My Blog

It’s time to talk about…

I’m somewhat embarrassed about this!  Six years ago, I wrote a blog about turning 70, and five years later I promised to write a follow up piece on turning 75. But last week I turned 76, which makes me a whole year late.  When I made that promise I really meant it, but some promises are easy to make but much more difficult to keep.

In September 2018 I returned from a wonderful holiday in Italy, but instead of feeling refreshed, I was exhausted and very low in spirits.  By November I felt worse; physically worse, weak and wobbly, and was struggling with loss of memory and concentration. I didn’t want to leave the house, driving felt terrifying because I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t even want to have a coffee with friends, it was too hard and exhausting and I couldn’t always keep up with the conversation. Finally, I followed my friends’ advice and went to my doctor.

At the time I had a full-time job, and was also writing books, and articles. I’d been doing it for years and I loved it.  I’d always had enough energy, but now I had none. It was December 2018, less than two months before my 75th birthday.  The last thing I was expecting was to walk out of the surgery with a diagnosis of depression and acute anxiety.  Me? Really?  Mental health issues?  Me?  Yes, me!

A couple of years earlier I had interviewed several people about depression as part of the research for a character in a novel.  I went back to the notes I’d taken.  It’s like being trapped in another world/or a container from which you can see what’s going on but can’t be part of it.  Not caring about anything/anyone, unable to think seriously or make decisions, complete lack of confidence, not a scrap of creativity. Felt dead mentally and physically. No physical or mental energy, some days it feels impossible to move. Not happy, not sad, everything just a blur. Always totally exhausted. I feel like a blob of jelly, too heavy to move, but being pushed around by other forces.

It all made sense, I was mired in the depression, helpless, hopeless and exhausted. Some days I felt I could barely move. I was emotionally numb, and I couldn’t write.  Writing has always got me through sad or difficult times but I could barely bring myself to write an email, let alone anything else. I started seeing a psychologist, and kept talking about getting back to normal, to where I once was.   Your normal was killing you, she said. Instead of thinking of going back to that, let’s talk making changes, one at a time.  I had no idea how to change the crazy spiral of overwork driven by anxiety; I had lived that way for at least thirty years.  She guided me through it, helped me to confront my own self-destructive behaviour. She suggested simple changes, basic rules about taking better care of myself, reducing commitments, learning to say thanks but no thanks in all sorts of situations.

It’s 17 months since I walked into my Doctor’s office, feeling desperate, it’s been long and hard and my 75th birthday is buried somewhere in all that: I honestly can’t even remember it.  But I can remember my 76th, not just because it’s only a week ago, but by counting the changes I’ve made and measuring the way I feel.  I’m not through it yet but I am well on my way, learning to live a calmer, healthier, more thoughtful life.   But I am already a different person, and I am enjoying the journey. Yoga has been hugely valuable for mind and body.  I gave it up 40 years ago but am back now to a daily practice, as well as daily meditation.

Right at the beginning of this horrible journey I adopted a dog – a three-month-old puppy. Gazza is a bundle of joyful energy and affection. He has helped me all the way through this, making me walk, laugh, and be responsible for another living creature.  He insists on joining me for yoga, which is not always helpful, and for cuddles which are.

I’ve been hesitant about writing this, but it’s become clear to me that we need to talk more about depression and other forms of mental illness.  When I started to talk to friends, I found several had also gone through this but had never spoken about it outside their own families.  And I am embarrassed to admit that it had never occurred to me that I might succumb to it.  All sorts of factors can lead people into depression. I had never ever given a thought to my mental health, I took it for granted, but I won’t do that again.

So, last week I turned 76, and it feels very much better than those months and years when I was frantically busy driving myself to death.  I know I am a very fortunate person, and I also know it’s not over yet, perhaps it will never quite be over, or perhaps I will slip and fall again.  But I am clear about what happened – that I drove myself to mental illness, and physical exhaustion. I hope I continue to learn from that.  My family, my friends and neighbours have been an endless source of loving mental and physical support, and I am so grateful to them all.

I am grateful too to so many people who have sent cards and messages. Yes, I am now writing another book, which should be available early next year.  Thank you all for your kindness, your many letters, emails, texts and messages, which have made a huge contribution to my continuing recovery.


Christmas competition winners

Thank you to everyone who entered my Christmas competition – and there were a lot of you!

I’m pleased to announce the winners are Josie Aitchison, Tanya Martlow, Judy Maloney and Susan Jordan.  Emails have gone out to you all to request your address so the books can be posted to you.  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 tree

Christmas competition

Well here we are almost at the end of 2019. Both my time and energy over this last year have been concentrated on recovering from various health issues and wrestling with writing a new book. Consequently, blogs have been few and far between!  I hope to get back into the swing next year.

With Christmas hurtling towards us it feels like time for a competition. I have 4 bundles of signed books to give away. Each bundle contains A Month of Sundays and In the Company of Strangers… but the other books vary. So it will be a bit of a lottery as to who gets what!

To be eligible for the competition you just 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 please go to the Contact page of my website and fill out the form, putting the words “Christmas competition” into the comment field. Make sure you also provide your name and email.

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

The competition closes at 4pm on Monday 2 December. Four 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 address. The quicker you respond, the quicker you will receive your prize in the post.

Good luck to everyone!

xmas 2019 comp

Hello again

Thanks to everyone who wrote to me after reading my (recycled) piece on turning 70.  I know I promised to write about turning 75, but I am still trying to work out how I feel about that! Meanwhile I want to let you know about a couple of terrific books that I’ve read in the last few months.

Allegra in Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel

Allegra in three parts coverI fell in love with 11-year-old Allegra in the first chapter of this book, and that took me by surprise, because I tend to be cautious about books written in the voice of a child. But Allegra’s voice is immediately captivating: smart, funny, intelligent, and endearingly innocent at times without, thank goodness, ever being cute.  I really hate cute.

Ally lives with her maternal Grandmother, Matilde, a post war migrant from Hungary, who does garment piece work from home, spending long days at her sewing machine and cooking traditional Hungarian food. Matilde’s life is focused on Allegra to whom she is devoted, but she is sad, angry, and struggling financially. Her fierce love for her granddaughter makes her rather strict and controlling.

Next door is Joy, Allegra’s paternal Grandmother, who is gliding joyfully into the women’s movement of the seventies. She has a tortoise called Simone de Beauvoir, smokes a little weed and is often impractical and vague.  Just like Matilde, Joy loves Allegra dearly; she is an emotional woman with a warm heart and saves her tears in small glass bottles, inscribed with the reasons those tears were shed.

In the flat at the back of Matilde’s house is Rick, Ally’s father, who works in the building trade and is a keen surfer.  Matilde calls him riffraff, which has Ally puzzled.  What also puzzles her is why all three of them love her but seem hate each other.

These relationships are beautifully developed as Allegra, in her final year at junior school, negotiates her way through other, sometimes rewarding, but often painful connections with her schoolmates.  Her combination of knowingness and innocence is beautifully demonstrated, as is the confusion that results from it.

The background of the seventies and the women’s movement is right on target. For the background to what’s going on in Allegra’s homelife, you have to read the book.  But the triangle of the people she loves most, and their hostility to each other is a constant source of sadness, misunderstanding and confusion.  She navigates her way through each day, keeping up with schoolwork, making and losing friends, and juggling the expectations of her family, trying always to do the right thing by all of them.

Suzanne Daniel is a talented writer and a great storyteller.  She is a journalist and communications consultant who has worked for the ABC, the BBC in London and the Sydney Morning Herald. It is a similar background to my own and this is her first novel.  I found the shift from journalism and broadcasting to fiction extremely difficult, so I was interested to read this.  I think it is a triumph, and I am waiting now for the next book 

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley

Late in the Day coverI discovered Tessa Hadley’s books when I was in England last year and haven’t yet found them in Australia.  I bought two to read on holiday and have had to order the others online.  They are well worth waiting for.  Late in the Day is her most recent and, in my opinion, the best.  But each time I tell someone that, I remember the others and how much I enjoyed and admired them!  Hadley writes with insight into the extraordinary nature of the ordinary life.   Her books are usually about families and old and new friends of all ages.  She is particularly astute and sensitive in creating normal situations in which people hide small secrets and resentments that end up tripping them into awkward and sometimes distressing situations.

In Late in the Day Hadley explores the lives of two middle-aged couples: Zachary and Lydia, and Christine and Alex, who have been friends for many years, and have spent some of the best times of their lives together.  There are also close friendships between their various teenage children.  But it is the adults, the way they interact with each other, the way their friendships work and the secrets they keep, that is at the heart of this book.   Sneak peaks into the past are woven seamlessly into the narrative revealing more about each one and how their friendships began.

It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the death of Zachary is the catalyst for change, because it happens on page three.  His wife, Lydia and their oldest, closest friends are devastated. He was the heart and soul of their friendship, the one they all loved most, the one they could not afford to lose. It is a crisis for all three, and as each one traces back through the years of their friendships, we learn about their connections to Zachary and the lines that were crossed, the secrets kept, the trusts broken, the joys and disappointments and the strength and love it has brought them.  Each one must now learn to live without him, and maybe without the friendships that have been central to their lives for decades.

I loved this book: the story, the characters, the way that the loss of one, changes the future of the other three, their children, relatives and friends. Real tension grows as loyalties are tested and found wanting.

I will read Late in the Day again, more than once, for sheer pleasure, and for the fascination of trying to work out how Tessa Hadley does it.


That’s all for now. Thanks for staying with me during what’s been a really difficult and challenging 12 months.  I am working on the next book with more confidence now and your encouragement and support in emails and letters has been wonderfully motivating.

Revisiting 70

As I feel myself emerging from several months of hibernation I came across a piece I wrote five years ago about turning 70.  It made me stop and think about how I now feel having turned 75 earlier this year.  There are differences, some positive and some not so great, but I’m still here, and am starting to feel more like myself again. Thanks for sticking with me through the long silence.

Here’s the piece I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald five years ago.  I’ll follow up soon with one on turning 75.

On turning 70

I have always wanted to be old. I know it sounds odd but it’s true — and it’s not as unusual as you might think. As a child, I spent a lot time in the company of old people, whom I loved and admired. I also envied them. They were confident, independent, free to choose what they would or wouldn’t do. They had power.

Seventy seemed to be the magic age that opened the door to all this; it called to me as the start of a rich and satisfying stage of life. And so I paid attention to the milestone birthdays — 21, 40, 50 —each time expecting to feel different, more grown up, more complete, but each year I woke on the day feeling just the same. It wasn’t a case of wishing away the years, but rather working slowly and naturally towards something that would reward me.

Then, on my 70th birthday, for the first time ever, I woke with a distinct sense of difference. I’d arrived; something had shifted. Initially, it was disconcerting, like being cut loose, adrift and unsure of what I was supposed to be doing.

It was a pair of high heels that grounded me. One last pair that I’d kept in case I needed them for some special, formal, fashionable event. As I opened the wardrobe, I spotted them tucked away in a corner of the shoe rack — a symbol of the discomfort and restrictions of conformity. In that moment I knew that were I to be invited to something where heels and all that went with them were essential, I would decline the invitation. Out went the shoes — and a whole lot of other things followed.

Getting old is empowering. With the joy of going to bed early with a good book, mindfully occupying the centre of the bed and embracing celibacy, comes a sense of congruence. Seventy feels like a reward for patience and perseverance, and I am determined to make the most of it and of what follows. My relationships with family and friends seem more precious, time more valuable and the joy of books, music, art and the natural world more enriching. But ageing is not for wimps. I struggle with energy, aching joints and moments of memory failure. I tire easily and have very little stamina. When I get down on the floor to retrieve something I’ve dropped, I stay there for a while. I have a look around to see if there is anything else I can usefully do while I’m there, and I reflect ruefully on the days when I could bounce up again with ease. But I accept my limitations at the same time as I embrace my new freedom.

The poet May Sarton wrote at 70 that old age is life-enhancing. “Now I wear the inside person outside and I am more comfortable with myself. In some ways I am younger because I can admit vulnerability, and more innocent because I do not have to pretend.”

Once we live as if we are dying, priorities are thrown into sharp relief.

But I know I’m fortunate. I have always enjoyed solitude, have a home of my own, work that I love, people who love me, and enough money to live modestly in the coming years. Ageing is not so kind to those who are alone and isolated, who struggle for financial survival, seek a place to call home and suffer with poor health.

It’s clear that women do better than men in old age and adapt more easily to living alone. Ageing men tend to seek partners for their old age, while many women relish the independence and freedom of later life. But the worst thing for old people, both women and men, is the relentlessly negative public conversation that predicts penury, isolation, generational conflict, sickness and confinement to a nursing home. Yet figures show that 85 per cent of Australians aged over 80 still live independently at home, enjoying active lives.

We wrinklies are the triumphant end product of a civil society with high standards of education, housing and health care. And we are living proof for young people that ageing can be a time of pleasure, satisfaction, opportunity and yes, even new horizons – something that young people, if they stop to think about it, would aspire to for their own old age.

For me, turning 70 feels like a doorway to the future; a modest, quiet but satisfying future that I can craft to my own liking, within my own means. I’m not alone in this, and for many others, of course, the future signals something more adventurous. Each to her or his own is how people of my age and older are grasping this last and precious gift of time. While acknowledging that others are less fortunate and that as a society we have responsibility to respond to that, we need to talk more about the good life of old age, because young people need to hear something other than gloom and doom. And because it sure beats the alternative.

Mother’s Day competition

Well here I am, back again!  I’m slowly getting on top of my health issues and starting to feel better. Many thanks to everyone who contacted me via Facebook and my website. While I was not able to respond, I really appreciate your concern and kind messages.  I’m still easing back into things and I’m hopeful I will be able to return to writing blogs and Facebook posts in the near future.

Meanwhile Mother’s Day is coming up and I thought it would be nice to have a competition to celebrate.  So I’m giving away signed copies of two of my books – A Month of Sundays and Bad Behaviour.  Four winners will get one of each.

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 my blog” field on the left-hand side of any page, and click 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 “Mother’s Day competition” into the comment field.

The four winners will be chosen at random and their names published on my Facebook page and blog.  The winners will also be contacted by email to provide their postal addresses.

The competition closes at 5pm on Sunday 5 May. Good luck!



Merry Christmas

Only a week ‘til Christmas – how did that happen? I only just managed to post my Christmas cards!

Congratulations to the winners of my Christmas competition – Christine Monaghan, Ginny Dadd, Heather Hillman, Lindsay Fisher, Tracey Gregory and Kim Goodwin. Your books are on the way to you!

Thank you all so much for your continuing support and encouragement. Even when I am scratching around in the dusty mess inside my head, wondering how to make something work, I am always aware how fortunate I am to have such loyal and enthusiastic readers. Thank you so much and thank you and welcome to those of you who have picked up a book for the first time this year. I hope you’ll enjoy some more of my books in future.

I want to say a big thank you too, to the amazing Pippa Worthington, my media and marking consultant. Pippa looks after the competitions we run, she nudges me into writing blogs and discusses ideas, and this year she created my lovely new website. There is so much more to being a writer these days than just the writing and without Pippa nothing would get done.   So, thank you Pippa for all your ideas, support and hard work through what’s been a tough year in many ways. Pippa runs Heart and Soul Consulting, and you will see her logo on the bottom left hand side of my website, so if you need thoughtful, sensitive advice, ideas and action you can contact her direct.

I am currently working on a new novel after a bit of a struggle, so I am hoping it will be available in 2020.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas in whatever way you most enjoy.  I’ll be spending it here in WA with half of my family, and of course with Gazza who will be getting a big lamb bone on Christmas morning. I will spend the day trying to stop him bringing it into the house and chewing it on my best rug!

Merry Christmas everyone and a happy and healthy New Year, from Gazza and Me.