The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Review: The Dry

WARNING: This novel deals with the death of children, and other themes/scenes which may trigger mental health issues in some readers.

Aaron Falk attends the funeral of his childhood friend and his family in the town they all grew up in. The deaths seem to be an open-and-shut case, but in this small, drought-ridden town, there are always unanswered questions.

Jane Harper is an Australian journalist who has turned her hand to writing fiction. This novel has quickly become a bookclub favourite, and has even been hand-picked by Reese Witherspoon to be made into a film. So when it came up cheaply on Kindle, I decided to give it a read.

The novel is well-written, with a flowing narrative that never meanders along mindlessly. Chapters are short and sharp, doing what good writing always does and leaving the reader wanting more. As for the narrative, it’s a good yarn, worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon this novel. As expected, the little town is full of secrets which are revealed in a manner which is easy to understand yet never leaves the reader feeling like they’ve missed something.

Despite the length, this is an easy read, perfect for those rainy afternoons when you just want to snuggle under a blanket and read. Also good when you’re short on time and can only read a chapter at a time. You’re not going to lose your place; I found some parts to be repetitive, so if you do skim over something, it will come up again later. The characters are well written and quite memorable. It’s the sort of novel that gets your brain thinking, analysing possibilities and wondering how it all fits in.

Without giving away the details, the ending is quite satisfying. The reader can see how the pieces fit together and the clues that led Falk and Raco to their conclusion. I did find it to be a little rushed, which gives way to coincidences. But this is easily overlooked as the conclusion neatly puts everything together.

I’ve read that Jane Harper is busily writing another novel featuring Aaron Falk, and that the book won’t be a direct sequel but can standalone. That works for me; The story of this small town is neatly contained within the pages of this novel and doesn’t need to be expanded in a sequel.

8 out of 10 bookmarks. Recommended especially for lovers of Australian fiction.

Advertisements

October 15, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to beat Writer’s Block

Writing pad with pen

You’re sitting in front of your notepad or screen, and the words just won’t come. You’ve hit a roadblock. Your characters are waiting to be told what they’re doing, but you just can’t find the inspiration. What now?

Here are my top tips for beating writer’s block and get those creative juices flowing again.

1. Write

Pick up your pen or keyboard, and write. Wait… isn’t that what you’re doing when you realised you’re not getting anywhere? Stay tuned for tip #2.

2. Look to your left

Or look to your right. Pick the first object you see and write the story about that cushion. For example, I have a red cushion to my left. I can write the story of this red cushion. My story will be, it was made by a young woman in China who was paid 3 cents an hour but her family will beat her if she does not work. The cushion was sold to a major department store, where it sat being held by thirty seven people before I paid $43 for it. Tomorrow I shall donate this cushion to an op shop, where it will be bought by a psychologist and fifty people a week will sit on, cuddle or cry into that cushion. Each of those fifty has their own stories to tell.

(I did not actually pay $43 for a cushion, and the tag says it was made in Australia.)

3. Writing prompts

Writing prompts are little sentences you can use to kickstart your writing. They are designed to introduce something happening within your story. At the very least, they serve as a distraction and at the most, they will kickstart a new subplot or character into your story.

Try these for starters.

* The phone rang.

* There was a knock at the door.

* They heard a loud noise outside.

* Water rushed from the kitchen.

* They heard music coming from outside.

These tips will initiate your brain to write. It doesn’t matter if you end up using what you’ve written, the exercise has just served to unlock something in your writing brain in order to write.

Here are some more examples.

* She suddenly saw a hole in her hem. (Did someone else wear her dress? Did she catch the hem while skirting out a window? Was it torn during a sexual assault? Is the dress hers?)

*Their attention was caught by someone’s shadow falling across them.

* A beautiful daydream came to life before their eyes.

* “Did you see/hear that?”

* a wayward puppy ran across their path.

* An invitation arrives in the mail.

I recommend writing a list of your own prompts, at least 10-20. When you’re feeling stuck, randomly pick one prompt and start writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to add to the story, it will just get your mind and fingers into the rhythm of writing. The beauty of this is, you’re free to change, edit or delete as you see fit.

4. Take a break

I know, I know… I did say “write” as my top tip. However, if you’ve been writing for a while and you’re just feeling stuck, take a break and go outside for five minutes. Make a coffee, eat a biscuit, hang up some washing. Do something else so that your mind relaxes and you’ll find ideas will pop up. If you’re feeling sluggish, eat a piece of fruit or a couple of lollies (lollies contain glucose, which is a vital sugar your brain needs to function. Seriously).

So there you have it, folks. My top tips for breaking that writer’s block.

October 4, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , | 1 Comment

Research Weekend to Camden, NSW

Camden Park House Camden NSW

In case you’ve missed what I’ve been up to, here’s a quick recap. Basically, I’m writing historical fiction based on my family history in Camden, New South Wales.

This past weekend, Camden Park House had its annual open day. Just one weekend annually, this historic house is open to the public. And I had to see it for myself.

Although my ancestors worked at the Park and appear as characters in my story, they are not the main characters and they did not even live nor work at the Park at the time my novel is set. That’s the beauty of historical fiction: there’s a certain level of creative licence one is afforded. Neither my fictional family nor my actual family would not have seen nor stepped foot inside this homestead. Probably.

I began my trip by flying to Sydney from Brisbane. (Yep, I am certainly committed!) From Sydney, my cousin and I drove to Camden to begin researching. The first stop was Camden Cemetery at Cawdor, where I knew my first Australian ancestors were buried.

Gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden

What you see here are the gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden, who were the first Bugdens to step foot in this new colony. They were born in England, and were brought out by James Macarthur to work at the new Camden Park Estate. Thomas became a lessee of his own farm (I even found a photocopy of the original lease agreement!) and died in 1898. I must take a moment to thank the volunteers at Camden Museum, and Camden Historical & Genealogical Society for giving me so much of their time and resources as well as answering all of my questions. Special shout out to Robyn for answering questions about what life was really like for my characters back in 1909.

The visit to Camden Cemetery and Historical Society took up most of Friday, so on Saturday we headed back to visit Camden House for their open day. The home is still inhabited by descendents of John Macarthur (seventh generation, if I’m not mistaken) and is still a working dairy farm. It was quite overwhelming to stand in front of this homestead and imagine my characters interacting with actual people who once lived there. Some scenes of my novel take place within the walls of the homestead, so I was keen to see the layout of the house. Turns out, I was very wrong! It was a self-guided tour through the house, but there were volunteers in every room to talk a little about the history of the room and answer any questions we had. I talked to several of them about my project, and was met with enthusiasm, interest and well wishes for its completion.

I wasn’t so interested in the gardens, although they have won several awards. The gardens were (and still are) used to grow exotic and unusual plants. One example is the Bunya Pine, which was brought to the Park by William Macarthur to cultivate and sell to people around Sydney. (Shout out to Euan, one of the horticultural volunteers, for this information.)

What I was interested in was the layout of the Park. Obviously several thousand acres have been sold since the original land was granted to John Macarthur, however I was able to ask about the cottages of the original workers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get too close to those cottages as they are inhabited by current workers and aren’t the original cottages anyway. Still, it was interesting to see where the cottages would have stood; it gives me a good idea about distances for my characters to wander around the Park.

At the open day, I was lucky enough to meet author Michelle Scott Tucker, who wrote a biography called Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World. It was reading this biography that inspired me to write my novel. She was signing books, however I’d bought my copy on Kindle and asked for a photo instead.

Me (Renee) meeting author Michelle Scott Tucker at Camden Park

I told her about my novel and how her book had inspired me. She was so gracious in wishing me well and even said she would like to read my manuscript when it was completed!

Over the weekend, I took close to 200 photos, mostly of Camden Park House. This opportunity is one I am so grateful for; not many authors get the chance to actually look through an iconic historical location featuring in their novel.

So what next?

I now have no excuses not to finish this novel! I’ve just hit 50,000 words. I’m not sure where or how this particular story ends; I definitely have enough information to complete it and write several sequels if I wanted to. My original idea was to move my fictional family to Queensland, however I think I might keep them in Camden, at least for this novel. Let’s see what happens.

I will say this though: there is definitely a lot of writing in my future. I’m just getting started.

September 25, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Illusions

Silhouette young lovers

Teenage Me thought Teenage You was cute.

You had dark brown hair, just a shade or two lighter than black. Your smile could light up a room. Your attitude… Well, it was just a typical teenage boy’s do-not-care-about-anything attitude.

“What are you looking at?” Teenage You said.

“Nothing,” Teenage Me replied. “There’s a cockroach on the wall behind you. I was waiting to see if it jumped on your back.” It was a lie. I’d been staring at you, wanting to remember every part of your face, hoping my subconscious would recall your features in my dreams that night. Unaware of my lie, you jumped, brushing invisible creepy crawlies from your shoulder. You didn’t see my face flush with embarrassment at being caught staring at you.

Eventually, the weight of my stare was too much and you didn’t talk to me at all. We both moved on. My mind drifted to my next crush, another boy I wouldn’t admit my feelings for.

It was a surprise to run into you more than twenty years later, in a shopping centre neither of us frequented. Fate was the romanticised name for it.

“Hey…?” At first, I wasn’t sure it was you. Eventually my long stored memories of your face came back asking for confirmation it was you. Yet all my mouth could muster was ‘Hey’, as if you actually had any idea who I was.

“Uh, hi?” Your face gave it away: your brain did not remember me.

“Milly,” I said, trying to jog your memory.

“Milly! Of course!” But your eyes gave you away: You couldn’t place me although your brain was clicking over all your memories. “How are you? It must have been, oh, five years! Has it been that long already?”

“You were in my Social Studies class with Mr Plummer. Do you remember him? That bald spot he always tried to hide with a terrible combover?”

You laughed. “Oh yes, I remember him! He never liked me, kept comparing me to my brothers, who were some sort of geniuses.” You laughed again.

I smiled politely, my heart beating fast. It too remembered the nights I stayed awake wondering if you liked me. “How are your brothers?”

Your smile faded. “Uh, well, um… Sam died and uh, Jesse is a human rights lawyer currently trying to get the government to remove people from Nauru.” You looked sad.

“Oh fuck, I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. Although I had studied your face a thousand times, I had ignored your brothers.

“Yeah, it’s been tough,” you said, and I asked no more.

“Look, it’s been really great catching up…” I started, desperately wanting to ask you to join me for coffee and lunch.

“Same,” you said. I didn’t believe you.

“Uh, I’m just heading for lunch and I’m not meeting anyone. If you’re free…”

You glanced at your Apple Watch, tapping twice and looking at the results. “You know what? I am free for lunch.” Oh, that smile!

The past twenty years melted away over that lunch. I ordered blistered cherry tomatoes on sourdough bread with feta and avocado. You ordered a latte, BLT and a cherry chocolate cake for dessert. I raised my eyebrow.

“Cake fan?”

You looked sheepish. “Yeah. I’m not supposed to eat junk, but you know… I stress eat.”

We talked about what had happened in our lives since those heady days at school. As you spoke, my eyes gazed at your face like it had so long ago. There were a few wrinkles around your eyes, smile lines showing a fun-filled life. I smiled and I’m sure you thought I was smiling at the anecdote you were telling, but it was me comparing Teenage You with this version now before me. A few grey hairs sidelined that face I remembered, giving you an air of authority and maturity.

We finished lunch, both of us too nervous to shake hands and seal that chemistry I still felt.

“Look me up on Facebook!” You called as you walked away. As if I hadn’t looked you up a dozen times already. Now, you gave me permission to actually request your social media friendship and I could stalk your secrets.

“Wait!”

You stopped, cocking your head like a dog trying to understand its master.

I bit my lip, summoning courage I felt building inside. “I’m sorry, I’m about to make this really awkward.”

You smiled. My heart skipped a beat.

“Can I kiss you?”

You did not know how to respond. Here’s this mad woman you haven’t seen for twenty years suddenly asking permission to invade your personal space. Don’t think I didn’t notice the lack of wedding ring on your finger.

Eventually you smiled. “Do you always ask?”

“Well, no.”

You leaned forward and lightly brushed my lips with yours. Everything I had ever felt for you rushed into every organ in my body. A rush of adrenalin surged through me, manifesting into my lips engaging with yours. For a second, I thought I actually felt a spark just before you pulled away.

“Teenage Me is very happy right now,” I admitted.

“What about Adult You?” You said.

“Adult Me wants more,” my lips said before I could stop them.

You didn’t speak. You grabbed my hand and pulled me along until you found an unoccupied toilet for the disabled.

I raised my eyebrows. You shrugged. It was the best solution at the time.

We were passionate, we were fast, we were quiet. Nobody was waiting outside when we finally came out, our clothes askew, our hair messy.

One last wordless kiss and we parted.

I returned home to my husband, who was slouched on the beanbag holding the game controller, his thumbs working furiously with his eyes glued to the big screen television.

“Hey,” I said cheerfully. “You’ll never guess who I ran into today. Your asshole brother says you’re dead.”

September 17, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , | Leave a comment

Inheritance – A Short Story

Stock photo casket funeral

Inheritance

It was too hot for a March morning. I stood back from the crowd, respectful of the mourners and wondering why I was even here. I recognised his family from photos: parents, brother, sister, grandparents.

“He’s too young to die,” wailed a female voice. I choked back a sob.

Soon, the doors to the chapel opened and people started filing inside. I chose a pew fifth from the front, away from his family and close friends. A blonde woman strode confidently down the aisle, flicking her long ponytail as she walked. She was taller than everyone else there, even without the stilettos.

“That’s his girlfriend,” someone behind me said. Of course she was, I thought, rolling my eyes.

A man pointed to the seat next to me. “Is this seat taken?”

“No,” I answered, the words caught. I cleared my throat and answered again.

He sat down, his weight squeaking the pew. He offered his hand. “Sam. I’ve known Dan from high school.”

”Emily,” I replied politely, offering no explanation as to my relationship with the deceased.

The deceased. I sighed, trying to get my head around the fact that he was dead. As the music started for the first hymn, I dropped the program onto the floor, grateful for an excuse for the blood rushing to my head.

“He’d have hated this,” he grinned.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Cremation was always his thing. He wanted to be burned and the ashes buried in a time capsule.” Sam laughed. “Never thought the bastard would be the first to die though.”

I bit my tongue. He was well aware he could die young. His remaining kidney couldn’t hold out forever.

At the graveside service, his father and sister spoke and the minister spoke about how the body may be dead but the spirit lives on. As the heat belted down, I pulled out the funeral program and fanned myself with it, wishing I’d brought a bottle of water. Movement to my right caught my eye: a group of women moving as one walked towards the gravesite, holding back from the main mourners.

As the service closed and the casket was lowered, fresh wailing from Dan’s mother could be heard throughout the cemetery. Her husband held her as she cried, while her remaining children held hands and sang a low tune I couldn’t quite hear.

“You’re invited into the wake room for tea and sandwiches,” announced the minister.

‘This should be interesting,” Sam said, raising his eyebrows.

Inside, I stood by the door with a triangle of sandwich in a paper napkin, happy to be observing. Sam was talking to Dan’s brother, chuckling over school shenanigans only the two of them remembered. The tall blonde was standing alone, her eye on the suspicious group of women who had wandered into the graveside service. I was so busy watching the blonde that I didn’t see the group of women moving towards me.

“Who are you, then?” A short brunette stood before me, one hand on her hip. Her hair was pulled into a high, tight ponytail. Her tight black dress was completely inappropriate for a funeral, showing off her voluptuous bosom. Her makeup was bright and heavily applied. She cracked gum in her mouth.

“Excuse me?”

”I thought I knew all Dan’s girls, but I don’t know you.”

I smiled, part amused, part pissed off. “Emily,” I said. “We broke up only about six weeks ago.”

The woman who spoke grinned. “That explains it then. She’s only new,” she said to the others in the group. The ladies tittered among themselves, making me feel quite uncomfortable at being blasted into a spotlight.

“Come join us,” another said. “We’re like the ghosts of girlfriends past. We all dated him, many at the same time,” she said with a sly grin.

“Quite the ladies’ man,” I agreed with a sigh.

“Anyway, this is Susanne, Angela, Mollie, Tina, Christina, Tammy, Sara, Hannah, Liz and I’m Lou,” said the lead woman. “There are others, but they thought it was inappropriate to come.”

”Who’s the blonde? I heard she was his current girlfriend.”

Lou nodded. “I think her name is Erin? Stephanie? Maybe Jessica?” she shrugged. The others laughed. “She’s not interested in us. She thought she’d be the last love, the one who finally tamed him. Joke’s on her, he’s been cheating on her for the past six months.”

Yep, I thought. I knew I wasn’t the only one although he denied everything. He’d told me his cheating days were over, he was only interested in me. Fuck him.

“Anyway,” Lou continued. “You’re welcome to hang out with us. We know what Dan was like, we just laugh about it.”

”Sure, that sounds fun. So uh, why are you guys here?”

Another answered; I think it was Tammy. “Same as you. We all loved him and thought we have just as much right to be here as anyone else.”

“Makes sense,” I replied, knowing that was exactly the reason I was there and hating myself for still being a little bit in love with the lying bastard.

Lou and the girls stayed for around an hour, chatting among ourselves and basically. ignoring everyone else. I’d even forgotten about the tall blonde. As we left, they all kissed each other on the cheek and reminded each other about the meetup in a fortnight at their favourite cafe.

“You actually hang out together?” I laughed.

“Of course!” Lou replied. “We swap stories, talk about his dick and the things he says to himself in the middle of doing it. I’m sure you’ve got stories too. Come join us!”

”Yeah… that’s not weird at all,” I answered.

Lou shrugged. “Up to you. Here’s my number,” she said, handing me a business card, “and you can call if you want.” Lou Parker, Senior accountant. Impressive.

I dialled her number into my phone and called. Lou’s phone rang, with a Nicki Minaj song as her ringtone. She fumbled in her oversized handbag but I stopped the call before she found it.

“Now you have my number too,” I said as I clicked open my car and crawled inside, glad the whole ordeal was finally over. The girls waved as I drove out of the carpark.

Two weeks later, Lou called me. I assumed she wanted to remind me about the Girlfriends’ Meetup.

“Hey hun,” she said cheerily. “Just thought I’d let you know, Dan left us all a parting gift. You gotta get yourself checked for chlamydia.”

September 10, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Back, After the break’

Osher Gunsberg back after the break

You remember Andrew G? The long haired lout who once presented By Demand on Channel [v] and now hosts The Bachelor/ette and changed his name along the way? Yeah, that guy.

This is a brutally honest memoir about his life, specifically his battles with addiction and mental illness. When we think mental illness, we don’t often think about the successful people who suffer from it. Yet here we are, having an open and honest conversation with one of Australia’s biggest success stories.

Andrew G, as he was once known, has been battling anxiety since childhood. His parents overcame some tremendous struggles: things this generation of Australians have no idea bout and hopefully will never experience for themselves. Anxiety led to an addiction to eating, and later, alcohol and sex. Diagnosed with PTSD in the aftermath of being in New York during September 11, 2001, Andrew’s addictions spiralled out of control and affected every area of his personal and professional life.

This is the story previously only hinted about. Only relatively recently has he spoken about these addictions, and battles with mental illness yet the public were completely unaware of. It’s a brave memoir, recounting specific incidents which have caused he and his friends, coworkers and loved one much embarrassment and hurt. Yet we know how it ends: Osher is still a popular personality on Australian television (and sometimes radio). He continues to fight his mental state every day.

The autobiography is well written and openly honest. He doesn’t shy away from the gory details (although I was disappointed to find he left out the decision and process of cutting off his butt-length hair). The Kindle version has some minor errors, such as not leaving spaces between words (I don’t know if the print version contains the same errors). Osher (or his ghostwriter?) writes conversationally, making for an easy read. The pacing is perfect, and his life is interesting enough without the reader feeling like a voyeur to a celebrity’s car crash life.

I think this footnote from Osher’s book sums it up nicely:

Footnote

I give the book 9 out of 10 bookmarks.

August 30, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slide

By 10am, the rain had stopped, allowing the funeral to be held outdoors as planned, albeit on soggy ground. At least it would be easier for the gravedigger, thought Lyndall bleakly. She pulled on her black dress, a half-size too small, choosing silver hooped earrings and black shoes with a small heel. Was it wrong to think she looked good in this outfit?

Dying was a terrible inconvenience. Terence never planned to die like this. He thought he’d die dramatically; a car crash or slip in front of a train perhaps. It’d started with a cough that didn’t go away, a diagnosis of lung cancer despite Terence never having smoked, and just four short months later he died in his sleep. Lyndall was furious with him. How dare he die so suddenly? They hadn’t seen the cherry blossoms in Japan, meditated in the middle of Stonehenge or posed in front of the pyramids in Giza. No, he’d gone and left her before they could do any of those things. And now Lyndall was alone, squeezed into a tight black dress with a zipper she couldn’t quite do up on her own.

Lyndall stood steadfastly during the service, staring straight ahead as the celebrant spoke comforting words Lyndall had written. The sun had burned the remaining rain clouds away, leaving a muggy residue that clung to everyone’s skin, making them even more uncomfortable. By request, the service was short with an invitation to Lyndall’s house for sandwiches and coffee and friendly chat about Terence’s happier times. She didn’t want anyone in her house but she was expected to be hospitable. Besides, she got a great deal on the catering thanks to Terence’s niece.

“Those with roses may now place them,” said the celebrant cordially. Lyndall stepped forward, placing her yellow rose on the casket.

“I’m sorry for your loss.” Lyndall swung around, trying to place the voice. She found it belonged to Kathy Street, Terence’s first wife. Kathy placed her own yellow rose next to Lyndall’s.

“Thankyou,” replied Lyndall succinctly. She really didn’t have any malice towards Kathy, but she wondered what Terence would have thought had he known she was at his funeral.

“Lyndall! How are you doing?” Lyndall’s attention was pulled again. Frank Deely, Terence’s former boss. Frank placed a rolled up newspaper on the casket. Lyndall made a mental note to ask about that at the wake.

“I’m well, thankyou.” What else was she expected to say?

Back at her house, the guests mingled in small groups. Lyndall knew most of the faces, the Who’s Who of Terence’s life. Mostly family. Terence’s three brothers stood in a corner, sipping water from iced glasses. Lyndall spied Frank Deely and wandered over to him.

“Thanks for coming, Frank. It would have meant a lot to him, knowing you were there.”

“He was a great bloke, Lyn.” She detested being called Lyn. “I’m so sorry we lost him so early.”

“What was the newspaper for?”

Frank smiled. “The day I met Terence, he brought a newspaper to the interview and asked if I wanted to read Garfield because he knew the job was his and he didn’t want to waste any of my time answering silly questions.”

Lyndall smiled. He was right, of course. Terence had already been offered the job and the interview with Frank was just a formality.

“He would’ve appreciated the gesture.”

Frank smiled wryly, unsure of what to say next. He gave her a short, awkward hug and moved towards the roast beef sandwiches. Lyndall sipped iced tea. Despite being the centre of attention, she stood alone in the room, no one quite sure what to say to her. She wondered if she could sneak a nip of vodka into the iced tea without anyone noticing.

“Lyndall, it’s good to see you.” Her head swung to her left, finding no one standing where she expected. She looked around, confused. “Over here!” called the voice. She followed the sound, her eyes settling on a tall man standing a few feet away, leaning against the wall near the kitchen entrance. He was smiling, his hand wrapped around a bottle of Terence’s favourite beer. He must have found it in the bottom of the pantry where she’d hidden it a few weeks earlier.

Her brow furrowed with confusion. She couldn’t place him.

“Thankyou for coming,” she started. “It would have meant a lot to him…”

He grinned. “You have no idea who I am,” he noted with amusement.

“I’m sorry…”

He transferred his beer to the other hand, holding out his now free hand to shake hers. “Mark Delvaney.”

“You obviously know me,” Lyndall replied in a tone that could be construed as bitchy.

Mark wasn’t put off, his grin getting wider with bemusement.

“Yes, I know you,” replied Mark without further explanation. “I always knew someday I’d be your man.”

Lyndall’s heart skipped a beat, her fake smile frozen on her face as her eyes widened. Suddenly, the black dress was even tighter and she stumbled backwards in her hurry to escape outside. As she did, she heard Mark laughing.

The vodka-laced iced tea was a puddle on the ground but Lyndall didn’t notice or care. She was outside, gasping for air, her lungs filling but not feeling full. Too late, she recognised the panic attack. Inside, Mark was congratulating himself.

“Mark Delvaney. I’m a property developer. I’m very rich.”

Mark Delvaney was indeed a property developer, and he was also quite wealthy. It was his ‘elevator speech’; the line he used whenever he was asked to introduce himself. Most people were instantly turned off by his introduction, but Mark had a habit of harassing people until he got what he wanted. In his opinion, it was the only way to do business. He had dropped out of school aged seventeen and bummed around for a few years in menial jobs before deciding working for The Man would never make him rich. He enrolled at university as a mature age student at 25, quickly discovering there was no degree for becoming a billionaire. He weaseled his way into Martin & Martin, a property development company with numerous portfolios worth several million dollars. By the time Mark was finished with them, they were within a whisper of becoming a billion dollar company. Mark took the knowledge from Roger Martin Sr and used it for his own profit. It didn’t take long. Mark was one of those people whom others would say inspired them, a Richard Branson of the property world, a charming version of Donald Trump with better hair.

Mark Delvaney, self-made millionaire in four years. Unmarried, childless (as far as he knew), and madly in love with Lyndall.

He’d first seen her at a cafe. She was alone, ordering an ordinary coffee on an ordinary day wearing ordinary clothes and ordinary, unbrushed hair. If he remembered correctly, it was six years, four months, three days and seven hours ago. Perhaps it was her ordinariness that captured his attention. His eyes were drawn to her left hand; she wore a plain, yellow gold wedding band. He finished his double shot espresso, licked his lips, cocked his head and determined his destiny to follow her. She walked three blocks to an apartment building, pressed the button and was immediately invited in. She didn’t even look around. In that walk, she hadn’t sipped her coffee. She hadn’t taken a single bite of the double choc chip muffin she carried but not bought at the cafe. He found himself besotted from just a glance at her, despite her desperate housewife appearance. He told himself later it was her inner beauty he’d seen. Of course, he didn’t know her name at first. He imagined her name was something glamorous, named after an old Hollywood star or Greek goddess. He felt pleased with himself when he learned Lyndall meant beautiful.

Lyndall didn’t notice Mark that day in the cafe. She’d woken late after a restless sleep, grabbed a coffee from a cafe she didn’t normally frequent, and headed to a friend’s place to watch chick flicks and bitch about their men.

Terence was having an affair. Lyndall knew about it for some time before confronting him. At first she was angry, then sad, then vengeful. In the end, when she found his secret phone tucked in the pocket of jeans she thought he never wore and confronted him, she felt defeated.

“Do what you want,” she’d told him. “I knew you were never mine.” She closed the door, leaving him staring after her.

“Once a cheater, always a cheater,” reminded her friend. “He cheated on Kathy with you…”

Lyndall nodded. “Yeah. I knew then he was never truly mine. He would always belong to the next pretty dame in a skirt.”

Her friend laughed. “Since when have you ever called anyone a dame?”

Mark made it his business to find out who this woman was. His attraction to her was fuelled by his lust for older women and his desire to control them. Maybe she appeared vulnerable that day in the cafe? Despite his immodesty when it came to his success, he had never been interested in trophy girlfriends. “Oh sure,” he would brag. “I could have models and actresses and pretty things hanging off my arm, but they’re all pretty brain dead, wouldn’t you agree?”

His first girlfriend was in high school, when Mark still wore braces and his hair hung in his eyes. She was a year older and taught Mark everything she knew, which wasn’t much. He was twenty three when he met Mari, the first real love of his life. Mari was in her mid thirties, a little pudgy around the belly and thighs, but really quite pretty when she dressed up. She worked in an accounting firm and when Mark Delvanely first walked through her door, she was smitten; she’d always gone for that bad boy persona. Their relationship was rocky from the beginning as Mark pursued his dream of becoming rich while she earned barely enough to keep them both fed. She was besotted by him, but his refusal to work in a job just to pay the bills finally crumbled their relationship. He knew he was destined for something better both personally and professionally.

He once bumped into Lyndall at a shopping centre, deliberately of course. In that one bump, he knocked her handbag and while she was busily putting things back, he apologised to distract her while he pocketed her purse and mobile phone. This act gave him all the information he wanted to know: Mrs Lyndall Browne, an address, a birthdate, a stack of loyalty cards to her favourite stores. It was too easy to buy her something from a store and send it to her on special occasions. At first, she naturally thought it was Terence trying to repair their marriage, but his credit card bills showed the purchases weren’t his. Her friends also denied it. Her colleagues pleaded innocence. Terence never knew. The mobile phone also provided her phone number. He took a gamble, guessing she wouldn’t change her number when she bought a new phone.

Happy birthday, Lyndall. A scented candle from her favourite candle store.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year, Lyndall. Fourteen karat rose gold earrings, bracelet, necklace, anklet.

Happy Valentine’s Day, from your secret admirer. A dozen long-stemmed roses and a box of imported Italian chocolates.

Happy anniversary, darling. A diamond ring which she always returned and never wore.

The cards and text messages were always signed, “With love, someday I’ll be your man.”

Now Terence was dead. His obituary was printed in the same paper announcing Mark’s intention to bulldoze three run-down houses and build a new high rise residential tower overlooking the new man-made lake he’d also developed. Expressions of interest for the pre-sale of these apartments were welcome. Terence Browne, loving husband and father, now with Jesus in His Eternal Kingdom. Lyndall didn’t write the obituary; she had told the funeral director to submit the cheapest template he had. Mark was looking through the obits from habit, noting which of the recently deceased had a spouse needing to sell their house in a hurry. Death was so expensive these days and it is so hard to look after a big house all by yourself… Terence’s notice piqued Mark’s interest. Until now, he’d admired Lyndall from afar. She was his true love, she knew he existed, she was just waiting for her husband to be out of the picture before she was able to be with him. And now, her husband was dead. It was time to make his move.

Mark smiled when the rain cleared just in time for the funeral. He dressed in his best suit, his lucky suit he always wore when brokering an important deal. As he adjusted his tie, his heart raced. Today was the day he would make himself known to her. It would be easy; she already knew him. She would’ve loved those scented candles. He knew floral scents would have to be her favourite, but he’d also sent summery flavours because she was a burst of sunshine in his world. He pictured her wearing his rose gold jewellery, fingering the delicate chain as she admired herself in the mirror. She’d be thinking about him, wishing she was free of her marriage shackles. He imagined her gazing wistfully at her roses, a candle illuminating the flowers, releasing scented oils from the petals. The tropical air would be filled with a multitude of scents swimming around her senses. As Lyndall made love to her husband, she’d be imagining the forbidden lust of a haunted lover. His gifts got him noticed; today he would reveal himself triumphantly. Sure, she couldn’t attach herself straight away, but after an

Lappropriate period of mourning they would come out as a couple. Yes, today was the day.

Lyndall gasped for breath, her lungs on fire, her brain screaming for oxygen. Her friend Sara ran out after her, holding a bottle of water and a pack of cigarettes. “Lyn! Lyn!”

“He’s here,” breathed Lyndall heavily. Sara’s brow furrowed with confusion.

“Honey, drink some water.”

Her brain was spinning. It wasn’t just the presents. This guy knew her. He knew her favourite stores, her favourite scents, her birthday… Terence had always been there to defend her, protect her, be with her. Now Terence was gone and she was alone, he was inside her house right now. Was he going through her wardrobe as she struggled to breathe? The weight of his stare bore through her even though he was nowhere in sight… or was he? She looked around. Sara had one hand on her, mouthing words Lyndall couldn’t hear, drowned by her own thoughts.

“Stop!” she yelled. Sara pulled Lyndall to her feet and walked her inside. The darkness confused her eyes for a moment, but when they’d adjusted she saw him standing by the breakfast bar at the entrance to the kitchen. He was still smiling, beer still in one hand.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said simply.

“Get out,” Lyndall said weakly. Even Sara, standing next to her, didn’t hear.

“We should talk, Lyndall. Get to know each other. I think you’d be surprised.”

Lyndall stood to her full height, her heart pounding, her thoughts muddled. But this, this she saw clearly. She smiled at Mark, moving closer to him. He grinned seductively as she walked past him into the kitchen. She turned to face him, her hand slipping into the top drawer behind her back. She silently withdrew a knife from its sheath, hiding it behind her back.

“It was so nice of you to come today,” she drawled, a smile slipping from her lips. “Terence would be so pleased to know my true friends are here for me today.”

Sara only watched as Mark made small talk as he walked towards her. She saw the knife behind Lyndall’s back.

This was his moment. In his mind they were already betrothed, all he needed from her was her hand to slip on the ring and make it official. There was no better moment than this, her husband’s wake. He bent on one knee.

“I have something for you,” he responded. His heart was beating faster now; this was his moment. Her husband had kindly stood aside to let destiny take its course. He slipped his hand inside his pocket, fingering the perfect diamond ring. He opened his hand to show her. “I know you’ve seen this before. I know you returned it. That’s okay, I know now that it was stupid of me, expecting you to wear this while your husband was still alive. He’d never have understood that someday, I’d be your man.” He held the ring towards her. Lyndall stopped, the smile frozen on her face. Sara nudged her forward; knowing what was about to happen but powerless to stop it. She felt sick. Lyndall took a step.

“I… I hardly believed this would ever happen,” she whispered, her hand stretching to meet his.

“It’s been a long time for me too,” answered Mark. “From the moment I saw you, I knew you were special.” The other guests were oblivious to what was happening in the kitchen, their voices hushed in respectful conversation between themselves.

“Shh,” whispered Lyndall. “Stand up.”

Mark obeyed. His eyes were locked on hers. In that second, Lyndall whipped the knife from behind her back, sliding it into his abdomen just below his ribs. Her breath was heavy, her hand steady. His mouth opened in surprise, his hand instinctively shooting to his wound to stem the blood.

“What have you done?” he tried to say, but the words caught in his throat. He slipped to the floor amid an increasing pool of blood. Sara’s scream hung in the air, calling attention to the kitchen.

“You’re wrong,” spat Lyndall over the dying body on her kitchen floor. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be my man.”

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | Leave a comment

What am I up to?

I’ve been sharing little hints on social media about what I’m doing at the moment, but this post is letting the cat out of the bag, I suppose. I’m excited about this project and it all seems to be coming together, which is also very exciting!

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a fictionalised version of the Bugden family history. Thomas Bugden was the first Buggo in Australia, brought out by James and William Macarthur to work as an agricultural labourer on the Macarthur farm in Camden, NSW. When the brothers died, the land was passed to Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, who turned the Park into dairy farms.

I read a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John, who pioneered the Merino industry in Australia from Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta. While reading that biography, I discovered synchronicities with my life in Queensland. Little threads of the tapestry, if you will. Things like, Elizabeth Macarthur, daughter of Elizabeth and John, was briefly engaged to John Oxley, who was the first white person to explore the Redcliffe Peninsula. I thought it interesting that my Australian history started on Macarthur land and here was a connection to where I am now. Finding this part fascinating, I toyed with the idea of writing a fictional family who move from Camden to Queensland.

My local libraries run a lot of free seminars about a range of topics; one I attended was by Kali Napier, author of Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. She spoke about writing historical fiction and the research required, plus making fact and fiction blending seamlessly together. Inspired, I went to the library and started looking at the early history of this area, finding a range of interesting facts and tales. It was decided: my fictional family would move from Camden to Queensland.

In another exciting synchronicity, my fictional family are dairyers on the Camden Park Estates, and the land on which I actually live used to be a dairy farm. It’s a no-brainer to have them move from Camden to this actual land my house now resides!

This is what I’m writing at the moment. It’s a slow process right now because I’m using my daughter’s two daycare days a week to write, plus there’s a lot of research and distractions going on; I’m also busily looking through the library’s records of local cemeteries, which is so interesting!

I also have some paid work. Content writing, blogging, editing, proofreading and the like. Today I attended another of the library’s free seminars on freelance journalism. While I’ve never considered myself a journalist, I can see the possibilities. I just need some discipline and better time management skills!

As for my novel, here’s a brief synopsis for those interested:

The Richmond family are dairyers on Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow’s dairy farm in Camden, NSW. When (something exciting and yet to be decided) happens, they’re forced to pack up their lives, choosing to move north into the unfamiliar state of Queensland. There, they find work on another dairy farm, where new and strange adventures await.

And as for my family, the fictional Richmond family work with the real-life Bugdens, but the Bugdens are not the main characters. Mainly because none of them moved to Queensland and I want to explore the social and cultural differences between the states while paying homage to my own life’s tapestry.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monthly Meal Plans: $1.50 dinners, week 1 review

The woman who started $1.50 meals is well-known: she’s appeared on morning shows, “news” websites and parenting/cooking forums everywhere. The basis of her fame is simple: she’s created a month’s worth of dinners averaging $1.50 or less per meal. How can you go wrong?

The Premise

When you sign up to her site, you’re given lifetime access to the meals, which are updated periodically. We originally signed up over a year ago but the meals have changed in that time and are now less than $1.50 per serve (at the time of writing they average $1.02). You’re given an ingredients list to take shopping at Aldi (all her recipes and pricing are based on Aldi prices), step-by-step instructions on cooking, packing and storing. And bingo! You have a month’s worth of dinners right there in your freezer. There are breakfasts and lunches available, but we have only tried the dinners.

The Meals

Each night of the month is a different meal based on a theme. For example, Mince Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays, Take-away Fridays etc.

So, what do I think?

Shopping

We normally shop at Aldi, so we’re used to the types of food, the layout etc. The list was quite comprehensive: one litre of this, 3kgs of that, one packet of something else, one jar of whatever. Very easy, it’s all right there for you. The dinner part of our shop (we also bought various odds and ends, plus breakfasts and lunch stuff) was about $185. For a month. You can’t beat that kind of value.

Preparation

This plan is based around saving time and money, so you do all your cooking over one weekend. At first, it was fun, like being on one of those cooking competition TV shows. There were two of us cooking with about five things happening all at once: cooking several pots and pans, chopping, slicing and dicing. All up, it took between 9-10 hours to complete the cooking. It wasn’t fun by the end of it and the kitchen looked like a cyclone had torn through it.

Meals

This week we’ve had mince wraps, chicken pie, sausage curry, bacon pesto pasta, Lebanese bread pizza, meatloaf and tonight we will have chickpea patties. I have been underwhelmed: the meals are very bland and last night’s meatloaf was like eating sawdust because it was so dry. I have not liked a single meal so far this week. My partner liked the pesto pasta and the sausage curry but agrees that the majority of meals lack flavour.

Each meal (except the take-away style) has plenty of vegetables hidden so if you’ve got picky kids, they won’t even notice. Plus each meal has a serving suggestion of extra salad or steamed vegetables as well. However, I wouldn’t say the meals are healthy. Obviously the take-away Fridays are gonna be the worst, but during the entire month there’s only three meat-free dinners and the other meals can contain packet mixes or a jar of sauce which are laden with salt and sugar. The home-made bulk white sauce is just milk and flour (and so bland!).

The meals obviously need to be reheated, but often they require something else such as pasta to be cooked on the night. I don’t see why you can’t cook mince and pasta at the same time. You’re not really saving any time by cooking pasta on the night… unless you pre-cooked and froze pasta during the epic prep & cook session on the weekend. Cooking in bulk means you don’t get to season portions to your taste eg you’re cooking the same 2 kg of mince for various meals and you wouldn’t season the meatloaf portion the same as say, mince wraps. Hence the meals are the same bland concoction unless you deviate from the instructions and stuff around adding your own seasoning to each individual portion. And how long does it really take to put together a Lebanese bread pizza? Why clutter up your already overstuffed freezer by putting pre-prepped pizzas in there? (Ours got stuffed in so tightly, the bases broke.)

Is it worth it?

Cooking/prep time was almost 10 hours, washing up was 2 hours, cleaning up spills was close to another hour… Each night the only washing up we have are the plates we eat from, a saucepan, and a fry pan but we would probably have that anyway. I don’t think reheating frozen meals saves much, if any, time, especially if you’re also cooking pasta or mashed potatoes to go with it.

I do like the convenience of having a meal plan. It saves on endless “What do you want for dinner?” Which in itself saves a couple of hours. I like the cost: you really can’t argue on $185 for a month of dinners. Each meal serves 4; since there’s only two adults and a pre-schooler at my house, my partner takes leftovers for work (under sufferance because he wasn’t impressed with the meal the first time, he doesn’t want leftovers!)

The actual meals themselves are not nice nor particularly healthy despite the added veggies. Making from fresh would enable you to add your own seasonings during the cooking process eg fresh herbs, Mexican seasoning or a dash of sauce or relish.

I don’t like having no freezer space. This problem can be solved with a chest freezer, which we don’t have as yet. Our freezer is stuffed full, which makes it difficult for my pre-schooler to get an ice block or the frozen mixed berries she loves so much. Shoving it all into our little freezer breaks the ziplock bags and Lebanese bread bases.

Based on this week, I’m scoring it a 4 out of 10. Let’s see what next week’s meals are like.

June 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews, Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | Leave a comment

7 Mummy Hacks: How to use your kids’ stuff

Mummy hacks

There are a million things babies need. But did you know you can use their things for your use? Here’s my top 7 Mummy Hacks using things your kids already have.

1. Nappies

If you’ve given birth vaginally, you’ve probably joined the pee-when-you-laugh club. Or worse: cold and flu season when every time you cough or sneeze, you gotta change your pants. Incontinence pants and pads are horribly expensive. Luckily, babies wear nappies. A disposable nappy fits perfectly into your underwear and will keep you dry all day. No one will know. As your kid gets older, you can cut nappies in half. TMI… but oh so handy.

2. Baby shampoo

If you dye your hair, you’ll have noticed that regular shampoos strip the colour quite quickly. Use baby shampoo as it has no SLS, which is the harsh detergent that fades your colour. It will leave your hair silky soft and smelling baby-fresh.

3. Baby wipes

You’ve already found a million uses for baby wipes on your baby or toddler. Did you know you can also use them for you? Face refresher, cleaner, tissue, loo paper in an emergency (just don’t flush), wipe when you pee yourself after coughing, wiping fingerprints off TV or phone, cleaning dust from your car dashboard, picking up crumbs from keyboard… the possibilities are endless.

4. Baby oil

Lovingly ask your partner to use the baby oil for a soothing foot massage. And if that doesn’t happen, use it to clean. Baby oil will remove fingerprints from stainless steel appliances and give a shine to counter tops and benches. You can also use it to deter mozzies. Mix a few drops of citronella (you can also use tea tree or peppermint oils) with some baby oil and cover your kids’ arms and legs. Use it liberally; it creates a physical barrier so the mozzie can’t penetrate the skin. It does have the side effect of getting clothes oily, so I hereby present…

5. Chalk

Remove oil from fabrics using chalk. I recommend white chalk as the dye in coloured chalk can transfer to other clothes when washed. Simply rub chalk onto the oil stain, leave for ten minutes, wash as normal.

6. Formula tins

What can’t these handy tins be used for? Paint or colour the tins (your older kids/toddlers can help) and use for storage. Jewellery, pasta, flour, sugar, biscuits, chocolates, snacks, odds and ends when moving… Label each tin clearly and you’ve got a storage haven. Pro tip: If you transfer flour, cereal etc. straight into tins as soon as you’re home from the supermarket, you’ll also prevent pantry moths as they lay eggs in the glue from paper and cardboard products.

7. Nappies (again)

Take a nappy to the beach with you. Put your debit card, car keys and phone in the nappy and roll up. No one is going to open it to check if it’s dirty or just hiding your valuables.

So there you have it. Seven handy hints for all mums out there. I’m sure you’ve got more; I’d love to hear them!

June 1, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment