ABC Book Club Season 11 Episode 2: #bookclubABC 

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The panelists are here JByrne is of course fabulous, Marieke is radiant, and Ace… well… his ankles are hidden. I can’t see his socks at all.

JByrne introduces the guest panelists. C.S. Pacat is back as is Omar Musa. Omar in turn introduces this evenings classic, 
The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter. He describes it as EROTIC. The word rolls off his tongue and reverberates round the panel. Ace is probably passed out in excitement overload that the word has been cracked out so early in the piece.

Time to discuss what’s new in the world of literature. Tracey Spicer has a new book and apparently so does F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not a bad effort given he died in 1940. Perhaps his ghost dictated it to a clairvoyant. Nope, they’ve gotten some of his unpublished works and popped them into a beautifully bound, blue book. It’s a bit Go Set A Watchman. We don’t know if it has been rewritten and edited to the author’s standard and if it’s what they’d want.

Now time for the novel of the moment….

…… dramatic pause…..

………… still more drama…..

Exit West. They describe it as a love story with a brutal backdrop…. The dramatic recreation looks like a doco on the Middle East. It’s weird, last week they said it was a Thriller then put up a romantic clip, this week they said it was a love story and put up a doco. What are you doing to me? I need everyone to be on the same page with the description. Now I’m confused and feel vulnerable and alone. Alone except for my Aldi Moscato. 

Marieke is the first one to speak. She says that she loved it. It was bang up to the elephant. Okay, she said it was perfect, but I’ve got a lot of phrases from 1906 floating around in my head so you must all suffer through my sheer delight in the phrases. I just pray that ejaculations, vaginas, and penises come up frequently this season, because I’ve got a lot of terms I’ve leanerd for those. A lot! Back to Marieke, she says that Exit West is quite simply perfect. It is deeply romantic but also pragmatic.

Omar reveals that he is friends with the author but it will not prevent him from saying what needs to be said. He says that Mohsin Hamid is a genius and one of the finest writers ever to exist. Omar says that Exit West is indeed a very fine novel but isn’t as good as his others. How good must his other novels be if Marieke describes this one as perfection? Be right back, going to find an all night bookstore and buy every Mohsin Hamid book in sight….

What did I miss?

Ace says he loved it. Marieke and Ace are on the same page, boring. They start talking about the literary device common in Spec Fic of the portal. Most of the panelists simply say they like it. CS breaks it down for us. The door in some ways is like Grendel from Beowulf. It represents all our fears and worst qualities. 

So at first the idea of someone coming into your home, your neighbourhood, in the dead of night is frightening. It’s very othering of those coming through. Of course from the other perspective it is a doorway of hope and freedom. So what is the epitome of fear for some is the only hope for others.  

Everyone nods understandingly. I think CS has blown everyone’s freaking minds. They sit silent, still, alone in their contemplations. Danger! We need movement and action or this episode will surely die in the arse. Get these people six lines of coffee STAT! Somebody throw Toni Jordan onto the stage.

Omar starts reflecting on why the author didn’t name the country. The panelists are clearly all now having an existential crisis and questioning the meaning of their lives. JByrne says it was a fable and naming a place would have bogged it down in historic fact. 

Ace questions why the author uses such short senteces and then ones that go for pages and pages. Marieke worries that only people who care will read this book and its transformative powers will be lost. CS and her profound statements are evidently the Book Club equivalent of smoking a joint. They’re all going to start wondering what their fingers really mean. Words like parables and myth are being thrown around.

Alright, time for Beside the Bed. Hopefully that shakes these crazy kids out of staring at their daddles.

Ace is reading a Vincent Van Gogh biography of 900 pages. He emphasises this fact so that we know that not only is he a mega good reader but he can count heaps high too. I missed the title, soz. I think it was Simply Van Gogh

C.S. is reading all about swords and fencing. She particularly enjoyed Richard Cohen’s By the Sword. C.S. and Ace apparently both fenced at school but different styles. Fight, fight, fight. There shall be blood on the books tonight… nope, they’re just moving on.

Omar is reading  Jane by Maggie Nelson.

Marieke is reading Benediction by Kent Haruf.

JByrne is reading Spec Fic! She’s reading Ted Chiang. C.S. has brought the Byrnes over to our team. Hooray. JByrne, call me. We’ll get together with some divine Sydney based spec fic authors such as Alison Croggon, Margo Lanagan and Thoraiya Dyer and can discuss some Australian spec fic such as Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck and Marianne de Pierres’ Peacemaker…. And then we can convert you, like some sort of cult. It’ll be fun. We’ll drink strong liquor and eat stew.

And now they’re up to the classic. The Monkey’s Mask. A264 thriller in poetic form about a lesbian private investigator. You don’t hear about that every day. Sure, we’ve all read some really long poems, Gilgamesh and the Aneid spring immediately to mind, but this is a tad different. The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter states that you’re about to do something you’ve never done before, read a 264 page poem….

Omar says that he loves this book so much because it a a noir, lesbian, thriller, in verse, that totally takes the piss out of poetry, and he’d never read something like that before. He says this helped inform him about truly great poetry and that it was part of his education and inspiration to become a poet himself. 

C.S. said she liked it because Porter had reclaimed plot for poetry. Plot had moved out of epic poetry into novels, and then from novels into movies. That poems had become about themese and books about characters… I can see that glazed look coming over the other panelists’ eyes. Come on people, this is a breakfast chat for Spec Fic writers. 

Stop having your minds blown and add some spark to the discussion.  The topic is interesting, the books great, the guests delightful but things are playing a little flat. I’m praying for a wardrobe malfunction. Where’s Virginia Gay when you need her? 

Ace says that it was sexy and he loved it. He comes up with some vaguely literary reason as to why he liked it. He’s probably just sitting there thinking, “I’d like to say something fancy to back up my liking of this sexy book.” Damn it Ace, just embrace your sexyness.  Be the sexy man we all know you are. Just beat your chest and yell, “I’m a sexy man and I like sexy books. This book is super sexy and I bloody well loved it for it.”

Evidently all the panelists love the book. JByrne is even calling the author Dot. So there’s definitely a closeness and love all round. Yet Marieke remains silent. She’s so animated that her sudden stillness is intriguing. 

C.S. says that she loved this book because it expanded her ideas of what could be done with queer fiction. JByrne says the poetic form makes it seem like a verbal tadpole because it just whizzes along. 

Finally the great Marieke breaks her silence. She says that poetry isn’t her thing, and that poets are a bit like vegans, they can be annoying. Omar subtly dashes away a tear that has formed in his poetic eye. BUT… she bloody loved this 264 page poem and she totally got it. She says that the book is a beautiful live story about a women who is completely… she pauses, she suggests she’s possibly isn’t allowed to use this term on TV. I picture a frantic producer rushing across the studio to hit the giant red button of power cutting doom. I pass out in excitement. What did I miss? Did Marieke get to drop the c-bomb? 

In short, it was about a woman who was totally besotted with an evocative woman who had done a very bad thing and was in denial. She’s refusing to believe that this woman she is so struck by could do anything wrong. Marieke says that this book isn’t so much about mystery as it is about denial. 

Omar says that he has come to a realisation that most of Australia’s finest writers are gay. That something about being an outsider has given a greater perception when looking in.

The episode then moves by a performance poetry piece by Omar Musa. A perfect end.

And that’s a wrap. Next week JByrne says Ace is bringing us crazy, British biddies.

Catch-up on last weeks recap here.

Watch past episodes here.

Find the drinking game here.

All Your Mother Wants is Books and Pyjamas 

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Do you know what your mother really wants for Mothers’ Day, Birthdays, etc? Books and pyjamas. Possibly also tea. But definitely books and pyjamas. Let me help you out in your mighty task of buying your mother that perfect gift. Here are my perfect pairings to delight that special mother in your life.

For the Dog Lover

My first gift recommendation is Monty and Me by Louisa Bennet. A cosy pet detective about a funky dog who knows how to solve a crime or two. 

Pair this book with some super cute pyjamas like this onsie.

Dachshund lovers are there own seperate breed of people so you need to get them an extra special gift. Try Destination Dachshund by Lisa Fleetwood. It’s a really sweet travel memoir about love, grief, and there’s a dachshund spotting competition involved.

Combine Destination Dachshund with something like these adorable pyjamas that will warm the heart of any dachshund lover.

For the Mother that Loves Thrills, Chills, and Spills

You can’t go past L.A. Larkin’s chiller, Devour. It’s Antarctic noir. It has action, suspense, and some sexy sex. Step aside Robert Ludlum, L.A. Larkin is here.

Pair it with something like these fabulous matching onsies. One for you, one for your mother. Heaven.

Does your mother like more action than you can poke a stick at? Grab her Crimson Lake by Candice Fox. Even ultra famous reviewer Jason Steger reads Candice Fox.

Pair it with fabulous red satin pyjamas like these.

For the Mother Who Loves Love

Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester is the perfect option. It even has mother in the title. Just go out and get it already.

Pair it with flower pyjamas instead of actual flowers.

The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth is an evocative weaving of WWII, fairy tale, and love. Lush settings and intense conflict.

Pair it with rose print pyjamas, like these ones, to tie it all together.


For the most Fantastical of Mothers

This years hottest new Fantasy release is Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. Gods walking amongst people, magic, warriors, and people living in trees. What’s not to like?

Pair it with some forest or bird pyjamas.

Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck is a speculative fiction take on family history. It is set in the 1800s and is gripping from start to finish. Expect Aliens, ghostly apparitions, and some light cannibalism.

Pair it with some good old fashioned long johns. Check out how much this model loves hers.

For the Mother Who Wants to be Kept in Suspense

Does your mother enjoy rotting mutton and murder? See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is for her. It delivers the story of Lizzie Borden with a heady feast of flavours.

Match it with a super cute lamb onesie, obvi.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here by Tania Chandler brings you grunge music, amnesia and the seedy underbelly of life. Relive the 90s and see if you can find out who Brigitte really is.

Pair it with something super sexy.

For the Mother Who Likes to Laugh

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts starts with the smashing of plates, progresses to cutting the crotch out of trousers, and even incorporates a nod to the famous Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, but gone horribly wrong.

Pair it with some adorbs, heart-print pyjamas.

The Lucky One is Caroline Overington’s eleventh book and is full of hijinks and corpses. There’s a grumpy old man who doesn’t mind getting a bit of air to his nethers, a drunk art, a mother who wants to talk candidly about her sex life, a teenage waif and a sexy cowboy. Plenty of laughs but also lots of suspense.

Pair it with something fit for an heiress.

For the Mother Who Says No to Fiction

We’re All Going to Die by Leah Kaminsky. This is actually a joyful book about dying. I can definitely see the funny side of handing something with this title to your mother, but the content is great too.

Pair it with some killer pyjamas.

The Mad Woman in the Attic, get in that attic, Mother, where you belong. It’s a collection of essays on the portrayal of women in literature. It first came out in 1979. I love this book.

Pair it with some crazy good pyjamas.

For the New Mother

Things that Helped by Jessica Friedmann is a collection of poetic essays that express the yearning of her soul after the birth of her baby.

Pair it with something like these classic silk pyjamas for true indulgence.

Why not grab my fab book for the slightly frazzled mother in your life? Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Postnatal Depression Sucks explores my struggles through depression after the birth of my twins. Having three under three was chaotic and exhausting. It’s conversational, practical, and quite funny.

Pair it with these cow pjs to complete that mad cow vibe.

Now run off and spoil that special mother in your life. Just quietly, gin is also good.

ABC Book Club, the Drinking Game: #bookclubABC 

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If there’s one thing that readers love it’s pyjamas… but if there’s two, it’s drinking. So what better way to honour The Book Club ABC than with the time honoured tradition of a drinking game.

Sip

  • When terms such as trends, hot, and popular are used.
  • When they use a dramatic recreation.
  • When Jason tries to give an intellectual reason for liking a sexy book.
  • When the terms frothy, fizzy, fresh, fountain, or frog are used.
  • When Marieke gets angry at Jennifer.
  • When Jason wears exciting socks.
  • When you feel a little parched.

Drink

  • When Marieke makes reference to a dog.
  • When Jennifer makes reference to a horse.
  • When Jason implies another panelist doesn’t understand a text.
  • When they discuss a book that you have read.
  • When Jennifer mispronounces a name or title.
  • When a title that has been discussed in a previous episode is brought up.
  • When you passionately disagree with something a panelist says.

Chug

  • When they mention a book your friend wrote.
  • When all panelists hate a book.
  • When a panelist walks off the set.
  • When a guest panelist loses it and starts raving.
  • When Jennifer and Marieke team up against Jason.
  • When Jason finds a book too sexy.
  • When Jennifer pulls a quiz on Marieke, it’s a solidarity chug because Marieke hates those quizes.

Catch-up on the Season 11 Episode 1 recap here.

Watch past episodes here.

Buy my shit here. Please. I beg you.

ABC Book Club, Season 11, Episode 1: #bookclubABC

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Image stolen from Marieke Hardy’s twitter account.

It’s back. Life can resume again as Book Club is here. JByrne is of course sleeveless because she hasn’t been working those delts to keep them hidden by sleeves. Marieke is flawless. And Ace, oh my, sleeves rolled up to show off those exquisite forearms and he’s wearing stripey blue and yellow socks. Or is it green and yellow? #sockwatch The exact colour is an enigma just like Ace.

Before we get into the actual show let me take care of a few housekeeping issues:

1) I’m dyslexic, there will be spellos, grammos, typos, and just plain wrongos.

2) JByrne = Jennifer Byrne

Ace = Jason Stegersaurussex

Marieke = jamiest bit of jam.

3) I am unsponsored but if anyone wants to bribe me I love wine and notebooks… and money. Money is my favourite. 

Now onto the show. Joining the heavenly regular panelists are Michael ‘the dagger’ Robotham (known as Robo-Tham from previous episodes) and Clementine Ford. I am wet your pants excited about the Fordinator being on. I hope there is plenty of talk of about uteruses.

The panelists get down to business and discuss books that have been released during their hiatus. Australian author Sarah Schmidt’s 
See what I have Done
 gets a shout out. I’m excited because I’m reading that at the moment. 

And of course they pay tribute to the brilliant Heather Rose who has taken out the Stella Prize this year with The Museum of Modern Love. Rose remembers vividly once getting a royalty cheque that was for less than the envelope would have cost. Thankfully she is getting the recognition she deserves now and more royalties. Big congrats to an outstanding Australian woman writer.

Onto the bones of the show. JByrne says that they’re looking at Sydney author, Kathryn Heyman’s, newest offering, Storm and Grace. JByrne says that it has been touted as the literary thriller of the year. That’s a big call seeing how it’s only April, but then again, she’s an author capable of making a big call. Let’s see if the panelists agree.

They do the dramatic recreation thingo. It looks like a romance movie or teenage coming of age movie. One where the lead female’s ultimate coming of age involves getting boinked. I’m not getting the thriller vibe from this footage. I might be getting slightly hard in the bra region but definitely not suspenseful.

Robo-Tham liked it. He found the book claustrophobic and uncomfortable. That’s exactly the feeling he wanted to get. He respects the level of research that she must have done to get the sensation of deep sea diving just right. Heyman’s research included free diving and deep sea diving. She definitely went all out.

Ace says it’s not a thriller because there is little suspense over the major crime. But he quite liked it. He says it’s a book about an “unusual” relationship and a very odd man. Marieke corrects him and says, “abusive relationship.” Preach. Let’s stop using euphemisms for family violence. They’re not “robust relationships.” They’re abusive. They’re criminal. Let’s not sweep it under the metaphorical rug with niceties.

JByrne was sucked in by the sexyness. Oh myyyyy. It’s a repeat of episode one of season ten where JByrne yearned for Heathcliff’s inky eyes. JByrne we need to talk. Let’s do coffee and Aunty Robin will tell you all about love and life. You’re not simply getting warm in the underpants region over literary bad boys, you’re getting excited for literary wife beaters. 

The knife comes out, Marieke says it’s a year 9 romance and the names of the characters, particularly Storm, are lame. She slams it as badly written and badly structured. So harsh. I think my mouth will never shut again because it is hanging open in shock. Brutal. All I can say is, brutal.

Marieke goes on to explain that her savagery comes from a place of crossness not because she’s a disparaging biatch. She lets us know that she ia quite nice and doesn’t actually enjoy saying awful things about books but she’s cross. She’s super cross because domestic violence is such an important issue and it needs to be explored but she thinks this did it badly. Maybe she wanted something more like Zoe Morrison’s Music and Freedom? I don’t know, but she is not happy. Not happy at all.

She says that Storm is a sleazy creep from the start so why did Grace ever fall for him? She says the seduction and Grace’s vulnerabilities needed to be clearer so that people understood why women get involved with these guys. For Marieke it was a creep from the start becomes a killer and that’s no surprise and wasn’t thriller worthy. 

JByrne is just about crying at this point. Why doesn’t Marieke understand that Storm is sexy? JByrne is all about the sexy. She’s possibly going to overtake Ace in the sexy loving stakes. 

The Fordinator speaks. She wanted the desire to be clearer. She felt that it wasn’t clear why Grace would fall for creepy, controlling Storm. JByrne is looking at her in despair. I can tell she’s thinking, “but he’s fucking hot!” But the Fordinator quite liked the Greek Chorus as a literary technique. JByrne says the Greek Chorus is why it is a literary thriller because Thrillers generally don’t have literary techniques.

I throw my glass of Brown Brothers Moscato at the television. It doesn’t make it. I simply makes a mess of my carpet. I love you JByrne, you are the sun and the moon, but you are wrong, oh so very wrong. Plenty of Thrillers use literary devices. Plenty! I could go on and and give a detailed list (OH, HOW DO I WANT TO GO ON AND GIVE A DETAILED DISSERTATION ON THIS) but I’m supposed to be writing a recap right now, but just know, I’m quietly seething… and sucking at my carpet.

Robo-Tham bravely steps up and explains to Marieke and Clementine the attraction women feel for Storm. He likens it to Trump. People voted for Trump because he talks big. They got sucked in by his confidence and big talk. You know how us ladies love big talk, orange skin, and extreme comb-overs. Amirightoramiright? Ooooo Trumpy, you so sexy. No. 

The Fordinator asks why do all the women have the same attraction. It’s almost as if she thinks us sheilas are diverse. Pfffft. Come on CFord, you know us ladeez are only after one thing.

Now onto discussing what the literary trends for 2017 will be:

  • Progressing from titled with GIRL in the title to WOMEN… Fuck. My book coming out the year is Henrietta Dodgson’s Asylum for Damaged Women. I’m falling into a stereotype before it’s even set. Shit!
  • Australian Domestic Noir, will be big. Phew. I’m not a complete stereotype. My November release is set in Callan Park Hospital for the Insane in 1906. So it’s Australian, and it’s dark, but it’s not exactly domestic. 
  • Angry lady books will be big… Shit. 
  • Spec Fic with a literary bent will be in. SHITSHITSHITSHIT! Another glass of wine goes at the TV, hits the floor again.  Henrietta Dodgson’s Asylum for Damaged Women is Historical Fantasy. I basically take fairy tale princesses and lock them up in Callan Park Hospital for the Insane in 1906. I’m a great big future trends whore instead of a maverick self publisher. I’m not a special snowflake.

    JByrne picks up Michael Sala’s newest book as an example of a book to look out for. I’m cheering at the TV. I used to teach with him. Go buy his book. Yay. Go Michael, go.

    The Fordinator admits that it’s a good time to be a feminist writer. Maintain the rage, sister, bring out Fight Like a Woman.

    Robo-Tham wants less celebrities writing, long pause, children’s books. What was the long pause? I read into everything he does because he’s a Crime writer. Is the pause because you mean not just children’s books but all books, or is it because you want to emphasise Children’s Books but they can run wild on adult? Tell me Robo-Tham, tell me!!! It probably means nothing and he just had to breathe.

    Which leads us to By the Bed. The segment where the panelists say what books are by the bed and I waft into a fantasy world of lying next to Ace’s bed.

    Robo-Tham is reading Rebus novels.

    Marieke throws a curve ball. She hasn’t been reading in bed but reading drunk in the bathtub. New fantasies are emerging. She’s been loving The Last Picture Show.

    JByrne has been reading Storyland.

    Ace has been reading 
    Crimson Lake by Candice Fox Small excited wee for Sydney crime writer Candice Fox. I adore her. More Candice, more L.A. Larkin, more Tania Chandler, more Emma Viskic, more Cass Moriarty, MORE SISTERS IN CRIME. 

    The Fordinator is reading 
    Circle of Friends. She says it’s like a hug. Awwww.

    And now for 
    Hillbilly Elegy by J.D Vance. Will Marieke go full savage on this one as well?

    JByrne does the intro, it’s a memoir but was billed as the inside story of Trump’s people. However the author said its purpose was to start a conversation not to be the ultimate explanation and lesson.

    Robo-Tham loved it. He kept nudging his wife in bed to read her quotes. She told him she had a headache. We’ve all been there.

    Ace said it reminded him of Jimmy Barnes’s memoir. A man who pulled himself up from poverty and an awful life to achieve greatness. And how they both nearly didn’t make it out of their horrific circumstances alive. 

    Marieke charges into this love fest and calls it a flat telling of an interesting story. She is having none of anyone’s shit today. She said it skimmed through interesting stuff that should have been fleshed out. Ace said he loved the skimming. They stare at each other across JByrne. Horns locked. I await JByrne saying something about sexyness. It does not happen.

    The Fordinator starts to say how she felt that the author was an intelligent guy and that the author should have moved passed the “America is the greatest country” rhetoric and actually given the idea some critical thought. He as a white man could pull himself out of despair. It was hard but would it not be even harder for others that aren’t CIS white men?

    Robo-Tham leaps into the thick of things. He talks more about the problems faced by America and white people in poverty and how beautifully J.D. Vance covered it by showing the good and the bad.

    Fordinator is back and asks why is it suddenly now that people care about poverty. Why is it that black and Hispanic people being in poverty is looked away from in disgust but now that it’s a white problem people are fascinated? Marieke and the Fordinator state that the author fails to recognise his own privilege as a white man. And again raise the issue that he never critiques the trite “America is the greatest country” without thinking about if it actually is or not.

    Robo-Tham tells Ford she wanted the author to “attack” his own country where as he could accept that Vance was still backing his own country. Did she want it critiqued or attacked? There’s a difference.

    In the end, the two white male panelists loved Hillbilly Elegy, and one out of the three white female panelists likewise loved it. Yep, that’s enough to get it voted in.

    JByrne concludes by letting us know that Omar and CS are back next week. Hooray, we loved them last year. They’re discussing Exit West and The Monkey’s Mask. And we are treated to a clip of Roald Dahl saying WRITE DOWN YOUR IDEAS!!! Because like dreams, you’ll forget them.

    Watch this episode on iView here.

    Read last year’s season highlights here.

    Buy my shit here.

    Confessions of a Mad Mooer: The Favourite Child

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    My nutella addicted middle child


    My husband tells me that I favour our middle child. What’s more, my mother agrees. They tell me he’s cheeky, whereas when I look into his big blue eyes I see a child utterly without guile. I kind of figured they were just wrong. After all, his nonna seems to agree with me. He’s a sweet little boy who rarely throws a tantrum and enjoys sitting with his mum or nonna…


    … of course there is that time that he said, “Happy birthday, poo poo head,” to his opa. But what three year old doesn’t find that kind of thing funny? And yesterday he did run off with his sister’s Batgirl and try to put it in the washing machine. I guess he did smack his identical twin brother over the head with a giant fairy tale book this morning. And he does lie in wait for his dad and constantly leap out at him like a minature ninja… but he’s still a very sweet boy. 


    It’s not like his older sister and twin brother don’t have their moments. I seem to be constantly carrying one or other of those pair. I swear they were an Emperor and Empress in a past life. They still haven’t gotten the hang of walking on their own two feet. And the noise, oh the noises that come out of those pair. It is like living next door to an airport. So usually I’d just dismiss my husband and mother’s claims of favouritism. But this morning something happened to give me pause.


    During the night my youngest child crawled quietly into my bed and went to sleep down the bottom of my bed. My daughter was already in the bed. It’s not unusual for me to end up with the pair of them in my bed, the only weird bit was that my youngest child didn’t come in screaming and then attempt to sleep on my head. Apart from that it was just your regular Monday night. Me, and my oldest and youngest children, just much quieter and less physically invasive than usual.

    At about 5am my mini Empress woke me to escort her to the toilet. I obediently did so but insisted she be quiet as to not wake the baby of the family. There’s only a minute gap between my boys, but it still counts. She did her best to stay quiet but eventually the urge to chat took hold not long after we returned to bed. I reminded her again to be quiet because of the baby. The three year old baby. And then I took a closer look at the baby. It wasn’t my youngest child but my middle child. And suddenly I got filled with this sense of urgency that my daughter must be quiet and my little boy needed to sleep. My heart stuck in my throat and a feeling of panic began to well up.

    It’s a feeling I recognise all to well. It’s a very similar feeling that I used to get when looking at my boys when they were first born, and more so for my middle child. He was the smaller twin. The weaker twin. The one that almost didn’t make it.
    During my pregnancy with my boys everything was going perfectly until 30 weeks. All of a sudden everything changed. Twin B had dropped off in his growth rate, his heartbeat was getting harder to detect. At 31 weeks my waters broke and I was kept in hospital on antibiotics and receiving daily ultrasounds. Twin B continued to tapper off. One afternoon at 32 weeks they told me that I’d need a cesarean the following day as the growth was now to little and the heart rate too uneven to endure a labour. I didn’t care. I wanted a live baby, I wasn’t fussed if that meant no vaginal birth. 
    That night the nurses came in and hooked me up to a monitor, I could tell things weren’t great. Nobody yelled or screamed but they decided to start me on the IVs I’d need for the cesarean a bit early. They continued coming in and out and then decided they’d wheel me down for surgery early. And then they felt given we were already there why no nip into the emergency delivery theatre and just get on with it. 
    My boys came out and both cried. I cried with relief that they were alive. They took twin B out first because he was the most fragile. So twin B became twin 1 and my middle child. He was tiny. 1.7kgs. He was perfect. And he was tough. He and his brother only needed nose prongs and only spent 3 weeks in the NICU. It could have been so much worse. I witnessed so much worse for other parents in the NICU. But it was enough to make me thankful that they were alive. And fearful. 
    Most of my worries were around my middle child, being that he was the one that had the issues in utero, and was 400 grams smaller than his younger brother. He’s fine now. They both are. Perfectly little boys that play and laugh most of the day. But I guess I still have that anxiety. That worry that he’ll be gone. That he won’t make it. It’s irrational and buried, but it’s there.

    So although they’re wrong that my middle child is my favourite, because I love all my kids equally, maybe they’re right that I treat him a little differently. Because maybe I’m just a little bit more grateful that he’s alive, because he nearly wasn’t. 
    Do think you have a “favourite” child?

    Toni Jordan on Character and Dialogue at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre

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    Toni Jordan is actually more radiant in person

    Once upon a time there was a writer locked in a tower. She did not grow her hair long, she did not dream of a knight so bold to rescue her. Instead she sat and thought about characters and dialogue and how she would like to declare war on adverbs. She didn’t want it to be a short and relatively peaceful war. No, she wanted all adverbs to be captured and interrogated and then inevitably executed. Maybe 2% of them would live, but the rest would die. And so one day, when she had escaped her tower, she came unto the Callan Park Centre of Writerly Deeds, and there she did enlist the help of peasant writers to join her in her war. The writer’s name was Toni Jordan, and this is the story of the day she taught a Character and Dialogue class at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre.

     

    Toni Jordan strode through the doors of the Judith Wright room, drew her mighty whiteboard marker and declared, “Today we wage war, who is with me!”

     

    A gentlemen opposite me adjusted his glasses and gulped. I dusted the biscuit crumbs off my woolly vest and stood up.

     

    ‘Ummm, okay…. Will we be back in time for morning tea?’

     

    There was a murmur of agreement around the room. Morning tea was important.

     

    ‘What is food when our minds be starving?’ Toni stabbed her marker higher into the air.

     

    ‘What about lunch?’ a lady in the far corner managed to pop down a hot cuppa to say. ‘There’ll be lunch right.’

     

    ‘We’ll definitely need lunch,’ the woman sitting next to me managed to say around a mouthful of sugar snap peas. ‘I get super cranky if I don’t eat.’

     

    ‘Yeah, same.’ I nod knowingly at the green bean machine to my side. ‘I love a good literary war as much as the next person but could we perhaps declare it after lunch?’

     

    Toni Jordan seemed to deflate on the spot, her marker sank to her side.

     

    ‘Why’s it always so fucking hard here?’ She’s not even looking at us, she’s staring at the ground as if hoping it will answer her. And truth be told it’s probably more sensible than the rest of us. ‘In Melbourne we have literary wars and cocktails more often then I change my underpants.’ An older gentleman at the back of the room begins to snigger a little. ‘WHICH IS A LOT! I change them very often, thank you very much. My underwear aren’t the problem. It’s not me, it’s you. You’re all so bloody interested in biscuits.’

     

    ‘Would you like one?’ I say.

     

    Toni shrugs, I take it to mean yes, and pull out one of the seven packets I have brought. Our great lecturer sits down at her desk and begins to mournfully chew her way through a Belgian chocolate virtuoso.

     

    ‘Alright, let’s just do a workshop.’

     

    And so began one of the best workshops of my life. Okay, part of the above may have been made up, but Toni Jordan did come to the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, she did teach us about character and dialogue, and she does hate adverbs. She really does.

     

    I know at this point I am supposed to give you all the hot tips that she gave us, but quite frankly, I don’t want to because I just don’t think I would do the course justice. This was the best dialogue course I have ever done and for you to really get the benefit of it, you really should attend a workshop with Toni Jordan, or get a mentorship with her.

    I’ll list a few things, but my mind is still going a mile a minute trying to process everything. It really was an extraordinary course. I think it was because we had the opportunity to do several writing tasks on the same thing, character, but focusing on different strategies each time. I guess that’s why you really had to be there. I’ll slap down a few general pointers for you, but, as I have said eleventy billion times, you really need to do a course with Toni Jordan yourself.

     

    Tips

    • Multiple protagonists makes your job harder and don’t often make the story better
    • A weakness in your writing is not an excuse to shove in more protagonists
    • Readers can relate to characters without them having to be the protagonist (Ron, Hermione)
    • Your protagonist should either be skilled, in jeopardy, elicit sympathy, or be likeable
    • Avoid having your character being still and alone where possible
    • Always have subtext
    • Every character matters
    • Inconsistencies in character can help bring them to life
    • Dialogue is to reveal character
    • Dialogue for each character needs to be so distinct that you can pick it without dialogue tags
    • Believability is more important than accuracy
    • BAN ADVERBS! (But #notalladverbs, you can keep some)

     

    I’m writing historical fantasy at the moment, what are you working on right now?

    Toni Jordan is the only author in Australia known to have a dedicated fan page to her socks on Pinterest.

    Toni Jordan’s website can be found here.

    Toni Jordan twitter account can be found here.

    Toni Jordan Facebook page can be found here.

     

    Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre  here.

    Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Facebook here

    Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Twitter here.