Monday, 6 July 2015

shades and tints and everything in between

Sorry to bombard you with splotches, dear reader, but we are learning about mixing colour in Year of the Spark and I am jumping out of my skin. I tried to be systematic about it. But that went out the window about three splotches in. I had no idea how delicious this whole process would be. After all, I've read The Colour Kittens. I thought I was across colour theory... xx

Oops. I know Lynn said not to dirty up the white but...

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Sunday, 5 July 2015

any other day

Hello dear reader, some Rainy Day Rabbits that I drew for you. How is your weekend going, I wonder? It is rather brisk here in Melbourne. I bought a new cardi at the Gorman sale in the city yesterday and wore it IMMEDIATELY today. Even though it really was too cold for a thin cardi and I had to hide it under a coat for the better part of the day. Do you do that, dear reader? Do you wear new stuff the minute you get it home or are you more circumspect, more patient, than me? 
Excuse the poor lighting. It's dark green, dear reader. And pale, sort of Iced VoVo, pink.
I have been reading oodles of good stuff this past week or so. This includes two startling books by Manjir Samanta-Laughton. The first one, Punk Science: Inside the Mind of God, is a slow read for one as right-brained as yours truly and yet I am enjoying it immensely.  The second one, The Genius Groove: The New Science of Creativity, I read in 48 hours and am now re-reading (and scribbling all over). I adore it. I must say it is in desperate need of a good edit, but no matter. The content remains remarkable (possibly confronting for many) and Samanta-Laughton is certainly one of most engaging writers/ speakers I've come across in a long while. If you're into 'woo-woo' and quantum physics and the links between science and spirituality, do check out her work. There are plenty of interviews with her on Youtube, too. Google away...

Speaking of work (or indeed, woo-woo), my new book, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack, goes to the printer tomorrow! Yes! Monday, Monday/ So good to me... Sorry. Some Mamas and Papas there. But golly, the word 'Printer' makes my heart flutter and my brain... gambol. The cover is almost, nearly, practically finished. It is awaiting some final design swishes including a splash of spot-gloss and some other sparkly embellishments and then I will have a lovely hi-res image to share with you. I do hope you will love it as much as I do. In the meantime, I am putting the final touches to a course I will soon be teaching on creative writing. It's for adults, dear reader, not kids. So, if you live in Melbourne and are at all interested in joining me for some writing tips and creativity high-jinx drop me a line and I'll pop you on my mailing list. 

In the meantime, I just ate a hot coffee scroll (with lashings of butter) and now I'm wondering what's for dinner. It's the cold weather, dear reader. The cold, dark weather...
Until next time
I remain
Yours in perpetual long johns
Jen xx 
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Sunday, 28 June 2015

colour, creativity and consciousness

Nothing says 'winter' like a jar of jonquils.
In the 1980s when I was a clerk in the public service I eagerly signed up for a staff development course. An entire day fully paid with no work? I would have signed up for karate, dear reader. However, as it turned out this was Creative Visualisation. I had no idea what it was all about or how it related to my job but it sounded...alluring. I still remember the teacher. I was besotted the moment she wafted into the room. She was effortlessly glamorous, with glossy red hair, massive shoulder pads and dewy skin. She was earning $500 per day running these courses and it made us gasp with envy. She was also planning a trip to Egypt to see the pyramids. Apparently she had a poster of camel drivers stuck to her bathroom door, a daily reminder of where she was headed — a type of vision board I guess we would call it today but it was a new idea to me and I liked the sound of it. When I look back on that day it occurs to me how arbitrary it was. This wasn't a course in speed filing, or how to fill in an 'N' form, or how to master DisplayWrite4, the newfangled word processing programme we were grappling with at the time. It turned out that Creative Visualisation was a technique for harnessing the power of your imagination in order to make your dreams come true. Well, I can tell you right now, dear reader, everyone that day was creatively visualising themselves out of the public service, myself included. Although, I must admit I can't recall precisely what dreams I  chose to work on. I was ill-prepared for such a delicious opportunity and, besides, I had long ago put most of my dreams in a sealed jar at the back of the wardrobe. I had 'settled down'. I had a mortgage and a wedding ring and a good job with flexitime. I do however remember one rather flimsy fantasy I managed to conjure up that day. We had to do the 'pink bubble' technique. This is where you close your eyes and imagine yourself doing or being or having something that your heart desires. You imagine it as vividly as you can, then place the image in a pink bubble (pink being the colour associated with the heart) and release it into the universe where it can float about, happily gathering energy for its manifestation. A pink bubble? Hmmm. Given my current circumstances all I could hope for was that someday, somewhere along the line, I would be doing something that required me to carry a briefcase. I know, dear reader! How feeble does that sound? I bet others were seeing harbour mansions, first class flights to Paris and brilliant stage careers. But you must understand, briefcases were extremely fashionable in the 1980s and I thought if it was ever necessary for me to carry one then it stood to reason that I would be doing something Rather Interesting, possibly even something swish — anything, dear reader, other than filling in 'N' forms and glaring at an insubordinate word processing machine. (Incidentally, I don't remember what an 'N' form actually was, only that I filled in hundreds).

Time went by, as it is wont to do, and I forgot about that day until about five years later. It had been a tumultuous five years during which I'd had a child, got divorced, moved interstate and bought my own house. I had also enrolled in an arts degree at university (a dream I had nursed since my teens). It was the middle of winter, I was struggling across a gritty quadrangle, buffeted from all sides by gale force winds.  I fought to keep my scarf around my neck, my coat across my body and MY BRIEFCASE of text books against my leg. From out of nowhere I remembered the pink bubble technique. My flimsy, ill-defined vision had become a reality. I was carrying a briefcase AND I was as happy as a lark. It was a startling thought, dear reader, and it stopped me in my tracks. Truly, the universe is astonishing. If it could manifest such a vague desire, give shape to such a wistful chimera, imagine what it could do if I got focused.

Just this week, while digging through some old journals, trying to make sense of my current trajectory, I found my copy of Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain. It was purchased in 1991 some years after I attended that initial course (I always write the date of purchase inside my books). This edition no longer has a cover. It is battered and annotated and it's spine is broken. In fact, it is crying out for gaffer tape. But this mangled classic still made my senses tingle and my heart leap. When I glanced through it I was transported back to my younger self. Back to the hopes, dreams and sparkling energy of those years. Since rediscovering this dear little book I  have thrown myself back into its teachings. I have also embarked on a spiritual quest that has re-energised me and led me to many startling discoveries. 

It feels good to be back on track, to have reconnected with 'Good Orderly Direction', as Julia Cameron calls it in The Artists Way. And while my intentions feel slightly more earnest this time around, I have nonetheless been busy releasing a veritable effervescence of pink bubbles. Without doubt I feel that 'these dreams or something better are now coming to me, easily and effortlessly, in total harmony and for the highest good of all concerned. So be it, so it is...'
Until next time
I remain, 
Yours in Perpetual Awe
Jen xx

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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

the return of the little king

The Little King is suffering from the most dreadful ennui, dear reader. No doubt he will muddle through. In the meantime I will keep a close eye on him.

Snow Rabbit. I suspect he lives somewhere near the Little King.

This girl lives in another story altogether. Post WW2, I think.
We are moving house soon, dear reader, and the sands are shifting beneath our feet. I will keep in touch, of course, but forgive me if my letters are slow and sporadic. Rest assured Baxter Street will remain the same. Baxter Street is a state of mind, dear reader, it goes wherever you and I go.
Until next time, I remain
Yours in perpetual motion
Jen xx

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Monday, 25 May 2015

between books. gulp.

Between books. It's a weird, fraught space, dear reader. For me it's a time of confusion and obsessive self-reflection. I'm happiest when I'm working — when I'm up to my eyeballs in a story. When I'm in a storyworld I can ignore everything from mounting bills to mouldy shower-screens and ailing houseplants, and pursue my book with a single-mindedness that has my friends muttering, 'You never come out to play. What is WRONG with you?' 

But when I finish a book, oh dear, that's when I find myself floundering. Of course there's the inevitable slump. I feel empty, drained, vaguely depressed. Do I miss my characters as some authors do? Perhaps. I know I miss their worlds. And my world, well, it always feels a little lacklustre by comparison. 

But it's not just that. This is also, without exception, the time when I start to wonder if it's all worth it. The isolation, the scarce, erratic income, the constant battle just to stay afloat and keep smiling despite the struggle. It's a time when I feel the injustices and slights (imagined and real) more acutely and my wounds start to prickle and demand attention. Between books is the time when I ask myself, would I do better, find more meaning, be happier, healthier, more effective, in another career? Would my family be better off if I focused my energies elsewhere? And if so WHERE? Honestly, I tear myself apart during this phase. And I'm sure I drive Himself to distraction with my incessant soul-searching and midnight ponderings.
Cafes these days always have the prettiest arrangements. Have you noticed?
Worse still, I never find answers. Solace only comes when I start the next book — when I enter the next fantasy. Then I'm happy. Then I'm back on the Life of a Writer Roller-coaster and my ragtag existence feels legitimate again. 

But this time, I'm taking it slowly. I'm resisting the urge to finish one book, spin around, and lose myself in another. I've resolved to spend more time with my demons. Really get to know them. Perhaps we will even hold hands... Perhaps they will finally tell me what I need to hear. Whatever that might be.
I cleaned the laundry and picked an apple. The experience was immensely satisfying.
I have almost finished the little cardi for the ASRC craft market. I will knit another straight away. One seems too meagre an offering.
On a brighter note, while forcing myself to take this break I have been immersing myself in local delights, taking the time to explore my neighbourhood more thoroughly, to check out what's been happening while I've had my head in the clouds. I hope my photos, above and below, gladden your heart. It's always nice to look, to take notice, to be part of the real world again. However fleetingly.
I have fallen head over heels in love with this shop. It's called Mim Found Ena. I bought a handmade ceramic brooch.  I will show you soon. When I can display it to its best advantage.
Until we talk again
I remain 
Yours in 
Perpetual Transition
Jen xx

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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

when arts collide

Copying someone else's cupcakes can lead to all sorts of adventures.
I wrote my first picture book in 1989 or thereabouts. As I remember, it was about a teddy bear. Mr Bear spent many hours dangling from a clothesline but I can't recall much else about his adventures (such as they were). No matter. I popped my story in an envelope and sent it to a publisher. Many months later when the inevitable rejection slip arrived was I downhearted? No, no, no.  I taped that rejection slip to the wall above my typewriter. (Yes, it was a typewriter, electric, top of the range). That rejection slip was proof, dear reader. Proof that my story had been on an editor's desk. That my story had been looked at, nay, handled by a professional. My story was worth a stamp and a form letter! My first rejection slip was proof that I was on my way to becoming a professional writer. An Author.

Fast forward twenty-five years or so. I was having coffee in a local cafe and doing some aimless moodling; no newspaper, no smart phone, no notepad or pen and certainly no typewriter. I was just sipping coffee and people-watching. At the next table a grandmother was reading a picture book to a little boy. The boy was DESPERATELY trying to engage with the book. I could see the effort on his face and in his body language. But I could also see that the book was, well, it was a dud. It was one of those awful picture books you often see in cafes. If you are interested in children's literature you will know exactly the kind of book I'm talking about. I thought, if I had to read a book like that to a child what would I do? Instantly I knew the answer. I'd make up my own story. I would make that child laugh if it was the last thing I did.

I wandered home thinking about this and pondering the things that make toddlers laugh.

Now, for some time I had been taking art classes. I was at the stage where I was learning to draw...circles. But my circles had recently evolved. I had been painting cupcakes for weeks. (Actually, I had been copying them from a tea-towel but it was a good exercise and taught me a little about shading and using watercolour pencils etc). I was drawing eggs, too. Eggs in egg cups. Spongecakes too. Big chocolate spongecakes with gaudy pink icing and strawberry jam oozing from their centres.  I had also been drawing chickens.

I had no idea why I was doing this so obsessively but over the years I have learned to go with creative impulses even when, or especially when, they don't make sense. When I arrived home from the cafe I sat down and wrote a story about a cheery old fellow who lived on a farm and one day took a trip into town. I wrote it fast. I didn't censor myself or question it, I just wrote. I soon noticed that lo and behold I had the outline for picture book.

That night I sat up in bed with my sketchbook on my knee. Again, I was just doodling, not trying to dream up anything amazing or create anything in particular. I thought, What does this fellow from my new story look like?  His name is Clarrie and he's bald, came the answer. Gosh! I drew him quickly. He spoke to me, 'I am very fond of chickens,' he said. 'They make good friends and their eggs make delicious cakes.' He kept chatting, he was awfully sweet and his quirky way of speaking and gentle outlook on life made me smile. I drew a pile of quick, wonky sketches. Then I hopped out of bed and did a little 'mixed media'. Clarrie and I were by now firm friends.

I didn't know how to draw a car so I copied one from a Clarice Bean book!

The next day I rewrote the text in Clarrie's voice — character and voice, dear reader, character and voice, for me the most important starting point in any creative writing project. Then I emailed my publisher at HarperCollins. 'I have someone I'd like you to meet,' I said.

I did not have to wait long before the story was accepted for publication, after all Clarrie really does have a certain je ne sais quoi. And yet it was hard to believe it had happened so quickly. But of course, it hadn't had it? I've been plugging away at this writing game, studying the art of storytelling, for thirty years. 

Of course, I will keep you updated as the book becomes a reality (one of my absolutely favourite illustrators has been commissioned and publication is set for 2016). But in the meantime what's the lesson here? Yes, there's something about hanging onto your dreams. But it's more than that. This experience has confirmed my suspicions that we must follow our creative urges. And we must trust them. No matter how silly or irrational they seem (circles, eggs, cupcakes) they are always part of a bigger 'story', they are always teaching us something or leading us towards something richer. It may not be a book or anything quite so tangible but I bet my Faber-Castells that everything you make, everything you create, feeds your inner artist and nurtures your imagination in ways that are essential to your development. 

Trust your creative urges, dear reader, do not dismiss them because you're inexperienced or 'unqualified' or embarrassed. Give yourself permission to play, to be a beginner, to experiment, to be obsessive. That's how we make art. That's how we create. But at the same time don't concern yourself with joining the dots. Don't try to be purposeful or rational about it. All our impulses and interests are interconnected, I am certain of it. If you want to draw, draw. If you want to write, write. If you want to play the tambourine, crochet, sing, collage, make camels out of cotton wool, get to it! Don't question it. Just let it flow. That's how creativity works. Carelessly. Joyfully. In a state of trust and grace.

Until next time
I remain
Yours in Perpetual Wonder.
Jen xx

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Sunday, 10 May 2015

baxter street in the round

I have been in a whirl here at Baxter Street, dear reader. It is a joy to finally sit down and write to you. I could start with the traditional 'how are you?'  But of course this is cyberspace. I have to imagine how you are. I have to imagine YOU. In my mind you are the ideal reader and a dear friend to boot. Which is precisely why I love dropping you a line.

In the big world: I finished writing the fifth Truly Tan book this week. It is perhaps a little quieter than the others with a focus on the machinations of friendship and family ties. I enjoyed writing it very much. I timed myself on this one. It took eight months. It is 45,000 words.
Tan readers are very opinionated. I love it!

I also received second pages of my new novel, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack.  Oh the joy and terror of seeing one's book at this stage. I am pleased to report I only found a few typos, one accidental rhyme, an alarming overuse of the word 'thick' and one hiccup with continuity. All that aside it is looking hunky-dory. It has been typeset which means it now looks more like a book than a Word document. However it is awaiting further design. Next time I see it I will undoubtedly swoon.

This one is a little cardi. Don't you adore these buttons? They look so retro to me. I love choosing buttons.

In the cottage: I have been knitting, dear reader. I am making some baby clothes from my Debbie Bliss knitting book called, Eco Family, if you please. The wool is divine (cashmere and merino) and I have invested in a NEW KNITTING SYSTEM. The gorgeous sales assistant at my favourite yarn shop persuaded me. If you live in Melbourne but have not shopped at Morris and Sons in Collins Street, please schedule a trip. The needles are densified laminated birch wood and have steel cable caps and interchangeable thingumabobs and it's all A DREAM. I've always despised knitting in the round. But no more. I have found salvation in KnitPro. If you are a knitter do click the link. You will fall in love, trust me. I am making these clothes for my colleague, fellow children's author Anna Branford. Anna writes the adorable Violet Mackerel series. She is also an integral part of Creating a Welcome which is a community of crafters and artisans that supports asylum seekers in Australia. These little garments will eventually go on sale as part of that charity. 
Just because it's pretty.
Wearing: My new tartan skirt. I love it because I love tartan skirts but also it doesn't have a waistband which suits me fine, dear reader, because I don't have  a waist. I bought it at Gap. 

Reading: I have been busting to share these two mags with you. How I wish you were here so that I could flick through, gushing and gabbling and showing you my favourite bits. Australian Womankind is DIVINE. The writing is superb, the content feisty and inspiring and it looks drop dead gorgeous.  The art and photography and design are all first rate. Plus there is NO ADVERTISING. With contributors such as Charlotte Wood, Cate Kennedy and Alecia Simmonds this magazine is erudite and punchy and I cannot recommend it more highly. 
My other latest find is Flow. To my mind the name is vaguely creepy but the magazine is entirely beautiful with a 'simplify your life' ethos that I find irresistible. It's a good read (I really enjoyed an interview with Swedish crime writer, Liza Marklund) but more than that it is so beautiful and so full of surprises that every edition is like receiving a birthday present from someone who really GETS you. It's expensive but I buy back-copies at Mag Nation in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, and save myself a bit of jingle.
A magazine for paper lovers. How seriously good is that? That's paper inserts poking out the top.
Gosh this has been a long post. If you have stuck with me until now, I thank you from the bottom of my yakety yak heart. There seems to have been so much to catch up on!
Until next time
Thank you for reading and
I remain
Yours in perpetual twirls and swirls 
Jen xx

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Sunday, 26 April 2015

the art of getting older

I have found, dear reader, that art is as much about mastering your medium as it is about learning to draw. I still have very little control over my lines (or my brushstrokes for that matter) but I love playing with pen and ink and water colour. It must be all those years spent poring over the work of Quentin Blake and Ernest H Shepard, marvelling at their mastery. 

What else? I had a birthday. Yesterday. The day was, as always, damp, misty and buried in autumn leaves. As I sat up in bed, smoothing the counterpane and being a Princess, Himself brought me a cup of tea. 'Twenty-seven years ago you were twenty-seven', said he. I'm not sure if he was trying to be funny or trying to be a comfort or just making a ridiculous Himself kind of observation... Nonetheless, I have to admit I cannot remember being twenty-seven. I somehow wish I'd kept a journal. It must have been fine, though, at least on some level. (Sadly, I do recall that for most of my twenties I was riddled with self-doubt and had the inner resources of a gnat.) On the other hand, oh the fifties! Much to my surprise, I have renewed energy, I'm more focussed than ever, braver, quicker to forgive but much less inclined to suffer fools or nonsense. There's a Quickening. A need to Get On With It that somehow makes life more exciting. I no longer feel the need to apologise for my dreams, my quirks, my limitations. I will never again curtail my ambitions. It's a nice place to be, both emotionally and intellectually, made easier when one accepts that denying menopause is like denying puberty. Ludicrous and futile. Getting older is a privilege denied so many, I feel a moral obligation to be grateful, to go on developing my talents, to be courageous, generous, open-hearted and not to miss a second of it.
I'm fifty-four, dear reader. How cool is that? 
Jen xx

I got a bag for my birthday! Yes, siree. I have big plans for this bag. I shall be as cocky as Lady Bracknell when I'm toting this little number. 

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Sunday, 19 April 2015

a fireside chat

Squally. That's the weather here today in Melbourne, dear reader. It is a squally, grey, hail-pocked Autumn day. My kind of weather. I have lit the fire (first for the year). I have a chicken pie in the oven. I have pumpkin and ginger soup simmering on the stovetop. Himself is under strict instructions to keep an eye on it while I scurry off and drop you a line. 
The front verandah at Baxter Street today. Note the battered rose petals on the wet cement.

I have also written to my girlfriend in far north Queensland. We write real letters, dear reader, stamps and paper and Kikki K stickers. My friend owns a cattle farm. Can you imagine? She is so brave and hardy. She rides horses and quad bikes. She pushes enormous, FIERCE cows into trucks. When she sustains an injury, as she recently did while shucking oysters, her husband (who is a vet) stitches her wound because they are TOO FAR from town. Oh, the thought of it makes me hyperventilate. Even their internet connection is as trusty as a plastic phone in a sandpit. On the upside, there are platypus in her dam — which is a fine, fine thing. For those of you who do not live in Australia, platypus are not seen around these urban parts, EVER. My friend also looks like Gwyneth Paltrow (just so you can visualise, dear reader, ahem) and is as smart as a whip. She was my bridesmaid (in Queensland) twenty-eight years ago. The wedding was pretty despite the coral lipstick and big hair. The marriage, I am sad to say, was something of a travesty. Oh, he was a cad, dear reader. Such a cad. And while the marriage quickly went belly-up, my friendship with my bridesmaid remained strong. We have since made completely different lifestyles choices, but it's of no consequence. Love doesn't care a jot about such things, does it? 
Drawing to music, in Year of the Spark, with Lynn Whipple.
Aside from this I have been doing more art. I'm finding that the more art I do, the more characters and stories there are shuffling about in my noggin, looking for space.

The classes I'm doing in Year of the Spark are not only a joy in and of themselves, they are also sending my imagination soaring. Remember the woven wire and fibre horse I made last week, dear reader? Well, ever since I made her, a melancholy ghost boy with button eyes has been haunting my imagination. It's all a bit Neil Gaimanish I guess, (have you read Coraline?) and yet I'm happy to stick with him (ghost boy not Mr Gaiman) for a while longer. See what he's trying to tell me. Likewise the little king. He's a cranky little despot but I do find him enchanting. So we'll see.

Signing off for now, dear reader. 
Until next time
I remain
Yours in squalls and scribbles.
Jen xx

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Saturday, 11 April 2015

room for a pony

This afternoon at Baxter Street: making wire and fibre wrapped animals with Carla Sonheim. Another brilliant lesson in Year of the Spark. xx

My apologies for the rather indiscreet angle, dear reader. But as you can see, I was in a terrible tangle with the front half of the body ( I can hear you laughing). At this point I didn't know what kind of animal I was making. In fact, I doubted I was going to get through to the finishing line.

I had very little suitable fabric in the house. The fabric needs to be pliable and  oddly enough I mostly had only felt hanging around. Felt is too stiff, although I did use a bit here and there. In the end I crocheted a strand of string and wool and wrapped that around her body. I think I'll leave her with skinny legs so she can run faster... I also used some florist hessian that I'd stashed when a kind soul recently sent me flowers. The hessian feels very 'down in the stables' and almost smells like hay. It frays easily too which I liked because it added shagginess.

I left the number 'one' on the selvage for obvious reasons.

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