Outside my window, Lane Cove National Park lies green and glossy. I’m sitting in our caravan, Gloria, while rain patters down on the roof and the muted roar of Sydney drifts across the parklands. Sydney is simply amazing. A crazy juxtaposition of landscape and architecture, harbours, rivers, rocks and lush bushland.
My first visit to Sydney was in January 1974. As my dad drove through the city, I hung out the window and breathed in the hot, heady odour of a place that seemed the polar opposite of my hometown of Melbourne. Sydney smelt of steamy heat, sweat and beer (six o’clock swill). The doors of every pub were flung open and the footpaths were crowded with men in blue singlets drinking glasses of ale. Everything seemed golden and larger than life. Last night, just after the Professor and I arrived, we walked through Lane Cove National Park and the air smelt as foreign as I’d remembered it – sweet and heady, of winter wildflowers and damp earth.
In the early 1980s I spent eighteen months living in share houses around Sydney. I was a bit of a punk and Sydney suited me down to the ground. The landscapes of Sydney seeped into my imagination and decades later became the backdrop for my novel Vulture’s Gate. The wildness of the north shore provided plenty of hideouts for the runaway kids in Vulture’s Gate and a base for a tribe of Festers and the scary Sons of Gaia.
Tomorrow, the Professor will perform two Punch & Judy shows at Vaucluse House. I haven’t visited Vaucluse for a long time but I took elements of it to create a house used by the corrupt Colony to house young children in Vulture’s Gate.
When the Professsor told me about his shows up here, I decided to tag along for the ride. I didn’t expect so much of my past to come back to me nor how many scenes from the imagined future of Vulture’s Gate would come back like flashes from a life I’ve never lived. Stories do that sometimes, the past, the present and the future all intermingling to make for a much bigger life, a brighter canvas, a different way of seeing the things you take for granted. It’s hard to take any aspect of Sydney for granted. Definitely, a city of wonders.
(Apologies to my beloved hometown, Melbourne).
Since my last post, written while we were in Mudgee, I’ve been thinking constantly about books and writing. I’ve toured Tasmania, speaking at an AATE/ALEA Conference in Devonport and talking to thousands of kids from Penguin to Hobart. I’ve been to the Hunter Valley and talked books and babies with the lovely Alyssa Brugman. I’ve written grant applications, scraps of short fiction, worked on my new novel and generally got on with the business of being a writer. I’ve visited schools and libraries in NSW, and travelled from Newcastle to Port Macquarie to the Byron hinterland. This week, I’ve dined with fabulous teacher librarians on the Gold Coast and worked with students at Aquinas College. I’ve also read dozens of great novels. But every time I’ve sat down to write a blog post about any of the above and books and writing, which is what Magic Casements has always meant to be about, I’ve been distracted by Mr Punch.
The conflict of interest between writing about books or writing about Mr Punch has grown so intense that I’ve decided to start a new blog dedicated exclusively to Life with Punch. It might be a bad idea. Writing two blogs might mean less writing and less blogging gets done. But perhaps it will mean more of everything. Sometimes, when I’m working on a novel and find myself getting stuck, I start writing a completely different novel altogether. For some reason it seems to unlock the creative process.
I wrote my novels ‘Vulture’s Gate’ and ‘India Dark’ across the same time period, working intensely on one and then the other and each seemed to make the other more do-able. So hopefully keeping two blogs will work the same way. I’m going to try and keep Mr Punch’s long nose out of Magic Casements so if you want to find out what he’s been up to, and about our lives in the ‘Gas Bottle Republic’ as the Professor calls the world of caravanning, then you can follow my new blog, ‘Life with Punch‘. Stick around on Magic Casements for updates on all things bookish and how to write in the face of intense competition from puppets. When you can’t beat ’em – give ’em their own blog.