The Bad Diaries Salons


This is a new thing, happening in Melbourne and elsewhere. On twitter one day I put the question out whether there were any writers with their old (bad) diaries – you know, the excruciating ones from childhood, teen-hood and early adulthood. Where it was all about the self, the indignities and mistakes. Pages filled with complaints and minutiae and worries and illicit feelings.

The second thing I asked on twitter that day was: And would you be prepared to read from them live?

Well, such a response. People keen to read, people keen to listen. People bemoaning the fact that they had burned their diaries. That following weekend saw people all over the place, including New Zealand, checking garages and attics and cupboards for their old diaries. Kate Forsyth reported back that she has 60 volumes. SIXTY.

This ‘concept’ has an even earlier genesis. When I was preparing for the Writers Under the Influence event that I appeared at, back in June I think it was, I was going through what my influences were. I went back to my teen diaries, wanting to see what I’d been reading (short answer: nothing much noted other than school texts. The Dickenses, the Brontës, the Austens, etc). But I did chance upon a fantastic* week’s entry of me, at 17, completely self-absorbed, writing about being away with the family over the New Year’s period. It was the beginning of my journaling that continued until my baby was born in 1996, and became very sketchy from that point forwards. Apart from a blog I started in 2005 and kept up until I started this one (in 2012 I think it was) I have only really kept travel diaries, but when the family was young, it was all very haphazard. The blogging was good – it was like a journal but didn’t record my daily stuff the same way my diaries had. And it was to a definite audience. However, on that blog I started transcribing some of my diaries, and called them My Bad ’80s Diaries. (You can’t find them, they are back into the draft section of that blog.) But they were really popular. People read them, it was like Dickens novels being serialised each week. I pseudonymed the main players, fudged certain details to keep it as anonymous as possible, and people tuned in to read, the follow the characters, including ‘Patrick’ my first proper boyfriend.

So in a way, all roads have led to this. You google ’80s diaries and it seems many people love the idea. It isn’t a new concept, but no one else is doing it in this way that I can see. There is a resurgence of salon-style gatherings, and how lovely to think that there is a trend back to that, to small intimate gatherings. I love it.

We had our first salon in early July and it was great. We had the theme of MISTAKES and the readers were Jane Rawson, Imbi Neeme, Cassandra Austin, Rosalie Ham and me. A small group of about fifteen gathered around a long table at Willows & Wine in West Melbourne (a lovely little spot that loves books and sells some second hand, and also you can get a glass of wine and cheese board if you like). And we read. Each for about ten minutes, and with informal chat and q&a in between. I read about my first secret marriage, and my daughter was there and it was interesting, intimate, candid. A really special evening.

*fantastic = really bad




We have another two planned for next month – the second one to the theme of TRIPS in Melbourne and one later in September in Perth, to the theme of REGRETS. Readers are confirmed, and  if you think you’d like to come along to Abbotsford, date is Tuesday 19 September. 6.30PM, and readers are Jock Serong, Rose Mulready, Jennifer Down, Rochelle Siemienowicz and Marlee Jane Ward.

Will post more details anon.

Here are some photos from MISTAKES.


John Irving and his writing

This morning I read the essay linked to below, at John Irving’s facebook page and was surprised to see it had been published in 1980. It was the mention of one of my favourite Irving novels that caught my eye, THE WATER METHOD MAN:

It’s been 45 years since John Irving published THE WATER METHOD MAN. While his second novel is regarded as a purely comic tale, and John’s current project is a darker contemplation of life’s disruptive forces, the two novels bear some resemblance to one another.

John Irving is once again experimenting with framed narratives and writing about the evolution of a writer—like Bogus Trumper, one who writes screenplays. This time, we see the main character —Adam Brewster—mature from childhood and early adolescence to become a writer like Garp, or Ruth Cole, or Juan Diego, as if writing were an inevitability given the fateful circumstances of his life. And, along the way, despite the darkness, there are points of humor. John’s work in progress may ultimately be his funniest novel since THE WATER METHOD MAN.

And a link to the essay published all those years ago, 3 BY IRVING by Terrence Des Pres, a text credited by Irving as “the most insightful thesis on his writing.” It contains some fabulous insights into and perspectives on fiction writing, particularly his. How he works, how he circles.

I do feel his fiction went off the boil for me, but maybe I had changed, maybe his work is still as vibrant and compassionate (a word that keeps recurring in the essay) and funny as it ever was. (although I have to say, the character name Bogus Trumper is genius but Adam Brewster? Ordinary).

Anyway, I thought it a fascinating read, this morning. It helped restore the juice that I will need to push on to the next project. It has some great quotes like:


Superior fiction asks three things of the novelist: Vigorous feeling for life as we live it. Then imaginative force, strong enough to subvert and rebuild unhindered. And then–but this is rare and so essential that we might call it the “reality principle” of fiction– shrewd sense to keep the first two locked in stubborn love with each other.


Irving’s grasp on fact is firm, yet not so cramped as to dampen his delight in wild fabulation. To manage this balance with compassion and comic liberty is chief among his strengths. Not fact but fact perceived is fiction’s rightful domain, and Irving has been quick to take this special license to its limit. Rampant invention is central to his art, and one of the finest pleasures to be got from reading his novels resides in the multiplicity of styles, the range of forms and abrupt imaginative turns to be found in each book. Irving’s multiple manner, if I may call it such, his will to come at the world from different directions, is one of the outstanding traits of Garp; but this remarkable flair for confluence–stories inside stories, genres circumventing genres–is already handled with mastery in Irving’s first novel, Setting Free the Bears, published in 1968, and with a freedom almost wanton in The Water-Method Man, which appeared in 1972. Only The 158-Pound Marriage departs from mixed form; published in 1974, it is as lean and concentrated as a mine shaft. But in every case Irving’s habit of originality provokes surprise and enjoyment.

Writing novels & opera – art nexus


In one week I have discovered that yes, I DO love opera, but only, it seems, when it’s Wagner’s Das Ring Des Nibelungen. Funny that. I am a bit surrounded by opera people. My mother loves it, and my daughter too. It kind of skipped a generation with me, but I would go along once a year with the two of them, not to be left out. I also have a friend who writes opera reviews for a paper here in Melbourne. I have another friend who I went to primary school with who sang for years in Germany, has sung each of the Ring operas, and now lives in London and is an agent to musicians and performers. The Singer and I have had a flurry of facebook messages going back and forth over the last day or so, as he has delighted in my new-found conversion to The Ring.

My critic friend has taken me to a couple of operas, and offered me more and I’ve declined, because (shhh) I didn’t really like it. I’ve never been a live theatre person, or musical person. I fell asleep in Carmen once; also at Camelot, even though my friend was Guinevere and we’d heard the stories about Richard Harris flapping his privates at her while from the wings  – both years ago. I prefer books and movies, and I always have. I like the ballet but only in moderation and while I liked Madam Butterfly and Swan Lake recently, and Eugene Onegin a couple of years ago, it’s Not Really My Thing. My time is precious, I am running a business AND trying to be a novelist at the same time. I also have children, wider family, blah de blah, and on it goes. So NRMT. Until now.

When Saturday a week ago The Critic was here for dinner, he asked me if I would be interested in seeing Das Rheingold with him on the Monday night, two days later.

YES, I said. I WOULD. (The Ring had been on my list of things to do since 2013 when my mother went here in Melbourne and said I HAD to see it one day. But then she’s an Opera Person, I thought. She would say that.) But I am about experience, and epic experience whenever possible. I admit, until I saw Das Rheingold, in my mind the attraction was the experience of having seen The Ring Cycle – and the endurance involved, to know what it was like to sit there – not what I might actually feel or love or take in while present. Oh, how misguided that was.

So I went on Monday, and sat with dropped jaw for the entire two and a half hours. We went to the after-party and that was amazing, being on the inside (writers always feel on the outside of things; it’s the position to best observe). I saw the sparkly frocks; the fabulous women of opera with their oversized vibrant spectacle frames and dramatic flowing fabrics. The men in dinner suits. On the Wednesday night the same thing. It was Die Walküre and I was in love. Irrevocably and completely fallen. It didn’t matter that technical difficulties extended not one but both intervals. It didn’t matter that a woman from Kooyong was sitting in The Critic’s seat when we finally got back inside after the dinner break. That she’d found his forgotten tickets on the platform at the station and whizzed herself in, prepared with a story of how she came to be seated there. It was a moment of high emotion inserted into an evening of already mega-drama.

Siegfried was Friday night, and again, it was epic. The blown-up image of the dragon putting on his warpaint, nude, was my favourite part, as was the appearance of Brünnhilde – magnificent character played by a magnificent woman. I am besotted. I wasn’t prepared for the sight of seeing ten women on stage, the Valkyries, Brünnhilde helping Sieglinde: two strong women, in a loving sisterly embrace, surrounded by strong women, with no one scheming, plotting, jealous, aggrieved. How refreshing it was, and so outside of the stereotypical way women are often represented. How marvellous.

This afternoon, we head in for a 4pm start, for Götterdämmerung, which The Critic has described as an earthquake. I am dressing accordingly. Vivid red dress, pink tights, yellow bag, purple nails and lips. Look out. I’ve ordered our boxed dinners and tonight, I also complete my tetraptych of souvenirs:

  1. first night was the program
  2. the CD box of recordings in Vienna in 1958, 1962, 1963 & 1964. It is sublime.
  3. coffee mug saying What Would Life Be, Without a Little Wagner?
  4. And tonight, it’s the viking hat. Yes, I’m getting it and probably wearing it home in the car.

My friend in London has reblogged a blog post I wrote a little while back on this website, about rejection. He thinks it of interest  to the singers and musicians he works with, and I can see how building resilience in the face of rejection, and developing persistence, patience and endurance, are essential to not just artists everywhere, but anybody who is chasing a passion or dream. Life is what you make it, and people don’t hand you things. Yes, you can build a team of supporters and champions, and that’s important. Things can’t happen in isolation. But it is down to you to make it all happen and that can take a lot of effort, heartbreak and – most importantly – time.

Tait Memorial Trust – Australian Artist Update

It’s no secret, I love Wuthering Heights


I don’t think I will ever do a PhD but if I did, something about WH would be on my list of things I’d happily spend a number of years exploring. Strangely, Ernest Hemingway and his many biographers is the other thing on my short, never-will-happen PhD list.

But I was just going through my emails – all these little notes to self that I send when I am out and about without pen and paper – and there was a link to an article entitled

Every Meal in Wuthering Heights Ranked In Order of Sadness (and somewhere I saw a note saying ‘and yes, all the meals are sad’).

Wuthering Heights is the story of a group of people who eat the most miserable meals imaginable, and cannot experience love as a result. Sometimes they have tea, but more often they are merely offered it, and decide they are too furious to have tea, and die instead. Here is every meal the characters of Wuthering Heights almost eat before being interrupted by sex-rage and dying.

Lists are just the best.

In other news, people in my twitter and facebook feeds are starting to talk about the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival which starts next week and I am quietly devo that I am not there.

*deep self-piteous sigh*

How is your weekend going? I finished reading Swimming Home by Deborah Levy last night. Am still processing. I’m not sure that I love her work, but I admire it and enjoyed reading this book and Hot Milk. I feel I need something amusing after it though. It’s heavy and weird and not in the way I prefer.


Reading update


How beautiful is this image? It’s a photograph by Chris Friel, you can see his work here. I’m thinking this is what I have in my head when I think about my next book.


Well, I kind of snapped last night and started reading Karl Ove’s fifth book which I’ve had sitting on shelf since earlier this year, when I kind of snapped and bought it.

But I have almost finished Interpreter of Maladies. And have really loved it.

I will finish Buddha of Suburbia. And I will read more from my list, the year is still new.

I cheated with – true confessions – James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider (it’s a long story, you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s the first one of his I’ve ever read, and will likely be the last. I didn’t think it could be as god-awful as everyone says. But it was.) Part of the reason is I’m doing his Masterclass online (a series of short videos where he expounds on different aspects of writing. Costs USD $90 and is kind of helpful. Doesn’t matter what you write, the principles of storytelling are common across all genres.)

So why Knausgaaard right now? Because last night I watched a 2014 interview he did with Andrew O’Hagan, you can watch it here. And it reminded me of how wonderful it is to immerse myself in his books, and I’d read that book 5 is concerned with him going to a writer’s academy in continuation of his ‘coming to art’ process and I thought to myself: you’re the one who’s put these ridiculous constraints on your reading, who will care if you read Karl Ove?

If nothing else, the challenge has taught me not to set such stringent challenges for myself, because all that happens is I end up feeling I’m doing the wrong thing. Who needs that in life, as a self-imposed thing, when there are all the external things that can make you feel like that?

But I’m not going to crack and just start buying books all over the place. I’m still going to refuse myself the ones I want – Maestra, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, Preparation for the Next Life, the rest of the Ferrantes, and others – until next year.


I’m super annoyed because I have a ticket to Hanya Yanigahara who will be talking at a Wheeler Centre event next month but I’ve managed to book a work thing that night, where I’ll be speaking at a school in Frankston. If anyone wants the ticket please let me know and I can email it to you. I don’t want payment would just be good for the ticket to be used. But I’m okay for Jonathan Franzen later the same week.


I’m up to the Paper stage of Mari Kondo’s tidying method and it’s proving harder than clothes or books. It’s sucking the life out of me, seriously.


How is this glorious Melbourne weather?






5 influential books

Culture Street asked me to write about five books that influenced me, including one from childhood. This was a fantastic exercise as it made me really think hard about which books – among many many – had some sort of influence that I could trace. I had 100 words limit to spend on each, they chose the book jackets and put together the bio, and here’s the result:

Five Books of Influence

These would be the covers I’d choose, just FYI:

garp best_WH thegoldfinch-215x330 lolita-201x330 Horton_hatches_the_egg

So, three out of five aint bad.

The glorious Tilda Swinton

There’s always been a lot to admire about Tilda Swinton. And now there’s this as well. A wonderfully moving speech, about the light and dark of Art, and how it feeds the soul, how it lets us know we have souls, how in many ways, it is the stuff of life. Paintings, writing, music.

Discovering the landscape of a world inhabited by artists has been one of the miracles of my life — TILDA SWINTON

It’s a wonderful speech, made my eyes prickle in parts. I hope you like it.

Blog post giving the context of the speech, and the text of the speech itself.

Tilda Swinton, with Wes Anderson looking on
Tilda Swinton, with Wes Anderson looking on