Travels with my feet

Travel – it’s what a lot of us look forward to as we get older, and as I approached 75 I really wanted to make what might possibly be a final trip to Europe. And so I set off last month, first to a conference in Barcelona, then on to London and Sussex (work plus a nostalgia hit), and finally to Italy, because it was the only western European country I’d missed out on. I wanted to get the most from this adventure, so I went into ‘training’. Walking, swimming, dancing to Abba in my lounge room. I lost weight, I felt better, stronger, more energetic; I was raring to go despite my still dodgy hips and ankles. And then there’s my feet – but more about my feet later! There wasn’t much I could do about an unanticipated European heatwave.

In Barcelona there wasn’t much time for anything other than work. The city was heavily overcast and most of the time, the heat was oppressive. We walked a lot, around the ancient and beautiful university buildings and campus, and to various restaurants and other venues. My feet mentioned that they didn’t much like the heat, nor the amount of standing. Finally, on the morning of the day I left the storm broke, clearing the air, reducing the temperature, refreshing the city and, I suspect, lifting most people’s spirits. I had a wonderfully interesting and intellectually invigorating time. My feet were less enthusiastic.

I went to Sussex for research for a book, but also to revisit the past. My memories are rich with memories of green fields, forests, winding lanes the smell of freshly cut grass, and long, mild, summer evenings in the gardens of quaint country pubs. But the first thing I noticed was a widespread absence of grass – or at least green grass. The rising temperatures has left most lawns, parks, fields and verges burned to a crisp. But it was still Sussex, still the place I’d lived for almost half my life. My feet mentioned they were uncomfortably hot, but happy that I was driving everywhere. And then it was time to return the car and take the train to London.

Friends in Australia sent me jokey texts about the feeble British who can’t handle the heat, unlike us rugged Aussies. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone – but I couldn’t take the heat either; 37C in London feels a whole lot hotter than the same temperature back home in Perth. No idea why. London was heaving with tourists, many heading for shops, bars or restaurants on the assumption that they would be airconditioned. But the last great European heatwave was in 1961; why would you bother installing aircon? England seemed burned out, exhausted. By the heat? By Brexit? By the shenanigans of an unstable Government and an inadequate opposition? By the visit of Donald Trump? My feet said, ‘We don’t like this, can you go back to driving please?’ Don’t worry, I told them. Italy next, gorgeous green Tuscan hillsides, and woodlands, and we’ll have a car.

In Italy I fell in love: with the country, the way of life, the streets of Florence, it’s plethora of glorious churches, magnificent buildings, steep picturesque side streets, piazzas where we tucked in to gelato and observed the passing glamour. Most of all I fell in love with the Tuscan countryside and what its pristine condition, and the obviously loving custodianship of and respect for the land, seemed to say about the Italians themselves. We drove along narrow winding lanes and roads, sharp bends and steep hills, through olive groves, vineyards, bay trees, cypress and Lombardy pines. We visited tiny hilltop villages, in which tourism was minimal. And we walked a lot, climbed a lot, traversed cobbles, uneven paving and went up hundreds of steep stairways. My feet didn’t like it; they complained bitterly. I tried to appease them with new, tougher, walking shoes (yes there really is a branch of Foot Locker in the centre of Florence). My feet would not be appeased.

My son took off to Portugal for the rest of his holiday. I took the train to Milan and then to Varenna on Lake Como, a place I have longed to visit. It lives up to and beyond, both its reputation and my dreams. I am captivated by the vast gleaming expanse of the lake and its subtly changing colours, that craggy faces of the mountains, the small towns and villages clustered along the shore line. On the tree-clad slopes ancient villas and castles, towers and churches are tucked into the tree clad slopes as if scattered there by some divine hand. Heaven! No – hell – said my feet!

Four days on my feet have resigned. They swelled way beyond the confines of my shoes, including the new ones. Just a pair of sandals are almost bearable. Gout! Look – I didn’t eat that much gelato! I have had one glass of sparkling wine in four weeks. And now I am shifting between my bedroom balcony and the hotel terrace, in a lot of pain, barely able to walk. Grounded again! May have to call the airline for assistance on the way home if my feet don’t improve by the end of the week.

My advice: take a trip – see Italy! See it soon – we never know how much time we have left. Oh! And – make sure you leave your feet at home.

What a lovely event!

Many thanks to everyone who joined me for morning tea at the Perth Parmelia Hilton last week, to help me celebrate the launch of my new book, A Month of Sundays.

It was great to see that more than 200 people braved the wet and wild weather, and it was so nice to have the chance to meet and talk with different groups, both before and after the event.   Ann Poublon and her staff from Dymocks at Garden City did a wonderful organisational job and the Hilton put on a lovely morning tea. Some photos from the event are below.

I really enjoyed chatting with Meri Fatin about A Month of Sundays – although it is always a challenge to answer questions about a new book without giving too much away!  I will be attending a couple more events over the next few months, and you can find the details on the Events page on my website.

Competition winners

Thank you to everyone who entered my competition.  I’m pleased to announce the winners are: Colleen Taylor, Lynne Kibble, Sue Ellen LePage, Anne Moorehouse, Kym Woods and Corinne Johnston. An email has gone out to you all requesting your address so you can receive your prize. I do hope you enjoy reading A Month of Sundays.

I’d also like to thank everyone who included personal messages to me with their competition entries. There are simply too many for me to respond to you all, but I appreciate your lovely comments about my books and I’m pleased you like the new look website.

Women, books and reading

It’s almost the end of June and my new book will be in the bookshops in a few days. It’s always an exciting but also a nerve wracking time: waiting to see it on the shelves, worrying whether people will like it or be disappointed. But it’s an enormous thrill to stand in a bookshop and see the books lined up and people studying the cover, flicking through the pages and reading the first few lines.

A Month of Sundays is similar to my previous novels in that it is a story about four Month of Sundays coverwomen, four very different women, who are all at some sort of turning point in their lives. In fact, it’s a book about women, books and reading – my three favourite things – oh and of course it’s about getting old, so actually my four favourite things!   But it’s also different from some of my other novels because usually the characters move around quite a bit, but in this one they’re heading from their homes in different parts of Australia, to a beautiful house in the Blue Mountains where they will meet each other face-to face for the first time.

Ros, Adele, Simone and Judy are the last surviving members of an online book club. They’ve talked books once a month on Skype for years but never met in person. Now Adele has been offered the use of a gorgeous house in the mountains and she’s asked the others to join her. It’s a bit of a risk for all of them; the book club has been their comfort zone, and now they’re going to test that pleasant but slightly awkward connection by living together for a month. And there’s a challenge; each one has to bring a book that will tell the others more about her. Will their club survive the proximity, or will they walk away from it having lost something that’s become special to all of them? Well I’m not going to tell you too much more about that! But I will tell you why I decided to write this.

I’ve always felt that women have a special connection to books, we buy and read more books than most men and we seem to be deeply attached to them, especially to novels written by women. In the past when women were excluded from public discourse, when they were confined at home, and their friendships were viewed with suspicion, they learned about each other through novels, particularly those written by women. For writers it was a way to reach out to others, and for readers a way to see their own lives and others through the characters. They saw that the way they felt, the things they longed for or wanted to rid themselves of, their strengths and weaknesses, their anxiety and loneliness, their pleasures and satisfactions, even their resentments, were not peculiar to them. They learned that they were not alone. I’m fascinated by the connections between women and their books, and I’ve been working for some time on a non-fiction book about it, but I keep getting in a mess with it, putting it aside for a while and going back to it again, and again. I thought that writing a novel might help me to work out what I’m trying to do.

I’m also interested in book clubs: the sheer number and diversity of them, the fact that it is predominantly women who set them up and attend regularly, and how significant they are to the members. And I very much admire the discipline that makes people commit to read a book chosen by someone else, on a regular basis. I am such a picky reader and always have a stack of books that I’ve chosen and that I’m dying to read, so while I do read books recommended by friends, I don’t have the discipline to stick with them if I don’t like them after the first two or three chapters. I enjoy talking books informally with friends, but I just don’t have the discipline for a club.

So, what I set out to do in A Month of Sundays was to put four strong minded women in their late sixties and seventies together in a house together for a few weeks and see what happened. It didn’t turn out as I anticipated, but then it never does. Oh! By the way, I forgot to mention, that there is fifth member of this book club – a cocker spaniel called Clooney. He doesn’t do a lot of reading, but he does stir things up from time to time. So it’s not just four but five of my favourite things: women, books, reading, getting old and dogs! I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Win a copy of my new book

A Month of Sundays will be in the bookshops next Tuesday, and to celebrate I’m giving away 6 signed copies.

To be eligible for the competition you need to follow my blog…. either as an existing follower or by joining it now.  To join, just go to my website and enter your email in the “Follow my Blog” field on the left side of any webpage, and click on the black “FOLLOW” button.

If you already follow the blog – go to the Contact page of my website and fill out the form, putting the words “Month of Sundays” into the comment field. Please also include your name in the contact field.

One entry per person please –duplicate entries will be removed!

The competition closes at 4pm on Sunday 24 June. Six winners will be chosen at random and their names will be published on my Facebook page and blog. The winners will be contacted by email so they can provide their postal addresses. The quicker you respond, the quicker you will receive your prize in the post.

While you are entering the competition, I hope you enjoy the new look website.

Good luck!

Month of Sundays cover

Join me for morning tea

Just letting you know about the event to launch my new book A Month of Sundays on Wednesday 4 July at the Parmelia Hilton Perth.  I’m really looking forward to chatting with Meri Fatin about the book – and of course to enjoying the delicious morning tea that the Hilton always puts on. Thank you in advance to Ann Poublon from Dymocks Garden City who not only organises great book events, but does so much to support Western Australian writers.

All the details of the event are below.  I know the tickets are selling fast so if you are interested, book soon.  I hope to see you at the Hilton.

hilton morning tea 2018