Annie Proulx on receiving the National Book Award for 2017.


Here’s Annie’s acceptance speech and a gorgeous poem she quoted: Dare I say – this is why we write and shows the importance of positive stories….

Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…
I thank the National Book Award Foundation, the committees, and the judges for this medal. I was surprised when I learned of it and I’m grateful and honored to receive it and to be here tonight, and I thank my editor Nan Graham, for it is her medal too.

We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures. We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.

To me the most distressing circumstance of the new order is the accelerating destruction of the natural world and the dreadful belief that only the human species has the inalienable right to life and God-given permission to take anything it wants from nature, whether mountaintops, wetlands or oil. The ferocious business of stripping the earth of its flora and fauna, of drowning the land in pesticides again may have brought us to a place where no technology can save us. I personally have found an amelioration in becoming involved in citizen science projects. This is something everyone can do. Every state has marvelous projects of all kinds, from working with fish, with plants, with landscapes, with shore erosions, with water situations.

Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such outmoded notions as truth, respect for others, personal honor, justice, equitable sharing. We still hope for a happy ending. We still believe that we can save ourselves and our damaged earth—an indescribably difficult task as we discover that the web of life is far more mysteriously complex than we thought and subtly entangled with factors that we cannot even recognize. But we keep on trying, because there’s nothing else to do.

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on.

The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.”

They say he read novels to relax,
but only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If he happened on something like that,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’s had enough with dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggle to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction,
with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurried to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly in the last.






Name a book that inspired you to travel to the setting location….

A while back I read a great blog post by Rachael Johns who travelled to Bent, Oregon, USA, to research a novel series she’s working on. She asked followers to tell her about a book that inspired the travel bug… Here’s my response to her…

I’m delighted to share my book of travel inspiration – yet to be realised mind you. At the age of 10, just before WW2, Gerald Durrell and his crazy family went to live on the Greek Isle of Corfu. They spent five years there and had wonderful and curious relationships with the locals. Gerald, born to be a Naturalist, would spend his days avoiding the family, by going off on nature and wildlife adventures in a little row boat to drop into villages along the shores and head up into the hills. He had the most wonderful encounters with local olive and grape growers and fishing families, all adoring his visits, some providing a second home for the lucky boy, plying him with all kinds of food and treats. So, “My Family and Other Animals” captured my heart and mind from about the same age Gerald was while in Greece and Corfu – around 12. It fostered my love of books, animals, other cultures and places far far away….

Do you have a special book that inspired you to travel or visit a particular setting location?

I’ve got an historical fiction novel in my heart, which will require a visit to the Kew Gardens, located in South West London. I recently discovered that 72% of my ancestry is from South Western England, Scotland and Ireland. Oh and Scandinavia came in at a surprising 14%. While I’m in the Northern Hemisphere it could all  make for good family research and who knows, inspire yet another book or two. One day…

Jay xxx

Looking back to find the picture in the picture…

So yesterday I worked at the library – but because I don’t start till after 10, I quickly roughed out a piece of my plot I needed to research and fill. There could be an entire book from this one piece: an English WW1 orphan is sent to Australia as a 3yo and is quietly adopted by a distant relative in a small town (and never told). She was my main character’s mother, and will never understand why she didn’t fit into that family, or the world, really….
QUESTION: why do I write my stories backwards? I killed her off months ago, (well, she killed herself actually), and here is a great ah ha moment. So many ideas come from looking back!

Now talking of looking back and finding another picture in a picture… how about this… in August I visited my sister in Brisbane and looking at an old family photo she had framed. She’d told the framer to crop the photo to suit and he said, “I didn’t want to crop it, I couldn’t take out that lady in the corner….”


I looked, and looked.  “Huh?”


Hello Mum. You made me cry that day.

Short and bitter-sweet…

21764851_1531504716906887_632268119352508245_nSOMETHING FOR NOTHING AKA THE DAYS OF LIBERATION

When my father died in May, 2016, an enormous chasm opened up in my life. I’d been his Power of Attorney, daughter, friend, co-conspirator, travel companion and problem solver as Alzheimer’s stole his life and mine had changed forever. The following week I signed up for a BA in Creative Writing and in week one in my first unit, my task was to write 100 words on ‘Who Are You?’ for the discussion board.  I didn’t really know the answer, so I wrote about how I’d just lost my father and to fill the hole in my life, began studying to look after myself: to step away from being the go-to girl for everyone else – the survivor who realised she’d lost herself along the way.  I later described this as “the big re-write of my life.”

For a second unit, Writing the Short Story, I wrote about losing Dad for a major assignment. I used first person POV – out of the ordinary for me – in a contemporary, chronological style, with occasional flashbacks and changes from present to past tense to add meaning and context.  I used informal sentence structure in places – short, and choppy; angry tones evoked by words like garbage, shout, slap, knots and pain. I found this liberating and emotive and this story did, in a way, form itself. I didn’t try to apply a creative formula, or plot structure, yet black garbage bags filled with Dad’s clothes became a theme – an emblem of my grief.

My words changed organically: “dad’s/his clothes” became “the clothes” as I felt more detached, and then, more hopeful toward the ending. Soft imagery of grand things: a mountain, the sun, stars, and clouds; soothing gardens, water, flowers, love, pink and white; liberation in scattering, and freedom – painted a sense of promise and resolution.

My continued learning gives me pause to think about finding meaning with colours, language, style and structure. I enjoyed expressing this in text format:                           using Nine ohhh for 90 (his age), and words like SLAP in capitals.

Economy of words also adds impact, and short form writing has become a journey into myself when seeking just one or two words to convey what would normally require a sentence, a paragraph, or more.

I wrote the bones of the story in a café – a public place where I thought I’d feel strong while writing these private words of affront and devastation. I wanted to feel distant from my feelings, like a reader might feel. I also used a different writing tool while away from my desk: a beautiful old Sheaffer fountain pen, an award Dad had received on his retirement – 14k gold nib and all. This symbol was not lost on me – I wrote that he was as good as gold, and the pouring of black ink onto the page gave me a sense of writing through my grief, of bleeding onto the pages.

In July, 2017, I rewrote this story into a short 500 word entry for the annual Hunter Writers Centre Grieve Competition. I was chosen as a finalist, and have a complimentary copy of the published anthology sitting before me, in pride of place on my desk as I type. It is a book to be consumed in small doses, yet much time is needed to hear the voices of the living and those who are no longer here, but are enlivened on the pages inside.

This quote by Allende, (2013, p. 4) sings to me:

“Every story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumour, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.” 

I’ve written from that same place: to deal with that tumour.

Allende, I. 2013, ‘Why I write’, in M Maran (ed.), Why We Write: 20 acclaimed            authors on how and why they do what they do, Penguin Group, New York, p. 4


A press release to inspire… (Or: They Don’t Have Fires Like They Used To)

I recently came across this old newspaper article in Pioneers Victoria (a public Facebook group administered by Anne Therese Courtney) and became engrossed in the story – not so much for the subject of a major loss to the people of SANDRIDGE, but for the stunning depiction of the event recorded by a nameless journalist. (Especially in paras 2 & 3.)

I’d like to think they went on to create stories in book form somewhere back in time… and am going to try to discover who crafted this powerful account.


Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 12 June 1875
The Sugar Works at Sandridge were discovered to be on fire at about half-past one o’clock on Tuesday morning last, and the destructive element obtained such a hold on the inflammable material within, that damage to the extent of between £30,000 and £40,000 was done before the fire was got under. The fire originated in a room used for storing loaf sugar, in a blue stone building of five stories. Rapidly extending through the several floors of the building the flames shot through the windows and roof, threatening the tall bluestone refining tower only a short distance away. The local and metropolitan brigades, who were promptly on the spot, directed their energies to endeavouring to save the tower, but in vain.

Every now and then, enormous tongues of fire belched out from the burning mass adjoining and shot as high as the roof of the tower, licking the tall structure and leaving small patches of flame on the windowsills and roof. The firemen did their best to extinguish these dangerous spots, but as the flames which seemed living, and possessed of an intelligent and malignant desire to embrace the tower in their fiery folds shot up time after time, climbing higher, and hugging the structure closer, they gradually began to get a hold of the building through the windows and the roof of wood and lead, until at last the defeated firemen, who were struggling gamely against the scorching heat and falling flakes, saw that the upper part of the tower was on fire and burning fiercely. The flames at the top were practically out of reach of the water, and uniting with those below, the whole place seemed sheathed in a case of leaping fire.

At this time the scene is described as very grand. The whole building apparently blazing like a colossal beacon, shed a lurid glare over the whole of Sandridge and the shipping, turning the waters of the bay and the lagoon to a blood red colour, while high overhead streamed a vast broad banner of flying sparks and of flakes of flame, now shining bright and clear, and anon obscured into the semblance of a gigantic floating wreath of smoke, bespangled with blazing stars. The spectacle, though grand to look upon, boded danger in more quarters than one, and it was greatly feared that some of the numerous wooden buildings in the town would be ignited by the falling flakes of burning material.

The efforts of the firemen and a large body of volunteers prevented the fire extending outside the Sugar Works premises, however, and were also successful in confining the raging element to the tower and adjacent bluestone building. The tall shaft remains uninsured and the buildings in which a large quantity of sugar was stored were also saved. It is roughly estimated that damages from £30,000 to £40,000 has been done, the insurance amounting to £29,500.

Photo of Victoria Sugar Works fire, 8 June 1875 – State Library Victoria.

Meet my friends…

This morning I asked the ever willing Siri to set a me timer for a quick writing sprint of 20 mins before relieving at the library for Children’s Book Week. 525 words. Bang. It’s amazing what you can jam in with just a pencil and a piece of paper. If I’d gotten my MacBook out, I’d have fluffed around with files and then (if I didn’t get distracted altogether) would have fiddled and only written half the words by back spacing and editing as I go.

I’m about to go and watch another Scrivener tutorial and am seriously thinking about sticking to my pen and paper method (so portable – even in bed or on the run). THEN I can transcribe it into Scrivener when I want. The only flaw in this method is the worry of no backup for the notebook is really possible. I guess that means I should type them up fairly regularly. This way those notebooks can become the back up of my backups! 🤷🏼‍♀️

I have this image of beautifully inked notebooks packed with my jottings tied up in neat bundles. Time to get out my favourites – each one gives my hand a different style. Meet Sheaffer, Parker, and Rosetta.890F65CC-AD44-467D-8535-63993241B6A1.jpg