The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

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.

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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

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

A Woman’s Narrative

The many faces of Renee

Why aren’t you married yet?

When are you having a baby?

When are you having another baby?

You should be at home looking after your children.

You should work to support your family and contribute to society.

You shouldn’t wear that.

You can’t walk outside alone in the dark.

Trophy wife.

It’s your fault he cheated on you.

Act like a lady.

Kiss enough frogs and you’ll find your prince.

You do that pretty well… for a chick.

You’re not strong enough to do that.

You look tired.

Show us your tits.

Sit down, you shouldn’t be standing in your condition.

You can’t wear that.

Here’s a doll to play with.

Can I talk to a man? You can’t possibly know anything about cars.

You’re just cranky cos you’ve got your period.

Don’t sexualise toddlers, but here’s a bikini for tweens.

You shouldn’t play with trucks.

Which designer are you wearing?

Period pain can’t be that bad.

Your place is at home, keeping it clean and cooking meals for your family.

You use sex as a weapon.

Nice girls don’t sleep around.

You should perform your wifely duties.

You’re too fat.

You’re too thin.

You’re too old.

Hide those wrinkles.

Dye your hair.

Shave your legs, armpits and pubes.

Wear makeup to hide blemishes, pores, freckles and imperfections.

No wonder he left you.

Why can’t you keep a man?

Why is your house messy?

Thigh gap.

Bikini bridge.

Your boobs are too small.

You’re not smart enough.

Lay off the chocolates.

You can’t do that.

Speak like a lady.

You have children, your dream job is just a dream.

Maternity leave? Get your CV ready.

You don’t know how to drive.

Why don’t you know how to cook?

You asked for it.

You wanted it.

Keep quiet.

They won’t believe you.

You’ll ruin your career if you speak out.

You’re not worth it.

You’re not pretty enough.

Butterface.

You need to choose between family and career.

You shouldn’t eat that.

You’re butch.

You cant wear blue.

You cant like dinosaurs.

You should like unicorns and sparkles.

Why haven’t you lost your baby weight yet?

Make me a sandwich.

You should put everyone else before yourself.

You don’t matter.

Sex sells.

Unlucky in love. Keep asking about failed relationships, particularly with a famous person. Jennifer Aniston will never get back with Brad Pitt!

Do you wish you were a mother?

You just haven’t found the right man to have babies yet.

Women’s sports aren’t interesting. Unless they take their clothes off.

Are you sure I’m the father?

You’ve let yourself go.

Baby. Darling. Sweetheart. Babe. Tramp. Whore. Slut.

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | Leave a comment

Hair Update: New Wash

Tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar

You’ll find the original review here.

All was well for about a week. Then, something went wrong and my hair was always greasy. Where was the thick, luscious, lustrous hair I’d been promised? Instead it looked like I’d dipped my hair in a fryer full of oil. Was I using too much or too little? Was I not rinsing properly? Was I leaving it on too long? Or not long enough? This fancy shampoo replacement was not going to get the better of me… or my hair.

But soon there was an even more annoying problem. After about a month, my scalp was so itchy I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Prior to using the New Wash, I was using Aldi brand anti–dandruff shampoo. So I started using the anti-dandruff shampoo again. I used small amounts frequently but my scalp remained itchy. I also tried Lush’s Soak and Float, but even that couldn’t calm down the burning scalp.

Something in my brain started pinging… try apple cider vinegar. I Googled some handy hints and found the perfect solution (literally).

A tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar mixed with a couple of drops of tea tree oil, dabbed with a cotton ball onto my scalp. Cover with a towel (or hair turban), leave for 40-60 minutes, rinse off with water (no shampoo!) Use New Wash twice after rinsing out the apple cider vinegar and bingo! My hair is finally becoming the luscious mane I’ve been promised. Oh, and the vinegary smell disappears fairly quickly, usually as soon as my hair dries. As an added bonus, the tea tree oil will help keep lice and nits away – anyone with kids in daycare or school will know what fun it is when they come home with those nasty critters!

I’m not sure there is a moral to this story. This is only my experience; my sister hasn’t had any such problems and her hair is amazing. I’m not yet quite convinced I’ll buy another bottle of New Wash (hello, expense!) but at the moment I seem to be winning the battle.

I know it seems like I’m turning into a hippy…

March 2, 2018 Posted by | Reviews, Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lefties

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Being left handed in this right-handed world sure must be difficult. In the past, lefties were forced to use their right hand. There are now a range of gadgets designed to make left handed experience better, more productive and included as part of society instead of bullied and excluded.

The word ‘sinister’ is from Latin sinistra, which means left.The word ‘left’ is from lyft, which means weak. Many phrases mention left as being awkward or unacceptable; consider having “two left feet”.

There are left-handed people in the Bible, many of whom are from Benjamin’s tribe. The bible speaks about left handed people in unflattering ways. Some have construed these passages are meaning left is bad, or rather, right handedness is natural. On Judgement Day, righteous sheep will sit to God’s right, while the evil goats will be on the left. Jesus himself is exalted to the right side; many paintings feature fallen angels on God’s left. Those who fall from God’s favour are sent to the left, as described in Matthew 25: 32-33.

Left-handed people have been forced to assimilate into a right-handed world. When writing, they smudge ink and can’t start at the margin because there’s usually binding there. Scissors are rather annoying to use, so someone invented left-handed scissors. Not to mention computer mice, machinery and musical instruments.

In many cultures, the right hand is used for eating and social interactions such as shaking hands while the left is used for hygiene, i.e. wiping one’s butt.

Being left-handed isn’t a lifestyle choice. When did you decide to be right-handed? Yet many left handers wish they weren’t lefties. It’s tough to be a lefty in a right world.

Now, apply everything I just said to LGBTI people. Your arguments about why same sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to have equal rights suddenly seem rather stupid. Being straight is no more natural than being LGBTI.  It’s not a lifestyle choice. How would you feel if the government told you and your love that you weren’t allowed to be married? You’re not afforded the same rights as others based on whom you love. You don’t matter because you’re a minority.

Vote yes.

 

August 13, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , | Leave a comment

Grief

daisy (reduced)
Image by grief.org.au

Grief sucks. It’s a natural response to loss, most often triggered by death of a loved one (person or pet).

I’ve had a project in mind for quite some time. Several years ago, a friend lost her child to cancer and something she said at the time has stuck with me: I just wish people would say something. By keeping silent, she felt people were not validating her loss.

Although she has a lot of friends on and offline, she felt few of them reached out to her to offer condolences. People just don’t know what to say, especially when the loss is too horrible to comprehend.

Since then, I’ve wanted to write a book about dealing with grieving people. There’s tons of information, books, and websites about how to deal with grief, but not about what to say to grieving people. Grief is something that happens to all of us – why is it so hard to find something to say? Obviously, nothing is going to make the grief suddenly go away, but people generally find comfort in others.

To get started on this project, I’ve devised a survey. It’s a series of questions about events that trigger grief and how you felt when people did or didn’t respond. The survey takes around 20 minutes depending on the detail of your answers: I’m ever so grateful for as much detail as possible. There’s no identifying information, unless you’ve already told me the circumstances of the tragedy. Otherwise, I have no idea who wrote what. Individual answers may be included in the book.

If you’d like to participate, please follow the link: https://surveyhero.com/c/8bf2609.

Much love to you, and I am sorry for your loss.

 

 

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June 21, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

After: A Conversation

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This post contains mentions of suicide and depression. If this post triggers similar thoughts in you, please seek professional help immediately.

In October 2015, Nikki Gemmell’s mother Elayn self-euthanised.

What follows is a raw look at Elayn’s life, death and their mother-daughter relationship. Nikki and Elayn’s relationship was strained. Elayn wanted a perfect daughter: smart, pretty, popular, famous. Nikki was berated for not being those things and this formed the narrative of her life. But, ELayn was still hr mother and deeply loved. When she committed suicide, Nikki and her brother were called upon to identify the body and answer the police questions surrounding the death. Nikki couldn’t call it suicide, she preferred “self-euthanasia”.

This book forced me to examine my own relationship with my mother but also the relationship with my daughter. Although my daughter is only two, am I being the mother I want to be and the mother she needs me to be? There is no chance I’m ever going to tell her she’s ugly, or I wish her friend was my daughter instead of her, or she needs to earn my love. My own mother never told me any of those things either; in fact my mum always told me how proud she is of me.

Nikki refers to the Japanese practice of kintsugi, which is the repair of ceramics with a fine gold paste to create a new history of the object instead of disguising the repair. Kintsugi is a metaphor for their relationship, creating something different and unique rather than disguising a repair. It’s a beautiful background for something so heartbreaking.

Elayn suffered depression after foot surgery a year prior to her death. She cried out for help yet also pushed it away, believing herself to be a burden on her adult children. Nikki’s inbox was full of emails asking for help with shopping or medical appointments, with an outbox full of “Sorry mum, too busy”. It’s not a reflection of tension within the mother-daughter symbiosis, it’s a reflection of a mum’s busy life. Nikki has four kids who have a full calendar of after school and weekend activities.

I’ve written before that toddlers are quite difficult people. She does drive me crazy because I have little patience, particularly for toddlers who haven’t had a nap and draw on my bedsheets with markers or spit in my Milo. It’s these moments which draw out my cranky side and I’m only slightly less than perfect in my parenting. It’s probably not the moment she will remember, hopefully those are negated by trips to the park or library, playing trains or animals on the floor of her room, or the endless readings from her favourite books. I do hope that one day far into the future, she’s not writing painful memories in her own best-selling book about the fractured relationship with her mother.

Inspired by the book, last week I asked my mum about her plans for her death. Funeral, songs, friends. It’s a conversation people avoid yet everyone will go through. Funerals are for the living. They are a celebration of one’s life and should reflect the good parts of life. For Elayn’s funeral, Nikki and her siblings draped Elayn’s extensive collection of scarves over each pew with an invitation for guests to take them home to remember Elayn. In my mum’s case, perhaps I’d be leaving out her extensive DVD collection?

This started as a review of After, but it is impossible to critique a personal recollection of one’s grief. Nikki’s writing is deeply personal. She’s a writer’s writer so you may need a dictionary nearby. She examines her mother as her mother, as a mother herself, as a daughter and as a person. Sometimes we forget our mums are people too, with their own lives and a whole life before we were even born.

It’s a recommended read, but it is harrowing in parts. Her own story forces you to examine your own relationships for better or worse. There is so much to take away from her story and weave into your own.

June 5, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment