I wrote a while back about taking some time away, after Christmas. My year wasn’t my best, and having a week by the beach with friends has been just what I needed. We headed out on the road on the 8th, stopping in Ardrossan for the bakery and a late lunch of Cornish pasties and potato pies in the park. I love seaside country towns. Things seem so slow and wide and easy. Before we hit the road again I bought an acoustic Bob Dylan album, very early folk stuff, for a dollar at the hospital charity shop and have hardly stopped listening to it since: You’re No Good, Man of Constant Sorrow, Pretty Peggy-O.
We have a house here at the bottom of Yorke’s, near the cliffs and plains of Innes National Park at Marion Bay – a town with just one pub, a bait shop, and a few blocks of beach shacks. So far, my days have been heavy with pots of coffee, reading on the deck, dusty walks to the beach and cold saltwater. I have had morning naps and afternoon naps, Scrabble games and carrot cake brought from home. The house we have is pale timber, built on stilts for the cool air and the view. In the evenings, I can feel it pulled from side to side as the tide comes in just a few blocks away and the wind lifts. It near rattles and shakes. There is shade underneath where we park the dusty cars, and the railings of the balcony are a mess of wet bathing suits and beach towels at all hours of the day. There are nine of us here, and for my nieces and my friends’ young daughters, the beach is everything. They bury themselves in the sand and catch their breath ducking waves, squealing with delight, exhausting themselves in the sun so much that their eyes are red and tired by 7 and they battle the idea of bedtime with the last of their will. I haven’t washed my hair all week and it is a very salty, curly tangle, already lighter from the sun.We’ve eaten watermelon in the afternoon at the beach, each bite sprinkled with sand and calling to the bees and March flies. The water here is glorious. It is the kind of clear that takes your breath away, and on yesterday’s walk to the lighthouse at Cape Spencer it crashed wildly against the cliffs below, here at the bottom of the world. Innes is untouched beauty, national park hiding occasional dirt tracks and low, lush green scrub – we have seen snakes, lizards and emus and oh, so many birds. From the pier the boys tried to catch snapper, and watched local kids spear-fishing squid and stingray.
We have blackberry ciders with lunch, and drink gin and tonics with fresh lime on the deck at twilight, or sometimes well before. I’ve been reading a lot – trying to catch up on a year spent mostly working and blissing out with HBO – books and journals and the local paper. I read a brilliant piece about class by Tim Winton, in December’s Monthly (The C Word: Some Thoughts About Class) and an inspiring piece about UK gardener and writer Alys Fowler in the last Dumbo Feather (Alys Fowler is a Punk Rock Gardener) that will have me digging my hands in dirt all through 2014. It also had a lovely interview with my crush, Ira Glass, and most beautiful was a profile on dancer and chorographer Martha Graham by Ruby J Murray – the first line being one of the best I’ve known: ‘once you’ve seen her dancing, you understand how she died twice’. I finished one novel two days in and am about to start local Adelaide Hills writer Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. Everyone I know has loved it, has been engrossed and enthralled and I can’t wait. And if I get through all that, I’ll be one of the many reading Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch.
Having my nieces here has been a kind of bliss, missing them all year as I do. They have grown and changed and talk the day away and play imaginary games. They’re strong and brave swimmers and dedicated sandcastle engineers. Daisy feels older, she turned three back in September and is big enough to open doors on her own and happy enough to sit with me on the recliner chair on the deck in the late afternoon, singing Beatles songs and pretending to be a fishy. She is sharp as a tack and always hungry. I’m fairly certain she spent an hour baking with me just for the few minutes at the end where I let her lick the bowl. Harriet is six and tall, all arms and legs and first to lead the way with me, wandering through the scrub, clearing a path through the dunes and wildflowers to the deserted beach. She is kind, as ever, with the littles. We have found starfish at the beach, and just this morning, joined in with a few local kids having a crab race just below the rocks. We dug out tracks and finish lines and I had my word on the medium sized one (who lost each and every race).
We head home tomorrow. It will be nice not to have to smear suncream all over this pale Irish skin morning and afternoon, a production line of bodies and hats as we all ready to head to the beach. We’ve eaten like kings and got through most of the food we brought, so I’m hoping for a last supper of fish and chips near the wharf to round out the week beautifully.
Last week I was lucky enough to meet and be bowled-over by two amazing babes - Eliza Sarlos and Grace Lee. They were kind enough to come out to the Sydney Story Factory where I volunteer and give a free workshop to a bunch of young wordsmiths. Their book, Amazing Babes is published by Scribe and is a wonderful collaboration of brains and heart and beautiful illustrations.
Eliza came up with the concept, wanting to give a book to her young son that showed just some of the amazing work of women in this world. She writes: 'all the women in this book had the ideas, determination, and creativity to bring about change in the world, and in learning about their stories we honour their achievements'. It's a picture book that is full of big stories - big women who have lead big lives. It details the courage of Aung San Suu Kyi, the compassion of Mum Shirl, the vision of Miles Franklin,the dedication of Vandana Shiva, and the moxie of Kathleen Hanna (among many diverse and interesting women).
Grace's illustrations are bright and warm, and each show a bit of the character and life of their subject. During the workshop, where Eliza got our young writers (my little cousin Rosie included) to pen letters to women they admired, Grace patiently and brilliantly drew up a cover for our book of letters, with portraits of all the students and volunteer tutors' smiling faces included. She is such a talent and I am so happy to have been a part of the day.
I have loved reading through each and every profile. Did you know that Hedy Lamarr (pictured third here) was a film-star and a mathematician? She helped invent a frequency technology that is still used today in Bluetooth and wifi! I of course bought a copy for my nieces, but am a bit tempted just to keep it for myself…
*Illustrations by Grace Lee, courtesy of Amazing Babes, including Miles Franklin, Mum Shirl, Hedy Lamarr and Vandana Shiva.
Back when I was in LA (which I can't believe is almost a year ago), I bought my nieces An Awesome Book of Thanks from local author and illustrator Dallas Clayton. It has of course become their favourite thing ever, and my sister's (a teacher), and her husband's (a designer), and mine (a writer), and we have gone about reading it and buying it and recommending it and lending it to everyone we know with children ever since. It is a truly beautiful, inspiring, big-hearted and fun bit of reading no matter what your age. He has a new book out in November - It's Never Too Late, and I'm readying to pre-order one for the girls and one for myself (obvs). The illustrations here are from his website, a bold and happy selection of love if ever there was one...
One of the nice things about moving house is finding old things. Sorting books and boxes and old bits of memories. I found this a while back, last time I moved actually, and it always makes me smile. I haven't really put pictures of myself on here before (maybe once, back in New York), but I suppose this doesn't really count. This is my sister and I, for book week, some time in the mid-80s. Book week is when you come to school dressed as a character from your favourite book or story. Kate is hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle (my grandmother's violin not shown here). It had always been one of our favourite rhymes, and I think she makes a sweet little cat. I, obviously, ended up as the dish that ran away with the spoon. How my mother thought to dress her child as a dish is somewhat amazing, let alone found the time to craft a relatively believable dish-like costume while heavily pregnant with my brother Paddy. It's just one of the many beautiful, patient and just a little bit mad things she did for us growing up...
I bought them both over at Koskela, where it is so nice to see a range of small journals like this taking pride of place. Wilder Quarterly is one I've come across before, in the States, and was enamoured by. My mother is a prolific gardener, a natural who lists off the Latin names for things and knows each plant at a glance like it was nothing. I keep hoping her skills and patience will rub off on me, and much as I try and love the idea of my very own garden, it's just a few pots of lavender and a climbing rose to my name these days. But I feel like sweet little reads like this are a fair place to start. Wilder has plant profiles, seasonal to-do lists, a beautifully photographed story on desert blooms and a spring focus on asparagus, amongst other things.
BIG (Kids Magazine) was one I bought as a gift for my sister, and immediately and desperately wanted for myself too. It's an amazing find, an 'Australian contemporary arts publication that features the work of children and artists side by side'. And the best part? BIG stands for BRAVERY, IMAGINATION AND GENEROSITY! All the things we wish upon our smalls, all the things that are important to becoming an amazing and important part of this world and so wonderfully celebrated on these pages. I'm a word person, which is why I love my work with the Sydney Story Factory, and this feels like a similarly framed endeavour, from another couple of creatives.
My sister has two beautiful young girls that she is always building and colouring and painting with. She also teaches primary school and is always on the look-out for new and inspiring ideas for art classes with her students, so I thought this would be a nice fit. And isn't it brilliant to be able to send 'just because' presents to the people you love?