Another baby and other excuses


So… I lied.

Many moons ago I wrote (as an excuse for my failure to blog) that I wasn’t writing blog posts because I was having too much darn fun exploring South Africa. My theory was that if I was home in Australia I’d be writing up a storm because I’d have so much time on my hands.

We moved back to Australia in mid 2011 and, as the keen-sighted amongst you will have noted, it is now November 2012 which means that I haven’t blogged for about three years. Or something like that. Maths was never my strong point. I also haven’t written a new novel since Bittersweet. Some very lovely readers have recently contacted my agent and publisher asking politely WHAT IS THAT WOMAN DOING WITH HER TIME, as clearly I am not writing.

In order to beg forgiveness here are my excuses complete with handy timeline:

June 2011: We move back to Australia from South Africa.

June – September 2011: I spend months of my life trying to enrol my two boys in kindergarten and childcare. (Hey – here’s a free business idea for some budding entrepreneur – set up a bazillion childcare centres in Melbourne because the current waiting lists mean that your child will get a place around the time of their 21st birthday.)

10th October 2011: I buy a treadmill. I took up running in South Africa and I really, really don’t want to give it up but as my husband works ungodly hours and supposedly you’re not allowed to leave two children under the age of five alone in the house in order to go for a run, a treadmill seems like the best solution. 

18th October 2011 – I realise that I’m pregnant.  For those of you who have read The Babymoon you will not be surprised to hear that this means I need to go to sleep for approximately 23 hours a day for the next three months. The doctor advises me against running while pregnant so the treadmill goes into storage under the house.

Christmas, New Year’s – not sure what happened but several months pass. This is the last time I plan to be pregnant so naturally I use it as an excuse to eat about three blocks of chocolate a day. I occasionally hear quiet sobbing from under the house. I think it might be my treadmill.

March 2012: I am six months pregnant. My husband comes home from work and discusses with me the possibility of accepting a posting to China. For anyone reading this who has ever been pregnant you will empathise that packing up the entire house and moving overseas with three young children, including a newborn baby, is the dream of every pregnant woman. For some reason, I agree.  Later I realise what I’ve agreed to. I eat another block of chocolate and go and kick my treadmill.

May 2012: We fly to Shanghai to look at houses and schools. I am 34 weeks pregnant. It is about 40 degrees and humid in Shanghai as we wander around. Everyone points and stares openly at me. When I ask our relocation agent why I’m attracting so much attention she blithely replies that in China heavily pregnant women would be at home resting before the birth, not wandering around in the heat like a crazy person. Fair point. I decide that I want to be Chinese.

June 2012: My daughter is born. Ten days later my youngest son breaks his leg. My eldest son gets an ear infection. I am surrounded by boxes that need to be packed. We’re trying to rent out our home so the house needs to be immaculate at all times as it’s open for inspection. Did I mention that I have a newborn baby who is up all night breastfeeding? Oh and my husband is overseas. Eat more chocolate and put my treadmill on eBay.

Late June 2012: Have you ever noticed that every ad on eBay selling a treadmill says that it’s ‘virtually unused’? Somewhere in Melbourne there is a very lucky man who bought a treadmill that I really did only use about seven times. I think it worked out to about $100 per run.

August 2012: We move to Shanghai. It’s very hot, we don’t speak Mandarin and virtually no-one speaks English. That’s all that I remember.

September – November 2012:  We settle in to Shanghai – new home, new schools, new language. We fly up to Beijing for a few days. I eternally disgrace myself by stepping out on to the Great Wall of China, taking in the breathtaking view and then blurting out, (without a hint of irony), “This is – great!” What a way with words. That girl should be a writer.

21st November 2012 – I sit at my computer in our new study for the first time since moving here. Blog post – done. New book to follow.

I promise.

In Defence of Bridezillas

Anyone who has ever been involved in preparations for a wedding is probably wondering the same thing: has Kate Middleton been fighting with Prince William over the wedding plans? Is she throwing right royal tantrums because the theme of her wedding is Ye Olde England Royalty and she wanted a Bollywood style extravaganza? Have tiaras been flung and tears been shed over floral arrangements or kilts for the corgis?  Has she, in short, turned into a Bridezilla?

The word ‘Bridezilla’ was coined about fifteen years ago to denote an unpleasant change in personality wrought by the pressures of planning a wedding. (Like many perjorative terms there is no male equivalent. This undoubtedly has more to do with the fact that brides still take on the bulk of wedding planning than it does with men being immune from stress-related personality changes.)

While it’s very easy to treat wanna-be Princesses for a day with scorn for their immersion in Wedding World, I spent a lot of time thinking about weddings while writing my latest novel and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time we gave all the Bridezillas out there a break. Because maybe turning into a Bridezilla doesn’t automatically mean that you have lost all perspective on what is truly important.

So how do you find the meaning of life while spending hours poring over bridal magazines or agonizing over seemingly trivial details such as butter dishes and sashes for chairs? (By the way is it just me or is anyone else perplexed by the fact that only beauty pageant winners, facist dictators and wedding chairs wear sashes?) How is it possible to retain a balanced outlook on life while drilling down to a level of organisational detail that is really only necessary when planning a nuclear evacuation procedure? The answer lies in the undeniable fact that all of these actions are the reflection of a truly noble goal: the attempt to create One Perfect Day.

Perfection isn’t something most of us strive for on a daily basis. Most days we’re happy to scramble and scrape through, going to bed content if we’ve managed not to pay attention to Charlie Sheen or inadvertently wear a sash.

But when it comes to our wedding days we demand perfection. Nothing less will do for one of the few times in our lives that we will stand up and publicly celebrate love, trust and commitment. A wedding day is dedicated to celebrating abstract ideals that we all honour, made tangible through the form of people whom we love. Striving for these noble ideals, a Bridezilla becomes a warrior queen, letting nothing and no-one get between her and the only Welsh harp player in a seven hundred kilometre radius.

Bridezillas don’t need anyone to remind them that marriage is more important than the wedding.  But perhaps those who ridicule them need a reminder that the whole point of having a wedding in the first place is that you care deeply about this event. It matters in a way that few other occasions in your life will.

So I say, go ahead Kate and all you other brides-to-be and have a few guilt-free shouting matches with your fiancé over calligraphy fonts and buttonholes and the sorts of thing that you’re never going to think about again for as long as you live. It might even be a good way to relieve some stress.

However, my defence of Bridezillas does come with one caveat. Once the wedding is over, you need to move on. If you’re happily married and still trying to match your shoes to your stationery then it’s time to seek professional help. Unless, of course, you’re Princess Kate of England. Because, most unfairly, real princesses, unlike us princesses for a day, generally have a free pass to behave like a Bridezilla for life. But who’d want to strive for perfection every single day, anyway? Not me. I’m off to wear a sash and get me some tiger blood.    

The Movie Thing

Happy (belated) New Year lovely Bleaders!

And thank you to everyone who has left comments since last I wrote.  I have returned from gleefully sodding off for several weeks on a wonderful adventure around Egypt and South Africa so am only just now trying to remember where all the letters on the keyboard are as I pondered what to write.

I’ve decided to write about The Movie Thing for three reasons: the first is that it seems that the idea of Serendipity being turned into a movie is causing emotions to run high (Hello Eva and Saloni!).  The second reason is that people all tend to have the same reaction to the news that my novel has been optioned and I’m working on the screenplay. They assume it is going to become a movie and they will be queuing up in the near future to buy tickets to see it. Perfectly understandable assumptions really, that just happen to be WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.  The final catalyst was witnessing my eldest son’s confusion and disappointment as he watched Wes Anderson’s fabulous adaptation of the Roald Dahl book Fantastic Mr Fox last night. It’s a story my son knows well and loves but he’s not so sure about the movie version. Because (surprise, surprise!) IT’S NOT THE SAME AS THE BOOK.

Welcome to the wonderful world of movie adaptations.

Believe me Saloni, you are not alone in your fears about Serendipity being turned into a film. I have never seen the films of The English Patient or Captain Corelli’s Mandolin because I love those books so much and I don’t want the films to ruin that love.  Most of the Harry Potter films commit the sin of being boring when the books are the exact opposite. So a film adaptation of one of my books was never on my to-do list until about three years ago I received an email from a Queensland based movie producer, whom I will call Vickie, as that is her name.

One hot summer’s day Vickie and I met up in Melbourne and discussed the possibility of her optioning Serendipity in order to turn it into a movie. As contracts started to fly back and forth, I became increasingly nervous. You see, signing the rights away to a book ain’t as much fun as it sounds. While visions of Hugh Jackman presenting me with a screenwriting award and Margaret and David from At the Movies arguing over the film of my book were tantalising, the downside of all this was The Nanny Diaries.

Remember that book? Of course you do. It was great fun. Remember the movie? Not really. Despite the fact that it was based on a good book and it starred Scarlett Johansson, the film sucked. And I love Serendipity. I love all my books for different reasons but Serendipity was just so much fun to write and it showed in the finished book. It’s a light-and-love-filled bubble of a book and I still adore Oscar. Hero was named after the heroine in one of my all-time favourite books, Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer. So it’s special for a whole host of reasons. If the movie is made and it’s awful, it will be no-one’s fault but my own for signing away my beloved story in the first place.

Anyway, I got over my fears and signed the contracts. (Thanks mainly to my husband repeating ‘Sign it, sign it!’) The screenwriting process kicks off and that’s when I discover I am going to be co-writing it. As in – THERE IS SOMEONE ELSE. PUTTING WORDS INTO MY CHARACTERS’ MOUTHS. To paraphrase Dr Seuss: I did not like this, not one little bit.

Then I gradually realised that my co-writer, Lauren, knew stuff about movies that I didn’t. Like, for example, how to write a screenplay. As a novelist, my first discovery was that screenplays are brutally short. You get about 110 pages maximum. This is almost all dialogue. And it’s double-spaced. Compare this with a novel’s 400-odd pages of lovely, detailed paragraphs in small type and my penchant for sentences that are longer than those of an average politician trying to duck an uncomfortable question.

Writing several drafts of the screenplay for Serendipity easily filled up three years. (And I still want to rewrite it.) But Vickie has now moved onto the stage of trying to get a director. This is not as easy as throwing squillions of dollars at someone and yelling ‘You’re hired!’. You have to send the screenplay to your director of choice, wait for them to read it and then hopefully they like it and say yes. If they say no obviously you have to send it to the next director on your wish list. As you can’t send it to more than one at a time this process could easily suck up a year or more. Serendipity is currently out with our first choice so I’ll let you know if we strike it lucky.

After the director comes assembling the cast, crew and making sure everyone’s schedules match up. By my reckoning we’re now up to about 2015. And the important thing to remember is that this is is NORMAL. A completely reasonable, good even, timeframe for getting a movie made. From what I understand, shooting the movie is the quickest part and then comes the editing. And then, if you’re lucky, comes the release. I had a friend who was in Where The Wild Things Are. Imagine the excitement of being in a movie made by the brilliant Spike Jonze – only to have the completed movie sit there, as the release was endlessly delayed.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention funding. At every stage there is an endless desperate need for funding. Funding for re-writes of the screenplay, to get the movie actually made, distributed, marketed… In Australia there is virtually no private funding for movies, it’s pretty much all government funded. It is you, kind taxpayers, who are responsible for the Australian film industry, which makes it weird that Australian audiences tend to stay away from Aussie films in droves as it is one of the few instances where you can literally see your tax dollars at work.

So basically, movies are hugely expensive, collaborative works that need the stars to align, the leading lady not to break an arm and the caterer to check the use-by dates on the food very carefully so that the whole cast and crew don’t come down with mass food poisoning. Jennifer Aniston’s business partner has described the role of a producer as like “an epic sack race in which a hundred people are stuffed into one giant potato sack and it’s the producer’s job to get all 200 legs to hop in the same direction while being chased in a rainstorm by wild boars. After about 999 synchronised mini leaps forward, a movie might see the light of day. If you’re trying to make a unique or provocative film, add in fire, locusts, and 299 more choreographed hops towards your destination.” And she has Jennifer Aniston on her side.

If all of this sounds overly pessimistic it’s not meant to. It’s really just to try to explain that adapting a book and turning it into a movie involves a lot of hard work from a team of dedicated people and the process takes far longer than most people realise. (A bit like having a book published, come to think of it.)

But I’ve absolutely loved learning about screenwriting and would like to do more of it in the future. And imagine the excitement if it really does get made and it’s good!

Because the flipside of all of this hideous trepidation about having loyal readers howl at me for permitting this betrayal is my favourite movie adaptation of all time. I utterly love both the book and film of A Room with a View and have watched the latter far more times than is healthy. (Freddie! If you’re out there I still love you!) It is possible for beloved books to be turned into wonderful films. And despite what my son thinks, Fantastic Mr Fox is well, fantastic. The book and the movie.

Thank you again for all of your lovely emails, letters and feedback. You’ll never know how much I appreciate it.

Until next time…

Ms Melanie

p.s. to Eva: As gratifying as it is that you think I might have some influence on casting (and I like your chutzpah in asking! Keep it up girl) I am sad to inform you that the author is the Kenny of the movie world. (i.e. necessary but they would prefer not to mention me in polite company.)  I imagine that if the movie does get made they might let me visit the set if I ask nicely and slip the bouncer on the door a fifty. I wish I could help but I really have nothing to do with the casting process of the movie. If it ever gets made. Which it may not. See above for further clarification…

p.p.s. If anyone wants to write in with what they think is the best movie adaptation from a great book that would be fun and cheer me up no end in the event that it turns out we now have a director attached but that she’s some 13 year old kid who’s only directing credit is a viral hit on YouTube and she’s decided to sign Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus to play Oscar and Hero. And turn them into vampires.

Blogging 101: F-

Having taken around eight years to get a website, clearly I was never going to be the most productive blogger in the world but I must say, two entries in two months is pretty lax, even for me. Did I mention that I was always hopeless at keeping a diary? Anne Frank, I am not.

I’m therefore constantly amazed by people who facebook, blog, tweet and otherwise keep up an unending commentary. Who are these people? Where do they get the time? Who’s doing their laundry? Can they do mine?

According to this thinking, which dictates that we should all be embracing new media and communicating relentlessly, the most inexcusable part of my blog laziness is that I am currently living an action-packed, fascinating life, which gives me tons of material to write about. If I was at home I’d belong to the Seinfeld school of bloggers. I’d be prattling on about the little things of daily existence because, as I have the double whammy of being both a writer and a mother with young children, I’d rarely leave the house.

But over here, in South Africa, I could be the Hunter S. Thompson / Peter Mayle of bloggers. (Now there’s a travel-writing partnership that would have made a fantastic read: ‘Let’s take drugs!’ ‘No, let’s plant a lavender hedge outside our farmhouse in Provence!’ ‘Why? Can you snort lavender?’)

The only problem with this scenario is that I just never seem to have the time or the inclination to sit down and write. Instead I’m always off doing things – our life is a constant flurry of travel and sight-seeing and amazing experiences. Over the past few months, instead of blogging, I’ve been on safari, patted lion cubs, visited Cape Town and taken an elephant for a walk (you hold the trunk which feels wet and wrinkly). I’ve seen flocks of grazing ostriches as we travelled down Route 62 (the South African version of America’s famous Route 66). We saw Southern Right whales off the coast of Hermanus and I cried in the District Six Museum in Cape Town which is dedicated to the history of apartheid.

I’ve walked through the pre-historic Cango caves and visited the Cape of Good Hope and the wine region outside of Cape Town. (We tried to wine-taste with our three year old and one year old in tow. It wasn’t so much wine-tasting as wine-gulping. I’m pretty sure that after we’d beaten a shameful retreat, I saw everyone shrug as they murmured “Australians.”)

The other thing that has had me stymied for so long is wondering exactly what I should write on my blog about South Africa. Do people want to read a long list of Touristy Things To Do like the one above? Or should I write about the little things that stand out because they’re different to me – like the fact that you can buy peeled onions by the bag in the supermarket? If you really want to know my favourite thing in South Africa, it’s not any of the tourist sights we’ve seen – it’s the car guards. They’re in every parking lot and they help guide you out of your parking space. If you’re an incompetent driver like I am, the lack of this profession in Australia is such a severe disadvantage it makes me query whether I should ever return home. (I hate conforming to stereotypes such as Bad Female Driver but then again you can’t fight fate and I suck at driving – just last week I reversed into another car. Didn’t see it. Did I mention that the other car was both stationary and bright red? For those of you who are Love Struck and Babymoon fans, you will be pleased to know that the spirit of Isabelle Beckett is alive and well.)

Anyway, the point of this blog post is that I can obviously add blogging to the list of things that I suck at. But then again, perhaps my slackness isn’t pure laziness. Because I can’t help feeling that sometimes it’s better not to write. Because sometimes I just don’t want to. And I firmly believe that that’s what makes me a writer. Or a novelist, at any rate. Because in those times when I am unproductive, the ideas come and they germinate. Writing should be seasonal in my opinion. There needs to be a fallow time, because in order to have ideas I need space and time to think. And now that I’ve had the longest break that I’ve ever had in my life (a whole two months off!) I am once more at my desk, ready to embark on the writing of a new novel. Hooray!

So there it is. My miserable excuse as to why I’ll never be your friendly, reliable, daily blogger, even though I truly hope to remain your friendly, reliable biennial novelist.

Not sure when the next blog post will be so I’d better say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year right now. And perhaps Happy Easter, just to be on the safe side.

Before I go, any suggestions as to how I ought to sign off on a blog post would be greatly appreciated as I don’t read other blogs so am not sure of the etiquette. Everything I come up with sounds awkward. For example:

 Bye?

 Cheers?

 Insert Xhosa word for goodbye because I’m in Africa and need to signpost it?

 Think for now I will settle for:

 Au Revoir. (For no other reason than that I have been reading Babar to my children and that’s how Babar ends).

Ms Melanie,  Competent Novelist, but Sad Failure as a Blogger.

p.s. To those of you who took the time to leave comments on my blog (including my lovely cousin Joanna!), a very big thank you! And to Rachel, who now has the dubious distinction of being my first official bleader (blog-reader – I stole that one from Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame – I love that term) I was intending to send you a signed copy of whichever one of my books is your favourite for Christmas but unfortunately we’re now not coming back to Australia until mid next year so I can’t. But if you’d like me to send you one on my return, please post a comment on the blog around June next year (by my reckoning I should be up to around five posts by then) and if you leave your contact details and tell me which of my books is your favourite, I promise to send you one! And to Tracey who wrote nice things about Babymoon – I’m not sure which country you’re in but if you liked Babymoon try to get a hold of Love Struck as that is the first novel featuring Isabelle Beckett so you might enjoy it!

“The internet? Is that thing still around?” Homer Simpson.

Well, yes, apparently it is. And now I’m officially a part of it.

To those of you who have been with me since Love Struck was first published way back in 2003 and who have been wondering “Why doesn’t she have a website? How could it take anyone this long to get a website?” the answer is the internet and I have never gotten along. You see, I tried surfing once and spent the entire day getting dumped in waves and hit in the back of the head with the surfboard. Afterwards I made a solemn vow that I would never try surfing again and I was slightly scared that the Solemn Vow gods would hold me to a technicality if I tried internet surfing.

Anyway, that’s all in the past and now here I am, with my lovely new website and, even more excitingly, my new novel! (Am currently doing a happy dance. Let’s all just take a moment of quiet gratitude that I didn’t invest in a web camera.)

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