So I bought some toothpaste that was on special. And once we'd opened the box, it became clear that it was on special because it had a cap that has to be screwed on and off, rather than the squeezy nozzle that we've become used to.

No drama. But the girls gathered around to stare, open-mouthed with excitement. 'Look, look!' 'Oh, wow!' 'That is so cool!' 'That's awesome!'

They were just as thrilled by this retro toothpaste dispensing mechanism as I would be by a Bakelite wireless or a horseless carriage. It's a funny old world. So many things disappear before you even have a chance to realise that they've gone.

And because I'm starting to work on a book that is about, among other things, the vanishing ephemera of the past, it was a timely (see what I did there??) reminder that even the simplest things can be unexpectedly fascinating to kids.


Behind New Guinea Moon

Comment on Kirsty's Kite, below:
Just dropping by...
What's next Kate?

x Lorraine Marwood
 As they used to say on The Curiosity Show, I'm glad you asked!
Me, my little sister Hilary and an unknown boy, Mt Hagen Show, 1975
Next up, hopefully in March 2013, will be my long-awaited (by me, anyway) 'New Guinea book,'  now titled New Guinea Moon.

I've wanted to write about PNG in the 1970s for a long time. When I was six years old, my family moved there, first to the capital, Port Moresby, and then to Mt Hagen in the Highlands. My father worked as a charter pilot, flying everything from coffins to cows to coffee beans, in and out of tiny Highland airstrips. We moved back to Australia just before I turned twelve, so effectively all my primary school years were spent in PNG.

It's fascinating that  every time I tell someone that I'm working on a book set in this time and place, almost invariably they will respond, oh, my uncle lived there for years... my mother grew up there... my cousin/sister/neighbour's brother was a missionary/teacher/had a coffee plantation in New Guinea... Everyone seems to know someone, or is related to someone, who was involved in the country in some way.

PNG is a huge, but largely unspoken, part of of Australia's history. I've been encouraged by the recent release of at least two novels, both based partly on personal experience, set in pre-Independence Papua New Guinea - The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska, and To The Highlands, by Jon Doust. Maybe it's time to talk about colonial New Guinea at last.

New Guinea Moon is a young adult book, not literary fiction, and I don't have any grand ambitions to explore the relationship between Australia and PNG in great depth. But to me, those three decades between the Second World War and PNG's Independence, from 1945 to 1975, and just after, have always seemed like an intriguing, and neglected, little pocket of history. Old hands say that once New Guinea gets into your blood, it never leaves you. That's certainly been true of my father, who would dearly love to go back and revisit all those airstrips. And I guess it's also true of me, even though I was only eleven when we left, and too young to make sense of much of what we'd experienced there.

When we came back to Australia to live, two things stood out for me about our time in New Guinea. First was the isolation -- both physical, tucked away in those remote mountains, and cultural. We had no TV, no radio apart from Radio Australia. If we wanted news of 'home' we were reliant on aerogrammed letters from my grandparents, and out of date newspapers and magazines airfreighted in from 'Down South.' When I landed in Grade 6 in Cheltenham East, I was totally ignorant of pop music, fashion, football, TV -- everything that might have given me some common ground with the other eleven year olds in the playground. I might as well have dropped from Mars.

The second was my consciousness of Other. At the time I didn't see this in terms of race, but of poverty. I knew that not everyone in the world lived in brick veneer houses in suburban streets. I knew that there were people who lived in smoky huts with woven cane walls, where pigs wandered in and out, and who sold sweet potatoes for a few cents at the market. I was horribly, painfully aware of how incredibly lucky, in material terms, I was and all my peers were, and I was priggishly prompt to point this out. Especially when I went on to my very privileged private secondary school... And perhaps that awareness, that sense of amazed gratitude, has never quite gone away either.

My dad said recently that those years in PNG set us up, as a family. We were able to rent our Melbourne house while we were away, and that extra income paid off the mortgage and secured our financial future. 'Growing up in New Guinea' has always been a huge part of my personal identity. And although Julie's story in New Guinea Moon is very different from mine, many of my memories have gone into the book. I hope that I've managed to convey a little of what it was like to live in that extraordinary place, at that extraordinary time.


Kirsty's Kite

I hardly ever listen to music any more. Maybe all those years as a record company lackey has spoiled music for me; or maybe I'm just getting old.

But an article in the weekend paper about Kirsty MacColl prompted me to dig out one of my favourite albums of all time, Kite, and even though I haven't played it for a decade, I still knew all the words. Where do the words of unforgotten songs hide? In what corner of the brain do they lie dormant, called out by a familiar tune?

I loved this album so much. I have no idea how many times I played it. Even though she wasn't one of "our" artists, I occasionally sneaked it into work and listened to it there (strictly against the rules). One of the things I love is her voice -- no vocal gymnastics, no trills and tricks and vibrato; just clear, beautiful singing where you can understand every word.

And what words! ... with a pocket full of plastic, like a dollar on elastic... sod all your funny little ways, they don't make me laugh these days any more... some boys with warm beds and cold, cold hearts, can make you feel nothing at all, the boots just go back on the socks that had stayed on, the next time they see you, they treat you like dirt... she sleeps like a woman when he wakes like a man... if I wore your shades could I share your point of view?... it's you and me, baby, this is journey's end...

The lyrics sound grim but the music is so joyous, so alive. Alice wondered why she was singing about "boys with wombats" and I can almost imagine her doing it.

Kirsty MacColl was tragically killed in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000, saving one of her sons from being run over by a powerboat.

I should write out a hundred times, put my hand on my heart and say that I don't want to lie, don't want to lie, don't want to lie, about the way it is...it's the end of a perfect day.


Ramona Revisited

Evie has asked me to re-read the Ramona books to her and we're racing through them. The process is made swifter by the fact that this time round Evie knows which chapters she wants to skip - the scary ones, mostly. (There's not going to be a book called Evie The Brave any time soon, let me tell you.)

The Ramona books are about the only books featuring human beings, rather than talking animals, that Evie really enjoys. I think the main attraction is the fact that Ramona is a little sister, just like Evie. During the earlier books, when Ramona is a pest, Evie will ask, 'Did I do that? Did I annoy Alice like Ramona annoys Beezus?' Statements like: Her father, her mother, nobody could understand how hard it was to be a little sister, are greeted with heartfelt sighs of recognition.

And Evie always wants to know, 'Was I naughty like Ramona? What naughty things did I do when I was little?' But the sad truth is that Evie was hardly ever naughty. She rarely got into mischief, and if she did, she was prodded or coaxed or goaded into it by her big sister. If anything, in our house, Evie is Beezus, and Alice is Ramona.
Evie at four (aka Beezus, the responsible sister)
Alice at seven (aka Ramona, the bolshie sister)
But it doesn't matter. The important thing about Ramona and Beezus is that they are sisters, and their relationship is true.

Evie and Ramona: not the same...

... or are they???


Crow Country Book Trailer

I love this!

A uni student called Abi Riley has made a book trailer for Crow Country. I hope she doesn't mind me sharing it, but I think it's great.


Making It Up

Penelope Lively describes this book as an 'anti-memoir.' She looks back over her life and selects certain turning points where things might have turned out very differently, and imagines the alternatives in a series of short stories: what if the ship on which she, her mother and nanny escaped war-time Egypt had been torpedoed, instead of delivering them to safety? What if she had fallen pregnant at eighteen? What if her future husband had been sent to the Korean War during his national service, instead of being reprieved at the last minute?

It's an intriguing idea. How many times do we really face a genuine crossroads in our lives, and how often is it our own choice that determines the path we follow, rather than a trick of chance or fate? I can't help thinking that such moments are actually quite rare. And perhaps the moments we think are so important are not really the most crucial ones.

I enrolled in Law at university, which seemed a momentous, agonising, life-shaping decision, but one which ultimately has had almost no effect on where I've ended up. However, the decision to live in at a residential college, and the particular college I put my name down for, was taken very lightly -- I only went to look at colleges because my friend Amy had wanted to -- I didn't even know what a college was -- and I signed up for JCH because it had the prettiest building. And yet the friendships I made there have lasted for twenty-five years, and had an incalculable effect on my life. It was at college I met David, and through David that I met Michael. And the rest is history...

I've always loved Lively's books because of their keen awareness and preoccupation with the past, and how it moulds and bleeds through into the present. This odd, but oddly satisfying book, takes that awareness and twists it into an entirely new shape.


Rilla By Night

Alice and Evie go to bed with an audiobook every night. Don't blame me; their father can't fall asleep without the radio murmuring in his ear, so I reckon they got it from him. Anyway, this habit is all very well when we are on home turf, but it can pose problems when we're staying elsewhere.

This weekend we had a sleepover at a friends' place. Thank God for the iPad and the free Audiobooks app which we had spent some time exploring recently. There are literally hundreds of books available, though unfortunately many are read by narrators who are... well, less than perfect. The word wooden springs to mind. The only book we'd downloaded in its entirety, and which had an excellent reader, was Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, one of my absolute favourite childhood reads, and the source of all my early knowledge of World War I. Essentially it's the story of Anne (of Green Gables) and her family's experience of the Great War, focusing on her youngest daughter Rilla who comes of age during those agonising years, with friends, brothers and potential sweethearts marching off to war around her.

Well, we put on Rilla when the girls went to bed at about nine thirty. When Michael and I came to bed an hour later, Evie was asleep but Alice was still wide awake and listening. 'England has just declared war on Germany,' she hissed. I fell asleep with half an ear tuned to Rilla's tribulations, and whenever I rolled over in the night, I was dimly aware of the story murmuring away. We were all squished into one room and I couldn't reach the iPad without treading on everyone, so I let it run. Al must be asleep by now anyway, I thought lazily. When I woke up at about six, sunlight was seeping into the room and Rilla was still going! But by seven thirty, all was silent and Alice was fast asleep.

At half past ten, she was still dead to the world. When she finally surfaced, she confessed that she had stayed awake all night, listening to Rilla. And she really had.

'Oh, Mum, why did [spoiler spoiler]? It was so sad. And why did Jims' father have to come back? I didn't like Rilla's boyfriend at all... It was so scary when Jims was really sick and Mary saved his life. And Little Dog Monday, waiting for Jem! Oh, Mum...' - big contented sigh - '... what a great book!' She hadn't missed a minute.

And I know I'm a bad mother, letting my child stay awake till dawn listening to a novel, so she had big black rings under her eyes and could hardly speak for tiredness, but secretly, deep down inside, I didn't mind at all. So there.