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…









How does your language grow?

I have to laugh sometimes when, in one sentence, my daughter goes from English to German and back again, just like all her polyglot friends, lucky devils that they are.

In my novel there are two main characters who use the English language in completely different ways. It’s great fun (for me!) to switch from one to the other, and while it took time to develop their styles to my (their?) satisfaction, I can now slip easily from one to the other. It’s like dressing up when I was a child, that feeling of becoming someone else and understanding implicitly that how I spoke and the words I used were an important part of my costume.

Which has me thinking about how we use language and how much we rely on this ability to use it. If you’ve ever changed countries then you’ll be  familiar with that feeling of discomfit that comes from not understanding everything that is being said. Suddenly tiny children seem like geniuses because they can speak Spanish and you’re struggling to say hello.

Although it’s not just foreign languages. When we moved from Australia to the UK it was the tiny, subtle changes that were the most disconcerting, leaving us, at times, red-faced because we’d unknowingly use an entirely inappropriate word (thongs, anyone??), and other times wondering at how the same language could be used in such different ways.

And now we live in Switzerland, where the subtleties of the German language completely pass me by and I know I sound like an overly formal robot when I try to speak it. And because the English speakers here come from many different countries, I still find myself thinking about which words to use because my English might be different to that of the listener.

It’s complicated.

And my daughter? She’ll switches seamlessly from German to English but I struggle not to smile when I hear her use a word in English that, while correct, would not pass muster in an Australian school playground, the poor thing.

Our ability to communicate is easy to take for granted, until you realise that we’re not just products of our upbringing, but also of our language, whatever that might be.


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…


The cat is happy and so am I.

I will now sing the praises of my lovely supervisor.

She is a woman of fine character and discerning tastes. A person who recognises quality and can see potential when it is right in front of her. Furthermore, she likes a nice turn of phrase and appreciates a good metaphor when she sees one…

Yes, she liked my novel! Phew.

This isn’t the end of the story, not by a long shot. My story will undergo many small changes between now and the finish line, but it’s bones are are in place and solid enough that it can stand up by itself.

So that means it’s time for me to get on with my exegesis. This is the nonfiction half of my Phd, just as big as the novel and just as scary although not for the same reasons. As I’ve said before there’s a real tension between trying to write creatively and academically, and the exegesis falls very firmly in the second camp.

Recently, though, I find myself looking at the exegesis as a challenge to see how I can combine the creative and academic, to see if I can construct it in such a way that it is still academically robust but ends up being something I would like to read. For me, the best academic writing holds my attention because it uses clear, straightforward language and has something of the writer on the page, something personal.

So it’s with this in mind that I’m approaching this with a renewed commitment to putting a little bit of me in there, because I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it any other way.


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First draft is…done


I can hardly believe it, but, yes, dear reader, it’s true. I’ve finished the complete first draft of my novel.

As soon as I finished I sent it to my supervisor and made a hard copy for myself. Then I tidied the house, made lunch for my daughter and her friend, cooked dinner for later that evening, cleaned out the kitty litter tray, had a cup of tea and then taught my first music student for the day.

Now that is how to live the creative life, let me tell you.

There will be many more drafts, of course, and no doubt I will read it again soon – after an appropriate amount of time has passed – and feel like using it to line the kitty litter tray, but for now I’m going to enjoy the feeling of having done something I didn’t think I would ever be able to do.

Now I’m waiting to hear what my supervisor has to say. Depending on what that is I may never get up the courage to show it to another living person.

At least the cat will be happy.

Elsie eye




Burnt toffee

I’ve spent far too much time today trying to make an almond toffee recipe that’s worked perfectly before but is turning out miserably today. It’s for a dinner party I’m going to this evening and, naturally, I want it to be good. After two attempts I gave up, had a cup of tea and pondered the failure that was my cooking.

The thing about failure is that it seems to like company, so, I started pondering other failures as well, like my failure to write on this blog in the last few months, my failure to get my head around what it is I’m currently trying to write for my exegesis, and my failure to come to grips with the plot in my novel.

After all this thinking I had to get back into the kitchen because I still had to produce something to take this evening. I opened and closed cupboards, stared out the window for a while and then improvised, cobbling together something altogether different to what I had planned.

But…it’s delicious!

Melted dark chocolate with chopped dried figs, toasted slivers of almond,  and sea salt. Simple but good.

Of course the exegesis issue isn’t going to be solved quite so easily but I’ve been comforting myself with the thought that the creative process is nothing if not about failure. If I had given up the first time I failed I would have stopped writing long ago.

As it is, sometimes I have to force myself to keep going because failure is very draining and not all the cups of tea in the world can save me on some days. But sometimes what comes after can be better than what was originally intended, and sometimes the very fact of being forced to improvise can produce something new and exciting.

Either way it is a comfort to finally realise that this is, however much I try for it not to be, a natural part of the writing process, and that maybe the simple act of beginning again is an accomplishment that should not be underestimated.

Like starting this blog again.