. xx

Inspired by my gorgeous mentors in The Year of the Spark this is a fun and addictive way to journal each morning. I cannot get enough!

Art class with Katie Roberts has resumed. The classes are incredibly nurturing and I hang off Katie's every word. Oh how I love learning. Anyway, this is 'Cityscape 2015.' Charcoal and pastel on paper, a group drawing by four of us working against the clock and over top of each others work. The most exhilarating, hilarious experience. We adored the end result!

Collage fun with Lynn Whipple. I mean, seriously, how much fun can you have doing stuff like this? It's endless. Yes, the baby in the photo is me (it's a photocopy, I would never chop up an original, and sorry about the missing comma, I was having too much fun to think with my left brain...). Note also, this is a studio shot but you can see my mother's arm holding me up! Studio shots in the 60s were obviously a little more homespun... 
One liners, a warm-up exercise with Carla Sonheim. One liners or continuous line drawings are enormous fun and  a great way to get you hands moving...and make you laugh.

Exploring line (graphite crayon, watercolour pencils and crayons) with Carla Sonheim; my chicken evolved from there. Perhaps she'll get her own story one day ... I keep wanting to call her Miss Flaubert for some reason.

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Saturday, 31 January 2015

inspire your heart

Today, January 31, is Inspire Your Heart With Art Day. Did you know that, dear reader? I had no idea. That is until the wonderful artist and designer of ornaments and decor, Patience Brewster, inspired me to spread the word. Patience suggested I pen a few lines about what art means to me. I was delighted at the idea. As you might know, (yes, I've been yapping about it for ages), I have been attending art classes with the amazing Katie Roberts for over a year and during this time my love affair with art has only grown more passionate. Discovering the joy of art in my fifties is like finding that last crucial piece in my life's jigsaw puzzle — the puzzle that got thrown in the air when I was, oh, about five; the puzzle that broke apart and fell willy nilly in every direction. Please note, dear reader, that nothing particularly traumatic happened at that time except that I started school and in so doing completely lost my (already fragile) sense of self. In my thirties I discovered creative writing and took to it with enormous vigour. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know I thought, This is it. This will make me feel complete
And it did — for a while.  I still adore writing (oh, don't get me started) but, well, isn't it human to always want more? One can't eat apple pie every day without fantasising about the occasional self-saucing pudding. 
Art was always there, though,(I have several half-filled and abandoned sketchbooks in the bottom of my wardrobe and many more furtive scribbles have gone into the recycle bin). Yes, art was there but very much on the periphery. Not only that, over the years I have enjoyed the friendship of many professional visual artists and for a time was happy to live vicariously. But somewhere along the line it all got too much. I could no longer simply stand outside the lolly shop. 
Art has brought connection, colour, a form of meditation that is dreamy and gentle. I adore art. I think about it constantly. I see the world differently. I lose sleep when I have new supplies waiting in the wings. Honestly, when the ideas are bubbling, every night is like the night before Christmas. I have no plans whatsoever for my art. Nothing. Zippo. I want nothing from it. All I want to do is learn and play and experiment and spread the word. 
If you have the faintest of callings, even the most gentle stirrings, please, please take heed. How do you feel about art? Has it enriched your life? Are you itching to get your hands on some coloured pencils but keep putting it off? I would love, love, love to know! For me, art is a blessing. Every single day it raises me above the mundane, gets me out of my head and excites my imagination. 
Art is for all of us. Enjoy it. Share it. Spread the word. Inspire your heart with art and, through its gifts, love your life just that little bit more. That is my wish for you, dear reader. xx
This is the little altered book I have been working on. It was just a cheap kids' book I bought at the newsagents. I painted gesso over all the pages then proceeded to cover them with my own bits and  pieces. You can see it is quite small, so not so scary in terms of filling a page.

Simple shapes that don't require great drawing skills. Collage background, mixed media— student acrylics, pitt pens, pitt pastel pencils.

All the little people. I could never write about them all but at least they catch a glimpse of life this way.

Always drawing what's on the table. Still figuring out how to make it look like it's not sliding off!

Watch out if I'm sitting behind you in a cafe. I'll be drawing you. Yes, indeedy.

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Friday, 16 January 2015

the book with no name...

It's official, dear reader, the name of my new novel is, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. I am so deliriously happy to have had this title approved and to be able to share with you the good and shiny news! The book will be released in August this year (HarperCollins Australia) and will include illustrations (and cover) by Lucinda Gifford. Lucinda is as clever and talented as her divine name suggests. Take a peek here

As always I am jumping out of my skin over this new book especially since it's my first 'full-length feature' since Tensy Farlow (2009). I feel certain it will appeal to fans of Tensy and I'm also delighted to have a boy as the protagonist.  The story is set in Australia but has strong links to Norway. Norway? I hear you say.  I know, isn't it weird? But there you have it. Cornelia Funke (oh how I love her) says that stories have their own face and it's up to the author to find that face. She also says that sometimes a story will try to trick you, and that is so true! Yes indeed. You really have to keep your wits about you when you're writing stories or you end up in an awful muddle. Angus Jack took me on such a wild and woolly journey and I argued with him a lot but in the end I had to relent and let the story unfold on his terms. What a mysterious process it all is. Every time I finish writing a book I think, Well, I certainly won't be able to pull that off again.

In other happy news, I bought a new cushion for the studio. Isn't it gorgeous? I can't help but stare even though I am well aware of the rules about staring...

Have a wonderful weekend, dear reader, wherever you may be. I for one will be tending my neglected little garden.

Until tomorrow, I remain yours in perpetual Summer Sunshine. xx

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

a splash of pretty

Pretty stuff from around the house, dear reader, simply because I'm a sticky beak and I love looking at other people's bits and bobs and so I assume that everyone is like me. No doubt that is quite presumptuous...

Another purchase from Kikki K. No, I am not on a retainer. But I do have a serious stationery addiction...

A flower pot on my desk.

New ON SALE sandals from Zoe Wittner. Himself thinks they are appalling but they look just like the ones my Grade Four teacher used to wear circa 1969 and I adore them.

A couple of little peeps who popped up in my *art journal. Theirs is a short story. One word, in fact.

I hope you're having a smashing day, dear reader, and revelling in the little things. Until next time, stay colourful — even if you're wearing white sandals. xx

*I use this term very loosely...
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Thursday, 1 January 2015

a new year in vintage denim

Vintage denim. That's the colour we painted my new studio, dear reader, and I am SERIOUSLY in love. Mind you, we only did one wall and there are actually four walls in my room... The others are a sort of pale buttermilk. And the trim is the old grungy white that was already there. I haven't hung any art yet or worse still blu-tacked any nonsense around and about. I respect these pristine walls, dear reader, R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Better still, I now have a digital desk and an anologue desk. I write at the digital desk because, well, that's where Miss Mary Mac resides. And I do 'art' and write in longhand at the analogue desk. It does wonders for the brain to have these areas separated. I stole the idea, dear reader, from Austin Kleon. He wrote Steal Like An Artist. I love this little book. I even tweeted about it when I got it that's how excited I was and as you might know I'm a hopeless tweeter, hopeless. But sometimes one is moved to chirp. Consider getting yourself a copy, dear reader, and if you have young adult kids who are interested in working in the arts get a copy for them, too. Here is the cover: (For locals, I got my copy at Readings, Carlton).
Some other pics of the work in progress and Vintage Denim up close and personal.

Plus this girl who keeps appearing in my drawings. I'm reasonably sure she's an angel of some kind, dear reader, so naturally I am mesmorised...

See the little mouse in this one, dear reader? I have been drawing mice everywhere lately, even on some VIP paperwork that belonged to Himself.(He was not impressed). I think I know why I am drawing mice and I will blog about that soon. I will also blog about the juicy, CHEAP, Official Learners acrylics that I have been joyfully splashing about since we last spoke.(I found them in BUNNINGS WAREHOUSE, can you believe it?! (For overseas readers, Bunnings is an Australian Tim the Tool Man type grunt-grunt joint where one goes to buy nails and sandpaper and angle grinders and hammers and shovels and grouting. Not, generally speaking, art supplies).

I wish you a truly, madly, deeply GORGEOUS 2015, dear reader. May your angels watch over you and your loved ones and your troubles be few.
It's next year! YAY! 
Until we speak again, my friend, I remain yours in perpetual  puddles, muddles and befuddles. xx
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Saturday, 27 December 2014

blue girl, black flowers

We're halfway there, dear reader. Midway through the Nutty Week. How are you faring? I can't tell you how many rum balls I have scoffed. Honestly, I felt tipsy by 10am this morning and my guests had not even arrived!
Here's what I've been doing:

*I made an art journal. Well, to be honest, I covered one I've been working in, on and off, all year. It's only a little journal. Not sure what format it is. Perhaps kind of A5? No matter, it's a good size for my tentative meanderings.
blue girl, black flowers: she's done with oil pastels, coloured pencils, pitt pens, ink, white acrylic paint. You might notice she is signed and dated. I feel AWFULLY pretentious doing this, but my dear, sweet art teacher, Katie Roberts, insists we all do it and you know what? One year down the track I am loving having my 'work' dated. It's very satisfying to see one's journey and it also works as a powerful memory prompt.

*I have been BINGEING on art journal flick-throughs and art demonstations on YouTube. Honestly, if Jane Davenport looks at her stats she will think there is someone very creepy watching her from Melbourne... Have you seen her demos, dear reader? Here's a link to one I particularly love (the music makes my heart sing, too). I'm planning to do one of her beginner courses in the New Year and I'm just about jumping out of my skin in anticipation.

BTW: The cover of my little art journal, front and back, is mostly made of chopped up old advertising postcards I've been hoarding. I also used an old address book for the base, just to add strength. I will bind the spine with gaffer tape as soon as I get to the hardware store tomorrow. I learned about gaffer tape and it's many wonderful uses from Asphyxia. She visited our art class one rainy Sunday afternoon earlier this year and did a journal flip-through for us. TO DIE FOR. I was spellbound. Have you seen her gorgeous work? If not, have a peep here:

*Wrapping more gifts! Yes, Himself is impudent enough to have a birthday on December 28! The cheek of him...

*Speaking of Himself (in glowing terms, of course), he has spent today  prepping the walls in my NEW STUDIO! So, how can I not love him and lavish him with exquisite birthday gifts? Now, when I say 'new studio', I mean of course 'spare bedroom conversion'. But do I care? I am beside myself with joy at the prospect of moving off the back verandah lean-to and into a Real Room. And just think, I will no longer have to put a plastic bag over Miss Mary Mac (my computer) when it rains.

*To add to my joy, as from yesterday I finally, FINALLY, have a name for my new 'fantasy' novel! Sadly, my publisher is in New York on holidays so I have resisted harassing her and demanding she sign off on the new name. (What if she hates it, dear reader? Argh!) I love it SO much and cannot wait to share it with you. I have never had so much trouble naming a book. I've been having sleepless nights over it, honestly.

*Here are some pictorials, dear reader. None of this gorgeous mishmash/collage art on the cover of my journal is mine. But I can name one of the artists. See the adorable dreamy girl with the dove on her head on the back cover? That's from Tomoko Ichikawa. Tomoko's art is featured on this year's gift packs from Perfect Potion. Have you been to Perfect Potion, dear reader? I had to go all the way to Sydney to discover this store, then a week later I found it back here at home in Melbourne, tucked away in a side 'alley' in Melbourne Central. I did half my Christmas shopping there this year. I am addicted to their Chakra Balancing Mist. I use it with all the passion of a Victorian gentlewoman sniffing smelling salts. I love it so much. So much.

Note: Kitty on the side tab!

Hang in there, dear reader. This is a tricky time of year and those of us who are somewhat...highly strung must do what we can to nurture ourselves and stay afloat.

Onwards, dear ones. xx

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Friday, 19 December 2014

away in a baxter street manger

I am supposed to be working, dear reader, but I am totally away with the tweeties (or the angels). For this entire week I have written, oh, about twelve words, and all of them have been in Christmas cards. As part of my procrastination here are some shots from around the Baxter Street manger. (What is a manger, anyway? Is it a shed, a stable or a cheap, pet-friendly hotel? Like many archaic words acquired during childhood I have never actually looked into the real meaning. You know, you stand there in the Sunday School choir and mouth these carols, but you have no idea what they mean. Ditto, the cattle are lowing. Seriously?) 
To the books. Himself and I are entering the 21st century and, wait for it, we are getting one of those hideous big tellies for Christmas. Well, Himself, is getting the telly. I am getting an antique Chinese cabinet on which to rest Satan's toy. Come Christmas day I will happily sit and 'watch' the cabinet, dear reader, it's ever so divine AND it has drawers! I am so excited. I LOVE placing things in new drawers. LOVE. 
So, meantime, as part of my procrastination busy-work, the bookcase in the Good Room had to be moved to make way for the future. Hard yakka, dear reader. Hard, dusty yakka. And yet it was a lovely opportunity to look at some of my old books, to flick through soft, yellowing pages and do some serious...stroking. Books hold so many memories for me. Not just their narratives but where I was when I read them, how I was feeling when I discovered a certain author, the impact the book had on my days while I was reading it—living it. The impact it had on my later life. Ecetera...
I wish I could run red velvet curtains in front of the new, unspeakably gauche TV but such fancy stagecraft is beyond my capabilities. At any rate, the bookcase is not going far. Just across the other side of the room, in fact. So, even while we are viewing the Flat Screen and marvelling at this Christmas Miracle and being Joyful and Triumphant, we will still be surrounded by BOOKS. We will still be somehow...grounded. All I can say is, thank heavens for that. 
Bless you for reading my ramblings, dear reader. Bless you. 
Now, back to the writing. I'm sure there are more cards to fill in. xx

PS Just as an aside, dear reader. When I was, oh, about eight, I thought that the cattle are lowing meant that the cattle were down on their knees. Kind of like us when we were in church. Failing that I thought perhaps it meant the cattle were 'lo and beholding'. In other words, they were looking at one another and saying, 'Lo and behold, it's the baby Jesus'. I still believed in talking animals and Narnia and all that jazz, and this Baby Jesus story was a fine story indeed and there were bound to be talking animals somewhere in Bethlehem... Surely?

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

other ways to meet our characters

This little girl, Martha, has been in my mind for well over five years, dear reader. Probably more. She is a secondary (but powerful) character in a novel that I recently completed. I have been 'writing her' over and over. And since going along to art classes I have been drawing her over and over. Of course, I have agonised about going public with my drawings but then I thought, Courage, Jen. Courage. It's a simple line but it's kind of what Eowyn says to Merry as they ride into battle in Lord of the Rings and it's a handy line to remember when one is wobbling. Very...helpful. 

During my Thursday night art classes, I have been learning about colour and mixed media and light and all sorts of things. I have also been learning about drawing children's heads as opposed to our big, wonky, adult noggins. I have discovered that one can add expression with shading, too, and that a broken line is a good line.

I will tell you more about the book Martha features in soon. It will be published by HarperCollins next year (2015) but as yet we haven't settled on a title (ahem). For now, I can say that fiddling about with art and learning about art is definitely helping me write. It is stimulating my imagination, too. I have found art to be incredibly rewarding and now that I'm committed to the process I often wonder why I waited so long to pick up a coloured pencil. 

Creativity. It all comes from the same source and that source flows through all of us. The more I am willing to be vulnerable, the more at ease I am with being an amateur, the faster I learn and the more joyful I find the process. That has been my experience anyway. 

Be kind to yourself, dear reader, in all your creative pursuits and before you know it you will be so in love with what you're doing you won't even need to be courageous. xx

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