Thursday, February 18, 2010


After 4 years of talking about it, our daughter has found a flat and is moving out. We haven’t been nagging her to go, just gently nudging from time to time and now all the planets have lined up to make it possible. She’s about to start an honours year at Uni, she has a part time job and well, what’s a bit more borrowing from Studylink to buy your soymilk anyway?

I’m looking forward to having a spare room at long last- when her clothes have made it off the floor and the last of her shoes and study folders have found their way into boxes, ready for moving into her new abode. We will no longer open her door just wide enough to throw her possessions into, shaking our heads at the chaos within. Her cat will be distraught- he’s staying here and loves the garment nests in her room. We expect lots of piteous mewing and any staying guests will probably get a moggy for the night thrown in, unless they lock the door very securely.

In a way I can’t believe the day has finally come. One minute I was on the netball courts doing mother duty on freezing Saturday mornings, and the next, helping her find banana boxes to pack her life into. I wrote this poem for Next magazine when contemplating her entry into teenage hood. Now where did that decade go?

My Girl

My daughter is as tall as me;
With platforms on she's bigger.
She borrows all my favourite shoes
And has a better figure.

I know that in a year’s time,
She'll look down her teenage nose,
At me, her fogie mother,
And rubbish all my clothes.

Then when she's finished uni,
With her massive student loan,
She'll take off for the big wide world
And leave her cat at home.

And I'll remember, smiling,
Her preschool birthday parties,
Fairy dress and tinsel crowns
And chocolate cake with Smarties.

I'll stroke her ancient moggy,
And we'll purr nostalgically,
For the breakfasts made on Mother’s Day;
Burnt toast and luke warm tea.

Then the tears will spring unchecked
And we'll give a desperate moan,
Because, whilst she has flown the nest,
Her brother's never leaving home!

Footnote- her brother has just read this and said ‘I’m finding a flat as soon as my student allowance comes in so you can stop going on about it okay?’ … the cat will be suicidal.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Working Mums

There's been a bit in the papers recently about the disgruntlement of co-workers with regard to the 'perks' people with children get in the workplace. As a freelancer for 30 years it's all a mystery to me. I don't even know HOW people manage to get out the door, drop kids, deal with work and keep a handle on family things whilst working a full time job in an office; even assuming your co-workers didn't loathe you for dashing off to take an asthmatic child to hospital because school just frankly refuses to have him there dying in the classroom. One of us working fantastical hours in our household was hard enough. Mercifully, with adult children, we are past that hideous juggle and the guilt that goes with it. I have lost the will or the ability to work in an office now, being the mistress of my own precarious financial destiny, but here is a poem I wrote a few years ago for Next magazine when the kids were still at school and I thought a steady job would be far better than waiting for clients to pay up...



I want a real job
A nine to fiver day
With holidays and sick leave
And direct credit paye.

I want a real job
With biros free as perks
And bosses who drive Audis,
Beamers, Saabs and Mercs.

I want a real job
Where I have to travel lots
On buses, trains and my two feet
‘Cos there are no parking spots.

I want a real job
And always get home late
Then cook dinner for the family
And fall asleep at eight.

I want a real job
A career to fulfil
So how on earth does that work out
When the kids get ill?

And who will go to sports days
Help with class trips to the zoo?
Someone with a real job
I pay my wages to?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Creative marriages

I have a big mouth- it’s what gets me in front of audiences to entertain and hopefully inspire people in the world of creativity. But very occasionally, I wish I could shut up.

A year or two ago, at a gathering of writers in Tauranga,  I said ‘If you are an author and your work has been illustrated by someone else and you feel the illustrations are not up to standard, then do say something to your publisher. If you say nothing, nothing will be done.’  Oh je regrette…
This comment was born of seeing a friend go through the agony of her first book poorly illustrated by an artist who could and should have done better.  There are many reasons for sub standard pictures; the illustrator ran out of time to do better ones, there was not enough money in the budget, they thought they could draw but couldn’t really… and no author should have to live with a picture that tells a thousand wrong words. You shouldn’t for example, have to have your main character, the dog drawn as a seal because that’s what the artist liked. There is no excuse for misinterpretation.

But …there is a strong line between giving your opinion and trying to orchestrate the illustration process.  

Many authors will confirm that they very rarely get the chance to say boo, but if you do, then don’t drive your illustrator to despair. They have most often completed years of rigorous study to degree or MA level, thrown all they have on the line to freelance and are professionals in their field. If you have successfully achieved that which is so elusive- a publishing contract then excellent. So does that then make you an authority on design and illustration? No. Equally, an illustrator does not see it as their prerogative to give unwanted advice on plot, structure and dialogue- unless they are a writer too, in which case they’ll illustrate their own work (the full 10% royalty…mmmm)

So, writers (and I am both, so I can see it from each POV), be very aware of your role in a picture book. Your job is to write it. On wonderful and rare occasions, you can work collaboratively with the artist to achieve the result you both want (this often requires a high degree of friendship and collegiality the like of which is seen with the fabulous duos, Kate De Goldi and Jacqui Colley or Jennifer Beck and Lindy Fisher). Apart from making sure that a dog is not a seal, therein your role is at an end. Hand it over, trust the artist and your publishing company- they do know what they are doing.

As a footnote, today I was rather gobsmacked to find out that the first book I ever illustrated in 1984 ‘ The Old Man and The Cat’ by Anthony Holcroft is being re-illustrated and published by Penguin later this year. I felt like a dumped first wife and my baby thrown over for a whole new family. Then I checked out Leah Palmer Priess’s blog. She has posted some of the work up there, and I have to say, it is beautiful. The book will be stunning; I shall be a gracious ex. Je ne regrette rien.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Ohariu Valentine...

Sometimes a banishing turns out to be a blessing.
Our daughter turning 22 and still living at home (but looking for a flat) requested for her birthday that we vacate the house so she could have the BBQ she planned without parentals looking on and getting in the way. It was hard to drag her father away from the hoola hoops on the lawn (it subsequently turns out that her 19 year old brother is a natural at this especially after a beer) and leave the Jerk Chicken behind that had been marinating in too many Habanero chillies for 24 hours, but we did and took ourselves off to an idyllic hideaway only 20 minutes from town.

It has to be said right here, right now that we know the owners and threw ourselves on their mercy with promises of food, wine and scintillating company in exchange for a night at Ohariu Lodge. Mike and Liz, our charming and entertaining hosts relented and threw open their hospitality and the lodge doors for a romantic retreat that I can thoroughly recommend.
The lodge itself has a fascinating history; some years ago it started life as a bowling alley for the Swiss Club in Ohariu Valley. A slightly odd destination for avid bowlers but picturesque, as the building sits atop a lovely lawn with a glade and stream boundary (complete with a friendly eel).  As a sports venue it didn’t boast the spa pool it has now, the BBQ, the top notch bedrooms, lounge, kitchen and bathroom, but it did have the lovely carvings in some of the rafters that have been preserved by with love and attention.

They have thought of everything. The lodge is completely geared up for self catering with a fully equipped kitchen (I wish ours was as nice), the spa pool is very private (no need for togs if that’s the way you like it), decent shampoo and conditioner, phone, wireless internet, a bookshelf with tempting novels, DVDs, a stereo…

You could stay there a week, get your novel written or your relationship invigorated (sorry, novel writing is a solitary pursuit unless you are doing research for erotic fiction) and come home feeling like you had been away in the countryside far from the madding crowd forever.  All with a nice café down the road at the riding school! Ahhhh, nice!  
Thanks Mike and Liz, it was the best birthday present our daughter could insist upon!