Radio Interview

Hi ya’ll,

Here is a link to an interview I did with the Final Draft programme at 2SER Fm in Sydney. What’s really cool, is that radio stations are allowed to play the music quoted in the book so it produces a lovely atmosphere.

 

Oh and someone has gone to the trouble of posting the entire song list in the book here:

 

http://www.wordchasing.com/mixtape-the-mimosa-tree-by-antontella-preto/

 

Enjoy!

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US Forces Give the Nod

I am going to admit here that I have been indulging in some some narcissistic Google-ing. As its been getting close to official release date (today by the way!) I have been checking the web for signs that The Mimosa Tree is emerging from the ether, and recently I have been rewarded with a spatter of nice reviews I would like to share. So far, all reviews have been positive which I am obviously stoked about. This morning I found a review  by VeganYANerds (within 16 minutes of it being posted – did I mention obsessive?) where the reviewer questioned, in a nice way, the believability that someone living in 1987 would share Mira’s fear of nuclear war. (NOTE – I wrote this in a hurry, and have phrased this incorrectly – said reviewer did not question the ‘believability’ of the threat of nuclear war in the eighties, she was simply expressing her surprise that it existed, not having any memories of it herself and with nobody in her family recalling it either.)

To really understand the significance of the threat of nuclear war to young people in the eighties, you don’t have to look much further than the endless references to ‘the bomb’ in both alternative and popular music at the time. Russians by Sting comes immediately to mind (1988), as does Everyday is Like Sunday by Morrisey  released is 1988 (In the seaside town, that they forgot to bomb / Come, come, come – nuclear bomb!). Oh and don’t forget 99 Luftballons by Nena (1983). There are many more examples, more than I can list right now, and it is an indication of how entrenched the idea of war and nuclear obliteration was in the psyche of the youth growing up during this time.

Also during the eighties the Western Australia town of Fremantle regularly hosted US Nuclear Warships, an event often marked by nuclear protests around the city. Pine Gap was a well known US base and widely feared to be a target if Russia and America should go to war – the popular Australian band Midnight Oil were strong protestors against the US presence in Australia, and wrote many songs of the subject. Australia was not at the forefront of the Cold War, but our alliance with the US and our support of their military in our country made a lot of people very, very nervous.

The fear of nuclear Armageddon wasn’t limited to just the cold war however. As nuclear power became more and more enticing there was a general feeling of anxiety in communities regarding nuclear reactors. This is mentioned in The Mimosa Tree, with Felicia’s boyfriend Guido going to work on Australia’s only nuclear reactor at the time (and I think still) – Lucas Heights in Sydney. The Mimosa Tree also mentions the disaster at Chernobyl which happened in 1986, and is probably the reason why people got really, really scared about the use of nuclear power. And in recent times, where the world watched in helpless horror as a tsunami put several nuclear reactors in danger of meltdown, a disaster that is still having impact on the world’s ecology today, this fear is  probably even more relevant.  I myself remember driving many times past a local council sign which declared The Town of Vincent a ‘Nuclear Free Zone,’ a statement of that council’s promise against the use of nuclear energy and a symbol of how seriously people took the issue in the eighties and beyond.

While Mira’s obsession may be exaggerated even for its time, it is certainly not out of the bounds of possibility. I myself was much younger, maybe twelve or thirteen (early eighties) when I had real fears about the reality of nuclear war destroying the planet. And the thing about nuclear war is that you didn’t have to have a bomb drop on you for it to have an impact – many movies and a lot of scientific research at the time made it clear that nuclear winter and widespread ecological disaster would have resulted from only a handful of modern sized bombs getting dropped, so if a war started, no matter how small, nobody was safe. Hitting seventeen and eighteen I didn’t think about nuclear attacks or war so much, but I think the experience of growing up in the Cold War left a legacy on many people of my age and older – it robbed us of a sense of hope about the future, and this is the experience I wanted to show through Mira’s obsession.

Interestingly, I think every era has its ‘Cold War.’ How many young people today have similar disillusionment with the future in the face of growing concerns about climate change and pollution? This is why I believe that The Mimosa Tree, with its setting in ancient 1987, still has something relevant to say about growing up as a young person in 2013 – how do you stay positive about your life, how do you maintain relationships and trust love and attachment when in the back of your mind there is this niggling fear that maybe, sometime soon, it is all just going to be taken from you?

Review Links:

Eleanor Rigby on Goodreads.
The Tales Compendium – A Young Adult Book Blog
ReadPlus – a collection of over 10,000 selected books and films arranged under themes for librarians, teachers and parents about books for young people aged 5 to 18.
VeganYANerds – A ground of Vegan Young Adult readers – Unique!

Cold War Links:

99 Luftballons is a protest song by the German pop-rock band Nena from their 1983. Check out the video.
A Wikipedia article about  Russians by Sting which highlights the Cold War link.
A 2010 article which shows the sign Town of Vincent, Nuclear Free Zone I used to drive by. Maybe they should put it back up?
Ask by The Smiths – Because if it’s not Love, Then it’s the Bomb, the Bomb, the Bomb, the Bomb, the Bomb, the Bomb, the Bomb That will bring us together!
US Forces Give the Nod – Midnight Oil. Still gets me going🙂

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Elsewhere in My Brain….

Elsewhere in Success Iris Lavell

I have a really bad memory for novels and for author names. I know, shocking stuff for someone claiming to be a writer. It’s strange because I am usually known for my amazing feats of memory, but it seems that my brain just doesn’t know how to retain information from the world of fiction. I read books, I love them, and then after only a few weeks I have forgotten all but the basics of what I have read. I might be able to recall a theme that interested me, or a character that I thought was funny, or maybe even a general feeling that the story gave me, but ask me anything more specific about it and my mind goes blank.

In an attempt to rectify this problem, I have decided to use my blog to write about the books that I have been reading. It’s simple really, kind of like those comprehension exercises I had to do in school. If I have to write a report or review of something, it forces my brain to place the details into a different part of the brain, one hopefully marked with the words ‘please retain.’

Hopefully.

So recently I read a Fremantle Press title, Elsewhere in Success by Iris Lavell. First of all, it’s strange that I picked this book to read. For a while now Young Adult has been my thing and Elsewhere in Success is clearly pitched at an adult market. But there was something appealing about the title and the picture of that happy looking dog on the fake lawn. Just goes to show you the power of a cover, doesn’t it? But it was more than that. The blurb talked about living in suburbia and uncovering buried secrets. I immediately thought of the movie ‘American Beauty’, which I loved, and which I don’t remember much about except that there were some middle aged people living meaningless lives in the suburbs and trying to re-capture the energy and excitement of their youth when they believed the future held bigger, better more radical things.

And I think that pretty much sums up Elsewhere in Success too, except it wasn’t just that the adults in the story had lost their passion and vision for life, they were also laboring under some pretty major trauma experienced in their childhoods – trauma that effected their marriages, friendships and relationships with their grown up children. The characters of Louisa and Harry seem to be living empty, monotonous lives that focus around sharing wine, eating, obsessing over garden chores and doing everything possible to bury their problems further into the darkness. In essence, their inability to deal with the raw emotions of regret, loss, guilt and fear and communicate openly with each other and with their children about the stuff that really matters has turned them into emotional paraplegics. Their world is a sad and lonely place, and neither of them seem capable or even willing to change it.

I have to say, the writing was so honest and so insightful that I was hooked from the very first pages. Lavell does a great job at bringing this world and these characters alive. Her characters reminded me of real people I know and reading her book made me realise that what I most admire in a writer is not their ability to create fiction, but their ability to write the truth.

What I didn’t expect from reading a novel about baby boomers living in suburbia is how much inspiration and insight I gained about the world of Young Adult. Basically, the story of Harry and Louisa, the wounds that make them tick, can all be traced back to their own young adulthood: Louisa was a naive and mousy fifteen year old that was raped by and then married to the first boy that claimed her; and a young Harry was drafted into a bloody war when he probably should have been out enjoying the thrill of rock and roll, hamburgers delivered on roller skates and sharing milkshakes with your first crush.  Then, in failing as adults to get a handle on their own traumatic experiences, Harry and Louisa end up failing their children too, and to me it seems to suggest that trauma just seems to get passed on from one generation to the next.

It’s weird, but this tale of emotionally stunted baby boomers just reiterated from me how incredibly powerful, important and formative our adolescent years are. It is arguably the most important stage of a person’s life, and shit that happens here can have far reaching effects not only into our adulthood but into the future of our children. After all, if we can’t get it right, if we can’t figure out what we need to do to get happy, to have more meaningful lives, how to communicate with each other about the things that matter, how to cope with trauma and bad things happening to us – how the hell do we expect our children to get it right? Where are they going to learn this stuff from if not from us?

Reading this book made me realise that what I love about Young Adult writing is that it gives adolescence the attention and respect it deserves. To me Young Adulthood one of those ‘stop everything’ moments in life. Often, however, it’s exactly the opposite – once kids are old enough to feed and dress themselves, maybe even drive a car, we take the opportunity to pile on more work and begin enjoying our return to independence when in actual fact it’s when we should be putting everything on hold in order to pay close attention to what is happening in our children’s lives.

Yeah, I loved this book. I have to say though; the middle seemed to drag a bit with the characters perpetual moroseness. In the end the characters start to come out of their emotional fog and begin repairing some of the damage to themselves and their relationships, but for me it came on a bit suddenly, and probably would have been a bit more convincing had the characters experiences a few more uplifting or enlightening moments in between.

But hey, that’s just my opinion. And don’t take what I say too seriously anyway, because to be honest it’s been a couple of weeks since I have read this book and already the details have started to fade from my memory. But hey, at least now I got something I can refer to if needed!

🙂

Elsewhere in Success

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Shameless Self Promotion

Had to share the first review of the Mimosa Tree🙂

This one is from an online magazine called Colosoul which, according to its byline is ‘a magazine run by youth for the youth’.

I’m glad its a good one and I especially like the mention of feeling that the novel could become a movie one day. Good thing Stu is already working on the script!

Just don’t try to view this link from a phone – for some reason the mobile/app site links to lots of ads that, well, might distract you from wanting to read the review…..

http://colosoul.com.au/teensoul/?p=3066#more-3066

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2013

It’s getting closer and closer to the official release of The Mimosa Tree, and I am pleased to say it’s also getting closer and closer to finishing my new book, Shatter. Of course, when I finally get to write the two loveliest words in the world to a writer – ‘The End’ – there will still be a lot of work to do, but I will have jumped the first major hurdle in writing a book which is completing the first draft.

It’s strange looking back to over a year ago to when I first started Shatter. I was running with the title The Garden then, and I remember that when I found out that The Mimosa Tree was going to be published it felt like an explosion went off in my brain. Suddenly, instead of the casual, haphazard pace at which I attacked writing the Mimosa Tree, I seemed to launch into a furious, bloody minded fervor, convinced that a second book had to follow hot on the tail of the first for me to feel like I was a real writer. I had gotten to a stage with The Mimosa Tree where I seemed to be able to get into the voice of the character without effort, and I guess I thought that was an achievement that I would be able to transfer easily to the next book. I had gotten so good at being ‘Mira’ and ‘Via’ and ‘Harm’ that writing and editing The Mimosa Tree seemed effortless, and because of this I had this expectation that the next one would flow as easily from my hands.  Of course, I know now that I was suffering from a kind of ‘birth amnesia’, where having gone through the pain and gore to gaze into her newborn’s eyes, a mother starts quickly telling herself that the whole thing wasn’t that bad and it would be super easy to go through the whole thing again. My amnesia, of course, was forgetting that I had lived with Mira and The Mimosa Tree for over two years, and after that amount of time you get pretty good at understanding something. Starting a new book, however, is full of pain and gore, and in those first few months, as I tried to fill the blank pages with the same ease I could churn out paragraphs of Mira’s adventures, I was shocked by how completely stupid I felt about the world I was writing about, and how each word felt like it was being dragged out of me like teeth. On top of this, it was generally a hard year. My father’s Alzheimer’s got worse, and I had to spend more and more time looking after him. My kid had problems at school I needed to sort out. My husband was building a house with his own two hands and was away a lot, and I was trying to balance all these things plus my writing and my own job. And I have to say, that we did pretty well at keeping the balancing act going, but things were so tight and required such precision timing, that it would only take a very small thing for all the balls to fall.

Yes, it was a bad year to start a book.

And I admit, I got a little whiny.

I started to despair. My responsibilities, I felt were leaving me without the time and resources I needed to pursue my creative work. I got pretty moody about this. I thought that perhaps that was going to be it for me, one book was all I could manage because I simple didn’t have the money to create the time it took to write another one. I started to hate everything little thing that took me away from my writing – including usually fun things like hanging out with friends or just watching TV. And this despairing and whining may have gone on for a long time if it wasn’t for two very important things. Firstly, it was my husband Stu who sensibly pointed out to me one day in November, that despite everything going on I had actually managed to write about two thirds of the new book, and that I was probably only months from actually finishing it. This was a small but significant fact, and I remember the insight setting off a kind of ‘bing’ moment in my brain where I felt stupid and ashamed about my pessimism and self absorption. The second thing that happened is that around Christmas time, with a little nudge from my extended family, I made the decision, or should I say ‘came to the realisation’, that my father needed to go into care. And so it was, that on the last day of the year my father entered a nursing home, and while it was horrible, and nobody ever feels good about it, I also realised that a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I spent New Years Eve sleeping, and I woke up the next day to a world that literally looked brighter.

And far from Dad being traumatised by the move, he too seemed to lighten up. He slipped into the change relatively easily, and after only a few days seemed like he had lived there his whole life. I mean, its hard to really know how someone with Alzheimer’s feels when they don’t have the ability to tell you anymore, but all you can really go on is how someone is behaving – and Dad took to the change like a duck to water, seemed even to enjoy the constant motion around him, the crazy old people that talked to walls, and the constant stream of coffee, cakes and food that would appear in front of him as if from nowhere. It feels weird to say it, and I doubt it myself until I go back and visit him and see it again with my own two eyes, but the guy actually seems to be happier in the place. It’s like a load has been lifted from him as well as me. Someone told me once that most parents hate the idea of having their children look after them, and I guess now that I am a mother I can understand how painful it would be to see my son missing out on his life because I needed someone to wipe food from my chin. Maybe even through the disease, Dad felt the same.

The nicest, weirdest part of it all, is that I’ve discovered that high care nursing homes are fantastic places to write. My father’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point where he no longer speaks. He can walk and eat, he can gesture and grunt and because I know him so well that’s all it takes for me to understand what he wants. But the thing about Dad is that talking was never his thing anyway, so when I visit we just end up sitting together in the courtyard, not saying anything but feeling mutually content. I worked out pretty quickly that all Dad needed was to see me, and that while I was sitting there being seen I could slip out my notebook or laptop and start typing away at the book. When I first started, I’d look up to see if he needed me or wanted to say something, but he would just be staring into the garden, his mouth turned up at the corners just enough to call it a smile, without the slightest hint of worry or pain on his face. Then I realised that he was okay with this. In fact he was more than okay, we were both experiencing something that had never before existed between us – peace. And as anyone who knows us will tell you, for my father and I to spend even a minute in harmony is a remarkable thing indeed. Instead of the angry conflict we always seemed to be in from the moment I can remember, or the weighted and tense relationship of a carer and patient, my father and I have finally achieved a level of quiet and content companionship where both of us are doing exactly what we want, in the same place, at the same time, and with total acceptance.

Yep, no doubt about it. 2012 was one of my toughest years, but it was also one of the best. After all, I did manage to get a book published, write almost all of a second one, and I also got my father back – no wait, not back exactly, because as I mentioned our relationship was never this good. What I managed to get is the kind of relationship with my father that I’ve always wanted, and it took the dreaded Alzheimer’s for us to get there. Strange world? It is indeed. But that’s the kind of strangeness that makes my head buzz, my heart soar and my pen start flying.

2013 – bring it on!

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Coming Soon

I was determined not to use any more toilet humour in my next post, but ironically my household has recently been struck down by Gastro. What I have noticed during this period of illness, is that there seems to be an inversely proportional relationship between illness and writing – while one is flowing freely, so to speak, the other seems to have dried up.

Anyway, I really don’t want to get bogged (oh dear) down in puns right now so the real reason for my post is to proudly bring attention to the imminent release of my new book. Yes, it’s official. It has a cover page and a synopsis and (shock horror) a listing with the national library. Here is a link to the details of my book, due to be released April 1st next year.

And that’s no joke!

http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/books/coming/1350

Ciao,

Ant.

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Polishing the Turd

Well, after about six months of what felt like diarrhoea on a page, I think I have finally managed to shape and bulk out what I’ve got into something resembling a story. I have been polishing the turd, so to speak, and surprisingly, it’s coming up quite shiny.

Interesting thing that: the realisation that the creative part of the process – the bit where you step word by word onto the blank page – is the hardest part for me. Some people might say this is the magical part of the process, but for me it’s full of anxiety and insecurity. And that’s because I don’t have a clue what I am doing, or who I am writing about, or whether what they say or do is believable, or if I actually have enough ideas to fill out four hundred or so pages. But after about fifty thousand agonising words, I decided to go back to the beginning and start to shape what I had, to polish the turd, and then I was in a much more comfortable process of editing and making decisions, and working out what was wrong and inventing characters or dialogue or scenarios to fill in the gaps, and I entered what Elizabeth Jolley calls ‘the brooding’ (this isn’t uni so I’m not including a proper reference for the book I read this in. It’s called ‘Making Stories’ and if you are interested just Google it you technophobe!)

You see, it doesn’t much matter what I have on the page, just that I have something on that page. A blank page is the scariest thing in the world, full of a million possibilities, an thousand plot turns, a hundred different hairstyles, cars, houses, suburbs, nationalities and time lines to choose from. It’s like walking into a cavernous, empty space where you meet one person and they say to you, ‘you can fill this room with anything you want, just imagine it and we can create it for you.’

Talk about pressure.

But once you got some shit on that page (or some stuff in that room), and you start to lock in some facts about your characters and their lives, well, then you are down to a handful of possibilities, a logical sequence of events for what such a character would likely do or say, and suddenly everything is much easier to manage.

At least it is for me.

The brooding has been so pleasant, that it takes up every spare second I have – hence not much posting going on. I love the brooding. I still don’t know if what I am writing is any good, but it doesn’t matter – I’m engaged. I’m thinking about my characters and I know with certainty what motivates them, how they might phrase something, how they might react, and this gives me something to work with. I am no longer wondering ‘are you good enough?’  I’m just getting on with the job of giving this character, for better or for worse, something to do.  I’ve chucked some things onto the blinding whiteness of the page, and like coffee grains swirling in the bottom of the cup, something is beginning to form. My job is just to push it around, throw a bit more things in and let the whole thing brew.

Brooding.  Brew-ding. It’s nice. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to go do some more of it right now. This turd’s still got plenty of rough edges that need tending to, and I can’t sit in the toilet forever😉

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