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A Writer’s Dilemma

What would YOU do if….

You met a man.  He was young! Handsome! (well, interesting looking). Slim (not to say skinny).  You shared bucket lists – and THEY WERE THE SAME (substantially).

He likes to ask WHY.

YOU like to ask why.

He’s interested in life after death.

YOU’RE interested in death after life.

He has an enormous TV screen to which he has hooked up his hi-tech computer to produce amazing instant footage of You Tube and TED talks (don’t tell Ms M, but he uses a Mac – the Anti-Christ).

He loves animals.

You have the hots for him.

And not only that, but…he’s a WRITER.  A published writer!

Sounds good, doesn’t it.  You read his first novel and it’s great. A few tweaks here and there and it’d be almost as good as YOUR first novel.  You think wow! But do you stop? No, you don’t. You read his second novel.  And it is AWFUL!  He uses too many adverbs and adjectives.  There are redundant phrases and sentences.  There are plot holes and unlikelihoods.  There are stereotypes – lots of them. Large elements of the plot have been lifted from the Hunger Games.

NOW what do you do?  You still like him, a lot, but this writing…just no!  Worse, he’s intimated that with a few tweaks, YOUR stories could perhaps reach similar standards of excellence.  Hmmm.

I think we have a sequel to A Clash of Kings. It’s going to be called ‘A Clash of Egos’ and it’s going to be even MORE bloodthirsty than Game of Thrones.  I mean, it’s got to be – there are WRITERS in it.

I mean really.  What’s more important – intellectual respect – or that certain feeling in the seat of the pants?

Why the Great Wall of China is made of rice

It’s made of rice.  Not many people know that.  It’s very useful, says Hilda, because if the Chinese ever run out of food, they can eat the Wall.  There’s a lot to be said for edible buildings.

Hilda is eighty five years old, though her estimate of when she was born varies, and frankly, it’s irrelevant.  She has the playful, slightly macabre and mischievous imagination of an eight year old.

When I suggest that, given how many Chinese there are, the Great Wall might not last long in a famine, Hilda says they can eat the herbiage growing on top of it.  Because, she says, all the bodies buried in the Wall have composted into excellent nutrients.  She’s philosophical about human tragedy, real or imagined.  She says with some relish that in China, girl babies are thrown in the river and ‘drown along with all the other rubbish’.  Then the fish eat them.  But ‘fish have to eat, don’t they.”

She reminds me of another old lady I met in a ward once, who asked my brother where she could get blackbirds.  When he asked her what for, she said she wanted them to put in a pie, of course.  Hilda prefers strawberries, which she puts under the mattress to avoid sharing with the carers and fellow-inmates.  Better squashed than gone, she says.

And yet, the book hardly exists that Hilda hasn’t read, from Dostoevsky to Robert Fisk to Germaine Greer.  She doesn’t like to socialise in the nursing home – the other women talk only about their health and the staff make her play silly games, involving balls and bingo.  Other people’s grandchildren bore her.

Her memories have become a story read long ago and half forgotten.  Did she spend twenty years in a Russian gulag? Was she a British prisoner of war?  A slave in Byzantium?  A spy?  She says she was.  Who knows.  She talks of many admirers, doing the hokey pokey when it was fashionable, flirting with the handsome victims of motorcycle crashes as a nurses’ aide in some hospital, somewhere, singing anti-Russian songs in Finnish, and her mother, a Polish aristocrat’s concubine.  It would make a better novel than most, if she could be bothered with the details.  “Of course,” she says impatiently when I ask when and where, “of course! Don’t you know that!”.  I’m trying to put down anchors in this plot, Hilda is floating free as plankton.

When I get home from visiting the nursing home, I google rice and the Great Wall of China, and guess what, she’s not wrong.  Well, not entirely, the bricks were stuck together with rice and sand, a kind of mortar.  Hilda’s little joke, not so confused after all.  Never underestimate old ladies.

Sex, Politics and Hotmail: Chapter 15: Olivia’s Pet Refugee

A Tale of Two Women and their Push Up Bras

In a country not that far away, at a time not very long ago, a nerd with time on her hands hacked into the email accounts of two well-known women. She passed the shocking results on to a friend..who passed them on to a friend…who published them on this blog.  Can you guess who these women are?

THE STORY SO FAR….(Chapters One to Fourteen)

Rose is about to explore the spiritual side of wanking.  Meanwhile, Olivia and Moira are doing great things in their capacity as electoral office assistants to the great Clive Hamilton-Hogg.

Oh guess what, Moira and I seem to have made a sort of friend!  Last week while Clive was in Perth this Vietnamese doctor – not a medical doctor, a PhD that is – turned up at the office and he’s been here ever since.  I mean not literally, obviously, I expect he has a home to go to but you wouldn’t think so, considering how often he pops in.  Moira says he probably has the hots for one of us.

The poor man has been trying to obtain permanent residence here, but the department of immigration keeps refusing and telling him he has to go back to Vietnam as Australia needs more hairdressers and chefs, not bacteriologists.  This doesn’t seem logical, does it! After all if there are so many hairdressers why does it always take two weeks to get an appointment?  I ask you!

He is quite desperate and sits in the waiting area day after day, insisting that he wants Clive to appeal personally to the Minister. He knows Clive is in Perth because it’s a sitting week – but that doesn’t stop him coming in and waiting around like a little lost dog!

We offer him cakes and lemonade to keep his spirits up – Moira is so sweet, she makes the most delicious tiramisu – and he tells us stories about South Vietnam in the good old days, when the French were in charge and you could buy croissants for breakfast in Saigon. I don’t know why some people disapprove of Asian migration.  He’s so grateful and well-mannered, I wish there were more like him!

Clive is a Vietnamese war veteran, apparently, and I’m sure he will try to do everything in his power to help, when he gets back.

Steve’s not feeling well.  I’ll have to take time off to take him to the doctor.  Such a bother.  The poor thing suffers dreadfully from hypochondria.

Sorry to hear poor old Steve’s crook – again!  Have you thought about hiding the Medical Family Handbook? Might save you a packet in medical bills?


You know it’s wicked what Mr Tran has been through.  The Immigration Department has been shockingly mean to him.  Especially considering how well educated he is. I mean, a PhD – he’s not exactly going to lower the IQ of the nation, is he.  But Immigration say he’s too old.  He’s only 41, for god’s sake.  And you know how Asians don’t age as we do, probably we should calculate their age differently, the same as one does for pets – that sounds awful doesn’t it.  But it makes perfect sense when you think about it – for instance we could count fifteen Asian years as ten European years so if you look at it like that, Mr Tran is really only in his twenties.

Of course we must protect our borders and so on.  But not from people like Mr Tran.  Or Clive’s nice Asian wife.  I don’t know why immigration can’t be more discriminating, you’d think they couldn’t TELL a civilized person from a terrorist!

Moira agrees with me. I find Moira agrees with me about most things, that’s so refreshing really.

You two sound like a match made in heaven. Maybe you should divorce Steve and marry Moira.

I dunno about terrorists but I reckon they should let more men in. There’s not enough blokes here as it is, it’d be so much easier for us single women if they let in a whole crowd of guys from like, Denmark or somewhere, shake up the competition.  Plus I don’t think they should let in any more Thai girls, that’s just common sense when you think about it.

How’s Steve now anyway?  What did the doc say?

Just back from the proctologist!  Nothing too serious.  Steve thinks he may have irritable bowel syndrome.  That would account for the length of time he spends in the upstairs toilet, I suppose.  And why he emerges with an odd look on his face…I expect he’s embarrassed.  But as I told him there’s no need to keep any secrets from me.  In fact, since we’re married, it’s almost MANDATED.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Strange Stories: Boy meets Girl

Yep, this is a love story like any other.

He first saw her at a cocktail party.  She wore a black dress, short, and pearls. So did all the others.  She had long, corn-gold hair and blue eyes.  So did all the others.

He knew she was 25.  In that year, the year when she’d been born, Griselda Dansk was Bollywood’s number one screen goddess.  All the girl babies born in that year had golden hair and blue eyes, just like Griselda, and small cup sizes, which Griselda had made fashionable in her classic role as a flat-chested, gloriously naked Virginia Woolf.

He got there late, and tripped on the hostess’ welcome mat.  As Debonya held out a pale hand to help him up, and waved with the other for a maid to clear up the mess, all the women looked at him, and looked away again, embarrassed.  All except one.

She smiled, then, and there was no trace of mockery in her joyful grin.  She held his dark, long-lashed eyes – born in 2062, all the boys had them – and winked, slowly.  He grinned back,  let go Debonya’s hand, and came to her like a cat comes to sit by the fire.

He told her she was beautiful, in bed, later that night.

“You’re so warm, I could lie beside you in the snow and not feel it.”

“Flatterer!” That wink again.  It was entrancing.

“I’m not!  And you’re so gorgeously clever.  I bet you’ve got a PhD.  Tell me, you have, haven’t you!”

She nodded.

“Historical anachronism, from Harvard.”

In the morning he woke up to find her awake already, her windows wide and open on the world.  He searched for last night’s scene within them: she continued as if they’d never moved from there.

“Do you find my intellect attractive, then?”

“Of course!  Doesn’t everyone?”

She wrapped a long, lightly tanned thigh around his waist.

“Some men would rather make the jokes than laugh at them, you know.  And then, some men ARE the joke.”

He smiled uncertainly.

“Do you know, in my grandmother’s day, THIS would have been the candy to attract the flies.  THIS is what you would have found beautiful.”

She ran a hand over her peach-like behind, flicked the golden hair in disdain.

“Yes but everyone – I mean everyone from 2058 – looks the same.  It’s just a shell – why would I be interested in a shell?  It’d be like falling in love with your dress!”

She sat up.

“Did you say ‘falling in love’?”

He brushed the glossy, careless curls from his eyes.  Was it his imagination, or was he starting to feel the cold?

“I only meant..”

“I don’t do love.  Come to think of it, you’re not really my type.  I prefer the 2040 crop -much less naive.”

He looked into the sea-blue windows of her soul, and saw that he had mistaken the fires of lust for abiding warmth, and cleverness and superficial charm for a complex intelligence she did not have.  She was not, after all, beautiful.  He was not the first man who’d woken up to that conclusion.

Strange Stories: Different

I don’t miss my brother Joshua at all.

“Ask nicely.”  Joshua’s gingery hair blazes like a helmet in the evening sunlight.  He’s eight.

So I say, “Please don’t, please.” I’m only four. But Joshua holds Ted tied onto a stick out over the barbecue, which we’re not allowed to light by ourselves. I can smell his yellow fur beginning to smoulder.   I’m crying, pulling at his arm.

“Ted’s been bad. He has to be punished,” says Joshua sternly, shrugging me off.

Like Joshua.  Joshua’s been bad. That’s why he’s not around any more, hasn’t been for years.

Mum misses Joshua, in a way.

“What else could we do?” Mum asks Dad, late at night.  Dad pretends not to hear and goes on reading a book. “He just couldn’t change.”

The doctors put Joshua on a plane. Mum packed a suitcase, all the things you might need for a lifetime away, although of course there were weight restrictions to be taken into account. I  wonder if he screamed and cried, like I did when he burnt Ted.  I wonder if he still likes to hassle ants.

Something’s missing from my life, without him.  I don’t have anyone to sneak up behind me and stick both fingers under my ribs to make me jump. No one calls me bitch and moron any more.  No malevolent presence looms beside me as I walk home from school.  No one there to scare the other girls off just by looking at them and swinging his arms in that certain way.  Ok,  I didn’t mind too much when he knocked Tracy Bucknall’s front tooth out for calling me an ugly slut.  I admit that.

When Joshua was taken away, the ants must have thought their golden age had come, free from inexplicable natural disasters – flash floods, scorching death rays from the sky, acid rain.  They prospered and multiplied and infested the kitchen, where they ate mum’s carefully preserved plum jam.

Joshua was always looking for trouble.

“Let’s throw the football through Froggatt’s front window!”

“But why?”

“Don’t like her. Anyway I want to see how easy it is to smash. We can always say it was an accident.”

I didn’t like her much either but I wouldn’t have dared do it. I watched though.  Mrs Froggatt came boiling out ready to screech but when she saw Joshua standing there smiling she said “Oh it’s you again,” and went inside to make a phonecall.  Joshua never had the sense to hide, afterwards.

There’s going to be a war. I don’t like war.  At least, I don’t really know what a war is, but Mum says her grandmother was in one and she said it was terrible.  People killed one another for some reason nobody can remember. I can’t imagine it, any more than I can imagine why Joshua needs to pinch me when I’m walking past him on the way to the bathroom.

“Really? How could they do it? Didn’t they feel terrible?” I ask my mother.

“People were different in those days,” she explains.

“Before selective gene screening,” adds Dad.

“More like Joshua?”

“Yes. There were lots of people like Joshua then.”

They’re not allowed to write.  Dad says he’s sure Joshua’s alright though. It’s not a prison camp. It’s an island. There are no guards, only the ocean.  It’s a permanent holiday by the beach, really.  Dad says Joshua’s probably happier with people just like him.  It’s a place where people who are different can be themselves.

Joshua fancied my friend Casey. Casey didn’t like him though, she said he smelt too strong and showed off all the time,

“Your brother’s not normal.  He’s always hanging off that tree outside my place doing pull ups to show off his muscles. Like I care!”

“He is SO normal!” I said, even though that morning he’d put his hands around my neck till it left a big red mark.  But he wasn’t, of course.  When I asked Dad why he said,

“Well, you know, the doctors do their best to make sure all babies are born with the right attitudes. But sometimes things go wrong, nobody knows why.  Maybe he’ll settle down.”

Mum and Dad tried to hide Joshua,  pretend he’d grow out of it.

“He’s just lively,” they’d say to friends and neighbours. Or “It’s just a phase.”

Joshua liked to look at himself in the mirror, flexing his biceps, weightlifting with mum’s tomato soup cans.

“Your friend Casey’s hot.”

“Why don’t you ask her out then? She can only say no.”  I say.  Which she would.

Joshua knows that.

“I’m not going to ask her!  When you want something you have to take it. No wonder this is such a crappy boring shithole.  This place needs a shake up. I wish there WAS a damned war!”

So he took Casey, in the woods behind the boat shed.  They came for him the next day, with needles and pills.   Mum said he looked just like he had when he was a baby, being carried out on a stretcher. Peaceful and sweet.

When the war comes we hide in the boatshed, with another family from the street.  Everyone hides where they can. What else can we do? Casey has hysterics because being in the boatshed reminds her of Joshua.

“If I’m killed I want you to know how much I love you.” Mum pulls my head down to her lap so I can’t see.  She shuts her eyes too.

We hear the roar of engines driving too fast in our quiet streets, glass breaking, booted feet running, explosions like when lightning hits a tree.  I smell smoke.   I wonder if they broke Mrs Froggatt’s windows, again.  Mum and Dad curl together like two caterpillars.  So this is war? No wonder my great grandma didn’t like it much.

Men smash the locked door in with boots and the butts of rifles.  When they see us cowering in the dark among ropes and crayfish pots they all jeer and point.

“Look at them, they can’t even put up a fight!”

A man pulls me out by the hair. I don’t struggle, I just try to keep up with him, because otherwise it will hurt even more.  Joshua taught me that.  Mrs Froggatt and Mum are lying on the ground, wailing.

How can they do this?  Why would they want to? Can’t they feel our pain? What did we ever do to them?  I can see in Casey’s eyes, as she crawls at the feet of her captor, that she’s shocked, confused.  Can there really be so many Joshuas? Where did they all come from?

Then there’s a white flash, like the burning beam Joshua used to aim at the ants with his mirror.  I’m on the ground, my head resting in entrails, soft and slippery, my ears ringing.  Familiar biceps pull me up.  All around men lie tossed about like red salad.

“Get up, we have to be quick,” says my brother. “Follow me, into the woods.”

Casey whimpers. Mum is being sick. Dad has wet his pants with fright.

“We won’t!” wails Mrs Froggatt. “You’re worse than those.” And she points at the scattered pieces.

“Suit yourself.”

I run with Joshua to the forest.

Joshua is still different. But now I’m glad.  I don’t know why he’s here or how he escaped.  Perhaps people like him always work something out.  But we need someone now who understands pain and likes it.

Sex, Politics & Hotmail: a Tale of Two Women and their Push-up Bras



New Message to: Olivia Harris-Finke on Facebook

You won.

New Message to: Rose O’Brady on Facebook

I beg your pardon?

Rose O’Brady

You mean you don’t remember?

Olivia Harris-Finke

No I’m afraid I don’t. But then I haven’t heard from you for ten years, Rose darling, so I’m probably slightly behind the eight ball.  (What is the eight ball, by the way?)

So what have I won, exactly?

Rose O’Brady

You won the bet.

Hey anyway you were the one who stopped answering my emails.  I thought maybe you moved or something.  But then I looked you up on Facebook last month and everything was just the same, so maybe it wasn’t that after all.

Olivia Harris-Finke

Of course I didn’t stop answering YOUR emails.  It was you who stopped answering mine.  I thought it was because your ISP had cut you off, or something of the sort.

Rose O’Brady


Olivia Harris-Finke

Well you know how you’re always forgetting to pay bills.  I even wrote a letter, and you never answered that either!


Rose O’Brady

Well maybe we both just forgot.  Isn’t that supposed to happen when people get married and have kids?  Who needs friends when you’ve got a nuclear family!

Anyway let’s get off this frigging thing! Email me!

Selling it

It’s a pansy, with one purple flower.  Maybe she should have bought one with several blooms, but she was in a hurry, so she just picked up the first one she saw, in and out of the shop then straight home to put it on the patio, in a plastic imitation-terracotta pot.  If it grows she might add more, make the beginnings of a garden.  She waters it carefully and picks up her mobile to check for messages.

“Hello Georgia, I was wondering if you’re free….”

“Dirty little thing.”  she mutters, writing down the number to call back. “Ok, you pervert.”

He could be the plumber, making a time to fix the drains.  He has that matter-of-fact way of speaking.  She pictures him as middle-aged, with a thick body and a square, greying face.

He looks very much as she expects him to.

“Make yourself comfortable.”

She waves at the double bed while she goes to put the money away.  When she comes back he is lying naked, as if for a medical examination.  She takes off her clothes quickly and sits beside him.

“How would you like to start?” she asks politely.

“I don’t know.  What would you suggest?”

Her mind is a blank.  “I don’t know.  It’s up to you, you’re paying.”

What about this, what about that, he asks.  She’s willing.  They chat in a friendly way while he experiments with her body.  She’s customer oriented.

When he’s finished he seemed pleased with the service.  He wants to know if she was pleased too.

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Oh yes, it was very nice,” she says.

“But I suppose you always say that.”

A good saleswoman performs her work cheerfully and with pleasure.

“Yes, but I mean it with you,”  she lies.

He seems happy with that as he closes the front door, checking his fly.

For the next one, she has to drive out to a house on the borders of suburbia.  An anxious looking, ginger-haired young man is waiting on the front lawn.  A video, which features men with breasts, or possibly women with penises, is set up and waiting.  She tries to chat but he isn’t a talker: he seems to have a speech impediment.  She imagines he’d have little success with women, on a voluntary, unpaid basis.

His body is pink and white and bright red.

“Do you like toys?”

She says she does, and he gets out a bagful of implements for her to use on him, one after the other, while he stares engrossed at the screen.  As she penetrates him with rubber and tries half-heartedly to follow the joinings of various bodies in the film, she is conscious of a feeling of boredom.

“Maybe I’ll have you back next week,” he manages to articulate, as she’s packing up.  He is anxious to get her out of the house, now it’s all over.   They all are.

For her last appointment, she goes to the lobby of a four star hotel.  The client is 50-ish, obviously well-heeled and suited.  He doesn’t want to be seen going to a room with her.  She gathers that he has a reputation to maintain.

“Did you bring any lingerie?  Stockings and suspenders?”

She has to admit she didn’t, since she had to rush from her last appointment.

“Never mind, next time.”  He asks her about weekend rates.  She isn’t sure what to say, as she’s never been asked before, but as she looks at him, she makes up her mind that it will be very expensive.

She lies on the bed and watched him as he takes off his clothes: white cotton boxers of the old fashioned fittng kind, a white Bonds singlet.  He dresses like an old man: his backside hangs limp against the back of his thighs.  He hoists his skinny body over hers.

“Tell me about the first time you had sex?  Were you very young?”  His voice is hoarse with illicit arousal.

“It was when I was sixteen,”  she makes up obligingly.  “In my parents’ house.  In my school uniform…”

“Oh you naughty girl,” he giggles.  His face is close to hers, leering down, his tongue reaching for her mouth.  His teeth are yellowed and crooked.  From this distance she can see just how old he is: she realises he is nearer sixty than fifty.

“You certainly know how to please a gentleman,” he snickers.

“I’m glad you think so.”

She shuts her eyes.  Afterwards he, too, wants her to go quickly.  Maybe they’re ashamed, once the need is over.

On the way out to the carpark, she sees his face in her mind, and his skinny dick.  She feels sick.  She puts on a pair of sunglasses to hide the tears but they don’t hide the images.  She drives home, five hundred dollars richer than she was when she got up.  The cash lies like lead in her heart.

On the road home she wonders how it is with these men.  They think it’s like any other service but they’re buying part of her soul.  Or are they selling their own?  A man who has to pay for it, what respect can he have for himself?   She has none, nor for the men she passes on the street: any one of them could be handing money over to stick his pathetic penis into somebody he’s never met.

When she gets home, she goes out to look at the pot plant.  Its leaves are curled and limp: all the life has gone out of it.  Forlornly she waters it, hoping to bring it back to health.  But the one purple flower just hangs its head: it’s too late for water.  It’s been a long hot day.