Saturday, 31 December 2011

Lentils mean money

An Italian traditional New Year's Eve meal is not complete without a serving of lentils. In fact last night we learned of a dilemma on the local news: 'cenone' (mega dinner) or discothèque? We were amused. People were interviewed in the streets of Cortina and answered earnestly, faces hard. What will we do? Are we doing the right thing? (Cameras swerving from portions of 'zampone e lenticchie' to flashing disco lights over bronzed babes.)

Eating lentils on New Year's Eve ensures that the next year will be full of money, lentils representing riches. Of course every second uncle will lament that he has consumed lentils by the bucketful and failed to increase his bank account. But lentils will always be on the menu. Growing up in Australia I don't remember any tradition other than the campfire down on the rocks by the lake, and the lazy beer-soaked hours ticking by until fireworks sprouted up miles away on the coast. One by one we would trail off to bed.

Tonight, in this mixed-blood household, I'm not sure who is off skiing, or drinking and partying. But I do know that I don't want much fuss. Other years when my kids were younger I used to party hard, way hard. I would tuck in their warm bodies then drive off into the night to a party in an alpine village, hot dancing in a snow-drifted hut, a sweet boy and a drunken sled ride through empty streets; then driving away at dawn under the heave of the mountain.

Is it really going to be 2012? I feel such trepidation before the New Year. Perhaps that it why I used to happily get so drunk. All the things that could happen, that will happen. It makes me feel as doubtful and restrained as ever, hoping for goodness and strength, hoping that it will all hold together, that we will be safe in our beds.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Be My Guest

As the silly season rushes to its peak I have some good news to share. I have an interview up on Novel Spaces, thanks to Liane Spicer, where I talk about the long wait for this book to come out. This is another 'unknown' in the life of most writers - the months of waiting while editing, cover work and promotion come together. No use in getting impatient, just hold on for the ride. I am thankful my editor and I didn't tear each other's hair out, and could probably still throw back a kir royale together in France where he lives. I love my cover with its racy blond posing before a Baroque Italian church, with the retro in tasteful pink leopard skin (since when is leopard skin tasteful, well, since now!) Then in the New Year when advance review copies go out, I will enter a new phase, and probably have to write a lot more fretful blog posts and do a lot more hopeful interviews. I do hope things go well. For such a long time I have felt as though I am dangling here.

Thanks so much to readers and commenters. The blog world is a marvellous thing really, who would ever have have imagined it could be possible to reach out to other writers in faraway places, or even around the corner, who share the same frustrations, ups and downs, defeats and victories. It helps, doesn't it?

The other great piece of news is that Ether Books are putting me on their Advent Calendar tomorrow (24th December) so do have a look if you'd like to. Ether vigorously support short story writers and have given the form a classy boost.

Grazie Bea at Ether and Liane at Novel Spaces! Best wishes to you and your families for this festive season, and good luck and good health in 2012.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Caffè corretto

Though my kids all grew up in the tropics we now live in northern Italy where there is a sweltering summer and a foggy freezing winter. I don't mean Siberian freezing, but Venetian fog that will not leave our valley for entire weeks. Suggestivo for someone on a writing streak, but not good for the bones or a seratonin fix.

My ex considered himself a mountain man and dragged me up to the Dolomites a few times before we had offspring. It was when I thought I was a chic Parisienne. I remember my Aussie toes turned blue and I counted the hours before I would be back inside the stuffy warm car driving home. I didn't fall for the cold, the peaks or the ski instructors.

Zap ahead to a divorcée trying not to go nuts in Italy after ten tropical years in Ghana. Those first winters, come January and I would have sold a child to clear the sky, to see some sun, to work up a sweat. That was when I discovered skiing.

What a wonderful way to round up the adolescents, keep them off the streets, spend heaps of money on 'necessary' equipment and cool gear, and watch the winter dissolve. I quickly found mountain folk to be very warm inside, like their pine-panelled homes and hand-carved chairs, their lovely canederli and addictive grappa al carugo. And fitness. In truth I come from an entirely sporty family, waterskied as a kid and did swimming training. It has been a smooth transition. From Africa-babe to powderhound in a few years. Now I telemark or free-heel ski with the local crazies and it's a far cry from designer shop sales in town or Ikea on weekends (swearing, assembling cupboards) or merciless long Sunday lunches in trattorias.

The first run every morning is preceded by a caffè corretto (in my novel this becomes Marilyn's preferred poison for facing her Milanese mornings) - which is espresso with a splash of local grappa to warm up wooden legs and ease shoulders, to deepen the glow in red cheeks. Then skis on shoulders and up to the lift, a slow rise to the top, a gliding towards the peaks.

I am hooked.

** ** **

ps: waiting for my dummy book copy to arrive; my ears ache from straining to hear the postman...

ALSO on 24th December I am on the Ether Books Advent Calendar with the title story of my just-accepted collection 'Pelt and Other Stories'. The story is called 'Pelt' and tells of a pregnant Ghanaian woman trying to lure back her lover from his German ex-wife.

Buon Natale a tutti!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

An Overwhelming Affair

Last Thursday was the Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione and while for some that meant a visit to church, for my clan and I it meant a huge twenty-one-people lunch at Annalisa’s. Two of her brothers celebrated nearby birthdays and arrivals to the house were determined by distance from town, fog, baby’s naps and party animals oversleeping. Midway through the meal I answered my phone and checked my email quickly. There was a note from my publisher. Mmmm. That could only mean one thing. The story collection I had sent him with my heart stammering must have been swiftly rejected. How many times had I heard it: Lovely work but stories don’t sell. Bring on de novel.

I wandered out onto the terrace with the smokers pausing between courses and sat down to read it. And reread it.

..loved the stories.. would like to proceed with this project in addition to ‘Divorced’.. looking forward to working with you on this...

My heart sailed out to Mary, born without the stain of original sin (no it didn’t really, but I’ve always had a weak spot for the true Madonna) and for the past few days I have been smiling at everything – filthy floors and animals in the house, stoned sons, cranky daughter, cool friends, the electricity men, my muddy surrounds. I mean, these are the contours of absolute bliss no?

Short stories. I have always written and published stories except for the long and depressing stretches (months, years!) when I have been writing novels or back at work or reproducing or in flight from everything. My dream has always been to have a book of stories with my name on it. The thought of it! And now I have ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’, which I just had to write, coming out in April, and the stories in 2013. I am certainly going to have to crank up my other blog and – oh! the relief – I won’t have to write a query letter for a good while.

My publisher said I could shout it from the rooftops.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Love and String Theory

For some reason every time I open this computer the date is 1st January 2004. What does that mean? What was doing that day? It wasn't so long ago. Would I like to go back there and check myself out? Noo wayy! I don't think I would go back to any of my recent incarnations - crazy divorcée, off-beat beloved, insane mother, depressed diplomat's wife, besotted skinny lover..

This year that I have sworn off love and other things I don't understand (string theory, just try it) I have had some weird encounters. The latest, in the supermarket car park on Friday night, where I had a mile-high trolley. I mean, did I look like I needed cracking onto? It wasn't debauched shopping either, you know, oodles of drink and snacks and cheeses and condoms and clinking wine bottles, it was hardcore mothershop: toilet rolls, milk and cereal, dog and cat food, frozen pizzas, cheap beer for the stoners, minimal fruit (I do that at the market on Sunday morning), more milk and cereal, oh and yoghurt. Honestly, dear fellow, when the greatest satisfaction I had looming before me was the idea of sitting down, throwing my legs out and not having to drive another teenager or fight for the tv remote, DO YOU THINK I WANT TO BE CHATTED UP OR AM LIKELY TO HAND OVER MY CELL NUMBER?

Now some of you may say, and I do feel it in a remote pocket of myself, just be humane girl, remember how many times you've put yourself out on a limb, blushed, tried to get the words right. But does getting older, and having being bruised and trampled and revived and trampled and bruised etc again in love, mean you just don't have the patience for it?

I used to think my gay friends had some answers. Use and abuse. Well, they were so light about it all, so detached. But they were so screwed up, for God's sake they killed themselves! And then African women, I learnt a lot from them about running the show, about networks of women and secrets, about 'African love'. But where does that leave a Western woman who wants some peace, and yet a piece of the action?

Back to string theory.

PS Do check out my interview with poet John Siddique 'Calendar Guys: A Naked Muse for all Seasons' on

Saturday, 26 November 2011

If Haruki Murakami is nominated for a Bad Sex Award what about You?

Every year the Literary Review Bad Sex Awards shame writers of the highest calibre with a selection of intensely non-fibrillating scenes of copulation. I have yet to make their list. Not for want of trying however. I remember my early writing involved a lot of 'members' and 'openings', but now the sex act, well, for fear of falling into cliches or getting too swept away with the erotic moment, I try to take away what I might be tempted to pop in. Take last week, for example, I was setting up a sex-scene-that-fails-to-happen in a short story I am working on: when I reread I realised I had leapt to the table like Britney Spears in laced-up boots and a g-string. Yerk!

So the young man did not remove his clothing. The young man had no hard-on. I gave that piece the cold shower.

Interestingly, Rowan Pelling, the admirable ex-Editor of The Erotic Review, asks Why are male writers so bad at sex scenes? (The Guardian, Fri 25th Nov). She notes, I can only posit a theory, but I tend to blame the higher rate of mortifying sex scenes in novels by men on the nature of their fantasies.. ..Meanwhile those women authors who do apply themselves to the hard task of writing about sex tend to do so with veracity and a distinctly grown-up sensibility..

Could this be true? Are women more succinct, more investigatory, more permeating with their portraits of lovemaking?

On the Literary Review's list, we find the much-loved Haruki Murakami, whose new book sits on my table and will nonetheless probably be adored, and Australian Christos Tsiolkas, whose extract involved words such as 'gaseous bouquet' and 'churning compost' and was far too full of odours to be fully read with green tea.

What makes even the best writers go loopy over sex scenes? Can they be forgiven? Is anyone game enough to lay down some text?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

What Lovers Do

A friend last week after a glass of heavy red wine asked me what had been the most romantic moment of my life. Si tu, Caterina. Yes you, Catherine. You're the one who's travelled the world. You lived in Paris, Milan, then the sticky heat of Africa. Tell me. Dimmi tutto.

I hadn't a clue. I looked up at the building with its fluted edges, the autumn wisteria dropping leaves on the stones at our feet, and fossicked in my favourite handbag from a designer friend.

Well? Allora?

The thing is, I don't think I am very romantic. There is a stark, no-bullshit Australian side of me that cringes in the light of too much attention. I remember my ex gave me lingerie at the Xmas dinner table (picture the entire Italian family surrounding a skinny Parigina with Annie Lennox hair). I fled to the bathroom. That was when I realised I didn't understand romance, or romance Italian-style.

However in other contexts I confess to turning wishy-washy myself. I remember collecting a mass of scented petals in a park, driving to my lover's house to spread them on his back as he slept. Disappearing. Wanting him to wake up and say, What? How is this?

And then realise.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

What? no more go-go girls?

Over the last few days photographs of a short grim-faced man have been circling about in the press. Raising his eyes to heaven, casting a weary wave behind rain-streaked glass, grasping the veined hand of a tetchy supporter. I even saw a grinning holiday snap from better days - wearing that ridiculous bandana - with a certain British ex-Prime Minister, tossed in with some shots of booby Ruby Rubacuore/Heartsnatcher, an underage job from the recent past.

Is it over? Or is Italy so far down the plug-hole hole there is not a hope of climbing out?

In my novel there are lots of references to go-go girls jiggling their assets on Berlusconi's three television stations, lots of small bald men with Amazonian wives. It was meant to be funny. Well, it is in a brittle sort of way. To think that some pneumatic tits and lips were enough to get a dental nurse into politics. Nothing against dental nurses, but Berlusconi has poisoned the system by making all women into potential slutty bedfellows, and the others well, we've heard his comments about ladies who are not-quite-Venus.

Today I read that in Silvio's world, when asked if they would have sex with the seventy-five year old tycoon, 30 per cent of women said 'Yes'.

He claimed that 70 per cent said 'What, again?'

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Ether Writer of the Week!

Despite no hot water and a musty old day I am thrilled! I have finally remembered to check the Ether Books site where I am Writer of the Week! Do check if you'd like. I have eight stories up which you can download, mostly set in Africa where I lived many hot and sweaty years.

A friend asked Which Story Is You? and I seriously don't know. I think there are bits scattered all over the shop, I am guilty of magpie traits - snatching details, hoarding them, forgetting them mostly. No I don't carry a notebook. It would just become so long and chunky and I would waste even more time trying to find something I half-remembered, written at a stop light on the way to piano. Nah.. better to trust the sediment. Here are my pieces:

Pelt - a pregnant Ghanaian woman tries to win back her German man when his estranged wife comes to town.

Cartography - Della swiftly marries Luce, a diplomat widower and follows him to West Africa where she becomes involved with a local painter.

The Severed Reef - Australian agronomist Paul Maddox imagines he wears the face of white unscrupulousnous for his Somali colleague as the country descends into war.

The Brittle Beach - a young au pair who observes her Milanese family on holiday on the island of Stromboli, until an accident happens and she is drawn to the volcano.

Nathalie - Mona's daughter Nathalie arrives from Paris on a visit but their reunion is soured when the young woman is attacked on the beach.

Janet and the Angry Trees - a West African sex worker who becomes a carer for her Italian lover's elderly parents.

The Coptic Bride - Jim has spent a lifetime being chastised by his brother for being gay but finds an unlikely ally in Adam's new Ethiopean fiancee.

Gorgeous Eyes - an international photographer visits West Africa and finds a subject in Margaret's sapphire eyes.

I can't even say which is my favourite. As they say in - what was it? modelling, advertising? novel-writing? - you are only as good as your last effort.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Who is speaking here? Will someone tell me who's in charge?

A friend asked me this the other day. Who is speaking on your blog? Is it you or your book character? Or are they quite alike?

Well, er, it's me talking on the blog, it's not her. Her name is Marilyn and she's invented. And of course we're not alike. I mean, I'm just not her, I mean how can I be? She is tall, half-Hungarian with knockers and big cheek bones, divorced from a television executive with a couple of unflinching British teens. She's done the subordinate wife thing for too long, the woman behind the man, the madre in a cardigan, the food shopper, the woman sipping cups of tea. I can't say how much I enjoyed creating a woman so DIFFERENT from myself.

Whereas myself, argh, let's leave that. I just live here, wrote the book, write this blog. Suffice to say that I do love story-telling, creating an entire world that you can enter and even smell when you lay your thoughts to rest at night. And Marilyn's new Italian world was created from the many elements I thought would make a cracking read for a woman as demanding and fortified as myself. Someone who likes sex, men, teenagers, architecture and good wine, and not always in that order.

I started writing 'The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy' at a time when I began to realise that thirty-year-old (traditional chick lit market) and forty-year-old women have very different needs. There is so much that a woman has/is striving to/still wishes to accomplish over those dense pre-50 years. And yet these are the years when women begin to fade away. When we may be dumped/betrayed/jaded. When our clothes are advertised on girls younger than our daughters; when we appear most often (on Italian tv) in ads about dust, hygiene or bloated stomachs!! I just wanted to shift a few deck chairs and stir up some arresting humour around an older lass who learns how to get crude again, to perk up and work out which hat she could be wearing.

So Marilyn, my book character, is not me. She is just the vehicle for a rant, a laugh, a vent for my espresso fixation and a reason to hang around Venice and Milan.

Although that Australian character, Fiona, that saucy red-head who grabs the ball and runs with it, now she's the one you should probably cross-examine...

+ + +

ps GRAZIE MILLE to poet JOHN SIDDIQUE who is hosting my 'Culture Diary' on his blog this week I am reading his sexy and sensitive poems in Full Blood.

pps wonderful news from Ether Books who have a selection of my stories online - stories based on the cusp between European and African ways of thinking! Do take a look there are amazing writers present!

Monday, 17 October 2011

The artistic temperament

I used to live with an artist. Somehow I doubt he would say the same thing about me. Oh yeah, the time I lived with that creative woman. Nope, he would just say, the time I lived with that woman, I am sure of it.

The tricky thing about being a multi-tasked, forward-thinking, 360°-encompassing female is that your art is dissolved into your being, and your being is dissolved into the many people making demands, however quiet but always sustained, all around you.

It is hard hungry work, identifying the motherlode of creativity, reaching its rich fluid, then extruding the flow from compacted rock, layers of expression and experience, into fragments of crystalised energy with edgy facets.

And then you have to drive a teen to the station. Or remember whether you have to pick another one up. Or service the car. Or have the border trees trimmed. And that hole in the fence.

One way of looking at female artistic endeavour is to consider that its fruits are often doubly delicious. Attained a such a cost - that combat against selflessness and sacrifice - these endeavours may require a daunting leap, of course with strings attached.

I think of Françoise Gilot, mistress of that brilliant minotaur Picasso who, an artist herself, dared to critique their life and his god-like mannerisms. Anyone who read her 1964 book 'Life with Picasso' may know that one of the most creative minds of last century shunned his ex-lover and their children when the book was published. Never spoke to his teenage children again. His son Claude who climbed over the artist's fence, never to be admitted to his home.

The earnings from Gilot's book gave her the economic resources to fight for her children to claim the Picasso name and inheritance. She married again, twice, painted throughout her luminous life, lives in New York.

Her pensive, stylised face looks out from Picasso's seductive portraits.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Based on the author's vast experience and wild imagination

I've taken the strap line from my cover and am seeing a whooping woman on a tabletop in high heels. Is that really me? This lady sounds dangerous. And yet this woman/author is shepherding young adults through life, seriously playing Scarlatti and hoping for some early snow and pearly high altitude dawns.

Yes the season is changing. Leaves are skating down and tractors are peeling open the earth and I am moving from being a writer on a word-high to an author working on her game plan to sell her book. I am slightly scared. Okay, I am shit-scared, sleepless at night. I wish that memory of swimming out to those Corsican buoys was a little more convincing. Think sand, think sultriness. Turning over under my umbrella, a dip in green water...

But as the autumn advances there is no escape. I have to see this thing through. Hone my lapsed marketing skills and learn how to package my book. This morning I read that hundreds of new novels hit the shelves in the UK each month. Hundreds?! I read that I need a famous person to attract a crowd. Who?! I think of texting Mr. Clooney or dragging in leggy Elle MacPherson, now there's a divorcée, given there is a sassy Australian girl with a great -bleep- collection in the book.

At least I have my book launch dress. Or two depending on the weather and the riskiness of the occasion. On Friday myself and the Facebook teen daughter journeyed up north to a designer friend's outlet and gorged ourselves on clothes, bags and shoes. How sinful, how delicious.

But truly I feel like running off to Paris, rushing down a street in the chill wind, walking through a great and engulfing art museum of gilded frames and grappling beauties. Sitting on a bench in a vault of light.

- - -

p.s. Thank you to Mike French - I've just joined the literary review The View From Here as a contributor and look forward to taking part!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Good Woman is Easy to Love

I love it when older women come good. I love it when they find success or a new heart-throb or a fabulous dress, especially when they have had a rotten run or spent their lives shovelling pasta or trimming roses.

I feel rather stupid saying this but the recent Demi Moore/Ashton K blow-up (which I'm not going to pretend not to know about) makes me feel the inverse of this, meaning sadder. For a while it was all Cougar Town and power to the old girls, but if you look carefully, it all happened in the wrong way, and was never anything other than skin-deep and a marketing curve. There was never any real revering of the older gal, it was a galling push against gravity, a bit of smut and throwaway twenty-year-olds on the side.

Even if I think of chic Madonna with a boy just older than my eldest son I think Eeek! What on earth would they talk about? What is the real substance of this? Not that my sons are unintelligent, or crude, or incapable of decent conversation. But they are just - different.

In my book my heroine tries her hand at both - young and saucy, older complicated and not-altogether wiser. I wanted to show how a woman of a certain age can have the power to shop around, and should do! Shopping around definitely has its upside and terrific moments (especially if one includes Italian shoes). No?

And yes like everyone over 40 these days I have girlfriends who have young guys, even guys you can sense are old at heart and have taken off the tinted glasses, or don't mind standing together in strong light. I admire these couples for what I assume they are stating - We are lovers, We don't give a stuff, We are good together. Hats off to them. But I can't help wondering whether there is sadness in the wings, or up ahead and not too far off either.

Probably the only way to get around this one is the way a seasoned Susan Sarandon does in the remake of the film Alfie, when she dumps a disbelieving and delicious Jude Law. Do take note:

But why!? Alfie asks.

Because, Liz replies, I've found someone... younger.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tiepolo Skies

We were tossed back on our striped deckchairs on the grass the other day looking up at the sky. It was a Tiepolo sky - streaky pale blue, skeins of cloud floss, liquid lightness - which one can tilt up and see across the ceilings of certain villas and churches in this area, all the way to Venice where the painter was born. Anyone who has seen Tiepolo's work will have seen how he captures the gauzy fluidity of bright summer light, making it warm and enticing, providing a background for the flight of cheeky ladies in cascaded skirts, dainty ankles revealed, stockinged calves.

We were quiet in thought after a big meal, good wine. These are the last late days of summer, just as Tiepolo painted in the last season of the vast and decadent Venetian Republic, in the mid-1700s when Baroque art exploded into sizzling Rococco forms. But what Tiepolo gave us most of all - I think - was this colour, this almost-transparent blue that begs us to look upward.

This month as summer wanes our Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has given us much to think about. Tapped phone conversations - how vulgar - leading to greater vulgarities still. Young prostitutes whom he did or not pay for sex. Women in a line outside of his chamber, women seeking fame on his tits-and-arse TV stations from a lover who boasts: 'I govern this country in my spare time.'

Though perhaps I shouldn't have watched 'Spartacus' the other night or 'The Borgias', I wonder whether Italy in her worst moments has always had such feisty immoral leadership and a proclaimed appetite for women and delights. I think back to her debauched popes and feuding ducal families, her virgins and sinners, her pomp and hyperpole.

I am beginning to see Berlusconi in a toga, Italy burning to a crisp behind him.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

George Clooney Appears in Debut Novel

One of the unlikeliest characters in my upcoming novel ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ is Mr. George Clooney. Mr. Clooney makes several brief appearances in the life of our protagonist, Marilyn Wade, who discovers a signed photograph of the Hollywood actor on the book shelf of her unscrupulous Australian host, Fiona Miller:

"I had no doubt Fiona was a woman who had sex, miles of it. Grimly, I made myself a jam sandwich in the kitchen then took it into the living room where I noticed a signed photograph of George Clooney on a bookshelf stacked with fashion magazines.
George Clooney?
I walked over and it was George Clooney all right. With his crushed black opal eyes and gritted teeth smile. He didn’t look too happy to be spending the night.
‘Hello George,’ I said softly. ‘Nothing planned? Poor old you!’"

George’s presence within the sexually charged Milanese apartment is explained by Fiona soon enough:

"‘And what about that signed George Clooney photo? How on earth did you get that?’ I asked scornfully.
‘What? What has that got to do with anything?’
‘The one on your bookshelf. Where I might add there is hardly a single book.’
‘Last year I went to the première. His translator spilt red wine on my dress and the photo came back with the dry cleaning…’
I had no intention of listening to her anymore. I thought of George Clooney’s clumsy translator and suave George Clooney with his pen poised to sign yet another photograph of himself."

Here I ought to add that I am not a George Clooney fan, unlike a girlfriend of mine who shares his birthday and for a while there was convinced he would come shimmering over to her at a gathering of some foundation he belongs to, with some friend of hers who is a member. Or the ladies at my local post office who, next to the crucifix on the wall, have a giant-sized calendar of Mr. Clooney whose Holiness I check out each time I pay my electricity bill.

The other day however I did see him. A huge spread in the newspaper. George in Venice for the film festival. An intimate shot of George looking out over the Grand Canal in front of San Giorgio Maggiore (where another crucial scene of my novel is set) as though he were thinking of... buying it?

In my book I never say it but I think I ought to say Grazie mille George Clooney. Italy truly adores your smug classiness and you make a great pin-up on certain ladies’ walls.

Oh and just one more reference from our jolly divorcée:

"I sat on a velvet bar stool and ordered the cocktail of the evening, a syrupy Campari with whatever. Within moments it had lined the pit of my stomach like a small animal with a growl.
I looked around, suddenly feeling fantastic. Three grey-haired men in suits were grouped around an attractive woman in a tailored jacket. I realised I had more to show off than what she or poor Jean could afford in a month of weekends in Spain. The men’s eyes drifted my way, and soon enough one of them turned around and took a few steps over to me.
‘Buona sera,’ he smiled, making George Clooney look slightly jaded. My feathers ruffled at the genteel greeting.
‘Good evening,’ I said cheekily in English.
‘Vuole sedersi con noi? Mi chiamo Alessandro. Would you like to join us?’ he added in flawless English. I was introduced to the small party and handed a glass of the robust red wine they were drinking.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

In the bubble

I am in Paris with a Bubble Card. A fashion trade fair. Hats, heels, jewellery. More spanking handsome men than you can shake your croissant at. Possession of the Bubble Card means that at the end of the day you can hobble up to the counter and decide how many flutes of champagne you can juggle across the pavillion. Yesterday it was five. Or six.

After work the Parisian sky drifts over us and each evening there is a sort of happening outside. Mild dancing, mild eye-snagging, more champagne. Then gorgeous food. In our off-beat area the food does not disappoint.

I've yet to go into town, let my eyes graze over the buildings I used to love. It is bubbling up inside of me - memories of the skinny pram-pushing au pair crossing bridges, crossing parks, selecting 'tarte au citron' in her favourite patisserie, shifting through the secondhand stalls. That young cropped-headed thing without a clue, typing her first novel above the Indian sweat shop, with her father-figure lover nourishing her education in film, and the lady with the whip next door to Bruno-the-Swiss-banker, her stilted admirer.

I wonder where that tough determined young woman has gotten to. It's time to shake that Bubble Card.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Verdi in Shorts

A friend of a friend left us two personal invitations at the artists' entrance of La Fenice in Venice for a final rehearsal of La Traviata. To go or not to go? Forty-degree heat, a train trip then a tramp through tourists; dodging, sweating, running over bridges in my suede YSL wedges (thought they needed an outing), and GG my singing daughter who has opera ambitions in a big shades and a Gazel hat wearing more sensible flat sandals.

We made it. Found the door, the cranky woman, our passes, the door after door after door through the back and we were in there, in the cool of the theatre. Breathing the rarefied air of that other world. About to see an opera that was first performed in that same space in 1853.

Sitting inside of La Fenice is like sitting inside a Fabergé egg. Or a French patisserie layered with cakes. The voices thrust out into the golden air and seem to swill in space, layers of sounds perfectly unfolding. It is a small intimate theatre newly rebuilt after being burnt down in 1996, so that it still feels heavily crafted, a little too pink and gold.

Oddly at first, the singers were wearing street clothes so that it looked a Pina Bausch production on the wrong channel. Only the Russian Violetta, dressed in white, was incandescent under the stage lights. The other singers looked like a supermarket crowd suddenly roused to perform a flash mob - à la Verdi. Floral summer dresses, old jeans and t-shirts, interruptions from the conductor who quipped to family members, while the tenor's twins wriggled in front of us and his beautiful wife mouthed the words.

In a word, overwhelming. Even more impressive than when we had tickets and were perched up there with the gods. Along with a bunch of Venetian doyennes who urged my daughter up to the gilded rail between them. Who criticised the Nabucco cast while I thought they had been brilliant. Heavy jewels and bouffant hair. Chanel jackets.

Afterwards, we had beers. Watched the tourists. Toned down after the adrenalin of the performance. I asked GG if she thought she could give it a shot. Music studies, years of being groomed, corrected, realigned; if she could stand up there and give her best.

How magical to think that each one of those unearthly voices belonged to a man or a woman who was once a child, a child with a good voice and edgy hopes, a child buzzing inside with music.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Common Good

At times it seemed as though I were back in the western region of Ghana, listening to the village expire at night. The sky infused with stars, low lights and the occasional sweeping of trees. Bare feet in dust. Siblings speaking instead of spellbound by the TV. The muffled end-of-day speech between man and wife.

Of course we were all in high-tech tents with our phones on roaming and our Chinese-produced camp kitchenware and some people with the luxury of a small fridge.

But it was there at times. The quiet dynamic of village life, so far removed from fences, neighbours, garages, elevators, numbers on doors. Families living alongside one another, in space delineated by nothing more than a line of damp towels. A group of women cooking in the half dark, or a pair of teenagers tramping up to the washrooms afterwards with a tub of dishes. Long table talk into the night, a game of cards, a man snoring on a hammock.

* * *
The sea was a dusty trail away. Green translucent water, a row of yellow buoys to swim towards and back, over and over. A wooden bar for pastis around midday or some chestnut-derived Corsican beer. Crepes for when hunger kicked in somewhere along the afternoon. Rum in my espresso (recommended for the most languid afternoons).

As well as the almond oil I think I polished off four books.

On the ferry back I slept on deck under the massive iron funnel where the wind swept in the night. Storeys of cars and tanned holidaymakers underneath. The hardness already flexing in people's eyes, the idyll over. Back to cities and cars. I burrowed down in my sleeping bag on the bench. Watched the dawn wash over Livorno. Felt degrees of serenity, exhaustion, resolution.

It's going to be a tricky task getting back into work.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Corsica calling

I can hear the sea. Even here, in the middle of cornfields and vineyards and the quarry over the hill, I am sure that whooshing noise must be the waves caressing my thoughts. Surely? Calling out, Are you ready? Are the headlights still bung? Have you bought that 3kg gas cylinder yet?

Yeah, surely. And then the waves are sucked out again like my thoughts. I am looking at my feet in sand with that crappy blue nail polish my friend gave me. Waves rippling. Moonlight.

It seems I am ready to cut loose. The edits are nearly over. I've sent on my last chapters and my Ed will send his last whole version which I will - groan - print out and throw into my knapsack. I read there was wifi where we are going. Groan again. I had really wanted to sever ties.

But at least there will be no computer screen for me. I've yet to select my half dozen books. Or heels beyond my sassy espadrilles and a couple of sheer dresses. Along with all those hats.

Friends of mine suggest I will be bedding Corsican men in my tent. Or one of those single dads requiring english translations and a cup of geniune Japanese green tea. I'm not so sure about that. I'm coming down from a long work run and the usual disenchantment with the exes. I need breathing space. I don't need to cascade into something delirious that will knock the wind out of me.

Okay, you win. I'll throw in that black crotchet bikini from Paris, a bottle of rum, some almond massage oil. I wish I didn't know myself so well.

The waves, the waves.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Goth Mother Urges Readers

Marissa Toffoli has kindly posted an interview with me on the very interesting site

So far, my daughter says I look like a man and my eldest says I look like a goth. Eeek!

Do feel free to add yours. Oh and do read the interview and make sure to vote!

Monday, 25 July 2011

The boys are back in town

It happens every summer. The exes come to town. Their visits overlap, or almost, it is all so horrid.

Why so horrid? Because I feel I am the overlap in person, I am that intersected ellipse where these two men collided. I have given them children that are half-this and half-that. My life was quite this, and then completely that.

Having them around I feel shaky. Was I really that woman, tethered to that life? Was I really that fiend, that crazy loving lover?

A woman could not have chosen two more opposite examples of the male species.

That is why I have been withdrawing. If I think about the exes too much I want to run. And hard.

When I finish these damned edits I am out of here in a muddy jeep, big hat and my hiking boots.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Back in the saddle

Three days afterwards and my neck and legs no longer ache. There is something to be said for dancing in purple plastic heels designed by an architect. Just what that something is, I don't know yet. My brain is not engaged. I wonder if I am the only divorcée in Veneto who throws somewhat-wild-but-mostly-cool parties, gets herself in a tizz, dances herself dotty, sees in the dawn then finds a mattress. (But the mates! All too young, or too not-right, or too visible. And I am past the age where I need to throw myself about for validation. But hmmm there was a pair of shoulders I could have helped myself to.)

Now that the house is almost scrubbed clean I must hose down my brain.

My Editor is back on track and I have zipped up a denim halter dress and sat down to work. In truth I'd rather be starting off on the new books kindly ordered by-myself-for-myself that came in yesterday ('Having Cried Wolf' by Gretchen Shirm of Affirm Press OZ and 'A Little Javanese' by Andre Mangeot of Salt Publishing UK) and okay I confess I have read the first story of Shirm's collection, but I have just downloaded my own book and seen guiltily how hard my Editor has been working.

DLC has been formatted with a lovely typeface that is not my own, the front pages have been spaced out elegantly, the words look at me eagerly from the page. My own words. It is a slightly silly book, but it is my book. And it is coming to life.

On my horse.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Midsummer bash

This week my editor has abandoned me. Happily, I evade the screen. Though I am certain the next round of microscopically-adjusted galleys will soon plonk into my lap.

In the meantime it is time to party. Though I weary very quickly of people and crowds I do like occasional insanity and my character profile seems grounded upon this. Every July people look forward to the big summer bash I have here, without realising I use it to cover my social obligations for the year - seeing people I haven't sought out for an age, having a dance, having a moment of craziness without needing to catch a plane or drive all the way home witless. I see it also as a great opportunity to clean, exploit my sons and get the garden in order.

Now I have written my last lists. The portico has been repainted, the lights tested. The yard will be mowed today. I am about to shop and stuff the fridges. My towering plastic violet heels have been primed. I am almost in freefall towards the big event.

In past years I have danced in a fury, fondled men, drank way too much, woken to find bodies sleeping peacefully on the grass. In tents, on hammocks. A communal snoring. Then the next day in the sun begins and we sit slowly and without speaking under the trees thinking This is it, This was our party.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Harbour

This year started with a rusted knuckled anchor chain thrown off the deck of my brother's sailing boat as we vied for a spot on Sydney Harbour on the 31st December. Vodka and something sweet, fireworks like cannon blasts and falling fairies, a putter across the harbour to take Lisa home before dawn.

Hours afterwards a slick of sun found my face. I looked up to see a block of harbourside flats rocking from side to side like a piano metronome. We jumped into the green water and Paul's bird cooked loads to eat.

Later I waited for the others in Sirius Cove, a magical place stolen from another people. The cove cuts into the landscape and though there are mansions on top the shore is unkempt and sandy with tossed rocks. I swear I felt the thrumming of the land. I could have sat there forever.

These days, halfway through the year, I am in summer heat again, wishing I were near water. But Venice is full of tourists. The nearby beaches have no waves. I will wait for Corsica. Yesterday my youngest and I bought a tent.

Meanwhile my eyes hurt and the editing of this book goes on and on. And on. My editor is strict. He says the book works and should do well if it finds its way to the right audience. I can't even begin to think of this next step.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Are your breasts too small? Are you single this summer?

As I wait for my chapters to download or sit there mulling over ways to sneak some of my wacky language past my grammatically rigorous British editor, I've been grazing online, skimming over some Italian tips for the summer.

First of all, Are you ready to pass La Prova del Costume? Your Bikini Test?

Unfortunately, that doesn't only mean a wax and tan, it means you must have the curves in the right places, almighty ones such as so-and-so and such-and-such, and if not then Mamma Mia it's time to shift some weight. And beware! Is it possible you don't have the right bikini top to make a riveting gorge of your breasts?

I saw a television advertisement for a big phone company where a not-so-gorgeous woman and suave actor Raoul Bova are husband and wife sitting on a beach. The wife peers through her binoculars at some of the young buxom fauna bouncing past.

Darling, what would you give her out of ten? And that one, what about her?

Ho-hum. Raoul Bova - and the spectator - peer over the shapely girls shaking towels, shaking their assets. They are really something. Sure, we know Italian men have a license-to-perve, but why belittle the moderate-looking wife and make beauty into such a plastic, tarty thing? Why allow a young woman watching TV to think it is funny to laugh at an unattractive woman ranking half-naked stunners on a beach? Or a silly young bloke? Why must marriage remain this stale banter?

Enough. This morning a comment I wrote on another blog made me think of a string of summers I had a while back, when I used to go to Berlin to visit my gay mates. It was when I really needed to escape smaller children, the school run, Italy. In Berlin I wasn't a checked-out woman anymore, I wasn't glanced over to see if my boobs were good, if my arse was nice, how I was holding up. I was a friend of S&D who was hanging around, invited. All I did was follow conversations, or wander off, or say something that was listened to, even examined. It was such a relief to be a talking head instead of a talking body. It wasn't even odd going to the gay end of the park or the lake beach, stripping down and pulling out a book. It felt more mischievous to run away from the straight world, to pretend for a while that I wasn't burdened by gender, or coupledom, or motherhood.

At S&D's apartment I used to sleep in the library on a Napoleon III cherrywood bed which had four lion paws for feet. One night my youngest called up sobbing, he was with my first husband and his bird,

'Mummy, come home Mummy. Come home now, Mummy. Please, I want you.'

I lay there in Stefano's kimono under his rows and rows of first editions and his framed French prints. That night when we went out clubbing I knew I was a fake.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Caffè shakerato with my Aunt

As my publishing date comes nearer and I feel like running to the mountains, my Aunt has come to visit and my days have slowed. We sit under the grapevines in cane chairs enjoying the soft breeze. I think about watering the plants but don’t do it. Coffee materialises in our hands and the dogs snap at flies.

I think, It is summertime again, How did that happen?

When I was small I was afraid of my Aunt because she had a big voice and I never grew used to her. She lived abroad and we were a quiet family. She sang in an important choir, wore kaftans and didn’t care. She had a son with the bluest eyes and he used to cry when any of us plonked through Chopin on the piano.

One visit that I think we have all tried to erase from our hearts an accident happened and this boy’s life was taken away. At the time, we children were given improbable religious explanations, but the reason why this thing had to happen was not to be understood. We were told to go back to school while the adults sat around in shock, then clung to mourning.

Now, so many years on, when we have been drinking my aunt and I talk about how old her son would have been now, how handsome. I feel dizzy to think that my life travelled on, I grew up, I gave my parents grandkids. But I like to bring him into our talk. My Aunt is not sure whether to believe me, but this boy often comes to me, he is a man now, sending her comfort.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Vi facciamo neri!!!

I nearly left the road the first time I read this.


The banner comes out every summer and stretches over the front door of a beauty centre a few villages away, with a pumped-up and very tanned lady in a bikini next to the words. Every time I drive past I really stare to check I haven't made some translation mistake. A couple of times when I was already pissed off I have felt like stomping in there, shaking my wet swimming towel, and shrieking Whaat the? How can you appropriate the word 'black' when most of you are petrified of Africans and their black skin? Who on earth among you is going to walk through that door and willingly come out a black man or woman??

The thing is, Italy has been late to the party several times. They were late to join the scramble for Africa, ending up with Libya, a sliver of Somalia, disgrace in Ethiopia. And now the great wave of post-Independence migration has just recently hit Italy's coasts. I have heard hilarious stories from Ghanaian mates about posing as refugees from Liberia with their obviously Ghanaian names. Or the passport swapping that goes on because for the already-muddled carabinieri, all black people look the same (in Ghana people used to think all whites looked the same too, and the funniest crowd scene in my life took place when I was walking through the massive used clothes market in Rawlings Park and EVERY SINGLE PERSON started cracking up over my skinny non-African bum).

The thing is, everybody is afraid of real black skin here, that is why I can't understand the gist of that advertisement. My neighbour, a man who thinks our properties will both be handed down to the next generation when I know my kids will be taking off to Sydney or New York or Milan and I'll probably sell up, once told me I should watch out.

There is a shop near here where they congregate, he informed me. He didn't know I had to pass my Italian driving test with a bunch of fairly ordinary Senegalese.

I told him I knew the place he meant, which was true because the guy who runs it is called Omar and we once had a great laugh because I have a son called Omar too.

You've seen them out the front together, in those long dresses. My neighbour said they were all pimps and drug addicts, he was certain. They all had big cars.

That day I remember it was very hot and my neighbour spoke on at length but there was not a thing I could think of that was going to change his racist fears. I tried for a while, but then the idea of the men in robes set me thinking backwards. Back to my old hajis in Nima the Muslim quarter of Accra and the dusky call to prayer. Back to driving through Burkina with Cissé-the-crackhead and taking a wrong turn at Ouaga and doing 60kms of sandy road. Back to the night in the car on the border with Mali where we all woke caked in red dust - red fuzzy hair, red eyelashes. Back to the afternoon after Segou when I released cranky little Omar into the desert. Omar who was sick of the all-day driving, Omar who ran and ran and ran into the dust towards a big baobab tree, the biggest baobab tree I had ever seen.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lascia ch'io pianga

Lascia ch'io pianga
La mia crude sorte

Let me weep over
My cruel fate

Words from an aria from Handel's opera Rinaldo, first performed in 1711, Almirina mourning her lost love, sung by my Facebooker daughter aged fifteen as I wept and her eye-rolling brother had to hold the camera.

Just too beautiful. And every time I cry.

Then afterward we pass an old lady on the footpath from the old people's home nearby. She is tiny with whiskers and looks up at my tall kids, one blond and wearing my heels not-too-shakily, one brown with a tidy afro today. Her eyes glistening, she wants to talk. Where are we from? Why are we here?

We tell her we are not really Italian, that we are somewhat mixed-up.

Well I was in Belgrade, she said. Where the two rivers meet and there is a yellow line down the middle. Because they are different, the two rivers. Ah, Beogrado!

My kids waited it out.

I used to be in Venice, she said happily, you could see she was sassy once. I knew Ernest Hemingway, she said. Do you know Ernest Hemingway?

I said I did. My daughter loved Fiesta.

Poor man! she said. Ah! But now I am here, look where I am. She looked in towards the entry gate of the old people's home. Another lady pushed along a frame.

Her eyes filled with tears and she asked me for a cigarette. There are three of us who smoke, she said cheekily. She showed me inside her handbag which had an empty packet.

We walked away for ice cream and my kids swore they would never put me in a home and my legs felt weak. We were each quiet for a while until we resumed talking about my daughter's excellent performance.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Eye candy

Well the photo shoot was done. I enlisted an age-appropriate BFF (daughter-speak) to model and then photoshopped away. Why am I doing my own cover? Apart from being quite the control freak (I can't believe I am admitting this) I started out studying Visual Communication, learnt basic lay-out work, colour-coding, photography, film, drawing and even some marketing before dropping out and gliding towards words, which I'd found impossible to betray. I don't know how many people suffer the same divide - words versus image. (Try adding music to that and you may understand my fix!) In the end I dropped image for a long while and sunk into words - history at university, years of reading, story-writing, the doomed first novel. Contented yes, but always feeling the seduction of good design, good photography.

Then falling in love with a photographer in the flesh made me change course so radically it puzzles me to be sitting where I am. For the length of our partnership I abandoned writing (though gained much material) and worked on image - a small design agency in Ghana, photography exhibitions (sadly I was the woman behind the man) and all the publicity material for our art gallery which continues to slip out of my books.

So I offered - well I begged - to do my cover design myself. I think there are elements of the story I know so well that come together, that invite the viewer with a few strong codes, or I truly hope so. I have been studying ladylit covers for so long now I am saturated and decided to veer far away from pastels, curly writing, heels and flutes of champagne. Instead I think I have made something that is more intriguing, and throws out a cheeky lure.

Would you like some eye candy so early in the day?

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I've finally sent it off. My final revisions. For a while there, I had the whole book in my head. I could locate scenes, verbs, conversations. I could weed out the repetitions, or remember where a hyphened word should have been without. (Oh dear but I had a good laugh! I adore Marilyn! I can't wait to make another reader giggle and heave. I hope!)

The chocolate and coffee required for that level of concentration was shameful. Coffee especially, with some well-deserved Camparification at the end of a few sweltering afternoons. And some numbing driving time in between which is always great to clear the deck.

Now, this week, I am plunging into cover design. For I want to stick to my concept, which has been approved, and adjust the photo, make it real. I am slightly terrified of meeting Photoshop again - hands bared - but it must done, must be thrashed out.

I have just finished reading Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of which makes me feel like running up the hill. I am not a public persona. Never have been. Yesterday with two British ladies in a bar I tried on a semi-book-blurb but found I had lock-jaw. Jane Wenham-Jones is right. I have to insert my pitch into my brain, try it out in a deeper voice, wield a not-too-deep glass of prosecco.

Otherwise it is raining and cherry-picking has been suspended although I did prepare three bottles of cherry vodka for the winter. I'm off to work on my new Scarlatti sonata and ignore the hungry grouchy sons/nephew resurfacing after a long night out.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

how about a quick interview for the ladies?

1. When did you first decide that you wanted to write?

As a child every great book I read made me want to be a writer. Certain books were so powerful and took reality to a heightened level. I have always been intrigued by writers’ lives and choices and work patterns. But also strong, transfixing stories and words rubbing against one another.

I remember getting very involved in the binding and illustrations for a book I wrote at twelve – without ever finishing it! Then for a long while I wrote terribly awful over-descriptive poems thinking I was touching the sap of Life. I left Australia when I was young, wrote a novel while working as an au pair in Paris which although it did well in a major competition, I didn’t possess the determination to re-edit and send it around, and soon left Paris for Milan and then Mogadishu.

In my early twenties I was far too busy with my personal life to see much through so I was hugely delighted when my first story was accepted when I was living in Somalia – freshly sacked from my embassy job with my first-born in a basket on the floor. It was called ‘Elton John’s Mother’ and dealt with a bunch of welfare Mums in a caravan park up the New South Wales coast who named their kids after pop stars.

2. What interests you as a writer?

I love to read, to receive books in the post, to spend hours in huge bookshops. I always think I haven’t read enough and there are so many contemporary and foreign and past writers whose work I would like to discover.

Having led a crazy and varied life I don’t usually have a problem with ideas which often spring forth, so presently I am more interested in what can transform a writer with talent into a writer who enjoys success. For ages I lived in Africa and in the early years before the internet writing involved typewriters, carbon paper and massive, soul-eroding waits for intercontinental replies. Now living in Italy, I feel I am ready to join the fray and understand more about how others have made the journey from pyjamas-and-a-laptop-in-bed to glossy covers and sweet-smelling pages. I went to my first writers’ festival last year – the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera – and have been using the internet as a new best mate. So far I have found many contemporary writers to be generous and supportive human beings – I hadn’t realised it would be like this.

3. Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?

To write I need to know that I have empty time ahead. That can mean a week or so for a story, or big slabs of relatively empty weeks for a first draft or novel revision. I work as a translator and also teach English and during the day my house is quiet and empty, so at the moment I am able to organise my time – but it hasn’t always been like this!

I love writing in my room which catches the winter sunlight all day long. Or during the summer away from my family in the cool ex-dairy. I am horribly disconnected when I work – I drink coffee and forget to eat, occasionally wandering down for piano practice or to bring in yesterday’s washing. I don’t think I am much fun to be around.

4. What made you decide to write ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’?

‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ by Catherine McNamara
To published by Indigo Dreams Publishing U.K. June/July 2011

One stinking hot summer after several years of living in Italy I was drinking vodka with Emily who said ‘Why don’t you write something set in Italy? Something funny?’ At the time I was depressed over a heavy and traumatic fiction novel of mine set in Ghana (now I have distance!) and had published a couple of short stories after getting back on my feet following the return to Europe (as a single Mum with a batch of tri-national kids). It’s true, I needed lightness. But I had never felt the remotest connection to Italy except for a vague ire over the way women are treated here – botox and silicone, cut-off age twenty-eight. But I do like humour, although I wasn’t sure about lightweight romance. Driving back from Treviso I thought of a name, a first sentence, and spent the rest of the summer/autumn/winter writing the novel. Thank you Emily!

5. What are the best things about being a writer?

I still get that hit when I think I have written something flawless. Of course that often turns around and you get the cringes. But reaching the end of a piece, feeling you have found meaningful resolution with moments of grace or even power along the way, it’s one of things that makes me feel I have found an explicit and satisfying use for my brain. And then when one receives praise or encouragement, it’s quite massive.

6. And the worst?

Without a doubt the waiting. The rejection. The fragility this all entails. The illusion that you are doing something useful or marvellous when in truth, you are not. Sometimes I do wish I had found this level of satisfaction in doing something a little easier. Slowly, I am learning how to move from the private to the crueller ‘public’ world of measuring writing.

7. You’ve also written a collection of short stories. What was your inspiration for these?

‘Pelt and Other Stories’ by Catherine McNamara (

Though my childhood was settled I left Sydney at twenty-one and moved around quite a lot. From Paris I moved to Milan, learnt two languages, went to Somalia as a young diplomatic wife ill-equipped for warfare, went to Ghana where I ended up living local life to an intense and unexpected degree. It feels as though I have lived several different lives and the stories carry a lot of the spill-over. Things that I have seen or imagined very easily work themselves into new, fresh stories in my head. It always starts with a sentence, then I love imagining a character, an environment, issues and plot resolution. This year I have started to have write my first stories set in Europe – I am fascinated by migration, the overlapping of cultures and also by how nature works upon the psyche of man, particularly in a mountain environment.

8. Tell me about what you’re working on now.

I am very keen to participate in the promotion of ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ which is being published in June/July 2011. I am more than grateful to Ron Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams Publishing U.K. for selecting the book and giving me the chance to have an entire novel with my own name. So far even the most ardent non-womens’ romance readers have been very positive and I am hoping that it might do well with a wider public.

Participating in the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera may have opened some doors with the short story collection and I am waiting on replies, writing more short stories in the meantime. I am trying to formalise my swing between writing stories set in Italy and Ghana, which often hinge upon migrant workers, expats or accidental travellers like myself. I would also like to get back to my depressing, huge African novel which is really a beautiful, trapped love story.

9. Do you have a dream project you’d love to write?

If ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’ goes well I would love to write a sequel. I think I would enjoy thrashing out the sequence following the book’s conclusion. It could be hairy but hilarious. There are several characters who I have fallen in love with – Brett the bi-sexual benefactor from Hong Kong, flighty Australian Fiona who cannot be trusted, Estelle the insouciant Latvian waif model, Marilyn’s very punky British teenagers in preppie Milan, and of course Marilyn and her lovers.

And of course every writer’s dream project would be writing a screenplay and selecting a top-notch cast!

I would also like to write a full-on chunky literary novel along the lines of the short story collection. Having a novel published makes one want to grow quickly and make use of all those ideas.

Thanks to interviewer Paola Cecchetto (for press release 2011)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

tears and fears

Another book I ordered came through this week. How about WANNABE A WRITER WE'VE HEARD OF? I thought, my publishing company is small and I know I'm expected to do a lot of the publicity. I've worked in marketing before - a bar and art gallery requiring a business plan - and I learnt how to 'circulate' and 'converse' on the diplomatic trail through Africa. I can do selling, I thought, and this well-recommended book might help order my timeframe.

But Mio Dio! The book is vigorous and fabulous, fuelled with humour and top tips, even the dark presence of Jane Wenham-Jones' agent The Fearsome One, whom I met (and liked) at my one and only writers' conference last year. But how frightening! The idea of striding out into the world and hawking my silly little book. I am scared! At first I thought of it in terms of a-great-excuse-for-a-designer-dress and had looked up some slim Alexander McQueen at COIN in Milan last year. But now I am chickening out. The idea of readings. The idea of question time. I am the girl who hid behind the jacaranda tree at uni tutorial time. The girl who after a childhood of piano and two recent years of study with a most serious maestro, only just lets herself swoon when she plays her nocturnes. Sure I like quickfire talk, but to an audience?

May I not still my qualms and palms with a gallon of prosecco?

And this morning at five. Bright moon shining through my window as I open my manuscript and find my red pen. Waiting for clarity, winking back.

Will anyone like my cover?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

moving the mountain

Many mountains have moved this week. First, I am off to my final revision of The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy. Scared I will find new uneven patches or worse, that I won't be able to drive my uni student sons from the house. I have been working on better concentration now that the heave-ho of ski driving is over and I have caught up on some sleep, but I want purity. Crystalline. Chemical. The brain an unknotted strobe. No, not drugs silly, that just-woken serene but edgy lucidity that fades as soon as that first voice blots your brain.

Might have to do a slog month of the 5am alarm. But it works. Ti giuro!

And my other mountain came to me. Or me to him rather, through his organisation and rusty car. This divorcée has so much on her plate that this is the only way to savour such delights. Peaks from one window, rustling newly-fringed woods from another. Beaten hands, worn beautiful eyes. The deepest most unimaginable calm.

Monday, 28 March 2011

you're so vain

So I caved in and bought Grazia magazine the other day. Spring is coming, and I need to study shoes and sandals, possibly handbags. Mmmm, I thought, Delicious! But picking up the mag I saw there was an insert included, another magazine rather, and thought Oh tops it's Grazia Casa so I can get into gardening mood which is going to take more than a push and shove (of my mower as well).

But then I saw it was Grazia UOMO and groaned. Grazia MAN. Oh well for one euro ninety I could leave it around for my jeans-below-the-bum sons.

Now while I wait for my obstinate computer to download I have been flicking through it. Oh my goodness! What has happened to the Italian man? Have I always been so blind? Fine, I love gay men and their delicate taste, but who are all these girly guys??

Flipping past the young things I have been trying to find a mature Italian male only to find - what? Tanned faces and stylish wrinkles, flat eyes and flawless shoes, rolled up trousers and not a yacht in sight?!

What a festival of vanity! Is it because I have been too long in the mountains with messy-haired men with panda tans? With their gorgeous wrinkles and steely thighs?

And worse - or even more twisted - am I wrong to expect a bloke to not care how he looks while I am allowed to pore over designer shoes?

Please, please! Tell me there is someone out there who thinks WHITE JEANS ON MEN ARE A CRIME!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Losing my mojo

That's it, it's gone. I've lost it. A series of brutal things and I am unhinged, wishing I could plant blind happiness on my face.

The Japan earthquake, and here am I fretting over bills, and now bombing in Libya, while I am off skiing on melting snow, depressed because the season of hot thighs is over!

How superficial, how privileged, how unnecessary are we. I look outside and see not the keen growth of spring but roses I should have pruned, the thick wet grass, a sore back approaching. What a moaner!

Basta. This divorcée has to bring back her mojo. Stare at the blossom buds on the cherry trees, live the season, be grateful, re-learn simplicity.

A spring clean of the mind!

Friday, 25 February 2011

let me shipwreck your thighs

They are Dylan Thomas' words, I can't claim them. We giggled and swooned over them when we were schoolgirls in tunics and ties, dreaming madly. We imagined pale cool thighs and something coming at us, rocking, hard, a wonderful sea-smell, our faces flushed. It wasn't vulgar it was poetic, as poetic as were Thomas' words, damp and mist-filled, taken to bed. It wouldn't hurt it would be sublime.

(I don't think my daughter thinks of it quite like this. Oh, how we were so keen and literary. Oh, how Facebook reporting has altered all of this.)

And now that we are older, and have been shipwrecked many times over, in fact our debris are scattered over the seabed, how does it feel? What have we learnt of sea vessels in the night?

Ask any older woman of love. Often, she won't mind speaking of sexual specifics. What she likes, where she feels she still has to travel, who were her most joyful lovers. There are those of us who have strayed, who have left good men or men who were abusive. There are those of us whose child-bearing years became unbearable and, converted to suckling mothers, we lost ourselves and then rebelled, wanting more with an explosive tenderness learned from motherhood itself. There are those of us who thrive on violence, who need an edge, who like intrigue and deceit or the freshness of younger men.

Then there are those of us who, entwined in a busy throbbing life, so fatigued at the end of the day, brain fitful and awake, suddenly, wretchedly, find themselves lovestruck, struck down by love, wilting and unmoored.

Dreaming again, like a schoolgirl in a tunic and laddered tights.

This may be the spring of sluicing, shipwrecked thighs.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

the things we do for money

Not love? Nah, not today. Living in today's Italy makes one wonder about love. And beauty. And youth. Did you see the half million women marching last Sunday for women's dignity? Scrappy housewives, young militants, women in boots, scarves, jeans, kids on shoulders?

And have you seen the women who have driven them to protest? The veline on television - bums patted by 70 year old presenters - shaking their fake assets? I reckon there is a lull of thirty seconds before one comes out again to revive the male audience.

It's tiring, seeing our leader crump his jaw again. It's tiring, seeing the sleek bad-girl Ruby you can be sure a good share of the country is lolling about.

I'm tired of arrogance, of the loveless sheen of perfectly dressed people.

Here is a funny part from my book:Vanessa, my narrator's London-raised daughter, is visiting her mother in Milano. Federico is her mother's young boyfriend. Do laugh some.

Vanessa was glued to the television frowning. ‘I just can’t believe a woman would do this. Did you see her?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Federico, and I was very embarrassed about what might be coming next.

‘She get undressed on television so husbands at home have something to think of when they make love to fat wife. You know, like pornography. Then women can relax and tidy kitchen while men watch television.’

Vanessa’s eyes widened and she looked over to me. ‘You mean women don’t mind parading around like that?’

I was worried they were going to seriously clash and didn’t know whether to change topic or wait for the fall out.

‘No, I don’t think. Look at,’ He started zapping around all the channels. It was mid- evening and the quiz shows were in full swing as people sat around their dinner tables supplying answers. On each channel there was a booby female holding up a card with a letter or spinning a wheel. On one channel two girls were doing a go-go dance.

‘You see? It is always like this.’ Then he switched to a news channel with an older woman announcer. Her skin had been stretched across her face and her lips were fat and shiny. ‘And then they get them like this.’ He shook his head, glancing for a split second in my direction. ‘But this is awful. This woman she no know who she is anymore. She is like carnevale mask, very scary. But this is Italy now, everyone afraid to get old except short bald man, you see him?’

He was pointing back to game show announcer, a flaccid bald man with a paunch, who was pointing to the girl in the hot pants and reading from his cue card. Then Fede turned off the television and said, ‘Basta! My new Australian family will think Italy crazy place! Tonight I take you out to trattoria!’

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


It was a carnival of masks. Not Venetian masks, delicate and stately as the palazzi themselves, but of the grooved and veined wood of the mountains, with expressions contorted and weathered as the valleys themselves. One of the winning masks had machinations of wood protruding from a grainy forehead. Is it the isolation? Does the silence and the spinning views make one think of this?

We sat on the steps of this steep and furrowed village, the sun on pulleys slipping behind the serrated peaks gradually softening, darkening as the chill settled.

In a bar men began to sing mountain songs as I pushed away the idea of getting drunk and attempting to drive. But grappa with berries is hard to resist. So is standing around a fire, stomping one's feet, too lazy to hike down to the car for a jacket.

This divorcée is warm. The crisp air makes me feel strong and ripe. At 6 that very morning I was feeding a child who will soon be taller than me, loading the car with ski gear for the race, pulling away along the dark winding roads as the dawn marked out the peak of Civetta, and my son told me so. Look at it Mum, look at the sun up there.

I feel it is a stark privilege to see these things and how I hold them close.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Tall Women

I have always had tall women friends. It is not because I am short, I am average height really. Once a tall skinny friend suggested I have a height complex because I always wear silly heels, but I don't think it is that. I have always worn heels. I remember my first mini platforms when I was around nine, and my first cork clunkers when I was twelve. Precious thing I was.

But I drift towards tall women. Maybe because they seem stronger, more resolute, they've had years of people staring at them. I like walking alongside them. They are easy to spot on the dancing floor in clubs.

Last week I caught up with a tall friend, now separated. We had a lot to speak about - about creativity, about men, about handbags. But that makes it sound simplistic. We talked about the courses our lives were on, and how we had set out as twenty year olds into the world.

My first glimpse of Europe was when I was nineteen. I instantly fell in love with the gritty Paris of the eighties that has shifted now. As soon as I had saved up enough, at twenty-one, I went back there to live, enrolled in the Sorbonne, wrote a novel in my room above the sweatshop downstairs. My 'family' were artists and there were murals painted on the walls, a dark room for printing and - oh yes! - a baby to look after. Malou was a classical Parisienne rebel who organised her world into creativity-motherhood-womanliness. She was my first and strongest example of these forces at work, and the main reason why I was determined to write, while getting my childbearing on the way.

And that was where I met my first tall friend, a dancer who basically helped me learn Italian (my boyfriend thought my accent too cute) while I ironed out her English. She too was easy to spot in nightclubs and walked with a remarkable back. We have since grown older and danced together in clubs in Tokyo and Moscow, thinking ourselves very exotic.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

And still she wanders

There is a myth out there, sometimes debunked, about the warmth and sensuality of Italy. About the richness of living here in the bosom of the ancient Romans, about being surrounded by frescoed churches and Palladian villas, markets bursting with produce, swarthy men in dozens driving sports cars about to whisk one off to chic bars ...

Beh! On some days I beg to differ.

In my book I try to talk about certain other truths. How women of an age become competitive, sour, unyielding, while dressed immaculately in Prada. About the out-of-season tans and massive handbags, the Sophia-Loren cleavages and a distinct lack of smiling.

Or the ruthless checking-out should you parade along a cobbled city centre street. What is she wearing? What brand is it? Could it be a Chinese copy?

I am skinny and wear heels and get looked at. I love clothes - but cheap clothes, designer markdowns, stuff I pick up abroad. In big European cities I might get blinked over, but not shredded over with mean, biting eyes.

Where is the sisterhood? I thought that yesterday as I was checked out again as I strolled through the school gate in my Barbarella boots and cheap fur jacket. That woman with the pulled and puffy face - was she smiling? Laughing? Where are the ladies in gym suits or with messy hair and no make-up? Where is another woman dressed a little crazy, stylish but in her own way?

No no no. Sometimes Italy is very very cold.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

white heat white bliss

You may or may not know that this divorcée has fallen in love. With a huge hunk of a man, an epic wonder to behold, a lender of burning strength and searing conviction.

Oh and he is of rocky and muscled build, handsome as they come, particularly astounding in the moonlight, offering a terrain of lusty secrets in the summer.


He's also around 3000 metres in height and covered in ice at the moment, although there are gentler folds of blue snow. Most of the time I just can't stop staring.

Yesterday this divorcée went up there. Put on her embroidered Pakistani 1970s fur coat at 5.30am and drove up into the dawn, whacked her telemark skis on the rooftop and pounded down the slope. No weekend warriors, no kids in my hair, perfect snowscape and no writers' bum for me!

It was worth it. And I am truly in love.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Back to the book

Now the moping must stop and I must cull something from the present. That means concentrating on the Book. Publication date is 1st June, so I will be in limbo until then. Should I read my horoscope? A mate says I am due for money from June. Better money than love? This month I say Yes.

The cover needs to be hiked into shape. I am happy with the front, but the back is not easy enough to read. I've been studying book rears from the shelves downstairs. A box to set off the text? Or my faded pink leopard print. Are we getting tacky? But I cannot continue the church nave background on the front. My protagonist Marilyn's antics include Italian underwear and (Italian?) sex. Surely that requires a lustier template.

I hate toying with Photoshop. Feels like I am up against someone far brainier who hides all the rules.

I am also working on my contact list for book reviews. So far I'm on the Release List for the Chick Lit Club and am working my way around. It's a start. Any ideas? Journalist friends? Bookshop owners? I am aiming to target not only English women with a penchant for Italy, but women who have travelled or who live abroad, or who simply want to exercise their English and have a raunchy laugh.

Back to the screen. Arrivederci.

Monday, 10 January 2011

December heat

I escaped from Italy. Packed suitcases with folded summer dresses and threw in this year's green plaited massive heels from Milan. The Mango dresses I think I'm still young enough to wear. Bikinis (plural) and Paul Smith's Rose perfume (the Summer Edition). A huge pair of beaded blue earrings.

And left.

The plane drumming through the night. Awful plastic meals. A glutton for film after film after film (do women like Angelina Jolie? Please tell me). Watching trucks trundle over the tarmac in Abu Dhabi at dawn.

Every two years I travel back to my home city which is Sydney. I think. After twenty-four hours in jet-fuelled limbo I cry over the Blue Mountains hunched against the New South Wales coast and check for the suburbs. My kids laugh at me. Mum! You are crying! Mum's crying! What are you crying for!

And this time no jet lag, a big beer, cawing birds in the morning.

It was a fast, windy, salty month. It is never long enough, hot enough, lazy enough. But going home is good. Even when the old gaps and doubts spring apart - where am I? Where is home? Who the hell am I playing at? - it is good to go back, smell the harbour, hug Mum, jump off the jetty.

My kids pretend they are Australians but they are not, they are something else, something hardier and layered, but they lap it up, the sun and the flipflops, the water skiing, the camp fire under the rockface. I devour books - La Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Haruki Murakami's stories, Junot Diaz - and feel a little dizzy, my heart is in my suitcase under the bed. Perhaps it wants to stay.