Puzzle Girl

I wish I were a quilter, or a knitter, or a sewer. Then I might have something concrete to show for hours of relaxing activity. But alas, my favourite mindless* recreation is jigsaw puzzles.

Oh how I love a good puzzle! One of the best things about our recent renovation was that it gave us the space to set up a jigsaw puzzle table without tripping over it constantly. I couldn't believe my luck when we found perfectly nice 1000 piece puzzles on sale at Woolies for $1.60 -- we bought three. (Though it seems sort of wicked that they could possibly be that cheap.)

I think the reason I enjoy jigsaws so much is that they engage parts of my brain that are otherwise sadly neglected (ie the visual parts!) and let the parts of my brain that are over-active (ie the verbal parts) switch off. Picking out the corners and edge bits; sorting through the pieces for flashes of white; scanning for patterns and colours that might go together -- it's all extremely restful, wordless, meditative. My mind clicks into a different gear; I become an observer, not a commentator. My actions are simple, slight and immediately satisfying: notice a similarity, pick up a piece, try it in the gap. Yes, it fits; or no, reject. Next piece. I'm very methodical; that's part of the zen.

And at the end, you get a lovely picture! Admire it for a couple of days, then sweep it back into the box for next time.

Sometimes I think that writing a novel is a bit like doing a jigsaw, too. You have to juggle things around, look at them from different angles, try a bit here and a bit there, discard and try again. Sometimes you force a piece into what seems like the right place, then you realise it actually belongs on the other side of the picture. And it's only right at the end of the process that it all makes sense. The key is to relax, and let your unconscious mind skim across the problem. The answer is there somewhere, and sooner or later, you'll find it.

* Of course quilting, knitting and other such creative pursuits are far from mindless. Perhaps that's the problem... for me.


Because We Love Horrible Histories Waaay Too Much In Our House

So this morning, when we should have been rushing around getting ready for school, we wasted a good fifteen minutes debating the merits of our own personal Top 10 Horrible Histories song lists.

Here are MY favourites, in ascending order:

10. Civil War song (based on West Side Story)

9. Cleopatra (a la Lady Gaga)

8. Pilgrim Rap (with thanks to Empire State of Mind - which I'd never heard of before this song, and I'm afraid to say I greatly prefer the HH version)

7. Boudicca  ('No man, Roman, don't push around this wo-man!')

6. Suffragettes (after Bananarama; Horrible Histories really needs to put out a Just Dance disc)

5. Literally (Watch out, it's the Vikings! Or is it Guns'n'Roses? 'We're tearing up this town tonight - literally!')

4. Charles II (The King who brought back partying! Mat Baynton looks adorable in a long wig. Yeah, okay, I admit it, I have a tiny crush on Mat)

3. The 4 Georges: Born 2 Rule (there are those wigs again)

2. The RAF Pilots Song ('Take that, Hitler!')

1. And last but not least, my all-time favourite - Dick Turpin (Mat does Adam Ant: utterly irresistible!)



This is the cover of the book that I read when I was a kid - about nine, probably - I think there was a copy in the Mt Hagen library. I couldn't remember much about it, except that it was written in letters and even I could foresee the Big Twist coming at the end. Perhaps that's why I felt slightly dismissive of it and didn't reread it, which was a rare event back in them days.

But recently I found a copy and gave it another go, and it was just delightful. Yes, it is a little creepy that Judy addresses her anonymous benefactor (and eventual SPOILER! love interest) as 'Daddy' throughout, but hey, it was written a hundred years ago! And it was sweet. I'd completely forgotten, or more likely it hadn't registered in the first place, how lively and funny and brisk (if rather dense) a narrator Judy is - and surely her denseness is intentional, to give us readers a smug shiver of anticipation, as we can so clearly see what Judy can't.

And it's feminist too: 'Don't you think I'd make an admirable voter if I had my rights? I was twenty-one last week. This is an awfully wasteful country to throw away such an honest, educated, conscientious, intelligent citizen as I would be.' Yeah, you go, Judy!

I was shattered to learn that Jean Webster, who was an orphan herself and presumably wrote from experience, wrote only one more book after this one. She married at 39 and died in childbirth. How awfully sad, and what a waste indeed.

PS Just discovered that Jean Webster's real name was Alice! Thanks, Wikipedia.

What Everyone Is Reading At Our House

Michael: Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
Alice: A Caribbean Mystery, Agatha Christie (audiobook); The Moving Finger, Agatha Christie (me reading to her); Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, Jen Storer
Evie: The Wandering Wombles, Elisabeth Beresford
... which pretty neatly reflects their main areas of literary interest: Michael, World War I; Alice, murder and mystery; and Evie, sweet little furry animals who talk.




Not written by me
It's funny, when you meet a stranger (and this has happened at least three times recently) and you tell them that you write books for kids, their first response always seems to be an enthusiastic but slightly patronising, 'Good for you!'

And then they tend to follow up with: 'And do you draw the pictures yourself?'

Now, I wish that I were talented enough to create picture books -- or indeed, just pictures would be thrilling enough -- but why is there is this automatic assumption that kids' books equals picture books? All of these lovely strangers grew up reading. Surely they didn't all go straight from The Cat In the Hat to Wuthering Heights? One of them has children of her own, and one used to work in a book shop!

So -- bemused.

PS Happy International Left-Handers' Day -- especially to my sister, my daughter Alice and my friend Sandra. Hooray for lefties!