Why I work – so I can read and write!

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My love affair with books started as a child. In fact I still have several of those early tomes close at hand that gripped my fledgling imagination, including two dear favourites from when I was a mere eight years old: The World of Myth and Legend, and Tales ofMagic and Enchantment (both by Brimax Books, 1980).

Those two books in particular sparked my fascination with all things mythical, magic and Fortean. The fact I still have them on my bookcase after all these years and countless house moves as a child and adult is a testament to how precious they are to me, and how fond I am generally of books.

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As well as haunting libraries, I have long been a fan of garage sales, post-Christmas book chain store sales, mail-order books clubs (remember those?), independent bookshops, and now online book shopping via the likes of Amazon.com and its contemporaries.

As a result of this passion, I now have books on true crime, myth and legend, war, health and fitness, biographies, psychology, archaeology, rare and extinct animals, as well as thrillers, romances, ‘cosies’, fantasies, mysteries – and too many other genres and categories to mention.

My fascination with storytelling evolved over my school years, and I eventually started writing my own stories – non-fiction and fiction – and for some years pursued the craft of journalism. I love writing, meeting people and learning new things. For a time it was the perfect job for me – days spent writing and being paid for it. Evenings spent reading the books my writing had paid for. Win!

In fact this lifestyle was pretty damn good for a long while, keeping me comfortably in books and hot chocolate, pet food and the odd new item of clothing for some time. Basically, as long as my primary survival needs were met, my career was doing its job – keeping me in books!

But as happens with many professional scribes, after some time I longed to write under my own ‘masthead’. I had my own stories to tell – true and fantastical, made-up and mythical. I wanted to take that next step as a storyteller. I wanted to be an author of books, not just of newspaper articles (or fish and chip wrappers, as my Nan used to say).

And so it was that 10 years ago I started working on my first non-fiction book, which was eventually independently published in 2010. Sadly it was too late for Nan to see, but I included a picture of her and I in the dedication. That connection was important to me.

The bug bit me, and since then I have independently published two more non-fiction tomes, and this year will (fingers crossed) be publishing some fiction.

So yes, while it’s true I work to read (wage = books), I also work to write these days.

And as a complementary passion to reading, it’s working out just fine.

(PS my dear thanks to Weezie for the inspiration for this post…and www.Grammarly.com)

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Confucius says read!

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Did Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist (551-479 BC) really say this?

Was this position on reading one of his analects (teachings)?

I don’t know, but the sentiments certainly ring true. Read, read and read some more. Today there really is no excuse for ignorance with so much information at our fingertips.

Confucius apparently did say ‘True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know’. Or something like that.

The easiest way to remedy ignorance is to read. And the easiest way to read is to buy or borrow reading material. In doing so, you’re supporting storytelling and those that ply its trade.

In a roundabout way, Confucius said so!

Why I love my library

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John Lubbock really knew what he was on about. Isn’t this a great quote? I love it. I want it tattooed on the wall of my next house, in the room that will be my very own private library.

I was a wee little thing when I visited my first library. I remember it well. It was in the hallowed halls of St Joseph’s primary school in O’Connor in Canberra, Australia. It was the late 1970s, so the children’s reading corner was very traditional – lots of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Herge’s Tin Tin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley – and featured an enormous tube cushion in the shape of a giant snake. I loved that library, and I remember the competition was fierce for the good books, particularly the ones featuring Julian, Dick, Anne and George (and Timmy the dog!). The boys in particular were quick to swoop on any Tin-Tin and Asterix books. For my money, mysteries were  the way to go. I was green with envy over my friend Jo’s collection of original hardcover Famous Five books, which she had inherited from her mother. It was hard going trying to find all of the books and read them in order through the library, and yet the library offered me something I’d never had before: reading choices.

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My next most memorable library was on the other side of the world at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, USA. You wouldn’t get a more different collection of children’s books, which isn’t surprising given how culturally different the two countries were in the 1980s, a time when you couldn’t even watch American ads on Australian TV. It was here I discovered the likes of Joan Aitken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Louise Fitzhugh’s charming Harriet the Spy (which inspired me to carry around a similar notebook of frank and fearless observations for a while – to my detriment).

I also discovered Judy Blume, a then (and probably still) controversial author. She was your go-to girl for all the gory details about periods, first bras and kissing boys. Reading ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ was a rite of passage.

When I wasn’t at school, I begged my father to take me to the Reston Regional Library, where I would walk out with armfuls of books. The school holidays were heavenly. A keen reader, I’d churn through most of them in a week and insist on another trip. It was cheap entertainment, considering a few years earlier I’d been badgering my father to buy me endless copies of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books at around $6 a pop (big money then, and when you read them as quickly as I did).

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There have been other libraries since then. Other books. Many other books. But those three libraries and their contents shine in my memory as havens for the young me, a bookish child, and opened up a world of joy, adventure and knowledge.

These days I tend to buy my books instead of borrow them. Some books I read straight away, others I shelf for a rainy day. I buy new, I buy old. I buy mass market books, and I hunt down rare and unusual tomes. I buy locally, interstate and internationally. I buy in shops and I buy online.

I almost never give away books and, after a few bad experiences, I absolutely never lend them. My collection gives me great joy. I still have books that I owned as a child – adventure stories, fairytales and compendiums of myths and legends – precious touchstones that still evoke feelings of delight and wonder. Books have proven to be constant friends to me, and even in my darkest hours (and I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had too many of those) they have been my crutch, my confidante. To live without books in my life would be akin to giving up food or water.

My fondest wish as a child was to have my own library. My very own shelfed sanctuary heaving with every kind of topic or genre that has ever grabbed my fancy, well kept and respected tomes, gently loved and, post-read, occasionally caressed. The air thick with the scent of ageing pages. I have that now – a few thousand books that line the walls of my old 1940s cottage, roughly ordered by subject, spines rebelling against anyone’s attempts to colour coordinate to any interior decor whim. This isn’t a show-pony library, it’s a reader’s library.

Books taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s a love affair that has defined my career choices and hobbies – first as reader, then as journalist, book reviewer, editor, and writer – so it’s little wonder that I share my house with so many stories. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m not a collector. I’m merely in tune with my true nature (and yours), the primal need we all have for sharing and finding meaning in the human experience.

For telling stories.

Reynolds Price said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

‘Hey lady!’ I hear you say, ‘haven’t you heard of ebooks?’

Well yes, yes I have. But if someone pulls the plug on the Internet tomorrow or Amazon.com crashes, or your e-reader runs out of juice, your ebooks will be floating in the ether. My books will be on the shelf, ready to read.

In my library.

The Little Country in music

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Charles de Lint is one of my all-time favourite authors. A master of urban fantasy, he is responsible for such masterpieces as Greenmantle, Moonheart and the much beloved The Little Country.

The Little Country is a magical novel set in the fishing village of Mousehole, Cornwall, about folk musician Janey Little’s discovery of a strange book in her grandfather’s trunk.

It’s one of my favourite novels, not least because it features its own original music scores in the back of the book which, until now, had gone largely unheard. I loved it so much I set off for Mousehole many years ago and tracked down the row of cottages that inspired the setting.

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Enter Zahatar, an acoustic string band from the US that is busy fundraising on Kickstarter so it can put out an album of distinctive arrangements of Celtic tunes from Charles de Lint’s The Little Country.

We want to have the opportunity to record an album version of The Little Country song cycle, which began as single melody lines in the appendix of one of Charles de Lint’s urban fantasy novels from the early 90’s. These tunes had never before been arranged for string band in their entirety, until now.

Zahatar recently held a sold-out performance of the song cycle, and recording an album is our next endeavor. Every step of the way, our project has been endorsed by Charles de Lint, and we are forever thankful to him for allowing us the rights to bring these tunes to life from the pages of his wondrous book.

We love playing Celtic music, and The Little Country is a project that’s very near and dear to us. We want to share this experience with the world!

If you have some pocket money, I can’t think of a better present for your Christmas stocking than this album, and maybe the t-shirt as well!

I hope the many fans of Charles de Lint’s The Little Country are drawn to support this wonderful undertaking. I know I will be.

Writing at Talliston

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Mucking about on Facebook one day, I chanced upon the exquisite loveliness that is Talliston House & Gardens.

Talliston is owner John Trevillian’s personal passion project – a former council house transformed into myriad chambers of loveliness, each of the 13 rooms inspired by various grand houses, castles, and exotic destinations.

Recently, the Talliston dream has been threatened by the most mundane of circumstances – money, or the lack thereof, which has fueled this project from day one (cripes, am I starting to sound like Kevin McLeod or what?).

John’s goal was to create something extraordinary from the means of an average living wage, and he has done just that. With the loss of his job recently, the future of Talliston is now uncertain. In fact, it has just been listed on the market.

Enter the Saving Talliston Indiegogo campaign that could be the gamechanger for this artistic enclave, which in addition to being a private home, is also host to writing and poetry groups, and serves as a performance space for various artists and musicians.

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Allow me to quote briefly from the Indiegogo appeal:

Talliston House & Gardens is a project that has taken the most ordinary of English dwellings – a three-bedroomed, semi-detached, ex-council house in Essex – and over two and a half decades has painstakingly transformed it into a magical labyrinth of locations, each set in a different time and place.

After years of design, research, sourcing and construction, each room or garden is infused with a rich story, incorporating over 1,650 antiques and authentic objects sourced from 27 countries across the globe. With a name that means ‘the hidden place’, Talliston is not just an interior design project. Instead, it is a growing community venue that serves as an inspirational wonderland for writers, artists, craftspeople, and anyone seeking the extraordinary within the ordinary.
And all this has been accomplished by an ordinary team of people – all inspired by the project’s unique vision.

Impressed by the writerly credentials of the owner, and his commitment to such a wonderfully unusual and creative project, I recently joined the Talliston Writers’ Circle and attended my first meeting in May.

Everyone was incredibly friendly, even though I was the Max Headroom character in the corner on a laptop screen, a bleary-eyed Australian doing a 5am live Skype cross with my British counterparts on the other side of the planet (isn’t technology wonderful?).

It was a great meeting, and we were treated to a talk by crime novelist Linda Stratmann who walked us through her Frances Doughty Victorian crime series, and also talked about the various true crime books she had written. Book #1 The Poisonous Seed is now at the top of my reading pile 🙂

I sincerely hope John and his friends can save Talliston. It’s a special place, one imbued with magic and mystery. Talliston means ‘the hidden place‘, and I can’t think of a more fitting name for the labyrinth of painstakingly created rooms that lie behind the unassuming door of this ex-council house.

Like a series of movie sets, it’s the perfect house for creative types, and one worth saving. If you can spare it, fund the dream in whatever small way you can.

We need more magic and beauty in this world.

 

Library Saturdays

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In November 2012 I organised a series of meet-ups at my local library after being inspired to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO).

Despite living in the area for more than 10 years, I’d never actually been to my local library before. In checking its suitability for a group of writers I was pleasantly surprised to discover it had a nice quiet space for our group, free WIFI, and happily turned a blind eye to the presence of drinks and food (within reason).

The meet-ups were a great success, although I have to be frank – we chatted, snacked, tweeted and Facebooked more than we actually wrote. And no, I didn’t make my NANOWRIMO deadline for 2012 either!

Fast-forward to 2014 (I missed last year’s NANOWRIMO as I was travelling) and I have rediscovered my love for the library thanks to a heatwave of 40C+ days.

Living in a house without air-conditioning is no fun over summer and, try as I might, I just can’t settle down and write when I’m physically uncomfortable.

As I thought long and hard about where I might hole up for several hours – somewhere cool and quiet where I wouldn’t be interrupted – I remembered the library, which among its many positive points also boasted air conditioning.

I can tell you there really isn’t anywhere better to write in the world than in a room surrounded by books. Especially a temperature-controlled one. I’ve found my visits to the library focus me in the same way my weekday job does.

In sitting down at a desk I find my brain clicking over into ‘work’ mode. I ignore the WIFI – the devil’s instrument! – and get straight down to writing.

Forget hiring space or saving up to build a writing shed. While there are still libraries, writers will always have an affordable quiet haven at hand.

Make the most of yours, because if you don’t use it you may one day lose it.

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