June 5, 2017

Happy highs & deep lows

Happy Highs and Deep Lows

June 5th 2017

I’m Australian Too

Hello again, three months later (!) from the recalcitrant, blushing Mem Fox. Obviously I failed Tweeting 101 and will have to re-enrol in some course or other within the next millennium. Hah. I do read tweets, I promise, even if I don’t tweet myself. I particularly loved, and was grateful for the tweet from Stephen Morgan @stemorgs, about his dad reading I’m Australian Too to his four-year-old, London-born, Australian grandson—in London.

Talking of whichI’m happy to report that I’m Australian Too sold out in its first three months (March-May 2017) and has been reprinted. Loud applause for the illustrator, Ronojoy Ghosh, and a million thanks to Scholastic, the publisher. If you’re interested, you can hear me read it on this site. Look for the info about the book: it’s there, I promise. I read most of my books on this site.

I’m only now beginning to realise the effect I’m Australian Too is having on those who don’t usually find themselves in Australian children’s picture books, let alone as dominant characters.

In Townsville last week, (May 25th 2017) at the Savannah Literary Festival, the first person to make a comment after my presentation thanked me in a most inspiring fashion for having recognising her existence in I’m Australian Too. She was referring to the second verse of the book, about Aboriginal people having ‘…been here forever/Now we share the place with you.’

And just yesterday I received an invitation to visit a kindergarten in an outer northern suburb of Melbourne, where the community is diverse and, like I’m Australian Too, a true representation of the real Australia. The director wrote: We were so excited to read your book to our wonderfully diverse community of children at the service, who in turn were delighted to finally see and hear their culture represented so beautifully in the book, including the refugees and families seeking asylum, which are often forgotten… It would also be an opportunity, to acknowledge and celebrate our wonderful diversity here…, with your book being at the heart of it. It would also bring some light and happiness to the plight of some of our families and the wider community.

In March, I spoke to a delightful class at Thebarton Senior College in Adelaide, most of whom were refugees in their late teens and early twenties. Of course, I read I’m Australian Too, and Whoever You Are. As I watched them listening to me reading about them, from a book I had written, for them, I was so filled grief and anguish on their behalf that I choked on the last two verses and thought I’d disgrace myself by howling. And don’t mean a quiet tear or two, I mean howling like a dingo, for all the wrongs that had been done to them. Their Australian teacher had no such worries—she just sat there and openly cried.

And recently, in a local school, as I was reading the page that starts: ‘Lebanon is beautiful…’ a small boy almost leapt into the air, grinning his proud head off, and yelling: ‘Hey! I’m from Lebanon!’ It made his day, and mine.

Goodness knows what will happen when I speak at the Town Hall in Paddington on June 14th during Refugee Week. I think I’ll be a wreck. And it won’t be about me. It will be about the refugees. And all of us.

In my experience around this country, the heartless and illegal cruelty of successive governments in Australia regarding refugees doesn’t reflect the basic goodness and fair-mindedness of the majority of Australians. It’s simply that the loudest voices, although they are a minority of less than 10%, have so terrified our leaders in both major parties that they’ve been politically timid and terrified, and have acted in ways that will shame them to hell in the eyes of future generations. I happen to have a loud voice myself—I’ve just woken up to the fact—and am now determined to use it, to drown out the others if I can, on behalf of the rest of us.

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Illness

I’ve been freaking about the dustiness of my website and the lack of time in my crazy, over-filled life to update it, but honestly, although things happen daily, most of it isn’t worth writing about. If I were on Instagram I might have been tempted to send endless photos of my cooking (cooking is my favourite activity: I’m a very family-orientated type of person) but who the heck wants to see that? It’s not as if you can rock around to my place and eat my food, so why be such a tease? How tedious! And a brief holiday overseas with my family? You weren’t there and I can’t imagine you’d want to know about it. I wouldn’t. And what about asthmatic old me being ill with a viral infection for over four weeks in May and carrying on regardless, like a superhuman idiot?  Photos of me in bed, suffering? No, no no! Anyway, I’ve been a shocking example of how to manage an illness. Enough about the coughing. Well, actually I am still coughing.

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Take a Break

Eventually I’ll add a few photos to this piece, to illustrate some of the joy I have when I’m about and about with children and their parents. And with teachers. I’m just waiting on  a few permissions, here and there. Moving right long, here are a couple of things you might like to browse through:

http://www.abc.net.au/radio/brisbane/programs/evenings/mem-fox/8381282

http://www.weekendnotes.com/mem-fox-community-presentation-review/

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Grief

Allow me me to tuck into this gap in proceedings (most people don’t read this far into a website, so by now it feels private) the abject news that once I had two sisters, and now I have but one. My younger sister, Alison Partridge died aged 61, on Easter Saturday, after a nine-year battle with cancer. I could write volumes, but death isn’t a topic for a public platform. It’s much too big for that. The grief can found between every word.

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A hectic life, but books I’ve read anyway

It’s no surprise that I haven’t updated my website like a true and faithful servant of the digital age. I’ve been grieving and working, and travelling and coughing, and—reading. Yes, I know: those things with pages and covers. I’ve read 19 books so far this year, partly because I’ve been on planes a lot, mostly for work, and I thought you might like to know what I have loved—and not loved—since most of the books that I read myself have been recommended by other people. How else would I choose what to read, in the welter of books that are published? I’ve listed them below, with a one or two or even three word appraisal. Further info from the net, of course.

The best by far was an electrifying novella from India by Vivek Shanbhag: GACHAR GOCHAR.

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout. Heavenly. It stands alone, but it might help if you’ve read her earlier novels, as this is a continuation. Someone described this book as a series of short stories. No!  It’s a novel. I detest short stories—they aren’t long enough to get my teeth into. Elizabeth Strout is a brilliant writer.

THE HEART BROKE IN by James Meek. Marvellous. The main character is one of the most vile I’ve ever come across in a book. Brilliantly drawn.

LUSTRUM by Robert Harris. Gripping. A historical novel that shows politics never changes.

SCARLET AND BLACK by Stendhal. Heart-breaking. You can’t go wrong with a nineteenth century novel. I’ve read this one twice.

RUINS by Rajith Savanadasa. Illuminating. Takes place in modern Colombo. A real eye-opener.

THE NEST by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Divine. Family dysfunction at a very high level.

THE EYE OF THE REINDEER by Eva Beaver. Hmmmm. Not my kind of book.

THE MUSE  by Jessie Burton. Fantastic. One of my favourites this year.

THE MEMORY ARTIST by Katherine Brabon. Not memorable.

THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang. Amazing. Not to be missed. A Korean novel.

HOT MILK by Deborah Levy. Left me cold.

A VIEW OF THE HARBOUR by Elizabeth Taylor. Interesting. An Australian novel from the late 40s. Worth reading.

A WHOLE LIFE by Robert Seethaler. Absolutely exquisite. Takes place in Austria. It’s the same kind of perfect novella as GOCHAR GACHAR.

THE PAST by Tessa Hadley. Skip it.

TWO GENTLEMEN ON THE BEACH by Michael Köhlmeier. Glorious. Beautifully woven fact and fiction about a relationship (over depression) between Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin.

CITY OF FRIENDS by Joanna Trollope. Lightweight. I think I’ve grown out of Joanna Trollope.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMILE ZOLA by Michael Rosen. Riveting. A fabulous insight into Zola and the famous Dreyfus case.

THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett. I have just started this: so far so good.

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And finally…

May I add my own deepest sorrow and condolences to the people of London, Manchester, Kabul and Baghdad who have suffered from truly ghastly acts of terrorism in the last three months. Whenever I feel like complaining over some insignificant detail or other in my own life I remember a proverb that my grandfather had framed on his desk: I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man with no feet.

Much love till…probably, September.

Mem Fox xxx