Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Nothing like fine old wine

January 6, 2011

I spent a delightful hour this evening with some old friends. One is a 1991 Sauvignon Blanc, the other a 1994 Cabinet Franc Merlot.

They are from the vineyard of a friend of mine who only sells his wine when it has had ten years in the bottle, lying quietly in his winery cellar. His wines have no chemicals and they taste wonderful.

A visit to his winery means several hours of slow catch-up and conversation. It means slowly tasting what he has on offer, cleaning up the dusty bottles and labelling them, perhaps helping with bottle washing and filling for the new vintage (I’ll see you in ten years time, little ones), checking out how the wines are behaving in the oak or what new things he has coming up in the future.

I was out at his winery a few weeks ago and came back with several cartons of his bottled magic. Some needed re-corking, something that I don’t mind doing for myself.

My wife and I managed to pull the corks and sniff but not taste for twenty four bottles in a row. It was not easy, all that self control. But we know that when the weather cools a little there will be greater delight for us.

As we opened them up our kitchen took on the wonderful aroma of the fruit and the earth in which it was grown. There is more than just grapes in this wine. There is harsh stony red soil that forces the vines to fight for their existence, there is something captured from the seasons and the weather that the vines have known, the winter storms and the blistering summer sun, and there is the meticulous care of the wine-maker.

And on top of that there is time to sleep, they have had plenty of that.

Other wines we came back with are a 1990 Cabernet Franc Merlot, and the youngster, a 1996 Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot. A carton of each. How can two people be so blessed?

On Being a Gadget Tragic

January 5, 2011

Already it’s 2011, no new post for months. I’ve been reading. On my Kindle. Being a gadget tragic can really get in the way.

Where does it all go to?

October 20, 2010

Time, I mean. Where does all the time go to? I’ve just realised I haven’t updated the blog for yonks.

So, here is an update. More to come yet, but sooner next time.


How To Be Nice To A Book

July 5, 2010

I’ve been thinking about books.

And I’ve been thinking about non-books.

Books are what you find on your shelves and piled up on your bedside cabinet and half hidden as they get kicked under your bed by a wayward foot that is not quite awake enough in the morning to be held responsible.

And non-books are what you read on your computer monitor and your Kindle or iPad or some other e-reader. A non-book doesn’t really exist. It’s just a mess of binary code that gets translated on demand and when you have finished that page and you press the button it gets forgotten and replaced by the next batch of binary code, instantly translated into e-ink for the next page.

You know what I like most about real books? They attract more ink. They invite you to write in them. They love it when you annotate and footnote and cross-reference and highlight and draw those lines down the margin past two whole paragraphs because the prose is of such wonder that you know you will come back again in about two pages time.

Real books get signed by their authors. I’ve signed heaps of my books for customers at bookshops. There is something added by that personal touch. I’ve got books signed by the authors to other people. One of them is open in front of me at the moment. It’s the autobiography of Robert Adamson, one of Australia’s well known poets, a friend of my brother. This is not merely signed at a bookshop, it’s the personal gift of the author to a friend, and it has some extra quality for that friendship.

I have many books signed in such a manner. Several of them are signed by their authors to me at the same time I signed one of mine to them. Authors swap books. It’s not merely because we are cheapsters. We value the time that we have put into our own writing and so we value the work of other authors as well. Author swaps turn stock into real books with the stroke of a pen and a shared smile of appreciation.

Real books get folded corners and coffee stains. There’s another book of poetry sitting on my desk at the moment. It has beer glass rings on it. And not just any old beer. This is Hoegaarden Wheat Beer from Belgium. It dates back to 1445 I’m assured by Google. The glass is tall and slender and very fine, a glass fitted to such a drop. So Huw Luscombe’s book of poetry, ‘My TV Is A Vampire’, is circled with fine company indeed. Try that on your iPad.

Try indeed to make an e-book into a real book. Try to stick a bright orange sticky label out the top so you can find the right page in a year’s time. Try to write notes in the margin of an e-book. Try to draw circles around a few words on a two page spread and link them with pencil lines, perhaps with the lines chasing over the page to the next occurrence of significance that you can’t leave un-remarked.

I’m sure e-readers are useful. I can see myself on a train journey in quiet contentment with one. It would be loaded up with a novel or two, a travel diary or two, a picture book or two. I’d be happy to swap between them, to look out the window at the passing view, to fall asleep to the hum of the wheels. It would be part of the journey.

But I know that all I would really have inside that e-reader was a mess of binary code and the promise from the book-seller that I can read the book  until they decide my license to do so is revoked and suddenly, with the finality of more binary signals flying between wi-fi points, my mess of binary code is deleted and my permission to read the book is extinguished.

Real books run in my blood. My maternal grandmother’s sister, Fairlie Taylor, was the first teacher-librarian in Victoria about one hundred years ago. She was awarded a British Empire Medal for her services to education in 1976. No mess of binary code for her, it was real books all the way.

My father was a doctor, but wanted to be a poet. I once spent a day at his old university college, where his nick-name was Shelley, chasing up the yearbooks of his time there. Scattered through them were poems and short stories that he wrote. The editor of the journal in those days was Gough Whitlam, later PM of Australia. Gough had some very nice things to say about my father’s writing when he left university to join the army. The army took a while to find out he was a med student and sent him right back to complete his study, where he became the editor of the journal after Whitlam. Those pages off the shelves from the 1940s have a special patina that can’t be reproduced on an e-reader.

I’ve used microfiche machines in libraries, and I’ve read countless things on a computer monitor (which is where I spend my writing time as well), but there is nothing like the feel of real pages.

A real book invites me to participate. Whether it’s the rough cut pages of centuries old books, or the seductive gel print covers of the latest ‘liftings’ from the bookshop shelves, a real book will get me every time.

Reading in Science Class? Terrible!

June 16, 2010

I’ve been setting up some author/class contact with a school.

One of the Year Nine English classes in the school has been using my book, They Told Me I Had To Write This, for their set text. The class teacher and I have been emailing about making contact and giving the students the opportunity to speak with the author. Today we spoke on the phone, setting up the final details.

In the course of the conversation the teacher mentioned an exchange between her and the science teacher. The science teacher was complaining that the students were reading that book they are studying for English instead of paying attention to the science lesson.

Some comments can be hard for an author to take. But not this one. Yay!

Hidden in this story is the fact that in the book, the troubled teenage main character has a memorable science lesson on soap-making. It’s a little later that he realises that soap-making is a metaphor for personal healing and wholeness. Not the average learning point from science as I remember it.

Dealing with Evil in Literature

June 7, 2010

I’m writing my next novel and am having trouble. The new work takes one of the darker characters from my previous novel and tells his story. It’s not a nice tale.

There is a missing child, evidence that gets half destroyed, half hidden, nobody knows the whole truth, only one person can put it all together. The trouble is, getting to the place where he can do that takes him deep into places he most fears.

We met the character, Bundy, in They Told Me I Had To Write This. Bundy is a bully and a firesetter. But he wasn’t always like that. He had to start from somewhere, and he started from a good place. So how does a nice little kid grow into a Bundy?

Well, it happens through a process of the experience of evil. And that brings me to the title of this blog post.

What is it? Evil, I mean. What is evil? Where does it come from? How do we manufacture it, or amplify it, or acquiesce in it, or manage it?

Does it exist in its own right? Is it endemic in human experience? Can we say that earthquakes or tornadoes are evil?

Is there anything to learn from Star Wars on this topic? Does the Dark Side add anything to our understanding of evil? It has captured the imagination of a vast number of people, but does it reflect reality?

I have a writer friend who describes evil as a parasite. It can only exist with a host and the host is ‘Good’. Good can exist by itself, but evil can only exist by sucking its sustenance from Good.

Ursula Le Guin wrote ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’ many years ago. It deals with Ged, a boy who is recognised to have unusual powers and he is sent to wizard school. (This book is nothing like Harry Potter, by the way.) Very soon he is in conflict with another student and in a contest of power he evokes a black shadowy monster from deep under the earth. He spends the rest of the story firstly running from it, then pursuing it to destroy it. In the final encounter he faces the monster and before it can speak he names it with his own name, gaining mastery over it. By the time of this final encounter he has learned the humility that would have prevented the original event from ever having happened.

So, is evil something that lives in each of us and needs to be named if it is to be tamed?

Somewhere in among all this is the path that Bundy follows. If only I could figure it out as easily as I can put these thoughts together.

Boys and Communication

May 7, 2010

Get Ahead Kids is an Australian educational magazine. For the current (May/June 2010) issue they invited me to write an article on Boys and Communication. So I did.

The magazine is a well produced, free, glossy paper,  hard copy product. However, it is also available as an ezine on their website.

You can check it out here.

Free Plug

April 23, 2010

Koorong Books is probably the largest Christian bookseller in Australia. Today they let me know that they are going so stock my book, ‘They Told Me I Had To Write This’.

So, don’t just sit there, get to your nearest Koorong store and buy a copy.

Check out the book here –

Introducing Puggle

April 12, 2010

Today it’s my pleasure to introduce Catriona Hoy. Catriona is an Australian kid’s author. Her new book is a sheer delight. It is the story of one of Australia’s unusual wild animals, the babies of which have the most delightful name imaginable.

Catriona, welcome to Scribbly Gum.

Hi Kim,

Thanks for asking me over to chat about my new children’s picture book, PUGGLE.

This is my first experience with Blog Touring and I’ve got a few interesting new places to visit. Firstly, a few details, since this is my first stop.

Puggle is the story of an orphaned baby echidna, who return to the wild with the help of some volunteer animal wildlife carers. It is published by Working Title Press and details can be found on their website.

Andrew Plant has done some fantastic illustrations which bring Puggle’s story and our wonderful Australian bush to life. I’m thrilled that he was able to do the illustrations and we have just signed another contract with Working Title Press, this time to do a book on dinosaurs.

I loved your stories about animals in the wrong place at the wrong time – or is it maybe that just we humans are in the wrong spot!

For me, Puggle’s story began with a visit to the home of some wildlife carers. It was fascinating, as there were animals everywhere – in the garden, in the computer room, on the verandah and even in the bedrooms. Most of these animals had had an unfortunate close encounter with a human that ended badly.

What fascinated me was the fact that when an adult female marsupial is hit by a car, often the babies can survive. People are advised to check the pouches of animals as the babies usually can’t survive on their own. This was what had happened not only to Puggle, but a baby wallaby that he was sharing a room with. Happily for Puggle, he arrived at a place where he could be cared for, with special Puggle formula and lots of love and attention.

When I decided to start writing Puggle’s story I did a lot of research on echidnas and found out some fascinating facts. Echidnas are quite solitary and rarely meet up but when a female echidna is ready to mate, she puts out a scent. Any male echidnas in the vicinity are attracted to it and begin to follow her around, nose to tail in a long line like a conga dance. It’s called an echidna train and can go on for days. Eventually some of the males lose interest until there is one left. – It must be quite a sight to see!

I always loved finding out things when I was reading as a child, so I included some of these facts in the end papers of the books.

Puggle isn’t my first book, so if people would like to find out about some of my other books they can visit my website –

There are some cute pictures of the real Puggle there. Alternatively, they can join me at the next stop on my tour tomorrow with Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo at

Thanks for having me!

And thanks, Catriona, for introducing us to Puggle.

You can follow the tour here –

Catriona’s Tour Dates.

April 13-

April 14 –

April 15 –

April 16 –

April 17 –

April 18 –

April 19 –

April 20 –

April 21 –

April 22 –

The Echidna Diary

April 11, 2010

Wild Animal Story – No.3

My third wild animal story concerns an echidna, another Australian oddity. The echidna is a monotreme. It lays eggs, forms a temporary pouch for them, and then when the eggs hatch it suckles its young with pink milk. The only other monotreme is the platypus.

My echidna experience came when I was driving to a school to teach a religious education class. Half way across the suburban street was an echidna. There was nowhere for it to go, and it’s a wonder it survived the traffic so far, so I picked it up.  This is no easy thing to do, even on a bitumen road surface those claws dig in.

The only things I had in the car were a guitar, a box of song books and a music stand. I steered the ehidna into the box with the folded metal music stand, and resumed the journey. The guitar breathed a sigh of relief.

The kids knew the box held song books, but the echidna was a complete surprise. We opened the box and checked him out. He was lying quite still and this bunch of ten year olds had their first ever close up look at a real live echidna. ‘No fingers, please.’

Then we took him outside to release him. The school backed onto a broad dry creek bed which took rainwater down to the lake. We all stood on the top of the creek bank and I tipped over the box. The little guy was out of there like a shot, then he suddenly saw everybody and froze.

He started to dig. Within a minute he was almost gone. He’d moved enough dirt to sink himself into the ground with only some of his spikes showing, and that is where we left him.

As soon as the class was over, luckily ending at recess, those kids were out of there like a shot. And the echidna? He’d taken the half hour of quietness to disappear into the bush.

Tomorrow I will introduce Australian children’s author Catriona Hoy. Catriona’s new picture book is Puggle.

And a puggle is ???
A baby echidna.
But you already knew that.

See you tomorrow.

The Wombat in Gum Boots

April 10, 2010

Wild Animal Story – No.2

Just up the street from us lived another WIRES animal host. She took on an orphaned baby wombat. For quite a while she walked with the wombat in a cloth sling around her shoulder. The wombat responded to the almost-marsupial care and adopted his new Mum. Neighbours would say the normal baby things when they were out walking, such as, ‘Wow, hasn’t he grown?’ and ‘Is he sleeping through the night or are you still up feeding him?’

The day came when it was time for the little fellow to walk himself down the street. Our friend would walk in front, not too quickly, and behind her came the little wombat. And this is the enduring memory.

Wombats have short stocky legs, and their feet are surprising big. I suppose I’m used to dog’s feet or cat’s feet, which don’t poke forward so much. Not so, for the wombat.

The baby wombat looked like he was wearing little gum boots on all four feet. There was no sign of elbows or knees bending as he walked. It was wombat on the top layer and gum boots underneath. Each step gained him about 100 mm, so he had to take lots of steps to keep up.

If you have never seen a baby wombat walking quickly behind it’s human mum, then you are in for a treat. It is impossible to describe how funny he looked as those little gum boots took him through the suburban jungle.

It is worth selling your house and moving in just down the street from a WIRES host just for that one experience.

Wild Animals and Other Stories

April 9, 2010

It’s time for some wild animal stories. Here’s the first of three over three days, then I will introduce an Australian author who has just published a kid’s book about a very un-wild wild animal.


Wild animals turn up in the funniest places. A friend of mine, named Stuart, is an animal rescue volunteer with WIRES. He’s got lots of stories of animals in the wrong places.

Sometimes they are dangerous, such as when a snake took up lodging in the clothing of a messy bachelor’s bedroom ‘floordrobe’. Stuart didn’t mind picking up the snake when they found it. But picking up the man’s cast off jocks was a different matter.

And sometimes the stories are so funny that they are an enduring memory.

Stuart recently told me of hearing his ducks get into a commotion. Running out to see what was wrong he found a large goanna attacking the nest of a sitting mother duck. She was furious but no match for the goanna. The goanna got the eggs and the duck got a broken foot.

And the goanna got a surprise. Stuart got very noisy and herded the goanna into a fenced in corner. It tried to get its head through the wire and got stuck. The neighbour was there by now and he got a broom and held the head firmly to the ground.

Stuart got the wheelie bin and a rope. He somehow managed to get the two metre goanna into the bin, roped it shut and stood it upright. Then he wheeled it onto the ute and took it a kilometer down the road and released the no-longer-hungry goanna safely on the other side of the swamp.

The duck abandoned the nest, and it seemed the story was over. Wrong.

Ruby the dog discovered that both goanna and duck had left one egg, which had ‘matured’ wonderfully. Wonderfully, that is, for a dog. Some she ate. Some she rolled in. And some she brought into the house to share with Stuart.

Anyone know how to rescue a dog from certain destruction?

Sally Murhpy, Kid’s Poetry, and Me

March 26, 2010

Sally Murphy is an Australia author. She writes kid’s books and other stuff. In 2009 her kid’s verse novel ‘Pearl Verses the World’ was shortlisted (one of three) for the Independent Booksellers Award for Best Australian Children’s Book.

Sally has a blog, and through the month of March she is inviting other authors to tell what they like about children’s poetry. I was one of those authors. Chase up my guest blog here.

Celia Lashlie

March 17, 2010

Celia is a New Zealand author and past prison governor. She has two books, one about who goes to prison and one about raising boys.

Today I attended a forum with her as the speaker. The morning session was taken up with stories from her prison days. The afternoon session taken up with stories from her days working with boys in high school, trying to figure out the difference between a boy and a man.

Somewhere in among it all we sat in table groups and spoke about how her stories had something to say to our own work.  Those attending came from a diverse background. On my table was a prison chaplain (me), a Housing NSW community officer, a Catholic Care worker, three people from local Juvenile Justice offices, and one refugee settlement officer. Elsewhere there were private counselors, TAFE counselors, High School teachers, Drug and Alcohol workers, all sorts of people working with boys and men in trouble.

The whole day was extraordinary. I came away with one of Celia’s books (swapped for a copy of one of mine) and a whole lot of thinking to do about how men and boys communicate with each other and the outside world.

If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, take it. She is a wonderfully warm personality with a great love of story telling, and a wealth of experience in understanding people.

Find her here

New York Review of Books

January 23, 2010

I can’t read the NYRB fast enough. There must be ten of them sitting here waiting for me. It’s packed with intelligence and takes me a while to get through it. It makes my brain work overtime, for which I don’t get any extra pay.

But there are also things that make me smile, like the personals. I was surprised to find these in such a serious magazine but I’ve grown to like them. They have a quality all their own in this environment. Sometimes I wonder if somebody I know might one day advertise like this.

For instance:

Good looks, blond, all-American girl, smart, sensual, former CEO, International Consultant in NYC. Insightful irreverence, quick mind, self-deprecating humor. True explorer’s spirit. Easygoing, warm, stylish, intellectual. Passion for photography, travel, film, art galleries, music, restaurants. Would love to meet bright, active, cosmopolitan man.

My initial thought was that somebody with these qualities would know lots of men and be in a social position to form the relationships she is looking for. Apparently not.

Here’s another.

Anti-advertising woman, reasonably well packaged, obsessively honest but wears make-up for special occasions. Moderately sophisticated (better than too sophisticated) available for playful, thoughtful, sexy, serious relationship. Too good to be true. This offer will not be repeated.

I must confess, I find the thought of an anti-advertising woman writing the final two sentences to be very funny.

I’m left wondering if the people who put these personal ads in the NYRB actually read the book reviews.

Just a thought.