Category Archives: Share & Learn

Bittersweet Bucket List

This #RovingWriter finally got to be Miss Philadelphia. (You know the one… Nancy Cato’s All The Rivers Run. Sigrid Thornton played the character in the 1980’s mini series of the same name.) It’s been a dream of mine to visit Echuca, to traverse that ancient wharf, to board the same wood-fired steamer, and to travel the Mighty Murray to the pulse of paddles and the huffing and puffing of pistons.

Two years ago, I heard about P.S. Pevensey (that it was the steamer used in the mini series) and if that was not exciting enough, I was told EVERY, yes EVERY, passenger gets a ticket – even the fur-kids. So, I made a promise to the one-eyed Dude dog at that time. I told her we’d take a boat trip together along the Murray.

Sadly, it’s taken two years to get to Echuca (on the NSW/Vic border) and as you may know, we lost the bravest dog in the world last year. So it was with sad hearts that we decided to go ahead and take a trip on the dog-friendly P.S. Pevensey anyway.

After telling our sad story to the lovely lady in the Discovery Centre, she gave us a canine ticket for our dearly departed ‘dog in a box’.

Canine Tickets for special passengers

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the lady took the time to write the date on the ticket, we realised the significance. While not planned, May 10 is one year – to the day – that we said goodbye to the Dude dog after 14 years with us. Suddenly, the much-anticipated trip turned bittersweet.

The one-eyed Dude dog, Daiquiri

Feeling miserable, what did we see? Bella.

What a joy. Here she is aboard and with Mum, Leanne. (I was itching for a puppy cuddle. I even had a sneaky cry.)

Once we disembarked, Bella’s family stopped with us at the Star Hotel for lunch – and some water from a wine goblet!

 

I’ve always believed some people come into our lives for a season and some for a reason. A  massive thank you to Keith and Leanne and Bella for sharing the trip and the pizza afterwards. I believe we were meant to meet today. Safe travels!

ABOUT THE BOOK: If you are interested in Nancy Cato’s novel – Booktopia has All The Rivers Run.

BEFORE YOU GO: It’s time we took back some control. Don’t leave it to Facebook (and the like) to decide what information you see and when you see it. I have book news coming soon and if, like me, you distrust social media’s filtering of information, join my New Release Reminder Service and I will email you my news direct to your inbox. (Just look top right on this page!) Leave your email (which I’ll protect with my life) and I’ll send you a reminder. This is NOT a monthly newsletter full of stuff you probably don’t want to know. I only send New Release Reminders when I have a new book out (or if my books go on sale online – and who doesn’t love a bargain book?)

albinism disability Jo Jo Moyes

Dear Jo Jo…

I emailed Jo Jo Moyes recently. I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed reading Me Before You, but more importantly, that I loved the wonderful way she portrayed her character, Will Traynor (and by that I mean bringing a leading man with a significant physical disability into mainstream fiction).

Of course, Jo Jo is not the first writer to do this. Many authors, myself included (with Will ‘Wheels’ Travelli in my 2013 debut novel House for all Season), have included character traits that are not deemed as ‘the norm’ for their male/female romantic fiction couple. By not following the traditional/safe route when it comes to creating characters readers love, authors do take a risk. Some of you might be shaking your heads in disbelief, but I received two scathing comments about my Will being in a wheelchair (anonymous Good Reads type comments). They sure were a blow to this debut author. But I picked myself up and I’ve since written three more books, each time ensuring there is a character in the story who refuses to be defined by their physicality.

As I found out, even Jo Jo was heavily criticised by disability groups who felt the portrayal of her Will portrayed a negative view of life for those living with quadriplegia.

In my 4th novel, The Other Side of the Season, I have both a leading man who suffers incomplete paraplegia, and Pearl — a person with albinism. The idea for Pearl came to me after reading a Ramp Up interview with Dr. Shari Parker. A fierce advocate, Shari (along with others) are striving to change the way people with albinism are perceived by the broader community. (This perception often influenced by movies/TV.) With the pen being mightier than the sword, there’s no better place to add weight than in our fiction novels. If thoughtfully done, novels (and movies) can tackle ‘different’ respectfully and kindly. They can be a starting point for opening dialogue on various subjects and provide a safe place in which to learn.

With the pen being mightier than the sword, there’s no better way to weigh in than in our fiction novels. If thoughtfully done, novels (and movies) can tackle ‘different’ respectfully and kindly. Sensitively and accurately portrayed, characters can be a starting point for opening dialogue on various subjects and provide a safe place in which to learn.

But . . . “Let’s get the facts straight,” as Shari Parker says in an interview. “In popular culture, people with albinism are often depicted as evil or supernatural.” [She] wants to set the record straight about the condition and remind others that widespread inaccuracies about albinism should be challenged wherever they appear.

I totally agree, but is Hollywood getting the message? According to an online source: “…from 1960 to 2006 there were 68 films released featuring an evil albino, with 24 of these appearing between 2000-2003. In comparison, there were only a handful of movies with albino characters that were sympathetic in nature, and many of these characters were used primarily for comedic value, ie: giving the characters stupid nicknames and making repeated gags about their skin condition.” And these movies were not small. They were significant in terms of box office success. (eg Including The Da Vinci Code and Cold Mountain.)

Incredibly, as recently as 2013, The Heat (starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy) included largely negative, inappropriate, and even a few disgusting one-liners that ridicule a character cast as an Albino. This sort of depiction only serves to reinforce misunderstandings, societal prejudice, and discrimination. And don’t think it’s only crime/cop shows. In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the main antagonist, named Rudy, is cast as the albino Baryonyx who is vicious and vindictive, unlike the other dinosaurs. Okay, so every good story needs conflict and a great antagonist and it’s easy to fall back on stereotypes.

Easy for the writer, perhaps. Hurtful for those being portrayed.

It’s not hard to write well-rounded, emotionally complex characters with disabilities who are not defined solely by those disabilities.

I like to challenge myself as an author—be it character, setting or structure—to make my stories stand out. This, along with and Shari’s interview, is why I decided to create Pearl in The Other Side of the Season. And I’ve received so many lovely messages from readers about her (and her relationship with Jake). She was intended to take on a secondary role, but like Alice in Season of Shadow and Light (also mean to be a secondary character when I wrote her in), readers have warmed to Pearl, even asking me to give her a story of her own. I don’t like using the word disability. I prefer the word extraordinary—and Pearl certainly is that—making her special, while still portrayed her as a regular girl.

I don’t like using the word disability and I don’t play up differences. I prefer to use the word extraordinary to describe some character traits. Pearl certainly is that—making her special, while still portrayed her as a regular girl.

And in case you’re going to ask . . . I found a list on Good Reads that has 395 books listed as being a romance with a disabled (substitute ‘extraordinary’) hero/heroine.

Have you enjoyed a story that has an extraordinary character? Let me know.

My choice is most definitely the  Jo Jo Moyes novel, Me Before You. I do intend seeing the movie soon, but for now, I am very happy to let Jo Jo’s beautiful characters and the imagery her words created linger a little longer in my mind.

Meet Will in House for all Seasons

Meet Alice in Season of Shadow and Light

Meet Pearl and David in The Other Side of the Season

 

When is a killer not a killer (a lesson for writers!)

There are faster, easier, more caravan-friendly roads to drive between Coffs Harbour and Victoria. We chose the more scenic coastal route—The Princes Highway, which is less highway and more a bitumen goat track (a drunk goat, in parts).

Our reason?

My family holidayed on the south coast when I was very young (Ulladulla, Kiama, Batemans’ Bay) but we never went as far south as Eden.

We knew the road would be challenging with 25 feet of Myrtle The Turtle in tow, but the town of Eden was a bit of a bucket list town for me. I’m not sure why, although I am certain it was not for any biblical reference: no gardens, naked men, or apples tempted me. The only temptation was the stunning Two Fold Bay and had the temperature not been single digit and the wind gale-force, I might have had a quick dunk, despite tales of killer whales.

Eden did teach this roving writer something about the power of a single word in storytelling and how reader interpretation can change the story—and that’s not a bad lesson for any author.

My lesson.

What I learned is how our words can incorrectly influence our readers and my teacher was those so-called ‘killer whales’.

You see, the Killer Whale did not get their rather unfortunate name from hunting down and snacking on humans, as I’d always assumed. They were, in a way, man’s friend, even when whale oil was a much sought after commodity in the 1800s. Twofold Bay legend of that time tells of the Killer Whale being the first known sea creature to work in ‘partnership’ with people. I recommend you read this more detailed (and short) version by Australian Geographic about the cleverness of these giants of the sea, and how they protected their species from whalers in search of whale oil, by herding the unsuspecting humpbacks (and other species) in to be killed instead. Extract: from the Australian Geographic article:

“Whaling in Eden took off in 1828, but it wasn’t until 1844 that stories of the peculiar behaviour started to emerge. Eyewitnesses talked of orcas prowling the entrance of Twofold Bay for migrating humpback, blue, southern right and minke whales. Using the unique geography of the bay, the waiting orcas would ambush whales that were vastly bigger than themselves – ripping at fins, diving over their blowholes, and forcing them into shallower waters for the whalers to finish off. Once a whale was dead, they’d feast on the lips and tongue, leaving the rest of the carcass for the whalers.”

So, when a killer is not necessarily a killer.

That’s how the killer whale got such a demonised name and reputation. Not by eating people! Over the years, legend and misunderstanding has seen the single word ‘killer’ interpreted in different ways and this is the lesson for writers.

We need to choose and use our words carefully. We need to look at words in context and understand that a single word can have different meanings or be misconstrued.

We need to be as careful with our word choices as we do our commas and apostrophes. Or else when someone says, “Let’s eat Grandma” we are not perceived to be killer grandkids when what we really mean is: “Let’s eat, Grandma.”

Discover more about at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

Author V.K. Black and Campfire Tales

When I found out a fellow Aussie author was hitting the road for five months to travel the country in I remember saying, “Oh, the places you’ll see!”

That author is V.K. Black and she’s taken her experiences and turned them into a series of short stories called Campfire Tales. So, what’s VK have to say?

You were so right, Jenn. Incredible, wonderful places. Kakadu, Litchfield Park, Broome, Uluru, a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles, whales, off South Australia – spouts everywhere.

The office looks familiar, V.K. I have a similar one right now, but in Victoria.

The photo of me at our table is when we were camped next to a river in the Pilbara. Nice office, huh? That notepad on the table contains the first draft of Campfire Tales, which is the anthology of short stories I was writing as I travelled around Australia.

And now—drum roll please—they’re published!

Tell us about the book.

Campfire Tales follows the adventures of Ellie and Michael, a young honeymooning couple, as they travel around Australia. Most co-incidentally, Ellie and Michael follow exactly the same route around Australia that we took. All of the stories in this anthology were inspired by little things that happened, snatches of conversations we heard, and people we met.

About Campfire Tales

Hawaii? Paris? Goodness, no. On their honeymoon, Ellie and Michael travel around Australia in their battered old land cruiser, sleep in a tent, and don’t mind at all that their air mattress is always flat the next morning. They encounter a gunman at a remote campsite, help a woman dealing with emotional abuse, and meet the warring owners of an amazing caravan.

Our very-much-in-love couple make love, fight, make up, and meet people from all walks of life during their incredible adventure. So sit back with your thermos of coffee (or a glass of wine, if you’re more like Ellie and Michael) and follow our happy couple’s adventures around Australia.

Where to get the book

Available for 99 cents from Amazon and Kobo. More Buy Links can be found on V.K. Black’s Website.

Leave a reply below if you wish.

A Pearl of an Idea

pearlMeet Pearl…

No, not that pearl!

 

Pearl is actually the daughter of an oyster farmer in my latest novel, The Other Side of The Season.

Pearl is an example of what we call in the business – a secondary character. This means she was created to support the lead characters, providing them with, among other things, a way to express themselves, to help foreshadow events, or to provide background while still moving the narrative forward. Sometimes, however, a secondary character can go rogue.

Another example of a secondary character is Alice, in Season of Shadow and Light. I created her after I’d finished the initial draft, actually re-writing the manuscript to add Alice as a “nanna/babysitter” to six-year-old Matilda, thus freeing up Paige, the mother, to get on with the story without readers saying: “But where’s the kid”.

Like Alice, Pearl has found her way into the hearts of readers. One reason might be because I let her hook up with Jake, and Jake is, well, I’m told he’s just adorable. But Pearl is pretty special, too, because she’s a little different. And I did that on purpose.

Pearl is a person born with albinism. Some of you might be more familiar with the word ‘albino’ but as I leanred when researching this character there are misconceptions and lots of misrepresentation in certain media about his inherited condition. I wanted to do my bit towards correcting this. It’s said the pen is mightier than the sword and I believe authors have the opportunity to make a difference in the world. Literature can start conversations and lead change. Through their stories, authors provide people with a safe place to explore social differences that they might not otherwise understand or encounter. With all four of my novels I’ve been inclusive, using fiction to normalise that which society may see or label otherwise. I do this by including characters with differences — although not focusing on the ‘different’ or applying a label to it. Acceptance comes from understanding. If things like sexual orientation, illness, race, language, physical traits/conditions and psychological issues are included into everyday fiction maybe they will one day become ‘the norm’.

Dr Shari Parker - TOSOTSYou might have noticed I thanked Dr Shari Parker in my acknowledgements. If you Google the name, or go to the Albinism Fellowship of Australia website, you’ll learn a lot more about living with albinism and the importance of ending the myths created in some books and films that depict people with albinism as evil villains or supernatural freaks. I am very appreciative of Shari’s assistance.

Dr Shari Parker: “Albinism is an inherited condition where the body produces less than normal amounts of melanin – a substance that gives skin, hair and eyes colour. About one in 17,000 Australians is born with albinism and about one in 75 carries an albinism gene. If a carrier mates with another, they have a one-in-four chance of a baby with it.”
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/albinos-think-its-time-the-world-played-fair-20111007-1ldvk.html#ixzz4CxDT37C9
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SOSAL B format

Alice steals the story

SOSAL final

Pearl steals the story

 

What do you do when your editor tells you she’s deleted 20,000 words?

Panic? Swear? Scream?

It happened to me and after picking myself up off the floor, I took a breath, I read on, and I soon realised she was so right!

Editors sometimes suggests an author kill their darlings (aka fave bits) even though they think those bits are pretty darn good and special. My Winter Solstice scene was special to me because I know Molly! I know her story and I wanted a way to mention her. But was it special to the reader?

So many scenes I write in my draft manuscript don’t make the final version, and as with my winter solstice picnic scene I end up seeing why they need cutting. You can too if you want to read the following 12 pages of waffle. Those of you who have read the book can check out Chapter 19, which is where I managed (in a couple of paras) to sneak in the winter solstice bit (although sadly, not Molly, although I did have a big tummy tickle the other day with the real Molly, here at Corindi Beach.)

What better time to post a scene about the winter solstice than on the winter solstice (which occurred today @ 8.34 am).

PS:  My editor ended her structural repoert with this: “Beautiful story, beautiful characters, beautiful setting, and you actually made me cry at the end — and I’m an editor. I don’t cry.”)

PPS: This excerpt is unedited. Me… in the raw!!!!! (Scary, be kind.)

_____________________________

Jake swaggered across the patchy lawn area dotted with picnic tables to where Pearl sat cross-legged on a blanket, a banquet of Tupperware spread out before her. ‘I got your text. Do you know what time it is?’

‘Of course. It’s six o’clock. Sleep well?’

‘Like a baby, until the phone beeped me awake. What’s the story?’ Jake scanned the array of bite-sized treats.

‘Welcome to my winter solstice picnic.’

‘Huh?’

‘It’s the time of year that we experience the least amount of daylight hours. I’ve been making the most of the night.’ Pearl consulted her watch. ‘We have two and a half hours to go.’

‘Until what?

‘Until 8.34 am.’

‘What happens then? Do you turn into a vampire or—’ Jake swore silently, but Pearl smiled.

‘Come on, sit.’

‘I’m a moron,’ he muttered.

He’d wanted to Pearl to like him. He really liked her. Jake had even tried googling albinism last night. First he’d searched the word albino, but that mostly resulted in baby rhino and hippo stories. That’s how he’d learned the correct term was people with albinism, which just sounded weird, and Pearl was definitely the least weird female he’d met in a long time. She was the real deal: no flashy clothes, no stuck on nails, no glued on lashes or painted on tops.

‘You’re not a moron. I now you didn’t mean anything. It’s early. You’re not quite awake. Food might help.’ She patted the ground beside her, about the only bit not covered with food containers. ‘Join me?’

With the chilly morning permeating his jacket, Jake didn’t have to be asked twice to cosy up on one corner of a blanket with the coolest chick he’d ever met. He slumped to the ground and pulled his knees to his chest, then he leaned sideways to kiss her, intending a peck to her cheek and another apology. Instead Pearl turned, her mouth meeting his, and Jake reckoned she tasted as good as she looked.

In fact, Jake licked his lips when their kiss ended. She also tasted like garlic and . . . ‘Oregano! Fresh,’ he qualified.

‘Here. Try this one.’

Jake plucked the meaty ball from the bowl. ‘You plan on telling me what this picnic is all about?’

‘The winter solstice marks one of the main turning points in the year. It’s the day the sun reaches its northernmost position in the sky and starts moving back towards the south.’

With the reserve next to the breakwall deserted, the winds barely enough to unsettle the leaves in the pandanas trees, Jake wondered why Pearl had chosen to set up her feast so far away from the walking track.

‘The winter solstice doesn’t explain the pig-out picnic for one.’

‘It’s symbolic. And it’s easily a picnic for two, so don’t be shy.’

Jake helped himself to pastry triangle. ‘Symbolic of what?’

‘Of me being a moonchild.’

‘A moon—’ He almost choked on the last swallow. ‘You’d better run that by me again.’

‘Most people won’t give the winter solstice a second thought. They might eat earlier or go to bed earlier because it seems darker or, colder. Not me.’

‘Not you what?’

‘I make the most of the night and celebrate the moon.’ Pearl raised her arms in a sway above her head, like a high priestess summoning some unearthly power.

Jake tried to not laugh. ‘You do know that sounds a bit zombie apocalypse.’

‘Sure, but that’s fine. Zombies are pretty awesome.’

‘I think you’re pretty awesome,’ Jake mumbled through a mouthful of something soft and salty.

‘You’d better think so. After all, you’re eating all the spanakopita—my favourite.’ She slapped his hand playfully and he dropped the last triangle back onto the plate.

‘My other favourite night of the year is Halloween.’

‘Really?’

‘Sure! Look at me. Dressing up for Trick or Treat is a breeze.’ Jake’s expression must have been a funny one because she laughed and slapped his shoulder. ‘I’m joking. Although a lady in the supermarket one day did ask me if I was going to a dress-up party.’

‘Are you serious? Not even I’m that stupid.’ Thanks to Google, Jake thought to add.

He’d never wanted to understand a woman before. A woman was something you picked up on a Friday night and bonked anywhere half comfortable, hoping to make a good enough impression to get a second date. Pearl was different, and he didn’t want to stuff things up or turn her off him by asking dumb questions.

There remained one question his internet research didn’t answer.

‘I’ve seen you riding that crazy-looking motorised tricycle, and you can negotiate the mountain road on a quad bike like nobody. How come you can’t drive a car?’

‘My peepers.’ Pearl slid the dark glasses she always wore to the top of her head. ‘I’m regarded as legally blind.’

Snappin’ crab claws! They were the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen—iridescent blue and framed by strikingly white eyelashes. The combination reminded Jake of the daisies with the blue centre that would grow at his mum’s place. If he had one of those flowers handy right now he’d start plucking petals in the hope he ended with a She loves me.

‘They won’t give me a car licence. They say I can’t drive.’

‘Can’t drive?’ Jake scoffed. ‘Have the authorities seen you on that quad bike?’

‘No, and I’d like to keep it that way,’ Pearl said. ‘My independence is everything. The boss understands that better than anyone I know, which is why he suggested I use the quad bike to get me up and down the mountain. Driving a familiar route is no problem—although I’d never try the mountain on a trike, even with my little motor. Crazy I might be, but silly I am not. I’m a pretty regular girl under all this.’

‘Pretty is right.’

Pearl laughed and handed a can of soft drink to Jake. ‘Here, have a drink. Anything to stop you spouting more corny lines. You also need to know flattery isn’t required. I already like you so,’ she shrugged, ‘you can consider me a sure thing.’ Jake almost choked, the fizzy liquid bubbling in the back of his nose. ‘Any way, what was I saying before?’

Pearl passed him a paper napkin to blow his nose, which he did discreetly. ‘Ah, you were talking about being a moonchild.’

‘Oh, yeah, right. Well, my dad was first to call me that, mostly because when all my girlfriends were sunbaking and wearing straplines like a badge of honour, I was inside the house. Not until night comes, or winter when the sun is less strong, can I enjoy what all my friends take for granted—the great Australian outdoors.’

‘That must have really sucked when you were a kid.’

‘It’s my life and I rather enjoy it, until someone stares at me or—’

‘Makes some moronic gaff!’

‘Even my brothers make fun of me. It’s when strangers just stare that bothers me the most, but in the evening there’s less people around. I also prefer a winter beachscape at night, especially when the moon is full enough to cast shadows on the sand, and surprises wash in from the sea and all for me.’

‘Speaking of surprises. These babies really pop in your mouth.’ Jake was sniffing the squid like a sommelier noses a wine. The tangle of tentacles still smelled of the sea and he couldn’t imagine anything tastier.

‘Mummy, that lady looks like a ghost.’

‘Boo!’

Pearl’s blurted response frightened the child, whose mother looked at her in silent reproach. Jake had been startled too, not that he let on.

‘Kids!’ he muttered.

‘I know I shouldn’t do stuff like that. It only emphasises people’s misconceptions about albinism. Telling people I worship the moon doesn’t help, either, but the locals know me. Like I said, I’m just a regular girl. No howling at the moon, no cauldrons or blood-sucking rampages. Although I am skilled at giving love bites in various shapes—if you’re into that sort of thing.’ She winked. ‘Kids aren’t even the problem. Children often seem cruel—they stare, say silly things and ask too many questions—but they’re usually just curious. It’s the grown-ups with their awkward silences and sideways glances that are capable of greater cruelty. I bet that mother has never thought to sit her daughter down and start a conversation about how people might look different, but on the inside they’re just like she is and easily hurt by barbs. One too many reactions like that kid’s is what drove me back home permanently.’

‘You’re happy living in a small place like this?’

‘I went to Sydney to study. I’d been planning to go to university and study medicine, but then I found out about the challenges I’d face doing a degree.’

‘Such as?’

‘Seeing the detail in lecture room slides and the volume of reading to be done in set time frames. I decided I’m more a hands-on kinda gal. So after a short course, and a lot of reading at my own pace, I got my certificate in remedial massage. That satisfied my curiosity about the human body with and its faults and frailties. I’m happy wrapping seafood while I build up my massage clientele.’

‘Speaking of clients . . . What happened to the boss? Nice enough bloke, but quiet.’

‘Some people take a while to let strangers in. He’s had it tough.’ She shrugged. ‘When he was younger—in his late teens—he had a bad accident. He doesn’t like to talk about it. Anyway, he ended up in a coma. Doctors knew a lot less about swelling on the brain back then and they thought he’d never recover, but his mother, Rose, refused give up, and she wouldn’t let them pull the plug. When David woke up he surprised the hell out of everyone—except Rose. A mother knows, I suppose. Still, he was far from fine, and facing life in a wheelchair. Only he refused to sit around. He used his muscles, stayed strong, worked out every way he could, and showed everyone. A few years of an experimental rehab program got his painting hand working again and from then on there was no stopping his progress. Goes to show a body can be broken, but the right frame of mind can mend it.’

‘So how did you get to know him?’ Jake asked.

‘I’d see him down here on the breakwall occasionally, usually in winter and in the dark when there are less spectators around. He used to sit on that bench over there and stare out to sea. I’d stop and do some stretches. Eventually we started talking. He told me not long ago I was the daughter he never had.’ Pearl looked up at the night sky. ‘I’ve never told anyone that. You’re a good listener, Jake. In my family I’m lucky to get a word in. We’re all too busy talking over the top of each other to hear what anyone else says.’

‘Thanks for trusting me with the story about David.’

‘I’ve never forgotten that night. Him and I stayed mates. Having something in common does that.’

‘Something like what?’

‘Well, we’ve both had to learn to accept that others see our differences and our disabilities before they see us—like the mother and her little girl tonight. Anyway . . .’ Pearl made a little coughing sound. ‘That’s enough local goss for one night. Let’s talk about something else, shall we?’

‘Like?’ Jake asked, not caring at all. She could talk about anything, as long as he got to watch her.

‘The moon and the stars maybe?’ Pearl was staring at the sky again. ‘Did you know our part of the world is having the starriest midwinter in a decade? The dry winds have kept the skies clear, which has meant little cloud reaching New South Wales.’

Jake was certainly starting to feel a little starry-eyed. ‘How do you know that stuff?’

‘I read a lot. I especially read about the stuff I have trouble seeing. Like stars.’

‘You can’t see the stars?’

‘Not with the naked eye, sitting here like this. But I do know my east from my west, so I can tell you about the different constellations. As long as I have my body pointing in the right direction I can even tell you where they are. For example . . .’ Pearl shuffled around until her feet were pointing towards the breakwall before falling back on the grass. ‘The Southern Cross is right about . . . There!’ She pointed.

Jake joined her on grass, their heads butting, eyes gazing at the same piece of sky. ‘Not bad. Keep talking.’

‘One of the brightest stars is Venus. Around about there!’ She pointed again. ‘On a moonless night her glow can actually cast shadows.’

‘Your glow right now makes you the brightest star tonight.’

Pearl nudged his shoulder, her hand searching out his. ‘Your sister never mentioned you had such a way with words.’

‘Take after my dad. He used to write a lot, but Mum says that’s where the similarities end. They used to fight a lot.’

‘Whose parents don’t argue?’

‘Yeah, I know,’ Jake said. ‘But their fights were pretty intense. Dad was just so black and white about a lot of stuff, and she’d get really frustrated with him.’

‘So they’re not together anymore?’ Pearl asked.

Jake sat up. ‘Actually, Dad died. He was in New York, in one of the towers, on 9/11. His body was never recovered.’

Pearl sat up too and tugged his hand into her lap, her grasp tightening. ‘Oh, that’s sad.’

‘Mum’s really never got over it and I’m not even sure why I brought that up. How about we talk about something else? Maybe you could give me the recipe for those amazing smoked fish bits. They were so good—like a salty tastebud explosion in my mouth. I can still taste them.’ He wiped his lips on the sleeve of his hoodie.

‘Family secret, that one. My nonna had an old Estonian saying: Better a salty morsel than a square meal of sweet.

‘I am loving your nonna.’ Jake managed one more morsel. ‘In fact, I love the idea of a big family.’

‘Having six brothers at school was a bit like having my own personal security detail to deal with playground bullies.’

‘Six?’

‘All married and all with six kids. Now you know why there’s so much food here. We don’t ever cook small quantities.’

‘And no one else in the family has . . .’

‘Nope. I’m the only Pearl in the family. Makes me kinda precious and one of a kind. Dad named me after the jewel of the sea and my nonna taught me to appreciate food and family tradition. Those spanakopita triangles with wild mushroom and blue cheese you loved so much are her special recipe. There are only about a million traditions in Serbian culture and nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of them involve a feast. So, yeah, we have a few rituals. I added winter solstice to the list—my very personal ritual that I rarely share with anyone.’

‘I’m honoured.’

‘You should be.’ Pearl smiled.

‘And this spread is all so good, but way too much.’

‘Now you know why I run and cycle every day. It’s a necessity, so I don’t end up the size of my nonna.’

‘You and your nonna have beaten me. And I’ll have you know that rarely happens.’ Jake patted his stomach. ‘Maybe I need a nonna nap.’

‘You rest. I’m going to walk off that last piece of nut roll.’

Jake closed his eyes. He may have even drifted off, woken only by Pearl giggling, and a heavy weight pressing on his chest. He opened his eyes and smiled, eager for a kiss. But instead of looking up at a starry night sky and Pearl’s pretty face, Jake found himself staring up the nostrils of a huge dog—big, shiny and black and with tell-tale honey-coloured patches above each eye like a . . .

Rottweiler!

‘What the . . . ?’ He bolted upright to find Pearl smiling and the dog not so big and terrifying after all.

‘Don’t be scared. Molly here is a good girl—aren’t you, Mol?’

With the would-be beast now on her back lapping up tummy tickles, Jake tried to recover his dignity. ‘I’m . . . I’m not scared of a mangy mutt.’

‘Aw, don’t you listen to him, my baby bubba girl,’ Pearl cooed. ‘You’re not mangy, are you? Oh, no you’re not! Oh no you’re not! Oh, no you’re not!’ she tickled. ‘Who’s Mama’s good girl, eh?’

‘She’s yours?’ Should he apologise for calling her dog a mangy mutt? ‘What breed?’

‘No idea and she’s not mine—not officially. She kind of came with the beach house,’ Pearl explained. ‘She belongs to the crusty old bugger who owns the place I’m renting. When the old guy was thrown in the slammer I moved in and Molly stayed. I built her a proper fence, but she’s my clever Houdini hound. Always finding a way out, aren’t you, sweetie? At the start she was timid, like the guy had beaten her or something, but before long she was joining me on my morning runs and waiting for me to finish up at work so she could escort me home. I’d seen her plenty of times before over the years when she’d been so hungry she’d eat fish heads from the bin behind the co-op.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a dog who ate fish before.’

‘Exactly.’ Pearl shrugged. ‘I figured it was a case of beggars can’t be choosers, poor thing. But she must’ve got a taste for it, because when I tried her on dog meat she screwed up her nose.’

‘How old is she?’

‘No idea, but she sleeps most of the day in the shade out the back of the co-op, so not young, I guess. That’s not to say she doesn’t earn her keep. She has an early start each day. When the boats dock to unload she stops the fish from being stolen. She does a good job, too.’

‘People around here pinch fish off the boats?’

‘Not people.’ Pearl laughed. ‘Bloody birds. But Molly here runs around the dock barking and scaring the seagulls away. Don’t you, Mol? Oh, yes, you do! Oh, yes, you do! Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl?’

Right now Jake was wishing he had four legs and a tail so he could squirm around on his back and get some of that tickle action from Pearl.

___________________

Like I said…. Chapter 19. 🙂

#librarylove #freeandfair

Library Lovers 2016I’m a library lover. Are you?

Libraries are a place to connect. A place to feel connected.

Libraries are community and compassion – always with an ear to listen and a hand to hold.

Libraries don’t discriminate. They welcome diversity and discussion. If you walk into a library and you can’t read they’ll embrace you and admire you for your courage.

Libraries are free books – legally and morally speaking! Did you know an author receives a small payment every time someone borrows their book from a library? Borrowing a book from the library says thank you to the creator who spent 12 months writing those characters and making that book come to life. It’s free and it’s fair. #freeandfair

With council areas in some states amalgamating, and governments always looking to save money, your local library might be one of the first things to go. The way to save your local library is by frequenting it often. In doing so you’ll make your library an essential part of your community and you’ll be saying ‘thank you’ to an author and loving your local librarian.

This Saturday, February 14 is Library Lovers’ Day in Australia. Share the love.

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Jenn’s book are at libraries everywhere. Reserve one today. Or you can request your library stock Jenn J McLeod.

Check out my book room for titles and blurbs.

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