Eulogies: The Hardest Writing Any Writer Will Ever Do – Part 2

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In 2005, I was studying for a master’s degree in writing. I was also into my eleventh year of living with my grandparents, Alf and Betty. What had been an invitation to stay with them when I was 17 and moving to Melbourne from Bendigo to study a bachelor’s degree had extended into another two-year course, my first job, my second job, my third job and my fourth job. It was during my fourth job that I decided to study for my master’s degree part time.

One of the subjects was called Writing History. Because I had such immediate access to Alf and Betty, I decided to write my major project about them. We had some wonderful conversations about growing up, when they met and their life together. The first eulogy that follows was taken from that project. I was also asked to write a second more personal eulogy, which follows the first. I almost can’t believe I had to write two. And even more unbelieveable is the fact that I actually got up to read the second one myself because I don’t do public speaking, ever, and my debut performance was at my grandmother’s funeral. Continue reading

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Book Review: The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith

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This is the final in my series of reviewing books I have already seen the movie adaptations of. The Sheep-Pig is, of course, the basis for the wonderful Australian film Babe. It tells the story of a piglet won at a fair in a weight-guessing competition by Farmer Hogget. The farmer calls him Pig but his mother called him and his brothers and sisters Babe, so that’s what all the other farm animals call him, including his adopted mother, Fly, the collie dog.

Fly is a working dog and soon Babe wonders why he can’t be a sheep-dog, too. She explains it’s because he’s a pig. “Why can’t I learn to be a sheep-pig?” he then asks. And when he saves the sheep flock from being stolen by sheep rustlers, Farmer Hogget begins taking Babe along when he and Fly round up the sheep. Eventually, Babe takes over many of Fly’s duties and she’s very proud of her adopted son, proving that a little pig can do anything he wants to do. Continue reading

Sensationalism and selectivity; now for the facts about the WiseOnes program for gifted children

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Timna Jacks, the Education Reporter for The Age, wrote earlier this week about “a school program for gifted students…offering vaccination exemption forms and urging students to avoid Wi-Fi in schools”. As sensational as the claims were, they also demonstrated a concerning amount of selectivity.

The WiseOnes program has been available to gifted students in primary schools around Victoria for nearly two decades, teaching multi-disciplinary units with exciting names such as Ancient Egypt, How to Mind Your Money , Astronomy, Fibonacci Maths, Basic Engineering and Morphing Dirt to Diamonds. Students need to give evidence of their high thinking ability, which is not related to reading, writing or spelling, and need to “qualify” at a minimum of the 93rd percentile to participate.

Unfortunately, the founder and owner of the program unwisely decided to use the business’s website to convey her personal beliefs about the effects of vaccination and Wi-Fi. However, those beliefs are not shared by the licensees and teachers delivering the program and having contact with the students. The licensees and contracted teachers are all VIT registered and highly experienced.

By conflating the personal views of the founder with the content of the program, Timna Jacks has done a great disservice to the licensees and teachers who have worked with students in small groups providing extra intellectual and educational challenges. The losers will be the children if schools elect to discontinue the program. Continue reading

Eulogies: The Hardest Writing Any Writer Will Ever Do – Part 1

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I am not good with death. Perhaps no one is good with death, although doctors and funeral directors must deal with it so often that they develop coping mechanisms. I haven’t developed any yet. Possibly (and luckily) because I haven’t been exposed to it too often. That was until the last few years.

In 2012, my cousin Scott died unexpectedly. In 2013, my second cousin Zac died unexpectedly as well. And this year, my 89-year-old grandmother Betty died. It wasn’t unexpected – at that age, it can’t be. But it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s unexpected or not. All types of death are equally difficult to comprehend, to accept.

For the funerals of both Zac and my grandmother, I was asked to write eulogies. Normally a writer is so pleased to be asked to write anything. But normally you don’t cry through every word as you type it on the page. Normally there’s a happy ending. Or one of your own choosing anyway. Nobody would choose this. Nobody who had a choice would choose death.

These are the times when I wish I wasn’t a writer. So nobody would ask me to write a eulogy. Because there are no words. Nothing that can make it right. Nothing that can do justice to who they were when they were still alive, nothing that can do justice to how perfect they were in their imperfect lives. Continue reading

Book Review: Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg

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This is another book that I’ve already seen the movie of before reading it, before I even knew it was an adaptation, before I even knew there was a book. The more I read, the more I worried I was going to be left unsatisfied by it because it was exactly like the movie. The adaptation had been very faithful to the text. Usually that’s a good thing. But because I was reading the book after having seen the movie, I was looking for the differences, the details that can’t be replicated or demonstrated on film. I wanted a different experience, not the same one I had while watching the movie.

I got that and so much more. It’s not a perfect novel (it could be called slow) but it is so close that I can’t give it anything other than 5 stars, which anyone who reads my reviews and ratings will know is not something I do often. I’m a hard marker but this is a great book. This is a book that should be and will be read for decades to come. This is a book that should also be used as a teaching tool for all others wanting to write a book. Continue reading

The Lost Art of Letter Writing: What Else Are We Losing?

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“I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.”
Jane Austen, letter to her sister Cassandra, 3 January 1801

I can pinpoint the day I last wrote a letter (actually it was an email in the form of a letter). It was 16 December 2003. Between 2001 and 2003, I corresponded with an Alaskan woman I met in a chat room. We bonded over being writers and a mutual jealousy of being in a faraway location. Her name was Jessica.

We did actually write each other letters. We mostly sent emails but between those, we would write letters, lots of them, package up a bundle and then send them via snail mail across the ocean. I guess it was just for a change, something different. Sometimes we sent other things, too (I introduced her to a pack of Tim Tams).

Jess and I wrote each other so much that I started printing out copies of our emails and photocopying the letters I wrote to her in long hand so that I had a proper record of our correspondence. It felt important. At the time, I’m sure it was. Continue reading

The Unlikelihood of Happily Ever Afters in Writing: Why We Should Enjoy the Moment

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I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I entered the 2015 Ampersand Prize, a writing competition for young adult and children’s writing, and managed to attract the attention of one of the judges. I’ve also mentioned that I failed to win or even be shortlisted, despite attracting that attention.

The likelihood of happily ever afters in writing is, as it has ever been, very small. The numbers of people who win competitions or simply succeed in getting published are comparatively low and the numbers just keep getting lower as you add the extra elements of happily ever after. Good reviews. Good sales. Awards. Subsequent publishing contracts. Financial security. Fame.

So this is me enjoying the moment as I share with you parts of the correspondence I received from that Ampersand judge. Sure, the moment is long over but the memory of that moment is still a glowing ember – blowing on it gently brings it back to life and casts it in a warm light like an orange sunrise breaking over the horizon. Continue reading