Saturday, December 26, 2009

Our Christmas...

Hosted by daughter Emma and her husband Carson, this Christmas was quite possibly the best ever... Here's the photographic evidence... Pappy and Andy helping to prepare bugs (lobster) in the kitchenAn impromptu four generations choir accompanied by our guitar hero, Thomas...
and below, happy me...
I've always loved those sleepy, reflective moments in the afternoon when people examine presents more closely... in our case there were quite a few cook books.
And then... chatting by candlelight at the end of the day...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas countdown,,,

Brisbane is famous for its thunderstorms in late afternoons in summer and on Tuesday we had a beauty. Vicki and I were in the city doing last minute gift shopping and we were shocked when we came out of the stores into almost total darkness.

E was at home taking photographs of what was going on in the heavens. Apparently it was quite spectacular.

Now, the Christmas preparations are well underway. Tomorrow we'll all be heading to Emma's where Andrew and my Mum will join us. Last night we made a late journey to the seafood markets and the esky is full of oysters, bugs (lobsters) and prawns (shrimp). It will be a cold Christmas lunch with salads and seafood and a baked ham for us. I've made a mango trifle (courtesy of a fab recipe from even fabber Marion Lennox) and V was up till midnight making shortbread. Just a few more presents to wrap... another social gathering with friends... a possible trip into the cathedral tonight... and Christmas will be here.

I hope you all have a wonderful day... whether it's quiet or hectic... I hope there are many special moments, and I leave you with a photo of this year's Christmas Creek sign .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where am I now?

After the book was sent last Tuesday, I spent a few relaxing days at Noosa, and I'm now in Brisbane, having a lovely time catching up with sisters, daughters, my mum and old friends from my single, flatting days (and being spoiled rotten with the most scrumptious food). Vicki and Matt below are our fab hosts.We're staying at their lovely flat at Red Hill and this spot is full of nostalgic memories for me. Just down the road on Enogerra Terrace is my very first library (I started with reading a series about twins who lived all over the world --The Dutch Twins, The Eskimo Twins etc... and I fell in love with a story about a girl whose family lived above their shop.) From here I can see my old primary school and the church where I was married, and that distant gap in the hills is the suburb of The Gap, where I went to high school.
Am v happy in this lead in to Christmas. Hope you are, too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And you didn't even ask for them...

The bulls of Rockhampton... a small sample...

Then we continued driving south and came to Miriam Vale where we always stop for the most delicious fresh crab sandwiches... and you know, I'd never noticed the old fellow on the roof before, but these days I'm totally atune...

Now we're in Noosa and I've finished my book, so I'm officially on holidays. I was sad to let these characters go, actually, but last night E and I had a divine dinner at a restaurant right on the edge of the sand to send them off in style. Can you guess what we talked about (at least some of the time?) yeah... my next book.:)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Travelling south...

We are now in Rockhampton, halfway down the coast of Queensland, on our way to a southern family Christmas. Yesterday we were on the road for ten hours. It's a big state!!!!!!!!! Be warned, if you're an overseas traveller.
We're driving, rather than flying, because we want to use our car while were in the SE and we'll be away for too long to make car hire an option. We've made this journey many, many times, so we know the ropes. Yesterday, our morning tea stop was Bowen (where much of the movie Australia was filmed). That's Cape Gloucester in the background. They now have big posters boasting about how much Hugh Jackman loved Bowen.For some reason (which I think is peculiar to Aussie country towns) we have big plastic statues of the local product. There are big bananas and big pineapples. In Bowen there's a big mango. Bowen mangoes are truly sensational, possibly the most divine fruit in the world, and we bought a whole bucketful -- that's fifteen mangoes for eight dollars -- and we got to keep the bucket!! (Green ones down the bottom)One of my writers friends from Victoria was recently thrilled that she'd bought mangoes for $1.78 each to make a mango trifle -- (pretty much traditional trifle, but with lemon jelly and slices of mango -- sounds yummy, except it's never become a staple in our household because I have a husband who doesn't like custard and a son who doesn't like jelly, sigh).
Here in Rockhampton, we're in the heart of beautiful cattle country, so there are cow statues everywhere. I'll try to get a shot for you.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

to market, to market...

Interesting marketing strategies... have resulted in totally different packaging for the same story. My next book will be released in the UK and North America in March. It's set in Australia's Cape York, in wild, rugged and very distinctive tropical coastline that's described in a fair amount of detail in the book.
In the UK it's called The Cattleman's Adopted Family and it's in a 2 in 1 with Margaret Way's Outback Bachelor (lucky me) and looks like this.
In North America, it's called The Rancher's Adopted Family and looks like this.

My editor loved the setting I described, but obviously marketing has its own way of thinking... I hope American readers won't feel conned.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

guinea gossip...

The saga of the guinea fowl continues…
Can’t show photos at the moment as I cleverly left my laptop and its attachments behind in T’ville!! It had to happen one time, but why did it happen when I’m on deadline? Arrgh!
Anyway, to start with – good news. Young Lazarus/Gloria is thriving. After being hand fed the whole time we were in Townsville last week, it’s nearly twice its size and last night spent a night back in the main coop, sleeping inside one of E’s flannelette shirts.
Also, we’ve discovered that Icarus, the young male who kept flying up and hitting his head on the roof, was actually being pecked by the other more dominant male. On further observation, we felt so sorry for him that we decided to let him out and he now lives quite happily outside the pen, although he often calls to the females to follow him.
One female seems keen, I must say.
Today, for the first time, we’ve let all the adults out to explore our block and they’re having a wonderful time, constantly pecking, presumably at insects. Sometimes they’re in pairs, but often the dominant male lures both females to wander with him and chases poor Icarus away, so we’re giving serious thought to the best way to manage Icarus’s romantic interests, and we’re very much hoping that the young keet is Gloria. Alpha males are more trouble than they’re worth.
On the writing front, I’m in the final part of my book, (bless E for letting me use his laptop) and tomorrow I’m having another gathering of NQ romance writers, which should be fun.

Monday, November 30, 2009

twin update...

Last week I minded the twins for two days while their mum had a well earned break. We had fabulous fun. They’re eleven months now, crawling, into everything, vocalising… so we made lots of animal sounds and sang songs and played with balls endlessly. I discovered how hard it is to get down on the floor and then up again quickly. The girls have totally opposite personalities and don’t really look all that alike now, even though they’re supposedly identical. So it’s fascinating to watch them develop into unique little people. But yes, I was a tad weary at the end of two days… not nice to realise I’m not so young any more. Then again, grandmothers aren’t meant to be young, are they? J This is Milla. And here's Sophie. And yes, it's very hot in Townsville now. Hence the lack of clothing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A new talent...

Would you like to know more about a brand new North Queensland author? Helene Young is a guest today at the Romance Writers of Australia blog. Her debut book sounds fabulous! It'll be released in March and I'm so looking forward to reading it. Go Helene!

Last call... for a great opportunity...

Successful RADF applicant Mark Reed recieved funds to invite NIDA teacherFrancesca Smith to conduct a 5 day playwrighting Intensive at the MagneticIsland Recreation Centre. Thanks to Townsville RADF participants will onlyhave to cover the cost of meals and ferry fares. Date:Tuesday 1st December Sign In at the Recreation Centre after 5pm or early Wednesday morning Workshops run all day from Wednesday 2nd to Sunday 6th. All accommodation and joining fees covered by RADF
Meals: $135 and Ferry $29 return to be coverd by participants
Contact: Mark Reed for registration and payment detailsPho: 4721 5433Mobile:0401 435333

Saturday, November 21, 2009

the continuing guinea fowl tragedy...

My deadline is fast approaching, so I'm trying to keep away from the Internet, but I knew I should keep you posted.
Sadly, three of our guinea fowl keets succumbed after the horrors of that first cold night. We've since learned that because they're equatorial birds the babies need to be kept very warm. The one surviving chick has been in our house each night and on a warm spot on the veranda each day and he/she (Gloria or Lazarus??) seems to be thriving. We will take him with us when we go back to Townsville. Adult guineas are fine.
We were supposed to be heading off today, but in a burst of getting as much done as possible before we leave, I spent the morning in the garden and ended up being stung by something nasty.
The blessings of country life, huh?
Right now I'm thinking longingly of my nice comfy city apartment. But I'm getting drowsy from antihistamine, so we'll delay out trip south till tomorrow.
Meanwhile I thought you might enjoy a few snaps of Spring on the Tablelands, and sometime soon I will tell you about Tarzali's centenary celebrations.

Our orchids are doing better than ever this year.

The flame trees are glorious.
A lovely splash of bougainvillea.

And the buddleia is out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

naming our babies...

I'm so glad people asked about names for our guinea fowl. I was going to mention straight up that blog visitors may like to help us with names, but I wasn't sure if you'd be shy...
Anyway, before we talk names, I have some sad news.
Last night we had a very cold night and
a) we didn't realise how cold it was. I was shocked to get up and read the thermometer and see it was 11 degrees
b) we didn't realise that guinea fowl really don't like the cold
c) we didn't realise that our mother guinea fowl wasn't interested in sitting on her babies and keeping them warm.
You know where this is going, don't you?
Yes, dear reader, I'm sad to report that when Elliot checked the pen this morning, the babies were in a terrible state -- at death's door. In fact, one of them has since died, which is just awful. Two are quite fit but another isn't well. As you can imagine, they are all inside with us tonight, tucked up in a woolly sweater. Fingers crossed all will be well from now on.
And so to naming...
We have to call one of the adult females Matera... because when we were at the Women's fiction festival in Matera a few years ago, there was a guinea fowl in one of the ancient stone houses near us. It used to sit in the window and call out and we've never forgotten.
Elliot wants to call the baby that almost died but seems to have revived Lazarus.
And he's chosen Icarus for an adult male that keeps flying high and hitting the roof.
But there are four other birds as yet un-named and we're very open to suggestions. There's a female and a male and two babies of as yet uncertain gender. Anyone like to toss a name in the ring?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

new additions to the family...

We are now officially country folk with a little flock of guinea fowl. Four adults and four babies (the babies are called keets.)

Elliot has built them a house, with lovely leaf litter on the floor full of worms and insects and they have an automatic grain feeder and an automatic water dispenser, a mirror for them to admire themselves (they adore it!) and perches on which they can roost -- oh, and shade as well as protection from the rain.
We’ll keep them in the pen for three to four weeks, and after that they’ll be able to free range on the block, the plan being that they’ll return to the pen to roost each night. There’s a special high opening and shelf for them to fly back in that keeps them safe from cats etc.
Here they are checking themselves out in the mirror. E read about this trick on the internet. Honestly, they stay there for hours admiring themselves, or trying to work out what the heck these other birds are -- and at least it stops them from fretting about being in the pen while they get used to our place. We already have one egg, but we’re not planning to eat it. I’ve begged that we don’t eat any of the birds either, in case you were wondering. One reason we wanted guinea fowl, apart from the fact that they’re quiet and look cute running around the place in their flocks, is that they’re reputed to be very good at catching and eating ticks and chasing snakes. In other words, they deal with two drawbacks of country life in one blow.
If you’re worried about what will happen to them while we’re doing our city stints, our lovely neighbours will be keeping an eye on them. A big plus of country living. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The trip continued...

OK. Carrying on from yesterday's post about travelling north between Townsville and the Tablelands...
Just north of Cardwell, this iconic structure has given me endless fascination. Isn’t it gorgeous? Or am I plain weird? Anyway, it’s an old smokehouse – where pork became bacon and beef became corned… beef, and behind it now is a nice modern white farm house and a banana plantation.
Ahead of us now, the mountains loom even larger as we approach Tully, and we know that our Tablelands are up there, too… somewhere in the clouds. If I remember correctly from long ago geography lessons, it’s thanks to the height of these mountains that Tully has the highest annual rainfall in Australia. The south east trades blow up the coast, warming over tropical waters, then they have to rise to go over the mountains and they cool and condense. It’s called orographic rainfall. There, that’s a little bit of information you may want to forget…
Anyway, we drive on through Tully and towns like El Arish, where soldiers settled after WW1, and named after the battle in the Middle East, and then we come to the turn off where we leave the coast and head for the hills.

For us, the turn off is marked by this Italian house that stands head and shoulders above the surrounding cane fields. We always get a bit excited when we reach this point.
We pass banana plantations that were flattened a few years ago by Cyclone Larry, and for six months the whole of Australia went without bananas, or paid astronomical prices for imports.

And then we keep driving west, moving first into the uplands, which are already greener and cooler, and we pass tea plantations. Doesn’t tea grow neatly? If you double click on this photo, you will see how it grows in neat hedgerows. Mechanical harvesters clip the new growth, helping to keep it neat. Did did you know tea is a relative of the camellia? (Another trivia fact) Australia’s famous pesticide free Nerada tea is grown near here.
Now we watch the car’s external thermometer start to drop as we climb the Palmerston Highway through thick rainforest and past crystal creeks… until we emerge on the Tablelands where it’s invariably misty and green. Here sugar cane and bananas have given way to dairy cows and milk factories… and we truly do feel as if we’ve arrived in another country.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The trip...

I talk a lot about travelling between the city and the country and back again, but I've never described the trip for you, so I thought it was about time I did. I want to show you that in the space of a few hours between Townsville and the Tablelands, we almost feel like we're going to a different country. If we were in the UK, I guess we easily could be.
Townsville is in the dry tropics, so when we head north, we first go through rather a long stretch of rather uninteresting bush. But maybe I find it uninteresting because I grew up in the south where the bush is softer and greener. My son, who was born here, loves the straggly bush around Townvsille.

Depending on the time of day, we sometimes stop at a place about forty-five minutes to the north called Frosty Mango. Here they sell fabulous ice cream made from tropical fruits -- mango (growing on trees to the left), pineapple, banana, soursop, black sapote -- as well as popular favourites like tiramasu and strawberry vanilla. These mango trees and coconut palms grow in the surrounding gardens, as well as a variety of tropical fruit, so it's quite a tourist draw card.

From there we drive on to Ingham, a small sugar-growing town with a large Italian population. Actually, all the North Queensland sugar towns were settled by Italian migrants and the delis are fabulous -- full of divine salamis and homemade pasta and pannetone etc. The cemetery in Ingham is worth a visit because of the rather splendid Italian gravestones -- and, as with all cemeteries, the headstones tell so many stories.

This year's sugar crop has been harvested, and the new cane is only a a few inches high (just looks like grass). By next June it will be well over six feet and topped by pale mauve feathery plumes.

Have I mentioned that crocodiles are a distinct possibility in all waterways in Far North Queensland ? So unfortunately no swimming outside the safe enclosures.

All the way, as we travel north, we have the Great Dividing Range (called Seaview Range here) to our left. These mountains get taller around Ingham and they often remind me of a dragon's spine. Just north of Ingham they tumble down to the coast and offshore they become Hinchinbrook Island. We have to climb over the range and on the crest, we have a fab view of the winding waterways in the Hinchinbrook passage (above). Then we drive down a windy road with rainforest on either side, and on to Cardwell.

Cardwell is right by the sea and a must stop spot! I love it here, sitting on the beach where the Coral Sea (protected by the Great Barrier Reef) laps gently at tangled mangrove roots. You can look out at Hinchinbrook and Gould Islands, watch sailing boats and wonder about the adventures they're having...

This the half way point in our journey. More tomorrow...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

books into movies...

This week (in the city) I've watched two movies based on books I've loved -- Mao's Last Dancer written by Li Cunxin, and The Time Traveller's Wife written by Audrey Niffennegger.

As we all know, sometimes movies don't work as well as books, but in both these cases, I think the directors have captured the spirit of the books and then added something more. I loved both movies -- loved the visual details of Li Cunxin's peasant village in Communist China, was blown away by the extraordinary dancing, and cried buckets at the end. This story had a beautiful arc.

I also loved visual details in The Time Traveller's Wife. I mean... Eric Bana gets to run around naked quite a bit, which is a bonus. But a big plus for me in this movie, apart from the story and the acting were the fascinating and atmospheric interiors of the various places where Claire and Henry lived, especially the final house.
I thought the romantic edge to this story was very involving. (Mind you, I was familiar with all the time jumps from reading the book, so I knew to expect this. The movie handled them much better than I thought it might.) And although the ending was different from the book and a tad Hollywoodised, I adored it. Wept oceans. Loved it, loved it, and thought it was an improvement on the book's ending.
But then I would, wouldn't I? If you see it for yourself, you'll know why.