A Month of Sundays

Well here it is at last! The gorgeous cover of my new book, A Month of Sundays, I am so thrilled with it – I’ve never had an interior shot on a cover before and this one absolutely hits the spot.

Month of Sundays coverA Month of Sundays is about four women of a certain age: Ros, Adele, Judy and Simone, who all live in different locations in Australia. They are the remaining members of an on-line book club, and have met at a distance once a month for several years but never face to face. When Adele is invited to house-sit for a few weeks in the Blue Mountains she invites the other three to join her. It’s a chance to meet at last, in a beautiful location: to relax, read and talk about books, and each one must choose a book through which the others will get to know her better. As they head for the hills and meet for the first time each one is facing a turning point, and wondering too, whether several weeks under the same roof will make or break their tenuous book club connection.

For a long time I’ve been trying to write a non-fiction book about women and reading. I keep running out of time, and finding I’m not really sure what I want to say or how to say it. I thought that perhaps writing a novel about women and reading might help me get a better grip on it. So I hope you’ll enjoy A Month of Sundays, and that if you are in a book club, or you like sharing your books and talking about them with friends, you’ll feel it reflects that special reading connection which is so significant for so many of us.

A Month of Sundays will be available in the books shops from 26th June, and if you want you can also order it in advance from your favourite bookseller.

Closer to the release date I will be running a competition and giving away some copies of A Month of Sundays. So stay tuned!

Advertisements

And the winners are…

Thank you to everyone who entered my Mother’s Day competition. Our two winners are Sherrill Christensen and Veronica Kerr. Congratulations, an email has gone out to you both so you can choose your books for me to post to you. I do hope you enjoy reading them.

To all readers of my blog I would like to say thank you for your continuing loyalty and messages. I’m really pleased to know how much you are looking forward to the new book. I will tell you more in a new blog coming soon– so stay tuned!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mother’s Day Competition

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m pleased to announce another competition – just in time to celebrate Mother’s Day.  I will be giving away a bundle of four signed copies of my books to two readers. But this time you can select which books you would like to receive! You can choose from the books shown in the photograph above. There are more details on each of those books on my website.

To enter the competition all you need to do is 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 blog by email” field at the foot of any webpage, and click the “follow me” button.

If you already follow the blog – go to the Contact page of my website and fill out the form, putting the words “Mother’s Day Competition” into the comment field.

Two winners will be chosen at random and both names will be published on my Facebook page and blog. The winners will also be contacted by email so they can nominate which four books they would like to receive, and provide their postal addresses.

The competition closes at 4pm on Friday 11 May.  Good luck!

“Sixty is the New Forty.” Oh Really?

Remember when we were told ‘sixty is the new forty’? I’ve been searching Google to find who first said this and when; no luck so far.  But it seems that a lot of people, politicians, medical experts, health gurus, lifestyle writers, statisticians and commentators on everything from ageing to banking, business and financial management have circulated it.  I saw it first as a newspaper headline alongside a photograph of then Treasurer Peter Costello wearing a wide grin.  I haven’t been able to identify the date or the year, or whether Costello was the first to suggest this, but I believe it was some time in 2007.

Back then I was in my early sixties and standing in the queue in the local newsagent. ‘What rubbish,’ I said, intending to talk to myself, but it sort of fell out of my mouth!

‘In your dreams eh!’ said a voice behind me.  I turned to see a man of similar age or a little older.  We both burst out laughing.  Before we reached the counter we had agreed that while people today look younger than most of those in the past looked in their sixties, and we are largely healthier, and many of us more fortunate than previous generations in their sixties, there are profound differences between those times of life.

I’m now seventy-four and I thought of this recently, after I’d bumped into a lovely woman whom I hadn’t seen for at least six months, and whose name I couldn’t remember.

‘How are you?’ she asked. ‘You look fantastic.’

She complimented me on my skin, my hair the fact that she could see that I had lost a few kilos. She was looking terrific too, I told her.  She always looks slim and fit, has a flawless complexion and long glossy hair.  We talked briefly about age, and I mentioned that while I am well and enjoying being in my seventies, I’m concerned that my memory constantly lets me down.

‘Oh but that’s normal,’ she said. ‘We all do it I’m fifty-two and I’m always forgetting stuff – like where I left my keys or my sunglasses and sometimes I can’t remember people’s names.’

I was still trying desperately to remember her name!

‘You look so young,’ she continued. ‘And just remember,’ she said, ‘seventy is the new fifty now!’

So often judgements about age are made on the basis of their faces.  I should have told her to look at my hands (see photo), a far more effective way of seeing the reality of age.

We all know that these days it’s entirely possible for someone in their seventies to look a couple of decades younger. But most of know that by the time we reached the sixties and seventies we have grown in many ways. No! Not diminished, simply changed. We’re still who we’ve always been, but we are also different.

The difference between the fifties and the seventies is vast ravine and many of us who have crossed it think that the difference has a lot going for it.  There is so much to enjoy, many new challenges and new possibilities to explore, and for many of us there is more time. Of course there are disadvantages in many respects but that’s true of any time of life. For me, as for many others, youth and middle age were not spectacular. Since I turned sixty all sorts of aspects of my life have changed for the better. And the difference lies in how we feel about ourselves.  I wouldn’t go back to my fifties for quids.

My memory is terrible now, not just in the way it used to be, not just because we are all overloaded with new stuff to take in, learn and remember, but because I’m old. I am still trying to remember that lovely woman’s name, and it’s a couple of months since that day. Things that I could once quickly recall: where I left my keys, the date of my grandchildren’s birthdays, titles of books or movies that I’ve watched or read quite recently might take days, or weeks to resurface. Some seem lost forever.

I am less physically confident, but far more confident about who I am. There are so many changes in two decades, some annoying and disappointing but many more that are splendid. What matters is whether we accept the changes, own them, or try constantly to grasp at who we once were, and what we used to have and want. There’s a profound difference between accepting reality and the idea of ‘giving in’ or ‘giving up’. It’s about taking stock of who we are instead of pretending we’re someone we used to be.

As I turned seventy I realised that I actually felt different. I could relax into being who I really was, give up the struggle to look younger, give up pressuring myself to always prove my competence, to be always positive for other people. I began to believe in myself and to believe that myself was okay. I gave up wearing uncomfortable shoes and clothes, I stopped pretending I like parties or being with large groups of people, I avoided going anywhere after dark if I had to drive. I also started to take greater responsibility for my health, exercising more, cutting out processed foods. I began to reduce the stress in my life created by the conflicting demands of having two jobs. I made myself learn to be at home without working all the time. To have weekends at home alone, when I did no work at all.

But perhaps most important of all, I began to accept death as a reality. I stopped worrying about it, and started to plan for older age and for death itself. I thought a lot about the people I’ve known who died in their youth or middle age, and yes, certainly many in their seventies. I knew I was lucky to still be here, let alone still working and reasonably healthy. I may live to be older than my parents who died in their late eighties, or I may be gone by the time you read this. Who knows? But what I do know for sure is that this precious time of life is nothing like being in my fifties. It’s a whole lot better, and I’m certainly not going to waste a moment of it pretending (especially to myself), that I’m twenty years younger.

Liz's hand

Women of a Certain Age

On Tuesday 6th March at 9:15am I’ll be talking with Amanda Smith on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters, about a great new book of essays called Women Of A Certain Age.Women of a Certain Age cover

I was delighted to be invited to contribute an essay to this wonderful book, published by Fremantle Press.  Anne Aly, Sarah Drummond, Mehreen Faruqi, Goldie Goldbloom, Krissy Kneen, Susan Sullivan, Jeanine Leane, Brigid Lowry and Pat Mamanyjun Torres are some of the other women who have written about what it is like to be a woman on the other side of 40. It is all about a celebration of getting older and wiser, and becoming more certain of who you are and where you want to be.

Women of a Certain Age is in the bookshops now and it’s well worth the read.

Hopefully you will be able to tune in to the interview, but for those who can’t, the link to the audio will be added to my website soon.

Quick news flash

I know, I know … there’s been a very long silence! Sorry about that but I’ve spent the last couple of months on two rounds of editing on my new book.  There was a lot to do and not much time to do it in, but I’ve also found that the older I get the harder it is to switch off what ever project is in my head at the time because I lose bits of it!  So yes, it’s about being too busy for my age and for my ageing brain in particular!

Anyway, I’m happy to tell you that the book is finished, and edited twice as usual and so everything is moving along to get it on to the shelves for July.  I’ll soon have the title and a picture of the cover to show you. And now I’m trying to catch up on all the things I let slip to get the editing done.

Meanwhile I’m excited about the Perth Festival’s Writers Week, which starts today and runs right through until next Sunday.  On Saturday 24th February at 2.30pm I’ll be discussing creativity in ageing with writers Alex Miller and Robert Dessaix, both of whom I admire enormously.  Geordie Williamson will be chairing the conversation which is called Late Style.  So, if you are in Perth I hope you can come along and join us at the University of WA.

And I also wanted to let you know that on Tuesday 6th March I’ll be talking with Amanda Smith on ABC Radio National’s Life Matters, about a great new book of essays called Women Of A Certain Age, published by Fremantle Press.  I was very pleased to be asked to contribute an essay to this wonderful book, which is being released on 1st March. So do tune in if you can. More news about this soon.

Competition winners

Thank you to everyone who entered my Christmas competition. I’m pleased to announce the two winners are Bronwyn Langlands and Karen Hawken. An email has gone out to you both to organise posting the book bundles. I do hope you enjoy reading them.

I’d like to thank all those 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 and Christmas wishes.

To all readers of my blog I would like to say thank you for your continuing loyalty.  I hope you have a peaceful and safe festive season with family and friends.christmas book bundle

Christmas Competition

I’m pleased to announce I’m holding another competition! I’m giving you the chance to win some books for yourself or to give away to friends and family. With Christmas and the holiday season looming, you could tick some presents off your list, or line up your summer reading.

I will be giving away a bundle of five signed copies of my books to two readers. The book bundle includes non-fiction and novels. I have also included my latest book – The Woman Next Door.

To enter the competition all you need to do is follow my blog, either as an existing follower or by joining it now.  To join, just go to my website www.lizbyrski.com and enter your email in the “Follow blog by email” field at the foot of any webpage, and click the “follow me” button.

If you already follow the blog – go to the Contact page of my website and fill out the form, putting the words “Christmas Competition 2017” into the comment field.

Two winners will be chosen at random and contacted by email. Winners will also be announced on my blog and Facebook page. The books will be posted to the winners. The competition closes at 4pm on Saturday 16 December. Good luck!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And so it goes

The first time I realised that my father had moved from the forgetfulness of ageing into something more sinister, was the day he opened a package from his oldest friend, and found something he’d never seen before.

‘Ron’s sent me a plastic thing,’ he told me, ‘with brown tape in it. Never seen anything like it before.’

He and Mum had just arrived for lunch, an extraordinary forty-five minutes late.

‘Your father got us lost,’ Mum explained. The lateness didn’t matter, but it was alarming as they lived only fifteen minutes drive away and Dad had driven back and forth many times.

‘Here,’ he said shoving a small package into my hands, ‘see if you can work this out.’

The package contained a cassette wrapped in a sheet of notepaper held in place with an elastic band. I unwrapped it and read the note. Ron had written that the arthritis in his hands made writing very painful so he’d spoken his message onto the cassette. But Dad, who regularly played music cassettes at home and in the car, was now insisting that he’d never seen a cassette before. It was as though that tiny part in his brain that understood ‘cassette’ had simply been wiped out. When we played Ron’s message for him he was totally bewildered and still denied knowing that such a thing existed.

The following day I took him to the doctor, and later that week for a variety of tests. He had suffered a TIA – a very small stroke – presumably the night before they came to lunch. Further tests diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, fast-tracked by the TIA. It was sudden and shocking, and life for Dad and Mum, and for me as their carer, changed dramatically

I had been aware for some time that both Mum and Dad were forgetful, Mum more evidently so. But that seemed to be the slow and natural diminishment of memory that comes with ageing. They hadn’t spoken or seemed anxious about it. What I wonder now, more that twenty-five years later, is how that forgetfulness felt for them and how long they were aware of it before this sudden crisis. As I approach seventy-four, I’m increasingly aware that the nature of my own forgetfulness has changed. Not only do I forget more, and more rapidly, than I did just a few years ago, but my ability to recall the things I’ve forgotten is much slower, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Much has been lost – probably forever.

Memory seems to be on most people’s minds these days. We blame information overload, the pace of life, the pressure of time, the demands of social media. And when I mention an appointment I’ve missed, a name I can’t recall, or when the title of a book, a film, or the date of someone’s birthday, simply evades me, people decades younger roll their eyes and tell me not to worry because they do the same thing all the time. What they don’t understand is that forgetting in your thirties, forties or fifties, even in your sixties, is not the same as forgetting in your seventies and beyond. There is less memory, more forgetting, more that is completely lost, and then there’s the creeping fear that all this might be more than just old age.

A few years ago I was doing between ten and thirty public talks a year, and unless it was a formal speech I did them without notes. I was also writing and delivering lectures in the university where I work where, in order to avoid droning on and sending students to sleep, I would simply work from dot points. That would be impossible for me now because it is most unlikely that I would remember how I intended to join the dots. I can focus and remember well while writing, and when I forget something my recall is much slower than it used to be but it still works. But out in the world, in conversations with friends and strangers, and with colleagues, I am in a constant state of alert anxiety that I will forget what I want to say. In meetings I am uncharacteristically quiet, a relief for others probably, but not for me!

Earlier this week I came across a couple of boxes of newspaper articles, magazine features, lectures and other pieces I wrote years ago. Some were familiar, others quite memorable because they were associated with particularly interesting or charismatic people, or written at significant times in my own life. But there were dozens that might just as well have been written by someone else. I couldn’t recall doing the interviews, meeting the people, nor the process of writing. It was only my name printed on them that told me they were mine.

Both my parents had dementia; my mother’s somewhat more benign than Alzheimer’s. So now I have to ask myself if I too am heading in that direction or if I am just growing old! Did they have this awareness? Did they feel the same concern? They certainly never expressed it other than in that casual ‘I’m always forgetting stuff,’ way that we all do from time to time?

I am not depressed but I am concerned; but I am still working and writing, still juggling a number of different interests and projects. I could have the series of tests that would tell me if I might get Alzheimer’s, but the tests aren’t conclusive. And it’s not as if there is a cure or treatment. It might be hard to fight depression if the one thing I never forgot was the result of test that said ‘very likely’.

But every time I lose my glasses, miss an appointment, completely forget what I am supposed to be doing, or try to remember the name of a book I only finished reading a couple of days ago, I wonder. And sometimes those things all happen in the course of a couple of hours. And so it goes…

Earlier this year I wrote a piece about a memorable memory experience that happened as I was driving one afternoon. I called it How To Tell You’re Getting Old, and it’s about completely forgetting and then the relief of remembering. Apologies if you’ve seen this before. If you haven’t, I hope it will make you smile.

How To Tell You’re Getting Old

  1. Get into car and switch radio to ABC RN.
  2. Hear Richard Fidler talking to a woman who is speaking authoritatively and in great detail on a subject on which you consider yourself to be something of an expert, having published a book on the subject 18 months earlier.
  3. Experience undignified sense of outrage and paranoia, followed by sense of failure, at being surpassed by someone smarter and probably younger and certainly thinner.
  4. Punch steering wheel several times and vow to discover identity of arrogant interloper.
  5. Groan with the agony of loss of self-worth.
  6. Hear Richard Fidler say “… today we’re talking with Liz Byrski, author of…”
  7. Feel enormously clever, famous, important, world expert, relevant, wise and articulate – and hugely relieved.
  8. Then REMEMBER (wait for it) that Richard’s producer called you ONLY TWO DAYS AGO to tell you that they would replay the interview this afternoon.
  9. Feel old, stupid, moronic, horribly petulant DEAF and DAFT can’t even recognise own voice.
  10. Get home take out iPhone and read seven texts – which you couldn’t read earlier because you left reading glasses at home. Messages from friends all say, ‘You’re on the radio NOW!’
  11. Make cup of tea, have long lie down in darkened room.
  12. Get up feeling ridiculous and incompetent having failed to recognise self on the wireless, but also feeling rather smug at impressing self!

PS: If you would like to hear the interview there is a link on the Interviews page of my website.

Thank you for the music

I’ve been thinking recently about confidence or, more accurately, the lack of it. I’m essentially a shy person, and a classic introvert. Over many years I’ve learned how to mask that and appear confident simply because I’ve had to. Some years ago I had to take on a lot of public speaking; talking about my books, about ageing and a range of other topics. It was part of establishing myself as writer, so I had to grit my teeth and get on with it. A few years later, I was able to pull back a bit, which reduced my anxiety, and freed up some more energy to focus on writing.

I mentioned in a recent blog, that I was grounded earlier this year by a couple of falls and resulting injuries. It was a huge shock, I felt nervous and incompetent, and my confidence crashed. My close friends and neighbours took wonderful care of me. I barely left the house, couldn’t write, or concentrate on anything, and didn’t drive for four months. In the last couple of months I’ve been able to focus on writing again. That period of stillness has been really valuable and I’ve emerged, calmer and more peaceful than I have been for a long time. I also managed to set some boundaries about how I manage my time. It probably sounds weirdly unsociable because it includes declining most public invitations, and lots of personal ones, and rarely going out in the evenings. Getting control of my time and what I agree to do, has helped me to win back some confidence. Sadly it’s also resulted in losing some friends who, despite my efforts to explain my reduced availability, can’t or won’t, accept this. I’ve spent much of my life accommodating others; now I’ve reversed the situation and it’s working for me. I’m sorry to have lost some people, but the gains are, frankly, well worth it.

In other areas though, I am less confident than ever. Driving on the freeway for the first time in four months was terrifying. Everything was moving so fast, even in the pouring rain, I just had to turn off at the first exit and go home. Although I’ve have slowly grown more accustomed to it I suspect that my pleasure in driving has gone forever. I am sure this is not just about being out of circulation for a while; it’s also part of getting older. In some ways, as I learn to understand who I am in my seventies, I feel stronger and more focussed, in other ways I am more fragile and lacking in confidence than ever.

I won’t begin to go into all confidence challenges that result from the constant changes in the systems and processes that are now part of the ways we live our lives. I am slowly coming to terms with some. The self-scanning process in supermarkets for example, seems designed to destroy the confidence of anyone over thirty! I am trying, honestly I am! But I frequently find myself staring intently at the screen wondering how to scan an orange or a potato! I lack confidence in much of the world around me at present and the pressure we are all under to do everything faster and more efficiently adds to that. I am certainly finding it hard to keep up.

Falling and its side effects created psychological and emotional outcomes, as well as physical ones that contribute to my waning confidence. I feel insecure and vulnerable in new ways – particularly when it comes to staying vertical! I am trying to develop a greater awareness of my body – particularly what I’m doing with my feet. I am very scared of falling again, so staircases and changes in the levels and surfaces of the ground demand greater attention than in the past. I am learning to be more vigilant about what Toby is doing, especially when we’re walking; his sudden changes of direction, urgent attention to some fascinating smell, the erratic stops and starts, really take me by surprise, and have already tripped me a couple of times.

In an effort to improve my physical awareness, I’ve been trying new ways to exercise. I hired an exercise bike, put it in the spare bedroom and tried hard to love it. Sadly I didn’t even succeed in liking it. It was so uncomfortable and boring, and thankfully it has now gone back to the rental company, where I’m sure it will find a new home with someone who doesn’t swear at it all the time.

Instead I am dancing and for the first time in my life I can honestly say I am enjoying exercise. I can be feeling fragile, low spirited and grumpy but dancing to ABBA GOLD changes that in an instant. As the first notes of Dancing Queen soar through the house my spirits soar with the music and I start moving. I’m re-discovering long forgotten muscles, learning to control my feet and regaining my balance. My heart rate is improving and somehow this is all restoring some confidence. Half an hour or twenty minutes most days feels really good, and fortunately the neighbours can’t see me!

The other big challenge in the confidence stakes is my failing memory, but that’s another story which I’ll leave until next time. Meanwhile ABBA – thank you for the music – the songs you’re singing, and thanks for lifting my spirits and helping me get back some confidence.