Had a busy day?

Hello, hello! I’m still here…

I often tell you that I write rarely. That’s true. But the writing does become intense and all-my-focus towards the publishing deadline. Most of the highly subtle editing, which changes the book from merely adequate to well worth reading aloud, happens in those final frenetic weeks, even if the whole project has been going on for five years or more. And all this for book of 32 pages, half of which are pictures. It’s the rhythm of the prose that frustrates me. I grew up with the perfect cadences of the King James Bible and then went to drama school for three years and was immersed in the brilliance of Shakespeare’s language, so I know in my bones when the rhythm is right or wrong, although I find hard to put that difference into words. It’s a feeling I have, more than cold-hearted knowledge. Here I am working on my latest book, Roly Poly, due out in the USA in October. I mentioned it at length in my last post, I think. I will mention it again. And again. JaneDyer (Time for Bed) is the extraordinary illustrator, Beach Lane the publisher.


And I know it’s too early, really, but here’s a sneak peek of my other next book—due out in Australia, also in October, illustrated sublimely by Freya Blackwood and published by Penguin Random House. I hardly need to point out that it’s called The Tiny Star. Grab a hanky or a tissue before you read it.
Since I last wrote, Easter happened. Our local barista went Easter-artistic. Brilliant, right? I can’t draw a thing. I was so impressed I had to have two coffees.

Back to business, or do I mean busy-ness? When I’m so busy my heart’s racing and my head’s whizzing, a check-out person in the supermarket will often unwittingly ask, in the manner of a charming robot, ‘Had a busy day?’ as if to have had a busy day were a good thing, as if it made one important, or more worthy, or more obviously fulfilled, or a cut above the rest, or something. I always say: ‘No, no, not busy at all, thank heaven! I’m having a lovely day.’ I’m not sure how it came to pass, but these days if we’re not seen to be busy we appear to be a kind of social failure. It’s ridiculous. ‘Busy-busy’ has added meanings that no one will admit to, such as ‘terribly tired’, or ‘madly stressed’, or ‘close to frantic’, or ‘utterly worn out’. Being busy all the time is nuts. We need to stop applauding it and start booing it instead, and r-el-a-x.

Anyway, I’ve been occupied, let’s say… But what’s important right now is that the dog ate my homework. My website had a little crash and it took ages for the panel beaters, as it were, to fix it. So there’s no way we can catch up on all the news of the past few months. I bet you’re thinking: ‘Thank God for that!’ Other people’s lives can be depressing at the same time as they’re interesting. You know what I mean. And anyway, this website isn’t meant for news as such—its main purpose is to provide information about being a writer, how to do it, what it’s like, and how I finally arrived at this place in my life. And to prove I’m still alive and frisky.

Clearly, having written my last post many months ago, a few things have indeed happened, most of them positive, some dramatic. Only a few weeks after my husband had given me an adorable ring for our 50th wedding anniversary (January 2nd) I dropped it down the plug hole of the bathroom basin. Panic stations! A deft and steady plumber lifted it out with long, thin pliers. These are the small things that make up my life. The rest of the time I’m caring for and hanging out with my husband, daughter and grandson, or having coffee with friends. Or walking, reading or cooking, my non-social favourite activities. Writing? I haven’t written a word for months. I don’t miss writing at all. I may never write again, although, hmmm, I’ve said that before.

Among the big events in my world has been the thrilling production of the play of Possum Magic, by Monkey Baa Theatre Company. The show opened in late March, in Darling Harbour in Sydney and moved to the Sydney Opera House a couple of weeks later, on April 15th. It will be staged in 62 towns across Australia between now and the end of the year. I flew to Sydney twice (for each opening) so there are photos all over social media. I’m not on social media myself, so here are a few for me to remember.

Below is the set—gorgeous!

Possum Magic (36 years old this year: 2019) is famous largely due to Julie Vivas’s exquisite, now iconic illustrations. Without her I would be nothing and nowhere.

Julie and me at one of the openings.

Below: Eva de Cesare, producer and director of Monkey Baa, Julie Vivas, me with a double chin, and Sandie Eldridge, the director of the play.

Publicity and marketing are my least favourite duties, although everyone I meet is unfailingly kind and full of praise, and gives me the kind of respect any 73 year old author gets by merely old and having been around forever. For me, looking nice and dressing up is not exactly second nature.

This me on the Channel Nine Show, talking about Possum Magic, the play, with Richard Wilkins and Sonia Kruger.  Thank God for the talent of tv make-up artists.

When Possum Magic, the play, moved to Adelaide I saw it for the fourth time and loved it all over again. I had a photo taken with the cast afterwards. God knows how they’ll keep up the energy and momentum over so many performances, in so many places, over so many months. I wish them well, especially ‘Grandma Poss’ who’s older than the young ones. Here we all are: Michael Yore and Alex Packard, who play various characters, me, Claudette Clarke who plays Grandma Poss, and Sarah Greenwood, who plays Hush.

On the now-rare occasions when I visit schools—almost exclusively in my home town—it’s under the auspices of the South Australian Premier’s Reading Challenge. I now tell everyone that I’m now too old, too tired, too busy and too lazy to visit schools, which is probably true, one way or another. But when I do go to schools and interact with students, I love-love-love it. It takes me back into my old teaching life, from which I derived enormous enjoyment and huge satisfaction. It makes me miss teaching, ache for it, even. It makes me think I really should visit schools more often. Then I remember that these days I’m too old, too tired, too busy and too lazy for that…But here I am, happily, at East Marden Primary School in Adelaide, with three bright and lovely children, earlier this year.

If you’ve been following me via my website, you’ll know I’m mesmerised by politics in Australia and across the world. You’ll also guess, therefore, how utterly devastated I was about the result of the May 18th federal election in Australia. So here’s me being even-handed with a few Australian politicians…

Firstly, here I am, grinning madly between Wayne Swan and Amanda Rishworth at a fund-raiser for Amanda’s election campaign. On the right of the photo is Marielle Smith, a  Labor notable in South Australia. Amanda is one of my daughter’s closest friends. She’s the federal Labor Member of Parliament for the seat of Kingston, and she’s so highly thought of in her electorate that she increases her vote at every election, including this last one, where we lost! Wayne is my favourite politician ever. He’s currently the national president of the Australian Labor Party, but when he was an MP and the Treasurer, he and our then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, saved Australia from the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009. Australia an South Korea were the only two countries to come through that crisis unscathed. (I don’t mind if you’re not interested. I totally understand. But I’m riveted.)

Secondly, guess who turned up the opening of Possum Magic in Sydney? Yes indeed! Our former Prime Minister, Liberal, not Labor, but still charming and lively: Malcolm Turnbull. I saw him come into the foyer with his granddaughter struggling to get out of his arms so she could run around. I walked up to him and said: ‘Hello, Grandpa, I’m Mem Fox.’ I realised immediately how quintessentially Australian that exchange was: the informality, the openness, the feeling of equality in spite of being in complete awe of the man who had been the best known and most important politician in the land. I didn’t speak with any lack of respect, I hasten to add. I simply spoke as a friend. And of course being in Australia, he had no security personnel at all. I live near Julia Gillard, another (fabulous) ex-Prime Minister, who walks her dog on our beach and goes to local cafes with, once again, not a security person in sight. Amazing. I love that aspect of this country. Anyway, here I am with Lucy Turnbull (his wife, divine person!), Malcolm Turnbull and their granddaughter. A very exciting meeting indeed, for a political tragic like me.

And thirdly and lastly, among my Political Fame Photos, a tragic reminder of May 18th, the day Labor unexpectedly lost the federal election. Penny Wong on the right, is often referred to as ‘the most trusted politician in Australia’. She’s the  Labor Leader in the Senate. This photo was taken on that fateful day. I was handing out How to Vote cards for my Labor candidate, Nadia Clancy, on the right. The red clothing was deliberate but it looked good anyway. Democracy! We have to love it, no matter who wins or loses, especially in Australia where we have compulsory voting. So, Australians got what they voted for and wished for, but as the saying goes: be careful what you wish for.

I haven’t mentioned the asinine stupidity, economic madness, and heartbreaking fact that coal mining is increasing in Australia, nor the shocking betrayal of the Queensland Labor government regarding this issue, nor the huge, newly-permitted Adani coal mine. I value my sanity so I’ll just stop there. It’s all so upsetting that if I began to discuss it I’d wend my way weeping to bed this evening.

Books!  I haven’t mentioned books! I don’t have time. Let me just say that the two best books I’ve read this year are Milkman by Anna Burns, and The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. I’ve only read 20 novels so far this year. I’m not on planes enough. So nice.

Thanks for bearing with me to the end. We’ll meet again some day, I don’t doubt.

All the best!

Mem Fox xxx