Wednesday, 28 March 2007



I love Stardust. If you haven't read it, read it before the movie comes out, but from the trailer the movie looks like it is going to be amazing.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

back...back on the blog

Not that i've really been away from you, dear readers, have I? I've gone from thinking I wouldn't blog at all while I was in the mountains to blogging almost every day. I also suddenly seem to have a heap more people checking this blog out than ever before...not sure what it is. My sparkling wit? My elusive charm? Accidentally clicked on 'next blog' and have no idea what you're reading?

Either way, welcome, if I haven't met you. Leave me a message if so inclined.

So I'm back from my wild mountain retreat, acclimatising to the warmth and noise of Sydney, and got my first wonderful full night's sleep in a fortnight last night. I also have a nice chunk of manuscript, something that feels vaguely book-like in form, and the determination to finish a full first draft by the time I go back to Varuna in June. I'm a writer! Hurrah!!

Just as an interlude, and an addendum to the earlier post on reading and favourite childhood books, I've scanned in some pages of The World is Round, by Joan Berg Victor (sadly out of print).

I loved this book so much and wanted to have hair like this pic to the left. For a while, all the girls I drew (I rarely drew guys) had piled up hair, and also wore Cinderella type dresses with tight bodices, huge skirts and fancy overlay detailing. Sadly these works of art are also lost to antiquity, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

I must have read this book a gazillion times. It's a wonderful, fairly random kind of book about what makes people different, how we all make different choices about everything in life, and that these choices help us to decide who we are. So here are some insights into what turned me into the person I am today (click on the pics for a bigger, readable version).

What are the books that influenced you as a kid? Ones you remember with fondness? Ones you would read to your kids if you had any? (or ones you read to your kids now?)

Sunday, 25 March 2007

it's the last midnight...

Well not quite midnight. But it's gotten cold and here's how I spent my last evening at Varuna (and the shot wasn't even deliberately set up, I just looked up and thought 'this needs to be captured'):


Saturday, 24 March 2007

drawing to a close

My time at Varuna is rapidly running out. I feel like I have got so much done and yet there's so much more to do! This is a good thing, though, as gaining the momentum and refiring the inspiration has been the most valuable thing I could have gotten out of this past fortnight.

Julie advised not to hang around in Katoomba too long after leaving, as "you feel like you've been shut out of Paradise."

I am planning to go and have one last hot chocolate after I pack up here on Monday, and then return to the Land of Reality. Kate, having been at home for a week, says that "modern life is rubbish", and I think I know what she means. Just thinking about having to buy groceries, and feeding myself and getting back into a good sleep routine and going to the doctor's and thinking about money and work and...

Well I don't have to do that yet. I still have a day and a half before all that comes back.

I will miss:
  • the quiet
  • the night sky bursting with stars
  • sitting in my warm little room, writing while it's cold and rainy outside (it has been cold and rainy on occasion!)
  • having a Room of One's Own (not overrated, I'll tell you that)
  • feeling part of a creative community that understands what I'm doing and supports me in it
  • chats in the kitchen over cups of tea with the other housemates
  • learning about how other people write and how they've gotten to this point in their lives
  • Sheila's magnificent cooking and not having to worry about food
I am looking forward to:
  • my bed
  • my shower
  • having all my things around me
  • catching up with friends
  • getting people to read what I've written so far
  • finding out what happens next

Thursday, 22 March 2007

the elusive mystery of an effective pitch

Groan. Not again.

Yep, boys and girls, I'm starting to feel sick again. I've had it with this stupid body o' mine. Just when it seems to be getting better, I have a downhill slide back into yuck. And it's got nothing to do with going back to work next week; in actual fact, even though part of me doesn't want to leave here, I haven't been at work for so long that I'm keen to catch up with what's happening (not sure how long that keenness will last once I'm back!).

I'll be seeing the doctor when I get home on Monday, so I guess it looks like I'll probably have to get something done about my gallbladder sooner rather than later. But let's not talk about that. Boring stuff that occupied this blog for far too long and no doubt when I actually have the operation I'll bore you with details about that. Something to look forward to!

Back to Varuna.

Because of feeling sick, the writing has been in fits and starts. I have continued with my effective method of writing in a cafe in the morning and then transcribing and expanding on it in the afternoon. Though today I spent most of the afternoon drifting in and out of uncomfortable sleep. But I did write what I thought was an excellent fight scene; it was very cathartic to write my two main characters screaming at each other in the middle of the street. It's also starting to feel really grounded in terms of location, and describing both Singapore and Sydney has been fun. Initially I was afraid of being a bit too specific, but I realised how much I love reading books that are set in places that I know, and seeing that location through the eyes of a writer, so I thought why not do it myself?

I've been cutting and pasting the main beast of the book as well, although it's really not very long at this stage. Even if I fill in all the blanks, I don't think it's going to be a terribly long book, although I may surprise myself. That's okay, it's the quality that matters, right? Every word, hand picked and hand crafted! A superior product of unparalleled excellence.

If only I could tell you what it's about.

It's turning into a story about relationships and friendships, set on a backdrop of two colliding cultures and exploring the space between them ... yes, sounds like I plucked that last bit right out of literary theory, can you tell? Re-reading the original thesis draft of the story, I realised I was in danger of falling into the trap I was so critical of - namely, fetishising and isolating the whole idea of cultural identity. So I've had to revisit what I really wanted to do with the piece, before I got constrained by all the MA requirements.

What I had wanted to explore and describe was the way cultural identity can't be viewed as static, as a museum piece. It's messy, it's ordinary, it's just everyday life. What someone thinks is exotic could be dull as dishwater to the person living it. The other side of that is that the cultural heritage someone takes for granted and, in fact, may even scorn, is still of some value and has its roots deep in the identity of that individual, even if they choose not to recognise it. But as I've been working on it here, I've also been developing the relationships between characters and as such they now have much more satisfying story arcs, where the cultural identity bits are part of the fabric, but not beacons that make you think I'm a one-issue candidate.

As an aside, the key terms I explored in the essay part of my thesis to describe all this were 'ambivalence' and 'complicated entanglements'. The writing of Ien Ang was particularly helpful to me here, especially her book On Not Speaking Chinese, which is a great read, even if you're not into academic writing (for one thing, she doesn't take herself too seriously, which is refreshing).

So yeah, anyway, back to the non-academic real world. The point of all this is I need to a) finish writing the damn book, and b) find a palatable, sound-bite-esque way of describing it so that when swanning around with a glass of champagne in my hand I'll be able to be confident and witty and have people fighting to publish me.

Dahlings! Any ideas welcome! I'll save you a glass of champagne.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

public places

Ate too much at Fresh on Katoomba Street this afternoon. Excellent café, one that is frequented by most of the Varuna residents at one time or another. I had a huge breakfast (for lunch) with really delicious pesto mushrooms, great juice, coffee and chocolate crunch. The guy on the register said, “Did you enjoy your food? Well I guess you would have stopped if you didn’t like it!”

I wrote page after page just sitting there. There is something about the ebb and flow of a public place that inspires me, even if I’m not writing about my direct surrounds. Sometimes when I’m sitting in a quiet room, casting about for inspiration, the pressure is too great and my mind goes blank. But sitting at a table in a corner, scrawling thoughts and fragments and observations, the words just keep coming. Then, by the time I get back to my quiet room and start transcribing the notes into my computer, it can be hard to stop the flow, which is brilliant.

It used to be like that back in the old Glebe days when Heath ran the Blackwattle Canteen at the end of Glebe Point Road. It was at the end of a huge wool store that had been converted into little studios, which housed everything from writers and painters, to ceramicists, to time management consultants, to a woman who created these amazing heads for use in parades and theme parks. Heath would disappear off to work before 6am most days and I’d wander down the hill at a much more respectable time of around 10ish, take up a position somewhere in the café and just write, while Heath or Georgia regularly dropped fresh coffee at my table or sat down to chat. I probably wasn’t much favoured by the rest of the staff, but it was definitely one of my favourite places. What a shame it had to be demolished for someone’s financial gain. There are plenty of luxury apartments around, but there certainly aren’t enough pockets of creativity left in Sydney anymore.

That’s why somewhere like Varuna and, indeed, some parts of the Blue Mountains are so valuable. In amongst all the tourists and the buses disgorging more tourists, you can find peaceful spots, little nooks and crannies, friendly cafes where you can write for an afternoon undisturbed. I tell people I’m up here writing and they beam, and when I mention Varuna they nod in recognition and wish me luck.

I must say, though, I’m getting a little bit homesick. I love my little room, and seem to be able to catnap during the day, but have found it really hard to sleep here. When I drifted off last night I had this really bizarre, disjointed dream about leaving here and returning home and things being slightly different and unsettling, and then when I woke up I had no idea where I was. I’m missing having a decent shower – boy I hate the shower here. I’m also still feeling a little unwell, perhaps the lack of sleep and the residual yuck from the liver infection, and the weather is a little warm and muggy, even though it looks like it should be cold and rainy by the colour of the sky.

(I think I find February/March a hard time to cope with because I am well and truly sick of being hot, and it feels like it should be getting cooler but it doesn’t. You’re teased with one or two crisp days and then there will suddenly be a 29-degree humidity-fest. I want a really good thunderstorm. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?)

But I’m not complaining! Honest. I am grateful that I was chosen to come here. Every time I think about it I am amazed.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

marking time

...not marking time in the sense that I’m waiting for something to happen, but marking this time. I feel like everything is slowly changing for the better, that I’m launching into a bright new phase of life; it won’t be without its difficulties, but all the same I’ll be fulfilling long-held dreams and scaling what seemed like impossible mountains (Jake tells me there are no impossible mountains).

To that end, perhaps a little frivolously and certainly unintentionally (in that I wasn’t thinking I’d buy one when I left the house this afternoon), I went out and bought a charm bracelet today. Not just any charm bracelet, mind you, but a gorgeous Pandora charm bracelet. No, I’m not about to unleash all the evils of the world onto an unsuspecting public, but I just couldn’t stop looking at these delightful things and decided that I would Mark This Time.

So I bought three of these satisfyingly heavy and chunky charms – a little bead with a cross, anchor and heart to represent faith, hope and love; a little house that’s probably actually a church or something (it has a clock tower), but was the closest thing to Varuna I could find; and a fat little turtle with a big smile on his face, because slow and steady wins the race!

I have done some very satisfying writing last night and today, fun flashback scenes and character development. I also drew a timeline on my whiteboard that has been really helpful in seeing where characters’ lives intersect and making sure I don’t have any continuity problems. I’m actually enjoying this! Who would have thought, a couple of years ago, that I would ever enjoy this story again?

Monday, 19 March 2007


Kate left today, but Julie somehow mysteriously got to stay another week. This is great, less change for me, and she's a fun character. We did a reading last night, Kate, Julie and I, sitting around the fire with a glass of wine. It was so interesting to see how we're all working on such completely different things, and yet this place has just brought out the inspiration in us. They liked my stuff, which was a relief (I always feel a little nervous about sharing it with other writers), and gave me lots of good ideas with all their questions and "I want to know what happens with that" and "describe that section for me". This morning I have gotten some great writing done, stuff that just flowed. I can't tell you what a wonderful feeling that is.

I went to a chocolate shop this morning (Jen, I finally went!), had a scrummy hot chocolate (kind of like max brenner's) and bought some chilli chocolates, which I love. Then walked down to Echo Point to look at Megalong Valley but of course there were a million tourists there so not really that picturesque or atmospheric. It's amazing to go down there in autumn at dusk, when almost everyone else is gone, the air is really cold and crisp, and the fog starts to roll in.

I can feel that this week a lot of good stuff is going to happen. It's taken a little while to settle in here, and I'm still not sleeping properly, but the words are coming more easily now, and the ideas are starting to gel instead of banging around in my head with nothing to anchor them. The characters have come alive again. Not that they were ever dead, as such, but I kind of forgot who they were, and all their little quirks and idiosyncracies. It's nice to get to know them again and also to have so much more space in this novel (than when it was a 20,000 word thesis) so I can explore tangents if I want instead of having to sum up a whole childhood in three lines.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

tempus fugit

my but a week goes quickly up here. There's going to be a changing of the guard tomorrow, which is a little nerve-wracking because I've gotten to enjoy the company of the lovely Kate and Julie and Tegan, but Beth will still be here and as Kate said, "Last week I was sad that Alison was going and a new person was coming, but came!"

I haven't done much for the last couple of days, and the writing that I have done has been a little intense and made me cry, so I stopped rather than indulge that too much. Mum came up yesterday and we spent a lovely day together, having high tea and talking, driving down to the Megalong Valley, and then wandering around Katoomba until her train came. It's so funny that we are in such close contact all the time and see each other a lot, yet when we go a week without seeing one another it feels so strange and we don't want to part. I have had many people question my relationship with my mother and say that perhaps there is something odd about us being so close, but I put it down to jealousy, or a lack of closeness with their own parental unit. I wouldn't change it for the world.

All together now: "Awww."

Also I got a haircut and bought the best hat and mum says I look like something out of Milly Molly Mandy. The hat is not like the one in this pic, but I couldn't find anything closer (also I have included the pic of MMM and Little Friend Susan at the bottom just because their see-sawing looks like such a joyous affair). Also I don't think I have quite as cute legs as MMM.

I am off now to church at St Hilda's Katoomba, and then am going to get down to some serious work this afternoon. I am determined.

Friday, 16 March 2007

oh before i go...

if you ever find a book by the brilliant cartoonist Judy Horacek called Lost in Space, buy it. It is so funny. I haven't laughed out loud like that for ages. It's all a rambly stream of consciousness type book, punctuated with her very funny cartoons, and although it's not the funniest excerpt by far, I loved this bit because I have often thought the same (and it's vaguely linked to books so that's my segue from writing to this to...oh so there's no link. fine.):

When you get a new bookcase, there is a brief point in the time-space continuum where there is a place for every single one of your books. The state of order and harmony thus achieved lasts for a maximum of 48 hours, after which, mysteriously, there are once again more books than space on the shelves, even though to the best of your knowledge no new books have entered the house. Freeways are the same, except the time from the opening of the new freeway to the time when the traffic no longer flows freely and starts to bank up again is about twenty minutes. There is one major difference in that I don't think you can ever have too many books or bookcases to keep them in, but I'm pretty sure there are already too many freeways and parking places. I try hard not to use the new ones.

Judy Horacek, Lost in Space p92

also two whole chapters about not being scared of spiders but being unable to sleep in the same room as them...could have been me. :)

okay I'm really going to write now. Promise.

the procrastinatrix

housekeeping update:
  • the scary crotch-height mirror in the downstairs bathroom has disappeared
  • the 'extra frilly bits' lamp in the dining room has also disappeared
  • and yes, the silk poppies have disappeared
writing update:
  • think I need to nail my feet to the floor - find it very easy to just go wandering when i should be writing. am told this is all part of the process (the wandering, not the foot-nailing).
  • tried to work at night last night instead, but ended up procrastinating by creating a playlist on itunes of all the music I thought would get me in the mood and once I'd done that told myself I was too tired and had to go to bed.
  • have been reading heaps, not sleeping much, lying awake with all sorts of ideas and thoughts floating through my head yet when i get up to write them they evaporate.
  • but today is a deliciously windy grey day so I think I shall be motivated to stay put in my little room with my heater and candle and lollies. It's way too tempting to procrastinate when the weather is as glorious as it has been for the last couple of days.
Another thing I am greatly enjoying is the night sky here. I go outside with a cup of tea (and sometimes a cigarette...eep) and just stare up at the milky way. It is so beautiful.

Tonight is the weekly drinks with local writerly types. No one's ever sure who's going to turn up, but Peter told me a lovely woman from Allen and Unwin will be here and I am to tell her that I'm working on a "fabulous book - she is a good person to know". Double eep! That's exciting and a little scary at the same time. I've been thinking today I need to think of a way to describe my book that doesn't sound as vague as it has done every time anyone's asked me about it. It's more interesting than just being about "Asian-Australian identity", although apparently that's interesting in itself. I don't want it to be a niche genre book but I just want it to be...out there. It's not chick-lit, but it's not heavy literary fiction. I don't know what to compare it to.

And then after that the others in the house have been invited to represent Varuna at a dinner, so they're going off and then the Baddeleys are coming to visit for dinner! This is very exciting; I wasn't much looking forward to being in this big rambly house all on my own. So maybe I'll light a fire in the library and we can sit in there for dinner.

Now I need to go and write. I just want to go back to sleep.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

the great Varuna furniture controversy of 2007

Ah the joys of living in community.

Varuna is the most wonderful place, but is not without its quirks and politics. The house has been kept more or less the same as when Eleanor Dark lived here, with mostly the same furniture and fittings and pictures. There are a few mod cons of course (sadly not in the bathroom/plumbing areas, but there is central heating which is a blessing), but generally it's got the feel of a lovely old, well lived-in place.

When I arrived here on Monday I was shown the general direction of the kitchen but told "Oh Nicole the new housekeeper is in there, so we won't go in just now." For the rest of the afternoon I heard a lot of curious bangs and bumps coming from downstairs but as I was still settling in I didn't think too much of it.

However, I did not realise that the beginnings of a huge controversy were underway.

Nicole the new housekeeper has apparently been given a brief to spruce up the place a bit. Never having been here before, I didn't know what things used to look like, and it all looks fine to me. But when Julie returned for her second week after one night away, I realised this was a lot more serious than I'd thought. She shrieked at every turn and said, "I go away for one day and look what happens!"

The changes in the house have been the hot topic of conversation at dinner every single night. Why did she move the fridge? Why did she take the table out of the living room? What's with the frilly cushions in the bedrooms and the rose shaped soap? Why is there a tea-cosy thing on the toaster?

Of everyone, Julie is most incensed about this, maybe because she's been coming to Varuna for the last three years so knows well how it's always been. "It's just like living in a share house with a particularly passive-aggressive flatmate who just moves things around without consulting anyone and leaves notes in the fridge saying things like 'whoever took my banana had better replace it'. It's not a bloody late-Victorian B&B for goodness' sake! I don't want frilly pillows!"

The housekeeper is only in once a week, on Mondays. So in a similarly passive-aggressive reaction to all this, things are gradually being moved back the way they were, and I'm not sure who is actually doing it. Every time i walk into the kitchen the fridge is in a different place. The round table has been returned to its rightful position in the living room, leaving a huge void in the middle of the kitchen (which, like my kitchen at home has very little bench space and so nowhere to put things, which I suspect was Nicole the new housekeeper's original motive for moving the table). The dining table was turned back 90 degrees to the way it was before. The vase of silk poppies is still on the sideboard, but I wouldn't be surprised if they disappear soon too.

Mutiny is afoot!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

two paths diverged in a wood...

Today is a complete contrast from yesterday. Blazing blue sky, lots of warm sun, and a feeling like all I want to do is lie around and read (which is perfectly allowed of course). Despite that, I'm feeling really positive about the work, and have managed to write a few thousand words already in three or four different scenes that I had no idea were going to be part of the story.

That might sound a bit weird, but it's funny - I haven't been able to see a way forward with this work for the last three years, and suddenly all these paths have opened up. The thing that is quite amusing about the particular path I am on at the moment is that it's one my supervisor brought up and I shot down in flames almost as soon as he said it. I don't want to admit he was right (I never will!), but perhaps I need to admit you can never close off doors in a story. You just don't know what will happen.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

the idyllic writer's life

I am not living in an abbey after all. There is internet access! So you’ll be treated to my diary posts whenever I think to upload them…probably a little more rambly than the usual blog posts, but I’m in the mood. Let me describe this place to you.

So here I am at Varuna. All set up in my little room and my little study. It’s a big old house, with lots of windows so you can see this beautiful aspect of green and trees from every room. Because it is so quiet and the house is so old, you can hear everything, so I’m conscious of making any noise! But it makes such a difference to being at home, with the sounds of Anzac Parade always in the background and the teacher at the school across the road yelling into her megaphone, “this is the last toiiiilet call. Year two line up noooow.”

Out of the window directly in front of me is a lush green tree, with a little red autumn foliage on it. I have no idea which trees are which, but it’s a very pleasant aspect. To my right is another window with much taller trees across a clearing, down where my car is parked. It is so calm and so quiet. It’s just lovely.

This study is called the ‘sewing room’ and it’s a bit spartan, but I guess that’s a good thing as there are no distractions. There’s a white board down one end and a little armchair with a lap quilt on it, for reading in I guess. My bedroom is called the ‘green room’, which is odd as there is no green in it. The quilt on the bed is full of reds and pinks, likewise the small pictures on the walls. It’s a narrow room with wooden furniture, another desk and another armchair. Vera said I could choose where I wanted to work, but there’s more space in the sewing room and I feel like it would be better to work in a separate space to where I sleep or I might go nuts, being cooped up in there all the time.

It is absolutely perfect writing weather today. Cool and grey and rainy. I slept a little too long I thought, till 9.45, but honestly, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Nobody cares! In fact, it’s encouraged to do things at your own pace, to let yourself unspool a little, to just take the work as it comes – and from all accounts, it comes in gushes – but most of all, just to be a writer and not to feel like you’re constrained by the normal routines and timetables of life.

I’ve just shrunk the clock on my computer so I can’t see it and am not conscious of time. I love that. The only thing we need to be aware of is dinner time, around 7.00, but once it gets dark you start to feel like it’s time for a break and to ferret other people out (and the dinner is wonderful, delivered by this absolute character of a woman called Sheila, who when she met me threw open her arms and gave me a big kiss and hug).

Last night we had drinks in the library/sitting room (so many wonderful books). Peter Bishop is the creative director here, and he is a relaxed looking, warm and approachable sort of man, who obviously loves writers and writing and knows so much. It’s a measure of my low self-esteem that I expect the worst and expect no one to have ever heard of me, or to notice me. But this was like a complete reversal of that – we sat down, just the two of us, and chatted over a glass of wine, and he told me how much he liked my book-in-progress and even quoted specific passages that he liked. I was blown away! Not only that, but he had remembered that I had been shortlisted for a place here sometime in the 90s with a short story I submitted to the HQ short story competition. What an amazing memory! I mean, no doubt he looked over my stuff before I arrived and all, but still. He said he liked the loose bagginess of my work, liked the fact that it wasn’t tight and over-structured and to continue to aim for that feel. I’m not really sure what that feel is, so I guess I’ll just keep going as I’ve been going and try not to be too conscious of it.

Even better though, when I said I didn’t know what the next steps were and how to get the book out there once it was finished, he said “Oh don’t worry about that. We’ll talk about that later” and basically said there is a market for my book, he thinks it will do well, and publishers take more notice of things that come from Varuna because “we only have good writers here”.

Woo hoo!

Kate Holden was the only other writer here last night. There are two other writers here at the moment, Beth Norling and Tegan Bennet Daylight, but they both live locally so weren’t around for drinks and dinner. And there was one other woman supposed to be here who hadn’t confirmed her place and then it turned out she couldn’t make it after all. So they have got another woman, Julie, who has been here for the last two weeks and was desperate to stay another week, and she’s coming back for this week, which is nice.

Kate is lovely, and we chatted easily just the two of us over dinner. I saw her book in the library and it looks fascinating, a memoir of ‘a life on the streets’, dealing with prostitution and heroin and all of that. I’d love to read it, but I don’t know if it’s a bit confronting reading such a personal thing when the person herself is staying a few doors down from you. So I might buy it and read it when I go home.

Now after all that, the question is, what am I actually going to write? I definitely feel as though the impetus is there, this place has some sort of ‘spell’. I guess it’s been set up specifically for this purpose, so it ought to feel conducive to writing. But it’s amazing how much more I feel like doing it, than when I’m at home, with all my distractions around me. I felt like I wanted to start as soon as I got here, so I’ve been reading over all the bits and pieces of this book I’ve got stashed on my hard drive, and I’ve started putting notes and things on the whiteboard in my room. Little threads of possibility keep poking out in my head. So I just need to grab one and start working on it.

Monday, 12 March 2007

and i'm off

i wasted a bit too much time this morning watching gilmore girls when i should have been packing, and now i'm really tired from running around trying to make sure i've got everything. but i think i'm sorted now. still feeling quite exhausted generally, but the headaches and nausea have almost gone which is just wonderful.

so i'm off! off to the wild frontier of fiction writing. this means there will probably be very little blogging (as i won't have ready access to the internet...for my own good), unless i crack and go to an internet cafe. hey, blogging's still writing, it's all totally legit. :)

so have a great two weeks! shall write when i return!

(sorry'll have to do without your fix for a while!)

Saturday, 10 March 2007

getting better and going

blogger just ate my post so i'll have to try and remember what i was rambling about.

i'm feeling better today than i have for about three weeks, which isn't saying much considering how i've been feeling, but it is a step forward. i guess the antibiotics must be doing their magic and hopefully my poor old liver is getting better and my gallbladder has decided to behave itself for the time being. i'm still very washed out and tire very very quickly, but i did manage to get into work for a few hours yesterday so that feel like a big bonus.

and just in time, too, because in less than two days i'm off for two weeks to varuna (pictured left) for my writing fellowship retreat! i'm getting really excited now and wrapping my head around a) the fact that i won it at all, and b) that even if i don't produce a book at the end of it, this is a major step in my development as a writer.

jen has expressed concern that it sounds a little monastic - lots of time spent alone, yet in this kind of isolated community, no phone calls before six because it disturbs the other writers, no internet, write, damn you, write! stop procrastinating! (i wonder if modern day monks have internet access...what was i saying?) - but she's going to visit me towards the end of the week and we're going to go and have hot chocolate so that's some company to look forward to.

i just hope the words come. i'm sure some words will come. they may not be the ones i was expecting.

a sort of postscript:
the latest Salt magazine came out this week (this is the magazine i edit and basically the best bit of my job). this issue is all about prayer and has some great articles in it.

if you're not a subscriber you can sign up and we will send it to you for free! just send an email saying you'd like to subscribe (include your postal address) to publications [at] and in my absence some lovely people will send you a copy, posthaste.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

the devil's in the detail

jake didn't know what i was talking about so looked up cholangitis in an online medical encyclopedia, and i must say it seems the clearest and most straightforward description that i've read so far.

the thing that has started to piss me off though, is realising just how long some of these symptoms have been a factor in my life. especially where it says abdominal pain "may radiate to the back or below the right shoulder blade". i have had almost excruciating pain in my back and, yes, below the right shoulder blade on and off for years - since the last time i went to malaysia, in fact, when i started getting horrible stomach cramps and this severe pain in my right arm. the doctor told me it was just 'referred' pain. but it was even a while after that before i was first diagnosed with all the gall stones.

i tell you, the 'below the right shoulder blade' pain is awful. it is so distracting, you can't sleep, it's hard to work, it just...well, radiates is a good word. it feels like there is something about the size of a screwdriver handle wedged behind your shoulder blade and it's surrounded by this sort of nimbus of pain. and all this time, i have been unable to do anything about it, and it might have been my gall bladder all along.

bah. i do trust my doctor (usually) and i know it's impossible for GPs to catch everything all the time, but....BAH!!!! i guess i'm just glad he was so busy in recent times that i had to see his colleague instead, because she did catch it. who knows? maybe if i do have to have surgery it will solve many of my ongoing medical problems that to this point have seemed incurable.

and today i am feeling absolutely revolting. just thought i'd let you know. :)

Wednesday, 7 March 2007


i've emailed some of you this information in one form or another but couldn't be bothered working out how to say it again, so i've just cut and pasted (sorry!).

i had my ultrasound this morning, with lots of cold goo and someone prodding and poking my abdomen. it's never a good sign when, as soon as they put the imaging thing on your abdomen, the lab technician goes 'whoa'. she said that I had an unbelievable number of gall stones for someone so young - just lucky I guess. she had no idea what 'cholangitis' was ("we had to look it up in the book"), so i'm guessing it's not really your run-of-the-mill kind of condition. she did say that the gall bladder doesn't look inflamed, so i guess that's a good thing. she also said "I must say, you've got a really good attitude about it all" which makes me wonder whether i should be freaking out more. i choose not to.

the doctor also rang and said my latest blood test shows an improvement, so it looks like we're on the right track. hurrah! I am starting to feel a bit better so I think the antibiotics are helping, but I'm still pretty out of it. I have maybe a couple of 'good' hours, and then need to lie down again. i honestly thought i would be well enough to be at work this week, but the week's almost over and it doesn't look like i'm going to get there...

Monday, 5 March 2007

too much information?

so. went to the doctor again today. first things first - i don't have hepatitis or glandular fever! hurrah!


remember a while back when it was discovered that i had many, many gallstones but the doctor said not to worry about it, we'd worry when it actually caused problems? well it seems that now may be that problem-causing time. the doctor i saw today (not my usual doctor) said she wasn't sure because the symptoms i've got are not completely consistent with this, but given my history i may have something which is delightfully called 'grumbling cholangitis', which is something to do with bile duct blockages and gall stones and other palatable topics. this may have resulted in an infection in my liver, which would explain why i've felt so rotten for the last two weeks.

so i had more blood taken, she's put me on antibiotics for the infection, and i'm off to have an abdominal ultrasound on wednesday. if her diagnosis proves to be correct, the likely end result is that i will have to have surgery to have my gall bladder removed. which will then probably mean no more rich food, no more alcohol, and, now that i think about it, probably a great weight loss as a result.

hey! i'm trying to find an upside here! i started trying to read up on it on the net and got depressed very quickly when i saw phrases in the google search like 'life-threatening', 'bowel cancer' and 'cholangitis in cats' (okay that last one just made me laugh, but still). admittedly that is for acute cases, so i'm glad mine is only 'grumbling' (how typical of me!).

so thank you for your prayers...but don't stop now... :)

Sunday, 4 March 2007

one step forward...? nah.

i felt like i really needed to be at church this morning. i just wanted to be there, to hear from God's word, to see friends, to just be spiritually fed. it took all my energy to get ready and i headed down the hill, but almost as soon as i got there i knew i'd have to leave early. it's a hot and muggy sort of a day, and the air inside that church is still and stuffy and oppressive.
i ran into emma and stu as i was coming in and talking to them was almost too difficult. while singing i felt like i was going to faint, and then (how rude of me) as dave got up to preach i had to leave.

so now i'm lying back on my bed, with a fan and a very noisy portable air conditioner blowing at me, my head pounding. how awful, that i can't even make it through a church service, where nothing is required of me but to listen!

oh well. little steps i guess. i can read my Bible while i lie here and try not to feel too defeated.

Friday, 2 March 2007


I got two lots of flowers delivered yesterday. a bunch of bright, cheerful lilies and gerberas from the equip committee, and a box of beautiful singapore orchids, which my boss delivered himself (although he didn't ring the doorbell, he just left them outside and then rang me to tell me they were there, but it was still such a wonderful surprise).

i said to my flatmate, "wow. i must be really sick!"

all joking aside, it is really lovely to know that people are thinking of you, but even better to know that they are praying for your recovery. i don't know what the reason is, but i know God's got it all under control, and me being sick is part of his purpose. i don't feel bitter about that. it would be nice if the nausea would stop, but hey - i am so lucky that i have a workplace that is sympathetic and that will cope with me being away for so long. i am lucky that i have so many people praying for me and offering to do things for me. i am lucky i have books to read and my computer to play on and DVDs to watch to stave off the boredom.

maybe lucky isn't the right word. maybe blessed is a better word.

but being well again...that would be great. so keep praying for me!