Chocolate Rules

I’m an old fashioned girl and like to call a spade a spade. This is not to say that I like being nasty, or that I find outspoken people attractive. No sir-ree! When I say that I like to call a spade a spade, I mean that I like chocolate companies to be honest about the contents of their products, and what I mean specifically, is that an orange cream centred chocolate should be labelled as an orange cream centred chocolate - preferably with a picture of a skull and crossbones beside it.

I am what I call an adventurous chocolate eater. If it’s there and it’s covered in chocolate, contains chocolate or even looks slightly brown, I will eat it.

UNLESS it has an orange cream centre.

You could swathe an orange cream centre in exotic dark chocolate made from cocoa beans plucked from plants that have been grown in a glass house made from Bohemia crystal and watered with the tears of Gaelic fairies and I still wouldn't touch it. Not even if those same cocoa beans had been roasted by a snow leopard on the peak of Mount Everest, then ground beneath the heels of Fred Astaire's dancing shoes. Orange cream is orange cream and not to be eaten.

Get the idea?

Now shift your mind to yesterday morning when I was presented with a beautiful Swiss Chocolate Selection  - white box, gold print, deep blue satin bow, shiny round sticker that looked like an Olympic gold medal. I am a great fan of chocolate delicacies in pretty boxes and often present them as a gift to those I hold in high esteem … and sometimes to those I hold in low esteem, when they are in need of buttering up (or chocolating up, as I like to say).

I removed the blue ribbon, lifted the lid, inhaled the chocolatey aroma and began to nibble my way through one delicacy after another until - SHOCK! HORROR! - I bit into the Swiss equivalent of an orange cream centred chocolate. ORANGE CREAM!! Can you believe it? I certainly took some time to reconcile myself - and my reeling taste buds - to the fact.

Now you can call an orange cream chocolate a Cœur á l’Orange but it still won’t lift it above the level of a despicable orange cream. Why would you spoil an otherwise fine box of chocolate delicacies by tossing an orange cream in amidst such culinary aristocrats as the Amande Croquante, the Triangele aux Noisettes and the Amande de Luxe?

You can see from the photos of the Chocolate Identification Card (below) that I have given each chocolate a score out of ten as soon as it was eaten (You should try it some time. It lifts the chocolate eating experience to a whole new level of sophistication.) One chocolate scored seven, two scored nine and three scored a perfect ten. (Three types of chocolate were totally absent from the box but that is separate issue which I simply cannot bear to talk about at present.) The Cœur á l’Orange, however, received a shameful zero.  It does not take a mathematical genius to realise the meaning of such a score.

Obviously, an evil villain (think Moriarty, the Penguin, Wile E. Coyote …) has been hiding in the Swiss chocolate factory, deliberately sabotaging the work of the great artists who have hitherto been dedicated to producing fine products that are rich in cocoa and devoid of citrus fruit.

And so I must end this blog for I need to be concentrating my energies on writing to all the Swiss chocolatiers to warn them of the dangers at hand. No thanks needed! The capture and imprisonment of the fiend and the exclusion of this offensive chocolate from all chocolate selections as soon as is humanly possible will be reward enough for my efforts … oh, and a box of assorted chocolates including every single one of the specimens shown on the Chocolate Identification Card  wouldn't go astray, either!

Zero out of ten!!!! Not even the cunning heart shape could cover the tragedy within.

Zero out of ten!!!! Not even the cunning heart shape could cover the tragedy within.

Try ranking your chocolates as you eat them. It is wonderfully fulfilling and adds an element of education and sophistication to working one's way through an entire box.

Try ranking your chocolates as you eat them. It is wonderfully fulfilling and adds an element of education and sophistication to working one's way through an entire box.

150 years and going strong.

Alice turns 150 this month! And I think we would all agree that she has staved off the ravages of time quite well, both physically and literarily.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in July 1865 and there are celebrations galore to mark the 150th anniversary. I wish I had been in Oxford on Saturday 4th July for Alice’s Day as I could have applied to be one of the 150 official Alices running around the gardens and might have danced the Lobster Quadrille with a crowd of enthusiasts.

By the way, you can go to the following link if you wish to learn and perform the Lobster Quadrille in the privacy of your own home:

(I said ‘privacy of your own home’, Mum. Don’t do it publicly. It would be worse than that line dancing fad you had in the 1990s.)

Of course, Oxford is not the only place marking this important anniversary. There are Mad Hatter tea parties, Mad Hatter cocktail parties, storytelling events, musicals, puppet plays, lectures, postage stamp releases and art exhibitions taking place all over the world - except Australia, oddly enough.

Which made me think that I should do something special to mark the event in my own little corner of the world. I considered holding a Mad Hatter’s tea party but that seems so obvious - as does a game of croquet in which I use flamingos as mallets.

Then inspiration struck. I should focus on the part of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that has always had the greatest impact on me - the episode where Alice drinks the bottle labelled ‘DRINK ME’ and grows so much that she fills an entire room and cannot get out. I have claustrophobic tendencies and this episode starts an anxious fluttering in my chest, a sticky sweating in my palms, every time I read it or see the John Tenniel illustration.  Even as a child, I thought this the greatest trauma Alice faced as she adventured through Wonderland.  Far worse than almost drowning in her own tears or being in the presence of a queen whose favourite line is, ‘Off with her head!’

So, in honour of the 150th anniversary of the great book, I have decided to squeeze myself into a tight place (beneath my doona in bed, for instance) where I will reread Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while sipping cordial from little bottles labelled ‘DRINK ME’ and eating tiny cakes iced with the words ‘EAT ME’ …. purely out of respect to the great Lewis Carroll.

You want me to explain WHAT?!!

Where do my story ideas come from?

Uuuum ….

Hmmmm ….

Let me see …..

I think ….

I have just received the Teachers Notes for Olive of Groves with the usual request to add a little on my motivation/inspiration for writing the book.

Uuuum ….

Hmmmm …

Writers are often asked to explain their motivation for writing a story or where the idea came from. I do my best to answer such questions but one might just as easily respond to the question, ‘Which came first - the chicken or the egg?’ … or even harder still, ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’

For me, a story often develops over many, many years. It’s not that I have cast normal day to day life aside to wrestle at my desk, quill clenched between teeth, ink-stained fingertips raking through my unkempt hair in anguish, mulling over plot complications and character flaws for years on end. It’s just that stories take their bits and pieces from so many different times and places. Our writing is influenced and changed by everything that we are exposed to. And this is the big one for me - How on earth can I explain how my imagination kicks into gear when a story is begun, how the fantasy world inside my head takes on a life of its own and how so much of what my characters do seems completely out of my control?

This point was driven home when my husband, freshly returned from a family visit in Denmark presented me with a beautiful second edition book of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales (Eventyr) printed in 1854. It belonged to his great grandfather, Niels Christian Nannestad and is complete with gothic writing and what looks like dirty marks that have come from eager little fingers smeared with frikadeller grease. Gotta love a kid that rushes straight from the dinner table to his favourite book!

I soon found my husband’s two volumes of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, a gift upon his birth in 1961, and my son’s English collection of the same, presented upon his birth in 1994. And then, not to be left out, I realised that my own book, The Girl Who Brought Mischief, was heavily influenced by these same Danish fairy tales. So how would I begin to describe the development of this story? It has, in effect, taken place over generations and across the globe. And it would definitely need to begin with Hans Christian Andersen, and I’m not sure that even the genius himself would be able to adequately explain his inspiration.

The development of a story over generations.

The development of a story over generations.

The ugly duckling in my 1854 copy of Hans Christian Andersen.

The ugly duckling in my 1854 copy of Hans Christian Andersen.



Uncultured Culture - Finding joy in the dodgy poems of old

I feel bad about poetry. You see, I don’t like it very much. I’m talking about the grown up, cultured, literary stuff - serious offerings about love and nature and great battles, written by men with silly names like Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I am afraid that childhood exposure to Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids and Dr Seuss has left me with a rather simple taste for poetry. Give me Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes over Shakespeare’s sonnets any day. If there’s a feral animal or a vulgar word tangled up in the rhyming verse, I’m hooked. If there’s a daffodil-strewn meadow in which a young maiden is coughing consumptively after her beloved has died, I’m out of there … running ... waving my hands in the air … screaming, ‘Head for the hills!’.

That being said, one should not be stuck in one’s ways. I believe in lifelong learning, being open to change. Accordingly, yesterday, I forced myself to sit down with a cup of coffee and A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems.

Imagine my distress when, lo and behold, the first samples upon which my troubled eyes fell had names like, ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’, ‘My True-Love Hath My Heart’ and ‘Death’.  My spirits swooned to the very depths of despair.

But then, after a second cup of coffee and a further half hour of dogged reading, a wonderful thing happened. I got into the groove and found myself enjoying as many poems as I despised … perhaps for reasons that some may consider not quite right, but enjoy them I did!

Let me share a few of my favourites here, just in case you want to hunt them down for a spot of uncultured culture with your next cuppa ...


‘The Highwayman’       by Alfred Noyes

Forget the stunning night time landscape. Skip over Bess’s musket-shattered breast. Take a look at that highwayman’s clothes! Not only does he wear a claret velvet coat and lace at his throat, but his trousers are so tight that they’re completely wrinkle-free and his boots are thigh-high! Thigh high!! What’s not to love? I can just picture him doing a Saturday Night Fever-type dance, while the moon that was once a ghostly galleon glitters above like a disco ball. Magnificent!


‘Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil’      by John Keats

I had forgotten how much I love this golden oldie. It’s a real corker. While it is most definitely a poem about a woman pining away for love, it is so much more. For after Isabella’s beloved is murdered by her brothers, she digs up his body, chops off his head, pops it in a pot and plants some basil over the top! The basil thrives as she waters it with her tears. Forget romantic comedy. This is romantic horror with a horticultural twist - literature at its best. Henceforth I shall be quivering every time I eat pasta with pesto.


‘To A Mouse’   by Robert Burns

I don’t care that the wee little beastie has been turned out into the cold or that the best laid plans of mice and men go belly-up (my translation of some very weird dialect). What tickles me pink is that the moment I start reading this poem, a funny picture pops into my mind. A burly Scotsman is leaning over his ploughed furrow talking to a mouse, tam o’ shanter in hand, tartan kilt flapping in the breeze. His neighbour is leaning on the fence, mouth downturned, head shaking, mumbling, ‘Och! Robbie’s lost the plot and is talking to filthy vermin again.’


‘My Last Ducchess’     by Robert Browning

This poem is a chilling rant from a jealous, murderous husband who sees a wife as property. A well-written villain is someone the reader should love to hate and this hubby certainly fits the bill. Pfft! Boo! Boom-boom-boom! That’s me spitting and booing and stomping my feet at the despicable duke.


And so, if poetry is meant to paint pictures with words and stir up emotions, I suppose I would have to admit that, yesterday, the cultured stuff did its job! 

One man's meat ....

There’s nothing like a good saying - a bit of Aussie slang, a proverb, a moral, a cliché, a well-worn line from a poem, a titbit of Latin. From the graceful to the banal, I love them all.

For instance, there are so many great things to shout when amazed - Stone the crows! Strike me dead! Well, roll me on the beach and call me Sandy! You wouldn't read about it in the papers!

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

When left unsupervised with a whole box of chocolates, I am taunted by Proverbs 25.16 - If you find honey, eat just enough - too much of it, and you will vomit. (NIV Bible). There is also every girl's fear - A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. But usually, what wins out is carpe diem or seize the day … which, of course, is just one step away from seize the chocolate! (Carpe socolate?)

And then there are the general gems of wisdom that should guide me safely, happily and successfully through each day. I know that too many cooks spoil the broth, that a stitch in time saves nine and to strike while the iron’s hot. I will never look a gift horse in the mouth and always look before I leap. I truly believe that Rome wasn’t built in a day, there’s no point in crying over spilt milk and you can’t take it with you when you go. (Another good excuse for eating those chocolates. CARPE SOCOLATE!!!)

I could go on until the cows come home, but I probably should cut to the chase before you think I’m carrying on like a pork chop.  

There are times when a saying seems tailor-made to a situation. Yesterday was full of them. My husband returned from a two week stay with his family in Denmark, bearing gifts, family heirlooms and photographs. This is one of his holiday pics:

These hastily-made open sandwiches were his last meal before leaving Denmark three days ago. To me it looks like a scene of carnage upon which a cat has done something disgusting. To my husband, it is a picture of his favourite Danish lunch time foods - rye bread, pickled herring, claggy cheese, rolled pork and remoulade (cauliflower mayonnaise). Home on a sandwich. Beauty for the eyes and the taste buds. Which just goes to show that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

My Danish wanderer then produced a one litre bottle of remoulade (see gross yellow squiggles on sandwich above) that he had bought especially for us, his beloved family. This just goes to show that he doesn't know what's good for him and probably has a screw loose. I was feeling rather hard done-by, until he also pulled six buckets (six!!!) of Haribo sweets from his suitcase. The barn on his parents' Christmas tree farm is used as storage by a Haribo sales rep who kindly tossed these goodies our way.  Bliss! And proof that the sales rep is worth his weight in gold, has his head screwed on the right way and is a right corker

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.   

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


Does a chicken have lips?

Is the pope Catholic?

Of course he is!

Does a bear poo in the forest?


Does a chicken have lips?


I can hear you saying, ‘Don’t be daft! Chickens don’t have lips!’ And before I went to live in Peak Hill at the age of thirteen, I would have agreed with you. I would have explained that chickens have beaks. Beaks are hard and have no soft pouty lip area. Therefore, a chicken does not have lips.

Does a chicken have lips?

No way!

Would you like to be locked in a cage with four hungry tigers?

Does a chicken have lips?

But when I went into Year 9 at Peak Hill Central School, a boy in my class used to say ‘Does a chicken have lips?’ as though it meant ‘Yes!’

If this footy mad lad was asked if he’d be at the local match on the weekend, he’d respond, ‘Does a chicken have lips?’

If a frustrated teacher asked, ‘Do you wish you were at home instead of at school?’ he’d respond, ‘Does a chicken have lips?’

 If I’d have said, ‘Hey! Do you want a meat pie with sauce?’ he’d have roared, ‘Does a chicken have lips?’

Very soon I found myself wondering, ‘Does a chicken have lips?’

Within weeks, I found myself thinking, ‘A chicken must have lips!’

And now, decades later, I’m still confused.

Such is the power of words. We can know something but have our logic brought into question by well-phrased words. It may be that they are spoken with great conviction or raw enthusiasm, as in the case of my Year 9 classmate. They may be sung to a catchy tune or wrapped in the persuasive powers of a large screen advertisement on TV. They may be beautifully written on the pages of a book - raw, emotional, poetic - or flaunted on a homemade placard at a rally. Words change us - who we are, how we think, what we value, what we believe.

So tell me … please ...

Does a chicken have lips???

In Venice, trying to determine whether or not the pigeons have lips.

In Venice, trying to determine whether or not the pigeons have lips.

Make way for the donkey ambulance!

This morning I smiled all the way into town. And not because Myer is having the galaxy’s biggest stock-take sale or because I was eating a box of chocolates.

It was due to the vehicle I was tailing - a fair dinkum donkey ambulance.

Truly ruly!

It was cream with a big red cross and old-fashioned blue writing saying ‘Donkey Ambulance’. What’s not to love?

By the time the donkey ambulance and I had parted ways, I had dreamt up a whole story about a veterinarian (called Dr Betty) who drives around the countryside looking for donkeys in distress. Upon finding ailing donkeys (which are surprisingly common), Dr Betty gives some quick field treatment, then rushes  the grateful creatures back to her donkey hospital in her donkey ambulance, the siren blaring all the way. This story played out in my mind accompanied by Richard Scary illustrations. So cute! It made my day and I am still chuckling that there is a real life donkey ambulance zipping around central Victoria.

This made me realise that so many of the great joys in my day are created by simple sights and small oddities. In the last few days, these things have put a lilt in my step, a song in my heart, a chuckle in my chest:

  • A discussion about rosella jam - it sounds really cruel to native parrots but is really made from a funny little fruit that grows on a rosella bush in my aunt’s backyard. (Truly! Don’t ring the RSPCA!).
  • The sight of my friend dressed as a French onion seller for a party. 
  • Olive’s delight at bringing her favourite dead galah fifty metres closer to home on yesterday’s walk.
  • Seeing a new word - oxter - and thinking it meant something sophisticated when it just means the armpit!
  • A photo of a Mongolian toddler holding a goat.
  • My two year old neighbour calling me a ratbag.

All simple. All delightful. All smile-worthy.

I wonder, what has put a song in your heart today?

Nannestad's Trip 219.jpg

What's in a Name?

I’m not very good at remembering names. It’s a case of in one ear and out the other. I think it stems from the time I lived in Denmark. Names sounded so odd, that I didn’t really know what people were saying when they introduced themselves. It was very confusing.

Was Mette that woman’s name or an upbeat expression of delight at meeting me - sort of like, ‘Mega! Awesome! I'm thrilled to meet you!’?

Were those two men really called Knud and Olaf, or were they grunting with delight at the spectre of the prune tarts and apricot danishes laid out on the coffee table?

Was Dorte that little girl’s name or was she simply introduced as Pernille’s daughter?

And I won’t even begin to explain what went through my head as I met Ditlef, Ulf, Palle, Jytte, Gry and Dagmar. Let’s just say that there was a lot of confusion as to whether I was being introduced, offered food or told to that I had stepped in something nasty on my way through the barn.

I did learn the language and enjoyed being involved in social gatherings, but names continued to confuse me.

It has taken me twenty years, but I have now retrained myself to make a conscious effort to commit names to memory. I do this by making word associations. Here are some examples:

Louise - Thelma and Louise

Peter - Peter, Peter, Pumpkin eater (I say the entire nursery rhyme in my head several times as I walk away)

Montana - Untied States of America

Carsten - Castin’ out my fishin’ line and hopin’ to catch meself sumpin’ for me supper (I imagine saying this with a delightful country accent)

Meg - Nutmeg, spice rack

Gordon - Flash Gordon

Even as I write this, I am impressed by my efforts. But there are drawbacks. I’m sure my face glazes over just after I have met someone, while I string their name together with other words and images in my mind. I probably look disinterested, ill or extremely stupid, none of which are very attractive.

Furthermore, there is the risk that I tap into the wrong part of my word association on next meeting them …

I pass Louise down the street and she gets a cheery and confident, ‘Hi Thelma!’

I sit beside Meg in a meeting and whisper, ‘How you going, Cinnamon?’

Montana serves me at the bank and I say, ‘Thanks for your help, Georgia … I mean Carolina … I mean Virginia.’

Peter’s out in his garden as I walk past. I think, ‘Nursery rhyme!’ In my mind, I start reciting ‘Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner.’ I shout out loud, ‘Lovely day for it, Jack!’

You get the picture.

So now I need to refine my technique, give myself more specific ways to hang a name in the wardrobe of my memory. The moment I meet someone, I probably need to repeat their name out loud, over and over again, write it several times on a piece of paper, then create an entire poem dedicated to that person. I know that will work. But will the owner of the name still be waiting to chat when I am through? I suspect that they will have dashed away to talk to Little Jack Horner who is sitting in the corner, because even though he has atrocious manners and is sticking his thumb in his dessert, at least he is not completely bonkers.

Perhaps we should all wear sweaters with our names across the front ... or name tags in our ears ...

Perhaps we should all wear sweaters with our names across the front ... or name tags in our ears ...

Crocodiles sing 'Amazing Grace'

Call me a big fat nerd, but I love collective nouns - a gaggle of geese, a peep of chickens, a cloud of gnats, a cackle of hyenas, a skulk of foxes. Fabulous! So descriptive.

And how about a smack of jellyfish? Isn’t that exactly the noise that a jellyfish would make if you plonked it down on a marble slab? SMACK! If you tipped a barrel-load of jelly fish onto the floor, you would surely hear SMACK-SMACK-SMACK-SMACK-SMACK!!! It’s probably how you’d feel, too, if you swam into a smack of jellyfish - as though you had been slapped and smacked all over. The stinging, the welts, the pain! Ouchy-wah-wah!

Then we have the bears - it is either a sleuth of bears or a sloth of bears. I like to think that we’d call them a sleuth of bears when they are using their wits to find a bee hive full of honey or a stream full of leaping salmon. We’d call them a sloth of bears when they were hibernating, sleeping beneath their layer of summer blubber, sprawled out on their backs, snoring like a train yard full of locomotives.

But some collective nouns baffle me. An array of hedgehogs conjures up images of red, yellow, blue, purple, even rainbow-coloured critters waddling through the leaf litter. It’s weird and the camouflage issues barely need mentioning. A bed of eels is just too disgusting to think about - gives me nightmares. A clowder of cats sounds too close to a chowder of cats - and who wants soup made from furry felines? And a gang of turkeys just makes me laugh. Turkeys would have to be the silliest animals alive and I just cannot imagine them organising themselves into any sort of gang, let alone posing any threat to peace and safety.

But perhaps the most astonishing of all is a congregation of crocodiles. What a bizarre term! What a crazy image! Imagine crocodiles sitting side by side in the pews at church, dressed in their Sunday best, clutching hymn books, singing ‘Amazing Grace’ at the top of their lungs.  

I’d rather call them a gang of crocodiles - steal it from the turkeys. That seems far more fitting. Picture a dark, narrow alley - graffiti on the walls, damp litter on the ground, power lines sagging dangerously low. A lonely zebra with buck teeth, braces and thick glasses, is walking home from school, hoping and praying to make it through the rough part of town in one piece (I can imagine a congregation of zebras quite easily, by the way). Crocodiles appear from the shadows, step out in front of the zebra. They are all wearing black leather jackets, baseball caps tilted to the side and thick gold chains. Several have pierced nostrils. The gang leader snaps his jaws and says, in a voice low and menacing, ‘Where d’ya think you’re going, Stripes?’  Yes. It should definitely be a gang of crocodiles.

So while I am fiddling with the English language, I might as well try some other newbies. I’d like to introduce these collective nouns and try them for size:

A flubber of frogs

A flit of wrens

A lump of camels

A pest of flies

An intrusion of hippopotamuses (Well it would be if they were to break into your house!)

A stink of goats

A cuddling of puppies

A blabber of bloggers


Any more ideas?

The end ... or just the end of a book?

Completing a book is a strange affair. Now, after writing my eight book (more, if I count the unpublished reams I have written!!), a pattern is emerging…

Phase 1: The Great Sense of Achievement. I like to polish the tarnished text and iron out the plot wobbles as I go along, so generally, by the time my book is done, I am pretty chuffed with what I have written. I don’t know if anyone else will be happy with what I have written, but at that stage, I really don’t care! I’ve had a great time living in the fantasy world of my book and playing with words.

Phase 2: The Niggles. What now? What do I do each morning if I am not going to sit at my desk and slip straight back into my story, frolic with my characters and chuckle at my own puns? I have to keep writing, creating, practising, but I have just closed the door to my latest world.

Phase 3: Keeping Calm. I’m kind to myself ... say it’s okay to take a breather ... let my brain rest.  I find other fascinating things to do with my time. I crochet feral-looking owls and ridiculously elaborate tea cosies.  I bake chocolate cakes the size of army tanks. I prune my garden to within an inch of its life (or beyond ... Whoopsy daisy!). I take my dog Olive for so many walks that she starts to sigh and roll her eyes when I rattle the leash. I catch up on reading - novels, newspapers, magazines, books about writing, books about reading magazines when you should be writing … It’s all fun, but it’s not enough.

Phase 4: Panic. The Niggles from Phase 2 abandon their stealth and start belting me over the head with a frying pan. I should be writing!!! I need to start a new book. I’m not happy unless I am lost in a story for a good part of each day. If anyone asks how my writing is going, I dive into the nearest corner, curl up into a ball and sob. I start planning eleven different plots on six hundred different bits of paper and my desk looks like a recycling centre on a windy day (but messier). Will I ever be able to write another book? How on earth did I manage the last one? HELP!!!!!

Phase 5: The Phew Phase: One of the eleven plots sticks in my mind. I keep thinking of this new world, the characters, the adventures, the words, words, words. I think about it all so much that I have to write it down and soon I am off and running through another imaginary land where I can get lost at 10 am every morning. I am happy again! Joyful! Ecstatic! Fulfilled!

At the moment, I am blundering between Phase 3 and 4. My study is a mess of papers, old exercise books and sticky notes. The dog has been exercised to the fitness level of an Olympic  marathon runner. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat right now as I type this. Will I ever be able to write another book??? Could the last book I wrote really be my - gulp - last???

I need to take three deep breaths and console myself with the fact that I have plenty of chocolate cake in the pantry and a parliament of crocheted owls to keep me company in my despair.

Everything is more fun with animals

Vacuuming makes me laugh. I’m not deranged.  It’s not like I chuckle while dusting or guffaw while washing the dishes. It’s just that every time I vacuum, Olive, my dog, goes completely bonkers. She barks, leaps, growls and bites at the vacuum cleaner in a bizarre display of fear and dog-of-the-house responsibility. It seems that this skinny black whippet is willing to lay her life on the line to protect me from the noisy nasty beasty. And so far she is doing a marvellous job. I haven't come to harm once - although sometimes my tummy aches from laughing so hard.          

Everything is more fun with Olive. A walk down the lane becomes an adventure of smells, sprints, taste testing and grass tunnelling. Two days ago, our walk unearthed an apple, a sausage, a hamburger patty, the perfect stick, a dirty sock and a dead galah. Such bounty! Such ecstasy! (Such dreadful doggy breath!)

With Olive, every homecoming is a celebration  - excited leaps, lavish licks and enough tail wagging to melt the hardest of hearts.  Whether I’m away for five minutes or five days, Olive’s greeting upon my return is filled with the same elation and enthusiasm. She loves me and cannot bear the moments we are apart. That makes me feel special.

If I did not have a sensible husband and a vague idea of socially acceptable behaviour, my house and garden would be full of animals. I can see myself with three dogs (all living inside), chooks nesting in the bookshelves, a gaggle of guinea pigs living free beneath the shrubs in the garden, a peacock or two in the trees, a donkey running around the front yard, nipping visitors on the bottom as they wait at the front door (only the unwanted visitors!) and a spotted pig called Harold. Harold would wander in and out of the house at will, scratching his back on the edge of the coffee table, snuffling through the bins for scraps, eating the dogs’ dinner, chasing the neighbour’s cat if it harassed the guinea pigs …

Hmmm. Everything is more fun with animals. Even daydreaming. I suppose that is why I love reading and writing stories where animals frolic in and out of the pages, adding chaos, whimsy and joy.

Here are my favourite books with animals:

For children (and adults who are young at heart):

Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne

Time Stops for No Mouse, Michael Hoeye

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

For adults:

My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Revolting Rhymes, Roald Dahl


Jolly chums

Just a quick update …

 I have read The Chums of Study Ten and it was a blast. It was also a blast from the past!  Imagine my delight on meeting girls called Olive, Brenda, Diana and Phyllis … the thrill of reading words like perforce, truculently, fraught and quaver. There were tuck-boxes from home containing gingerbread , toffee and plum cake (sounds stodgy but strangely appealing) and a secret message in the form of a puzzle full of tiny bricks. (Hmmmm.  Did The Chums of Study Ten inspire Dan Brown to write the Da Vinci Code???) There was no wardrobe-hiding, but the chums did break into a mysterious house to solve the deep dark mystery. And at the end of all the drama, a good supper was had by all. Simply splendid, hey what?

A world in a word

Words! Words! Words! I love words. I adore words - words that roll off my tongue, words that paint a picture, words that make me laugh. Here are a few of my favourites - furtive, haberdashery, twit, tonsillectomy, pith, pudding. A whole story starts to form in my mind with each of these wonderful words.

Likewise, the name of a book can be jolly exciting.  (Jolly is another favourite word!) Just this week, I purchased two second hand books, solely because of their title - Rex the Rectory Mouse and The Chums of Study Ten. Who wouldn’t want to read about a mouse who lives in a rectory? He’s sure to be poor but cheerful. He may even help the vicar write his sermons. The fact that he is called Rex is just an added delight.

And the boarding school capers that spring to mind at the mention of chums and Study 10 are endless. I’m hoping to read about midnight feasts, pillow fights and a shy, weepy girl called Pip or Ruth, who becomes rather brave and outspoken by the end of the book. There is sure to be a deep, dark mystery which the chums will solve after much hiding in mahogany wardrobes, happening upon secret messages and late-night jaunts through a deserted mansion.  Of course, I could be wrong, but see what a few simple words have done? I am already bursting to read these two tales.

Sometimes, when I am wondering what to write next, I play with titles or character names. A fun name can provide the seed for a whole adventure. A slug called Tony deserves a book of his own, surely. So does a prim teenager named Samantha Appledawn. A clumsy but charming cow  named  Cora Campbell might need a series of books -  Cora Campbell and the Eventful Ramble … Cora Campbell and the Jaunt to Coonamble … Cora Campbell and the Blackberry Bramble.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a story that started with two words - Pig McKenzie.  The name grew into a vain, greedy pig who filled a whole book.  The tale was passed around , talked about and giggled over but failed to find a publisher. Never the less, this despicable swine continued to barge in on my daydreams and wipe his muddy trotters across my computer keyboard from time to time.  Now, Pig McKenzie has shoved his slimy snout right in the middle of my next book, Olive of Groves. His name will be in print by November. He has even muscled his way onto the front cover beside Olive and Mrs Groves. Not bad for a pig who grew out of two little words.

I wonder which words, character names and book titles give you a buzz …