It’s the second last week of the summer holidays and yesterday we swam and swam, the water a pale green that deepened the further down we dived until it became the exact colour of grass. We went out again in the evening, just down from our house, slipping and sliding on steps slick with moss, and then diving straight in, the sun low in the sky and the colour of the water now a darkening blue.


The day before we got the ferry across the lake and caught a bus up into the hills. We walked through a tiny little village full of houses covered in flowers and Swiss flags, before descending into the forest and then under the freeway to a park with views of both ends of the Zurich lake, one end the city and the other end the mountains, and we ate our lunch while we watched sailboats dodging the ferries and zigzagging on the water like dragonflies.


And today? It’s raining, so there’s ping pong and piano and baking and reading and pizza for lunch, and my daughter licks the bowl from the chocolate cake while the cat demands dinner at least an hour before she usually gets it, and it still feels like the holidays because doing not much at all or a little bit of everything feels exactly right. (So take that, Phd…)




Independence Day.

My baby’s leaving me for another week. This time it’s a Ranger Tour, a week-long camp in the mountains for a bunch of ten to twelve-year olds from all over Switzerland. They’ll do overnight treks, cook all their own meals, sleep in tents and yurts and shelters they’ve made themselves, use their magnifying glasses to spy on ants and spiders, and generally have, I hope, an awful lot of fun. My brave daughter, still sometimes painfully shy at school, won’t know a soul but seems undeterred, unlike her mother who, at that age, would have flatly refused to go, scared witless at the thought of all those strangers.

(What does worry her is the thought of a whole week without reading, this girl who devours books, just like I used to. And look where it got me…)

I’m in the thick of researching and writing about colonial Australia, a vicious, dangerous and merciless place (particularly if you were being colonised instead of doing the colonising, and no matter how it has been – and continues to be – too often portrayed), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think I would have coped very well, had I lived back then. I like to think that my daughter might have fared a little better, much like Nana, her great-great-grandmother, who lived for a while on a goldfield in Far North Queensland in the very, very late 1800s, a resourceful woman by all accounts, sifting through the tailings (the residue of the mining process, which, back then, was very rudimentary indeed) for anything left over, and working in a pub, as well as marrying at sixteen (not what I envisage for my daughter! ).

Still, I like to think that there’s a little bit of Nana running through her blood. It might have skipped over my generation but it’s heartening to think that there’s still someone in the family willing to put up with a little dirt and discomfort, someone who, when she was about five or six insisted that when she grew up she wanted to be an explorer. And now here’s her opportunity. And not a moment too soon for someone who’s on the cusp of teenager-hood, a whole new world in itself, the exploration of which will, I suspect, leave little time for anything else.

Meanwhile, back home I’ll revel in a whole week without parental responsibilities or teaching and just plenty of time to study and write. Which is also a little like exploring, just without the sleeping-in-a-tent bit, and with more gin-and-tonics.


A photo of the explorer in her formative years:

Young explorer



Daisy chains

I’m sitting at my desk doing some study, but my eyes keep straying to the window. It’s a gorgeous spring day, the kind that makes you want to be out in the sun making daisy chains, or sitting with your bare feet resting on the back of a chair and your eyes shut, or sitting on the edge of a dock with your toes almost, but not quite, touching the water.

My lucky daughter is outside. She’s with a friend and so far they’ve hung out up high in one of the trees in front of our house, eaten a bowl of raspberries, played hide and seek, whizzed up and down the street on their skateboards, and walked on stilts, and now they’re going off to play table tennis.

They’re eleven, a funny age, both of them caught between being kids and teenagers, intimations of the women they’ll eventually become mixed in with those childlike traits that I hope never completely disappear, because I’ll miss them when they do.

I’m comforted by the fact that upstairs is a bed full of stuffed animals and a desk almost completely covered in tiny little plasticky things that drive me crazy on a regular basis. My daughter, for now, at least, eschews any kind of makeup or nail polish, and is content to wear the same pair of shoes day in and day out because they’re comfortable and what could be more important than that?

Now that they’ve disappeared around the corner I can get back to some work. Or maybe I’ll go outside, too…








Need all the help I can get

I don’t have an office. I have a desk tucked in a corner, with a bookshelf on one side and a wide window sill on the other. This way I’m close to the kitchen, which is essential for making cups of tea, keeping track of what I’m cooking for everyone’s dinner, and also for keeping an eye on homework. It’s cosy, but it works.

Most of the time.

Until, that is, I get a bit carried away with the all the journal papers I’m reading (or not), the various bits of paper that seem to accumulate all by themselves, the sticky notes that mysteriously unstick themselves from wherever they were stuck and float to the nearest surface, and the stacks of books that seem to come from nowhere, piling up to form miniature towers that teeter precariously whenever someone walks past. When this happens, the floor starts to look like my desk and the desk like how I imagine the inside of my head must look.

Which is why I am eternally grateful to have my wonderful research assistant. She keeps me on track, stepping on the keyboard at inopportune times, clicking on the mouse and either deleting something or answering an email when I wasn’t quite finished with it. Or simply sitting right in front of me so I can’t see the screen and purring loudly enough to drown out whatever fledgling thoughts were on their way to becoming something worth writing down.

Whatever would I do without her.

research assistant


Disco fever

She’s standing next to me, leaning on the arm of my chair, one arm wrapped around my neck, her hot breath on my cheek.

‘Always writing!’ she cries. ‘writing, writing!’

‘What would you like to me to do instead?’ I ask, knowing already that I’m going to do whatever she asks me to do (within reason!) because she’s right. I am always writing and it is a solitary occupation, although I have almost perfected the art of making appreciative noises or noncommittal replies while still tapping at my keyboard.

‘Disco!’ she cries.

So we go upstairs, shut the door to her bedroom, turn on the glowing jellyfish lamp and the tiny little Christmas tree light that slowly changes colour, select our first song and begin to dance.

For almost half an hour we dance wildly, sometimes together and sometimes apart, sometimes with favoured stuffed animals in our hands, their heads and limbs flying up and down with each movement. The cat lingers out in the hallway, not daring to scratch at the door, and anyone walking up the path next to our house must wonder what is going on.

Soon enough there’s a tap at the door and it’s her father, talking of teeth and bed and we tell him to wait until the end of this next song, and then we are done.

I kiss her good night and go back downstairs, the cat following at my heels, and sit back down at my computer and begin to write, again.




This is a Swiss swan searching for and then scooping up the bugs and algae floating on the surface of the Zürisee, otherwise known as Lake Zurich.

Writing can be a little bit like this sometimes, when you’re searching for the right word and just can’t find it anywhere…


Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool…la la la


She’s sick, curled up on the couch with a blanket and a few of her favourite stuffed animals. I bring drinks and food, the cat, funny stories, funny voices (for the stuffed animals), tissues, medicine and, above all, myself. I sit and stroke her hair, read aloud from her favourite book, play a gam of Spot It (a stupendous game if ever there was one), retrieve the cat, bring the iPad, fetch another glass of water, and generally do all the things one does when one’s daughter is home sick from school and feeling miserable.

And in the back of my mind I picture a chapter edited, a journal paper read, a topic researched, a brilliant idea put down on paper, knowing full well that even had I had the time it’s unlikely all this would have happened. Because it never does, does it.

But now that I can’t do any of it I am convinced I could have, if only I’d had the chance.

Yeah, right.


sick bears