On Finding One’s Feet

The last three months, while nothing compared to the two years it took to feel even moderately happy in London, have been choppy. Within a fortnight of getting to Bris Vegas I found a part-time job as a research assistant for a not-for-profit organisation, which is enough to keep my head above water while I write. As I expected it’s been difficult to manage the disparity between my taste for luxury and the reality of being a povo writer but, as I keep telling myself, it’s only temporary. It was also a shock to come back and find my friends firmly ensconced in bourgeois coupledom. After all, there is a reason why people go to London, and it’s not to settle down and have sprogs. However, I am adjusting, even to the chaos of my sister’s house with Niece and Nephew and Dog and Puppy. I even confess to being very fond of latter (though he has been banned from my room in case he eats my shoes) because he is fluffy and fun to annoy. I don’t, however, appreciate his enthusiasm for humping soft toys.

My stuff arrived from England last week and now my room is full of girly pink crap again. It is a little cramped but it has finally dispelled the nightmarish feeling that I will have to pack up and head back to London at any moment. Better still, my beloved Pashley Princess bicycle also arrived, so now I can ride along the river and ping my bell at the tourists.

I’ve joined the local library and am catching up on the Australian literature I haven’t had time to read for the last four years. I read Gail Jones’ Dreams of Speaking on the plane on the way home, which, having left H behind, was poignant with its descriptions of brothers and sisters. I consumed Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones which was an intricate and clever book, gentle in tone until the end, which came as an unpleasant shock. I will never get used to the brutality of which men are capable.

I skim read Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant which was very disappointing. Andrew Rimmer referred to the ‘restraint’ of her style in his review in the Sydney Morning Herald, but I think the term ‘blandness’ more accurate. While the work had some wonderful lines, such as ‘[the governor] favoured him with one of his squeezed smiles’ (p. 99), the concepts were unoriginal and it would have been richer as a short story. I expected more of Grenville; it certainly lacked the pungency of her earlier novels, although not The Secret River which I found similarly underwhelming.

I also read Karen Foxlee’s The Anatomy of Wings which was a wonderful surprise. It pipped me in the Dobbie prize for new women writers, so I was prepared to hold it at arm’s length as I read it. However, I found myself caught up with the story of a girl in a country town who wants to sleep with men because she thinks she can save them, which leads to the perception that she’s growing out of control. Needless to say a boy sleeping with as many girls as possible wouldn’t be labelled a slut. The double standard is nicely illustrated when she is expelled from school for an unclarified sexual act on school grounds and she says, “What I don’t understand … is why the boys didn’t get expelled for as long?” (p. 175).

Aside from reading, I have also been writing madly and am now two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my second novel. Unfortunately I now have to return to my thesis to attack it for the last time and then get it ready for publication, after which time I can return to the novel.

I also presented on my research at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference in Canberra, a painful affair because it reinforced my ambivalence about becoming an academic despite having forked out thousands of pounds and however much mental grief for a mere two letters before my name. Fortunately however, my beloved supervisor was over from England and he told me not to worry about it just yet, but to concentrate on writing. Amanda Lohrey also gave an excellent address on her novel Vertigo and I thoroughly enjoyed her intellect and biting humour. I subsequently read the book and was impressed by her skill in packing so much into a deft, compact novel, not least the drama and danger of bushfire.

Away from the conference, I caught up with some very good friends, and even sampled some excellent coffee, which was unexpected as I was of the opinion that Canberra had a good art gallery, museum and library and that was it. Coffee notwithstanding, I was pleased to get back to Bris Vegas, and to leave the surreality of Canberra behind.

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