The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

This is my original childhood copy of The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, which I think was acquired through the Scholastic Book Club when we lived in New Guinea, back in the days when Book Club sold BOOKS rather than tacky pens, sticker diaries, cheap toys and novelty key-rings... but I digress. (Topic for another post, perhaps!) This cover is so old I couldn't find it reproduced anywhere on the net.*

This was one of my absolute favourite books, I read it over and over. As you can see, it is well-thumbed, creased and battered, and indeed even partially eaten. I've started reading it to Alice and she's loving it too. (" Read MORE, Mummy!") I'd forgotten just how smashing it is.

James Harrison finds that he's sharing their family's new house with a disturbing presence - a being that breaks vases, hurls glasses of water to the floor, and communicates through strange, old-fashioned notes. He quickly figures out that it must be a ghost. In fact it's the ghost of Thomas Kempe, a 17th century self-styled sorcerer and doctor of 'Physicke' who is keen to start up his old practice and enlist James as his apprentice.

At first Kempe is more annoying than scary, with endless opportunities to make James' life difficult, but events take a more threatening turn when the ghost begins to harass harmless old Mrs Verity, who according to him is a witch...

As often with Penelope Lively's books, there are strong themes of history, memory, and the passing of time. I remember being particularly struck by the passage where James reflects that people 'have layers, like onions.'

Somewhere, deep within stout, elderly Mrs Verity, with her rheumaticky hands that swelled up around her wedding ring, and her back that bothered her in damp weather, there sheltered the memory of a little girl who had behaved outrageously in Sunday School. And that, when you stopped to think about it, was a very weird thing indeed.

Thomas Kempe cannot adjust to the modern world, and what is initially a comic disjunction between his world and James' becomes slowly sinister and dangerous, and ultimately, poignant and rather sad. This is a brilliantly "layered" book itself.

I've been wanting to write a ghost story for ages, but couldn't figure out a way round the problem of keeping the ghost sufficiently "other"-- once they start talking and reacting, they might just as well be another human being -- but Lively solves this dilemma perfectly by making Thomas Kempe a cranky note writer. In fact it strikes me now, and slightly sadly, that The Ghost of Thomas Kempe is exactly the book I wanted to write. But Penelope Lively has already written it, thirty seven years ago.

* I've just checked and it's a 1975 edition, so I must have been nine when I first read it, too. Its recommended price in Australia is 95 cents. Sigh.


Chipping Away

The novel I'm working on now will -- hopefully -- be my tenth. (Double figures! Woo-hoo!) You would think I would have figured out by now what I'm doing.

But as I scratch my painful way to the 30,000 word mark, I've realised what this first draft actually is, and the function that it serves in my working process. What I'm writing now is, kind of, the film of the book. That is, I need to write to write down everything that happens. Just that, no more and no less. It's not polished, it's not pretty, it's not poetic. But it's as if I need to live through the whole story with my characters before I can go back and give myself the luxury of shaping and pruning, embroidering and spanglifying.

You know how sculptors say that they liberate the sculpture from the block of marble? Well, I think what I'm doing is making my block of marble. Only when I have that massive, rough, untidy stone in place, can I concentrate on chipping away at it until it becomes something that resembles a novel.

Well, it makes sense to me. I think.


Library Book Sale

Behold my latest haul! Not bad for under ten bucks...

Market Blues, Kirsty Murray
To add to my Kirsty collection. (Do read her latest, India Dark, which is an utterly fascinating tale of a child theatrical troupe touring India at the turn of last century, and based on a true story.) Kirsty does love a good historical drama, and this is a Melbourne one, so goody.

Caspar in the Spotlight, Narinder Dhami
Evie told me to look for "puppy books, but with no sad bits." Hopefully this story of a dog starring in a TV soap opera will fit the bill.

Arthur: The Seeing Stone, Kevin Crossley-Holland
Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy are the most gorgeously written, poetic, moving novels, perhaps the best books I read last year. They parallel the story of a young medieval page with the legendary tales of King Arthur. I'm thrilled to have this in my library and hope I can find the lot. If you haven't read them, I beg you to do so!

The Witch in the Lake, Anna Fienberg
We're doing Witches for one session of our book group next year, and this is on the list. I was amazed at how many witch titles seemed to pop up once I started noticing them.

The Silver Branch, Rosemary Sutcliff
Part 2 of The Eagle of the Ninth which The Great Raven was discussing recently (I managed to find The Eagle itself in a second hand shop recently, too. Not the actual lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion, obviously. The book.)

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares
Also coming up in book group. I already have a copy, but I thought I'd pick up a spare for my friend Heather.

The Peacock Spring, Rumer Godden
I need to read more Rumer Godden. Forbidden love, India, beautiful cover -- couldn't resist.

Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert
I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love (so sue me!), and this has only been out, what, less than a year? On the library cull pile already? I'm quite interested in ideas about marriage at the moment (apart from, you know, living it, marriage is turning out to be quite a central theme in Independence. Hmmm.) Worth a look.

Voices From a Lost World: Australian Women and Children in Papua New Guinea Before The Japanese Invasion, Jan Roberts
Speaking of Independence, I can call this research, even though it's dealing with a time period well before the 1970s, when Independence is set. Fascinating stories of Australia's colonial past. I can't wait to read this.

The Lucky Lamb, Lucy Daniels
The Queen's Cubby, Raewyn Caisley & Elise Hurst
Two more books for Evie (though when I read from the back of Lucky Lamb, "Woolly gets into all sorts of trouble...," she wailed, "I told you, no sad bits!" so we shall see.)

Poems For 7 Year Olds And Under, Helen Nicoll (ed)
Alice has been practising reading really well with poetry lately, so I might try her with some of these. I might need to type them out so she doesn't think they're beneath her dignity. I hate books labelled "For 8 Year Olds", "For 3 Year Olds" etc, it's so artificial and so limiting. Everyone should read what they want to read, regardless of "age suitability." I'm old enough not to be ashamed of reading books for kids, but when you're nine, it kind of matters.

Your Personality Tree, Florence Littauer
I always need to pick up at least one pop-psych volume! I came across this woman via Diane Levy's parenting book, Of Course I Love You, Now Go To Your Room, and I found her theories of personality extremely helpful and enlightening. She's adapted the ancient theory of the four humours to analysing personality types (sunny Sanguine, impatient Choleric, quiet Melancholic and peaceable Phlegmatic), each with their own needs and problems. Evie is a classic bubbly Sanguine, who can't bear to be criticised or to be alone for a second; Alice is a typical Melancholic, who falls apart when things aren't perfect, and needs lots of solitary time. Realising this has made parenting these two very different children much easier (especially since I'm a lazy, conflict-loathing Phlegmatic myself!) Warning: it's very Christian, which some readers might find off-putting.

Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Inventive Genius
For Alice: weird little snippets about all kinds of inventions, from the safety pin to the ballpoint pen, to a "combined table, wardrobe and bedstead" from 1880 that never really had the success it deserved...

And finally, for my darling husband:
1000 Military Aircraft In Colour, Gerry Manning
Enuff said!

And In Other News...
... Rex now lives on Easter Island.


Dragon in the House

We live with a dragon - a bearded dragon, to be precise. He lives in Alice's bedroom and his name is Rex. Most of the time he sits quietly on his rock, basking under his sunlamp and thinking deep thoughts - well, we assume they're deep thoughts, because he can't speak, and despite Alice and her friends' best efforts, they have not yet succeeded in teaching him to read or write.

He is, however, communicative in other ways. He rushes up to greet us; he waves his little arm, and scrabbles against the glass of his tank. He gets very excited when he sees his dinner coming. Twice a day he receives a meal of crickets (laboriously plucked or shaken from their bucket by Rex's human servants) and a plate of chopped vegetables. He adores bok choi, spinach and carrots; he's less impressed by tomato, apple or asparagus.

At the moment he's shedding, because he's growing so fast that his skin no longer fits. It drops off in large crisp flakes, not unlike cornflakes. When we take him out of his tank, he skitters and leaps to the highest accessible point - the back of the couch, for example - and surveys his kingdom. We know he can see colours, because he tries to eat the green portions of the blanket. 

When you take him to the window, he stares in amazement at the immensity of the world. Rex was born in a reptile shop; he's never seen the desert, never climbed real boulders or caught wild insects. If you release a fly into his tank, he freezes, then launches himself into space with his mouth open to snatch it in mid-air. We find this reassuring. If for some reason Rex had to survive in the wild, we know he could catch himself some dinner.

Though he might begin to wonder where the servants with those platters of mixed salad have got to.


An Abundance of Katherines*

In the holidays we visited our local cemetery. Alice, being an emo in training, loves it there. She and her friends scrambled between the gravestones, respectfully apologising if they accidentally stepped on anyone, and scattering flowers from our backyard onto the graves that particularly appealed, especially if there was someone buried there who shared their own name. I remember the particular thrill of finding an inscription for a departed Kate or Katherine, the tiny sizzle of a bond with a long-dead stranger.

As a child, I was always drawn toward historical figures who shared my name, and there were plenty of them -- Henry VIII married no less than three Catherines! Katharine Hepburn was a forceful, glamorous Kate, and Kate Jackson from Charlie's Angels was the smart, sassy Angel. Best of all was The Taming of the Shrew. The 1967 film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a big impression on me, especially Petruchio's speech:
You are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation.
Sigh! There was another bossy Katharine in Edward Eager's first two magic books (despite what Petruchio says, literary Kates tend not to be "sweet").

So tell me, what famous figures who shared your name (if any!) did you identify with?

NB I've just found myself listed as a "famous" Kate! How hilarious!

Not-Quite-NaNoWriMo Update
A week in, I'm up to 13,000 words. I'm trying each day to write 500 words, then do yoga, another 500, then lunch, another 500 and then I can read as a reward before hometime, and so far it's working pretty well. (I didn't do much at the weekend because we went away, but I still did a bit.) I don't know how people fit this around their normal lives and jobs - I dips me lid, proper NaNoWriMo-ers!

* which I must confess I haven't actually read yet


Material Girl

One day recently I was hounding Alice to get dressed (nothing new there). She disappeared into her bedroom and a few minutes later emerged wearing a dress I'd never seen before, a little pinny-type number with frilly sleeves, over a long-sleeved top and leggings.  (The dress is modelled above by Bunbun.)
'Where did that come from?'
'Oh, I made it,' she said airily. 'Just now.'
She'd taken a length of fabric given to her as part of a birthday present (great present!) and made it into a dress. 'But what's holding it together?' I asked in bemusement. She hadn't had time to sew anything. It wasn't even pinned together.
She widened her eyes and whispered, 'It's the magic of holes.'
All she'd done was snip a couple of arm-holes into the fabric and twisted it around her. But it looked amazing, and it was a perfectly serviceable little dress (if slightly ragged round the edges).

What's most exciting is that someone has just given us an old sewing-machine. If Alice can whip up frocks without sewing, I can't wait to see what she'll be able to create now!


Not Quite NaNoWriMo

I've never done NaNoWriMo. I'm not going to do NaNoWriMo. For one thing, it's October, and everybody knows that NaNoWriMo happens in November.

But it occurs to me that I could well do with the kind of kick up the rear that NaNoWriMo provides. I have been faffing around with this New Guinea novel for so long that it's embarrassing. I've changed it from junior fiction to YA to adult and back to YA. I've written 20,000 words and thrown them away. I've researched and workshopped and pondered and snowflaked. I think what I need to do now is just sit down and pound the damn thing out.

I need to write without fretting. I need to write without worrying about anything but the word count. I need to write a ton of junk in the hope that a couple of pearls will sift through the silt. I need to produce 50,000 words, and to hell with the quality!

And because it's really truly spring now, and I've already scrubbed the kitchen floor and reorganised the kids' clothes, I think I should start today.


Who Knew Electricity Could Be So Exciting?

As part of our big renovation/extension/new room project, we had solar panels put on our roof. Now at last we've acquired the special meter that measures how much we use and how much we make (well, how much the lovely sun makes, and the panels collect).

So now we are constantly running back and forth to yell out kilowatts at each other. "10.4 in! 6.3 out!" Though we're not absolutely sure what exactly these figures are referring to -- is it the total power that the panels have generated, or is it the excess that we've put back into the grid? Is the power we consume during the sunshine hours "free," and the power we use at night pulled out of the grid? It's all very muddling. Michael says he can feel a spreadsheet coming on...

But one thing's for sure, it's made us much more aware of TURNING STUFF OFF, which can only be a good thing.