Monthly Archives: November 2012

9 Literary heroines to love

They change us.  Befriend us. Show us how to be fierce. Brave. Loyal.  Or conversely  show us the consequences of decisions we’ll never make ourselves.

We may be turning the pages of their stories but it is they who tuck us into their pockets and take us with them on their adventures; learning magic in a school for wizards, scrubbing the kitchen floor of a rich white woman in 1960s Mississippi, pushing back against the expectations placed on young women in 19th century England or navigating the minefield that is dating over the age of 30 while battling a cigarette addiction and a love of enormous underpants (thank you, Bridget Jones).

I did a rather horrible thing this month and asked nine of my  favourite female Australian novelists to each name their favourite literary heroine.  That’s right. Singular.  They all grumbled a bit (How can we choose just one?) but in the end their answers were as diverse and fascinating as the authors are themselves.

As for me, I’m choosing two. (Shut up. It’s my post.)  It’s hard to go past Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennett, right?  At a time when young ladies were appreciated for their aesthetics alone, Lizzie was there with her quick wit, her fierce loyalty, her gregarious nature and her free spirit. And when she said to Mr Darcy –  “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”  – I wanted to high-five her through the page.

My other favourite literary heroine is Liesel Meminger, the nine-year-old fearless, at times feisty and deeply compassionate protagonist from The Book Thief. I went on a journey with her through Nazi Germany and I felt changed by the end of her story.

And now that I’ve chosen Lizzie and Liesel, I’m feeling immense guilt over not naming my favourite red-head, the irresistible, loquacious, loose-cannon, Anne Shirley from Green Gables. Or the deliciously subversive Miss Jean Brodie.  Or Katniss Everdeen whose determination, courage and cunning in The Hunger Games makes you want to stand up and cheer.

I think we need a longer list.

1. Jessica Rudd: Charlotte from  Charlotte’s Web

Jessica Rudd The 9 literary heroines to love. Hard.

Jessica Rudd

For an arachnophobe, Charlotte A. Cavatica may seem a strange choice of literary heroine, but E.B. White’s character in Charlotte’s Web was the first to come to my mind. She was an earth mother, wordsmith and tireless activist who, with limited resources in the twilight of her life, made it her mission to save that sweet, doomed piglet, Wilbur, from his Christmas dinner fate. She was a source of comfort, company and camaraderie to Wilbur. She saved his bacon, soothed his woes and warmed his – and my – heart.

Jessica Rudd is a Canberra-born, Brisbane-raised ex-lawyer, ex-campaign worker and ex-PR consultant who lives with her husband in Beijing. She is the author of two novels: Campaign Ruby and Ruby Blues.


2. Dr Karen Brooks: The Handmaid from The Handmaid’s Tale

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Karen Brookes

Never given a name, the handmaid from this dystopian story comes to represent all those who have fought quietly and bravely against social, sexual and gender injustice. She passively and actively resists oppression and, by recording history for future generations, remains optimistic and gives voice to those who dare not and/or are powerless to speak for themselves. Reading this book was literally a life-changing experience for me.

Dr Karen Brooks is a university professor,  newspaper columnist with The Courier-Mail and the author of 10 novels. Her most recent, Illumination, was released in July.

3. Louise Limerick: Jo March from Little Women

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Louise Limerick

I fell in love with Jo March from ‘Little Women’ when I was about eleven years old. I loved Jo’s passionate nature – she had the confidence that I lacked and a temper (which Marmee was always trying to reign in). But most of all I loved the way that Jo always knew, in her heart, that she was destined to be a writer. Skip forward twenty-six years and I found myself in Concord visiting Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott (Jo’s creator) once lived. Stooping over Alcott’s own writing desk I found myself gazing out the window and across the yellowed summer fields. Time collapsed, and I was once again seeing through the eyes of Jo March, fellow ‘scribbler’ and the very first of my fictional friends.

Louise Limerick is the author of the award-winning novel Dying For Cake  and the recently released Lucinda’s Whirlwind.

4. Kate Forsyth: Emily Byrd Starr from Emily of New Moon

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Kate Forsyth

‘Emily of New Moon, in the book by L.M. Montgomery, was the first girl I ever read about who wanted to be a writer. Most people love the Anne books best, but for me, Emily Byrd Starr of New Moon was the one who spoke most clearly to me.  Even her name was magical! I felt I shared with her an intense love of the beauty of the world, a sensitive soul with a streak of strangeness or sadness in it, and, most of all, a passionate yearning to write and to “climb the Alpine Path and write my name on the scroll of fame.” Her struggles to be true to herself, to find the strength to keep on writing in the face of criticism and scorn, and to find true love resonated with me in a very deep and profound way.

Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books. Her most recent novel, Bitter Greens, is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale interwoven with the dramatic, true life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.


5. Kate Hunter: Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind

kate hunter1 177x236 The 9 literary heroines to love. Hard.

Kate Hunter

Scarlett O’Hara had looks, husbands and money, but in the end, nothing mattered more than guts.

Apart from being a Contributing Editor at Mamamia, Kate Hunter is the author of the Mosquito Advertising series of books for young adults. She is currently working on a scandalous novel about school fetes.

6. Nerida Newton:  Sybylla Melvyn from My Brilliant Career

nerida newton1 The 9 literary heroines to love. Hard.

Nerida Newton

The lessons Sybylla taught me?  Stay true to yourself. Ask questions. Don’t settle for an ordinary life, whatever your circumstances. And, most importantly: write novels.

Nerida Newton is the award-winning author of  two works of historical fiction:  The Lambing Flats and Death of a Whaler.

7. Kim Wilkins: Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre.

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Kim Wilkins

I admire Jane Eyre, because she is both principled and spirited. Far from being a weakling or an emotional pushover, she uses intellect and a strong moral compass to make decisions and stick by them.

Kim Wilkins is the internationally published, award-winning author of more than 20 novels. Her latest novel is Lighthouse Bay which she wrote under the pen name Kimberley Freeman.

8. Kylie Ladd:  The unnamed narrator from Go Ask Alice

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Kylie Ladd

My choice is a little grungier. It’s the unnamed narrator from the anonymously-published 70′s novel Go Ask Alice, purported to be the diary of a 15-year-old high school student who got involved with LSD, then heroin and eventually died of an overdose. My mother gave me the book when I was about 14, no doubt intending to scare me off drugs forever, and I DEVOURED it. I read it in a day, then read it again, and cried my eyes out at the end both times. Yes, the book warned me about drugs (I’ve never inhaled), but more than that I think the narrator was the first literary character I’d truly engaged with. She was young and a bit unsure of her place in life and worried about her body and boys and school and she could have been me. She taught me that yes, growing up is scary and that life isn’t always fair, but it’s also precious and not to waste it. Thirty years on, I still find myself thinking about her some days.

Kylie is a novelist, freelance writer and neuropsychologist. Her first novel, After The Fall, was published in the US and Turkey , her second, Last Summer, was highly commended in the Federation of Australian Writers 2011 award for fiction, and her third, Into My Arms, will be released early next year.

9. Wendy Squires: Lolita from Lolita

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Wendy Squires

I had the pleasure of reading Nabakov’s masterpiece as I was coming to grips with my sexuality post-puberty. Through the eyes of protagonist Humbert Humbert I discovered the power a young woman wields, the affect it has on men and the great price paid for using said power as a bargaining chip. I have read the novel many times as I have aged and passed it on to my god daughters when they too have reached that delicate stage when their bodies say women but their minds are still very much that of a girl.

Wendy Squires has been a journalist for more than 20 years and is currently a columnist for The Age. She is the author of the novel The Boys’ Club, based on her brief experience as a television publicist.

This post first appeared on Mamamia.

Dear 12, your final grade won’t make or break your life …

Me in year 12 in 1989. Nice perm …

Photos are deceiving.   That photo of me (and my perm) was taken on my last day of high school in 1989.   And I look deliriously happy.

I was, of course. For starters, I didn’t have to wear that uniform anymore. High-5 to that.  Homework was over.  No more having to sit through another minute of Biol or the textbook that haunted my dreams: The Web of Life. Hey Highschool, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, is what my eyes seem to be saying.

Of course what you can’t see is that I’m also completely terrified. Terrified at what did – or didn’t – lay ahead. Terrified at whether or not I would cope at university. That’s assuming I even got a high enough score to get into the Communications course I wanted to do. (Guess what? I didn’t). I remember being terrified knowing the group of people I’d spent the past five years with were all heading off in different directions. And that I’d kinda taken it for granted that all those faces – some loved and some loathed – were no longer going to be a part of my daily life.

So yeah – I remember that last term. And I’m reminded of it now as the media rolls out its annual “The HSC has begun” stories. Also because I’m putting the final touches on a book of advice I’m currently writing for year 12 students of all the things I wish I’d known before I left high school and went out into the real world. Advice like, “Never date a man who has Cher tunes on his iPod.”


But think about it. Before you left school and went out into the big, wide world, what do you wish you’d known? For what it’s worth, here’s what I wish I’d known back then:

You will not be a success or a failure in life based on your year 12 final grades.

For senior students, it feels like their whole future is resting on these year 12 exams. But it’s not.  Let’s be really, really honest. Your final grade is just one little moment in time.  The truth is the people who are living big, exciting lives; the people who are living their dreams, who are making a mark are not necessarily the people who got straight A’s or did fabulously well in the HSC or SACE or OP or whatever it is in your state. They are the people who are resilient. And persistent. They are the people who had faith in themselves and kept going.

Now don’t get me wrong – high grades are valuable.  The better your grades the greater the options when you leave school. And that’s what you want: options.  But in the long term, success in life is about your ability to bounce-back. So if you don’t do so well with these exams or if you don’t get the score you want – just remember that it’s not the end of the world.  If you REALLY want to study something, you’ll find a way to do it.  As my friend Pam always says, when one door closes, try squeezing through the cat flap.

And then there are life’s late bloomers. For a whole range of reasons some people just don’t do well in high school. Maybe because of stuff that’s going on at home. Maybe because they’re not a great fit for the school they attend. Maybe because their head just isn’t in the right place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go on to great things.  A fabulous example is my friend (and fellow author) Kim Wilkins. On her blog, Kim wrote this about her disasterous high school years:

“I was a late bloomer in every sense of the word. I still played with my dollhouse in the first year of high school, until one of the other girls told me that it was lame. I was puzzled and sometimes horrified by the things my teenage peers talked about and did. I gained a reputation for being the biggest “dag” in my grade. I flunked almost everything at high school and spent a very long time working in fast food jobs and typing jobs.  In fact, I’d say that I didn’t really blossom until my mid-twenties. I went back to school and finished my senior, got into uni, started writing books, and haven’t looked back. “

Let me tell you, Kim’s being modest. Today she’s an internationally acclaimed author of twenty books. She’s a university lecturer.  She won a University Medal for pete’s sake.  She’s living the life of her dreams. And she flunked out at high school.

So to the graduating class of 2012, know this:  whatever happens over the coming months, have faith that you’ll be just fine. Why?  Because whatever happens you have it in you to bounce back.

How have your high school grades affected your life?

Confessions of an emotional eater

I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Last week, I saw myself at Coles. Well, in the carpark outside to be exact.

I was loading groceries into my boot when I saw her.  A woman, a mother, thirty-something years old, sitting behind the wheel of her blue Honda Civic  silently eating what looked like a Snickers.  And it was the look on her face — not of enjoyment or pleasure but numbness – that caught me.  Caught my breath for just a moment.  Because I used to do that — secret eat — nearly every single day.

I am what you would call an emotional eater. For the last 30 years, stuffing food into my cake-hole has pretty much been my coping mechanism for everything.

My best friend will be in town this weekend!  WOO!  I’ll celebrate by eating two of my daughter’s TIny Teddy packets!  I have to finish those edits by 10am tomorrow? Pass the leftover lasagne.  Ava’s starting her first day at kindy and doesn’t know a soul.  Excuse my while I stand at the fridge and eat a cheesestick, last night’s fried rice, and six spoonfulls of Nutella. Okay, seven.

If I’m scared, bored, depressed, nervous … yep. I eat. I’m a non-descriminatory eater.

For years, you could take a look through the hidden zipped compartments of my handbag and without fail see the glimmering pink of a Turkish Delight wrapper.  Under my car seat?  It wouldn’t take CSI to find a rogue fry as evidence of my I’m-just-going-to-tune-the-world-out-and-eat-these-hot-chips moments.

Not surprisingly my weight has fluctuated by three dress sizes over the past fifteen years.

I’ve tried to go all Oprah on myself and figure out why I behave the way I do. Was I just, er, greedy? Possibly. Food obsessed? Entirely possible. ( You know those poeple who casually remark, “I totally forgot to have breakfast this morning.”  Yeah. I’m not one of them. I have never ‘forgotten’ to eat.  Put it this way, I haven’t been hungry since 1984, the year I did the 40 Hour Famine).

What I have always known is that food is my drug of choice. Potato chips are my heroin. Where others reach instinctively for the glass of wine,  a cigarette,  or take their credit card for a whirl around Witchery, I’ll soothe my soul with a spoon and a jar of peanutbutter. Which is why this passage from Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, struck a chord with me:

Caitlin Moran Confessions of an emotional eater.


People overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, have serial one-night stands or take drugs. I must be clear that I am not talking about the kind of overeating that’s just plain, cheerful greed—the kind of Rabelaisian, Falstaffian figures who treat the world as a series of sensory delights and take full joy in their wine, bread and meat. Those who walk away from a table—replete—shouting, “That was splendid!” before sitting in front of a fire, drinking port and eating truffles, don’t have neuroses about food. They aren’t “fat,” they are simply…lavish.

No—I’m talking about those for whom the whole idea of food isn’t one of pleasure, but one of compulsion. For whom thoughts of food, and the effects of food, are the constant, dreary background static to normal thought. Those who walk into the kitchen in a state bordering on panic and breathlessly eat slice after slice of bread and butter—not even tasting it—until the panic can be drowned in an almost meditative routine of chewing and swallowing, spooning and swallowing.

In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations—physical discomfort and immense regret—make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whiskey or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration.

In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of “carers,” and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.

Okay. Wow.

Moran’s words (combined with visits to a nutritionist and me reading I Quit Sugar and Sweet Poison over and over) were enough to inspire me to finally get a handle on my eating habits. Plus, you know, it’s hard to secret eat with a three-year-old in the house. They are TOTAL snitches.  Ava is not averse to greeting her kindy teacher with “Mummy ate all the Freddo Frogs”  while I’m in the background making the universal STOP TALKING sign behind the kindy teacher’s back.  It’s like living with Cindy Brady (who was such a dob-artist she wouldn’t be out of place on Homeland).

But more seriously I started to realise that Ava is soaking it all up. Watching her mother comfort eat her way through life.  She’s learning from me that you navigate your days  – the joys and the anguish and even the boring bits – with a jar of peanut butter in your hand.

There are many legacies I hope to leave my daughter.  But I’ve finally decided eating Kitkats in the car won’t be one of them.

*This post first appeared on

The 6 things I miss about working in an office

The list of things I miss about working in an office is long and varied.

1. There’s the clothing, of course.   I miss buttoning up that gorgeous new polka-dot blouse you got on sale at Zara.  Zipping up a pencil skirt.  Slipping  heels onto my feet. Putting on lipstick. BRUSHING MY HAIR.  I miss the need, the requirement, to look fabulous rather than how I often look – like a crazy lady who possibly spent the night sleeping in the bushes outside with da possums.  Interestingly, when your days are spent  negotiating with a 3 year old, nobody cares that you’re wearing ‘on trend’  stockings.  Put it this way,  I dubbed 2012 “The year of the elasticised waistband”.

What else?  2. I miss the dialogue. The office banter. The 5-minute grabs of conversation with co-workers about The Voice or Bob Katter’s hats or how your boss is doing your head in.

3. I miss the gossip. Tim from Accounts is dating Debra from Marketing. GET. OUT! (It felt good just writing that sentence).

4. I miss the commute. Being in a car ALONE.  Reading on the train ALONE. Being in the work bathroom ALONE. I miss typing without the dead weight of a three-year-old on my lap who hits keys at random and blithely announces her bottom is itchy.

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Cake. All the time. Cake.

5. I miss the Friday afternoon wind-down where people don’t even pretend to work. The impromptu – who feels like sushi? –  lunch hours with colleagues. Melbourne Cup (sitting at home in my trakky daks eating a ryvita while I watch the race isn’t as thrilling as it sounds.  Weird, I know). Christmas parties. Secret Santa. Pretending to work while you’re trying to Google Michael Buble’s birth date because Tim in Accounts thinks Michael Buble is 45 when he’s so clearly not even over 40.  What a moron. (Tim in Accounts. Not you. You’re awesome. Tim from Accounts is a f*ck-knuckle.)

But what I really, really miss about working in an office?  6. All the cake. So much cake.  For some of us, going to work is really just like hanging out in a bakery for 7 hours.   Red velvet cupcakes for Joanna’s birthday!  Mud cake for Easter! Chocolate brownies because Shaun’s leaving!  Muffins for Abbey’s promotion!

I just gained a kilo typing that paragraph.

Every office has a Martha Stewart who lives to bake and takes delight in watching colleagues take bite after bite of sugary goodness as though they’re a gaggle of geese and a she’s farmer with a fondness for foie gras. Let’s call Martha what she is people:  A FEEDER.  And it’s having an impact on your waistline.

Bella Mackie in The Guardian writes:

A study by the Co-op has found that desk-based workers in British offices put on an average of 4.5kg (10lb) during the first year of employment. The majority of them blame the unhealthy treats provided by co-workers for their inability to keep their weight down. One in seven of those surveyed said they felt peer pressure to join in when food is passed round, and no wonder, when everyone else is enjoying a delicious slice of chocolate cake.

We discussed this at our morning meeting and immediately all eyes swivelled in my direction, for I am the colleague you blame for your expanding waistline. I am a feeder. Almost daily, for the past six years, I have bought an array of cakes, biscuits and sweets to the desk. What started as a rare celebration ritual has become an almost mundane occurrence for the Comment desk workers. At about 3pm, people start looking around furtively, or a plaintive plea for sugar will float across the desks. We are now an office addicted to treats.

I make no apologies for your fear of the scales. I think a cake break is a nice way for colleagues to break any formalities for a few minutes. The sugar perks everyone up for a while, and an office has a nice co-operative feel to it when everyone takes it in turns to buy in the goodies.

So what do you (or would you) miss most about working in an office?  And when the office cake is dished up, are you smacking your lips or hiding in the corner with your vegemite ryvitas?

*This post first appeared on Mamamia

Which childhood toy did you desperately want?

Santa and I had a falling out when I was about four.  Not that I want to sound bitter. Okay, I’m a bit bitter.  And it was all because of Baby Alive.  She was the Tickle Me Elmo of the 70s.  She ate!  She wee’d!  She pooed!  She was a triple threat and every little girl in the 70s wanted one. (Yes they did.  I have spoken to every little girl who was alive in the 70s and they all agreed they wanted one. So shut up).

So  from October to December I prayed to Santa every night for him to pleeeeeease bring me a Baby Alive on Christmas Eve. (In hindsight, it’s entirely possible  I thought Santa and God were interchangeable … ).  But I digress, Christmas came and “Santa” bought me a plastic doll with red curly hair that looked oh, not unlike Ronald McDonald. (You picturing this? Ronald McDonald’s head on a baby doll’s body.)

A few months later for my birthday I finally received my very own Baby Alive. Naturally, I was bored with her within weeks. Welcome to childhood.

But while I may have received a Baby Alive, there were a few other 70s toys I desperately wanted and never got. Like ….

266 380x285 Which childhood toy did you desperately want?

The Barbie Campervan

A Barbie Campervan: Let’s be honest, Barbie doesn’t camp. You know that and I know that. But still it’s good to have a campervan just in case you decide your Dream House and your townhouse aren’t comfortable enough and you’d rather sleep in a bed where your face is 2 cm from the ceiling. And use a portaloo every morning (actually, Barbie doesn’t have a va-jayjay, so she can turn the portaloo into a walk-in-wardrobe). OR Barbie could turn the Campervan into a crystal meth cookhouse like they do on Breaking Bad. So. Many. Options.

1038554 tn 290x293 Which childhood toy did you desperately want?

The Family Treehouse.

A Family Treehouse: It’s a house in a tree with little people living it it. A bit like that guy living in that tree in Maleny. Okay, not really.

A Viewfinder: This was both cool and stupid.  It was like being trapped in your very own slide night. Gimme.

Mousetrap: I don’t remember much about this kids game but clearly it had a mouse. And a trap. In hindsight, it’s not sounding that appealing but I’m sure the eight-year-old me totally deserved it. That’s the year Santa gave me a Slinky instead. Bastard.

So over to you, what childhood toy did you always want? And if you eventually got it, did it live up to expectations?