On Adrenalin, Freedom and the Kindness of Strangers

A few days ago, I wrote off my car. It was a strange thing and it’s made me want to write a post here for the first time in quite a while. I was driving down the freeway in the dark. I know the road well, am quite a fan of it really, with its sculptures and its many lanes and its not-too-bad traffic. The cars in front were slowing down. I noticed. I was slowing down too. But I wasn’t. I hit a stationary car in front of me at about 80 kms per hour. The noise was amazing. The force of the seatbelt was amazing. A yellow engine light began flashing at me from the dashboard. I started to fret about fire and explosion. My headlights seemed somehow to be almost coming through the windscreen. It took forever to find the button to turn on the hazard lights. My CD was still playing. It took forever to find the button to turn off the music. I was sitting in the middle lane, all crumpled and flashing, as cars sped past on either side. Somehow, I got to the edge of the freeway. The noise driving that small distance was very loud and very grating. I couldn’t open my door, which made me start to shake because I was still fretting about fire and explosion. I shoved the door. I got out. A woman got out of the car I’d driven into. She was frowning and walking towards me. She was wearing a very cool leopard print coat. Are you okay?, she said. Yes, I said, I’m out. Are you okay? Yes. We were both okay. This was good news.

The transit cops arrived, three of them, all sandy haired and bulky. They were reassuring, efficient, a bit macho. The woman I’d driven into was kind; she kept telling me it was fine. I kept apologising and saying I had no idea what had happened, that I thought I was stopping but maybe my foot slipped on the brake or something. I was concentrating. I was watching the traffic. I’m sorry. I was stone cold sober. No one asked me that, but I was. One of the policemen started to take photos of my car and asked for my licence. I asked him why, and he ignored me. I asked him again, and he looked confused. It was as though people never asked him what he was doing and he’d only just registered that a question could do with an answer. He told me I wasn’t going to be charged with anything, of course I wasn’t. The details were just for the insurance company if they wanted a report. He smiled. It’s a write off, you know. I know, I said, and then I started crying a bit. Because that crumpled old car was my freedom car, the car I drive when I don’t have to drive anyone, the car I drive when I want to go somewhere on my own, with my music blaring and no one telling me to put the same track on repeat for an hour, or play eye spy, or count to 199 seventeen times.

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On Chasing the Light

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I didn’t expect to enjoy myself when a photographer was assigned to get a photo of me for my recent article in The Sunday Age. I have the usual human/writerly paranoias about such things. But then I hadn’t met Meredith O’Shea. She turned up at my house at the end of a 40 degree day – yep, I struggled to disentangle myself from two sweaty children, put on some make up, get dressed in any presentable way and de-frizz the hair in preparation – and we spent the next couple of hours chasing the light around the mountain on which I live. Meredith was determined to get me in the gold glow of the setting sun. We found it just as we were starting to think it might have been too late. Meredith swerved down someone’s driveway, jumped out and told the unsuspecting homeowners enjoying a drink on their terrace exactly what was needed. Within seconds, I was crouched in the forest at the base of their property.

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Fugitive Blue on Radio National


I recently had the pleasure of going into the ABC’s Melbourne studios to record an episode of Robyn Williams’ Radio National program, Ockham’s Razor. I received a (surprising, generous) email from Robyn out of the blue of the Amalfi Coast where he was holidaying. He had just finished reading my novel, Fugitive Blue, and wanted to commission a script for Ockham’s Razor based on some of the ideas in the book.

Robyn Williams is the kind of reader all writers long to find, I think – engaged, absurdly erudite and educated, and refreshingly opinionated. And when those opinions are very positive and directed towards your own work, it feels like a kind of gift. He hopes the radio show will direct more readers to Fugitive Blue. I hope so too.

For those of you partial to some early morning entertainment, my Ockham’s Razor episode will be broadcast next Sunday 22nd September on Radio National at 7:45am (EST).

The podcast is now available on the Ockham’s Razor page.

On Feminism, Intelligent Mothers and Exemplary Elocution

When I was in my early twenties, a man I didn’t know very well told me I was only a feminist because I had nothing else to complain about.  At the time, I was enraged by his reductive assessment of my complex, multi-faceted, deeply privileged self.  How could he tell I wasn’t poor?  Physically brutalised?  Sexually violated?  In an abusive relationship?  Mentally ill?  Disabled?  Sad?  Angry?  Lonely?  He took one look at my shiny Anglo hair and listened for one minute to my nicely-elocuted speech and decided I was some uppity private school girl who’d had female emancipation indoctrinated into her by an expensive education and an intelligent mother.  Well, yep, he got that much right.  I even read A Room of One’s Own when I was eleven, and precociously decided it had changed my life.  But, but, but.  I knew truckloads of uppity private school girls who had not a feminist bone in their nicely coiffed, nicely clothed, well-washed bodies.  And that was the essence of my offence.  That in making his generalised, dismissive comment about me, he didn’t take into account that I’d made a choice, that I noticed things, that I had a compassionate imagination, damn it.

My mother left school when she was fourteen years old.  She was, by all accounts (including her own, it must be said), the smartest kid in the class.  She skipped a grade as a little girl and liked doing geeky things like playing libraries and asking too many questions.  Her father was an alcoholic WWII veteran and her mother had bouts of mental illness, and she needed to support the family.  Her younger sister was younger, so she escaped that particular pressure at that particular time.  Continue reading

Lost In Living

Several months ago, I saw a link to a documentary film being made in the US by Mary Trunk.  I watched the fundraising trailer for Lost in Living and was entranced.  I cried, watched it again, cried, and donated some money.  Then I waited for the finished film.  A parcel arrived in the post last week – a DVD and a tote bag and a couple of postcards with a note from Mary.  My postman left the parcel sitting on top of my letter box and the yellow dye from the wrapping paper got all wet in the rain, staining the tote with golden streaks.  I cried.  But the bit I was really waiting for – the film itself – was safely protected in plastic.  I watched it that night, as soon as I could.  It is a deeply resonant and honest film, well worth the wait.  You will not be surprised to learn that it made me cry.

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Podcasts, New York and Pleasant Procrastination

Sometimes, when I’m trying to work, I get very distracted by other people’s lives: their phone calls; their toilets flushing; their conversations about car parking.  To get back into my bubble, I wear earplugs.  Or, occasionally, I listen to literary podcasts.  I like their reluctant interviewees trying to reach profundity.  I like their reverence for words.  Once I’ve finished listening, I’m usually back on track.  I’ve convinced myself they are inspiration, and worthy procrastination.

My favourite podcasts at the moment are strangely New York-ish.  I say strange because, while I have a predictable interest in the city, I’ve only been there once, and that was over ten years ago.  For a week.  With my parents.  But we did see Woody Allen playing his clarinet at The Carlyle.  He reminded me of a member of the muppet orchestra with his contented, bouncy focus.

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Feature article in The Age – Learning to live with the legacy of violence

Here is my feature article, published yesterday in the Insight section of The Age.  This is a new avenue for me and I really enjoyed the process of interviewing the women and editing the piece.  And, of course, the initial writing.

The Jill Meagher case had a huge impact on many people in Brunswick, Melbourne, and far beyond.  With that in mind, I thought it warranted a bit of a discussion…

Here’s the link to the story on The Age.