Mother Love

Two years ago I farewelled my mum. She was 85 years old and had suddenly been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She passed away about 6 weeks after they found the tumour. In hindsight the situation was hopeless; but she dutifully underwent chemotherapy and died four days after her second treatment. In many ways it was a merciful death. She did quite well and then suffered a horrible 48 hours before lapsing into unconsciousness and slipping away. I made it to the hospital before she passed (as I live in another capital city). Although she seemed deeply asleep, nurses told me they saw indications she was aware of my presence through her breathing. Having arrived mid afternoon, I sat by her side for a couple of hours and told her I would be back at 7.30pm to be with her through the night. I still had my suitcase with me from my hurriedly undertaken flight and also hadn’t eaten….. the nurses advised me to have some tea and return for what could be the first of several nights like this.

At 7.00pm, as I prepared to leave my hotel room and head the short distance to the hospital, my phone rang. It was a nurse telling me mum had suddenly begun to decline and I should probably get my skates on. I raced into the ward at 7.20pm to be greeted by a closed door with a kindly nurse standing next to it waiting for me. My mother had passed away at 7.10pm. I had the task of ringing my father to tell him she had now gone. The nursing staff were kind, respectful and expert. To them I am sure I was just another relative farewelling an elderly cancer patient. There are things you remember from life events such as this, and I will always remember their compassion. In particular the nurse who took my hand and said my mother had probably waited for my arrival and then happily let go knowing I was there. Romanticised theory or not, those are the things that are steadying at the time. Her tired, gentle face searching out mine as I ran down the corridor to my mother’s hospital room is forever etched in my memories of that night.

Mum aged sixteen.

What would be lovely to read after the description of how she left would be a narrative of a happy life filled with tales of joyful times. A deep mother daughter bond that concluded as I rushed to her side. Having a slight writing bent, I could probably drum that up from the memories I have in my head. There were happy family times in her life journey. Fact and fiction can mingle when we sit down to tap out a piece such as this. However, I would like to write something respectful to my mother that is based in reality. A reality that can be discussed still under the umbrella of filial love.

My mother had many grand qualities. She had physical beauty. Something of which I was aware, but has become more apparent to me now I have access to all the images of her life housed in photo albums in the family home. She was a head turner. The day my dad saw her at her first job interview at the radio station where he worked (and where she was subsequently to work) he watched her walk down the corridor and famously declared “I’m going to marry her”. He was punching above his weight, but he stuck with it with a determination surprising from one so timid. Neither of my parents sprang from particularly happy homes, so he probably couldn’t rationalise he may have been making an error in romantic judgement. It took nearly a decade for him get her down the aisle and the patience of Job. Dad had set his heart on being with her and they married in 1960. I didn’t come along for quite an extended period of time, seen as extraordinary for their generation. Since mum passed away dad has stated it was a “surprise” when I was born. That’s best left as a dormant story I think for everyone, including me……..

My mother was intelligent. She was also quite a competent comic actress. With a wisdom I seem only to have acquired since her death, I realise she was in fact extremely smart and the owner of a frustrated mind. As a modern woman, my mother would have had a university education and turned her frustration into a career befitting her IQ. Instead she did her leaver’s certificate, topped the state in short hand and subsequently worked in an office in an inferior position as suited to her gender. When I came along, she was a stay at home mother to one small child and bored out of her mind. She needed a career, and in the absence of any other mental or emotional stimulation her career became me.

My mother loved animals and abhorred animal cruelty. She grew up in a cat, Pomeranian and Pekingese laden house. Her own mother was obsessed with both breeds and had armies of them. Family photographs always had someone holding a dog or several cats perched on a table in the background. Oddly, my mother had a cat (gifted to her by her mother) when first married which was run over. She was so distraught she never had another pet and would allow me none. I begged and pleaded but she wouldn’t relent. She would never explain why. Near the end of her life she confessed she’d never go through that grief ever again. Something I can quite understand, solving the puzzle of her angry refusal to allow me any fur companions. She could also type fast, sew dresses, play the piano and be very, very funny when the mood took her. And there is the key word. Mood.

My rather beautiful, intelligent, animal loving, amateur theatrical, fast typing, piano playing mother was a terrifying individual because our home lived in fear of her mood. Of her displeasure. Of her irrationality. Of her anger. Of her inherent instability. Of her paranoia. She was my world and it was was not a safe world in which to live. My mother was very, very mentally unwell. In an era where to be so had stigma – and help was simply not there.

Mum and dad in 1985.

The precise history between mum and me is not fodder for this article. That would be inappropriate and is not its purpose. Suffice to say my childhood was not ideal, and young adult me was naturally shaped by childhood me who had a bit of a bumpy ride. Hence, young adult me was rather a hot mess and very vulnerable. I spent years unravelling what the hell actually happened. I was a guilt riddled woman child and a bit cheesed off at the family package I’d been delivered into. That took a while to work through.

Extricating myself from the family legacy came at a cost and I was estranged from my parents for some years. That estrangement ended unexpectedly, and whilst the relationship remained delicate and safely distant; some ten years after we reconnected I found myself at my mother’s bedside as she ebbed away. Nothing had ever been resolved. It was more a respectful truce offered on the grounds the past was not addressed. At the time it felt rather hypocritical. Two years after mum has gone I have come to a place where I understand a little more of who she was. The resentment I once carried is replaced with a certain empathy for her ….and a regret she was not a woman born into different times. I can see her positives as well as the overwhelming negatives that formed her persona.

They say to forgive for yourself and not for the person who has wronged you. I am undecided if ‘forgiveness’ is the correct word. Some of what my mother did along the way cannot be ‘forgiven’ – but it can be understood. My last words to my mother as I left her room on August 16, 2017 were that I would be back. That she had my promise I would care for my father and that I loved her. The last one was difficult because I couldn’t even tell if it was true. But I wanted her to have it, to take with her if she could hear me in her final hours. Love can be difficult to categorise.

My mother’s last trip to Sydney in October 2016 to see me in a stage production.

Before I left the hospital after she had died, I went into the room to say a last goodbye. It was a strange couple of minutes. The story seemed incomplete somehow without that final step. Ours had been such a tumultuous story and so painful. It was a chance to create an enduring, peaceful memory.

For many years I rejected any similarity between my mother and myself. I would emphatically declare I was only like my father. Unless I’m missing something, I appear to have dodged the mental demons that plagued mum her entire life; for that I am forever grateful. I am now the age she was when I begin to remember her the most vividly. Oddly enough, I begin to see little bits of her in my equivalent self. In a photograph, a quick flash in a mirror, a turn of phrase, a gesture. In my love for my little dogs. Instead of rejecting that I choose to embrace it. I will never have the equivalent of her physical beauty, but I am grateful for whatever of that she gifted me. Any of her intelligence and any of her positive qualities that wound up in my genetic cocktail. Our parents can never be erased. Accepting that seems to be a part of understanding myself.

In the hospital room on that final night I knew what I needed to say.

“You did the best with what you had, and I forgive you. Go in peace”.

Did her spirit hear me? I don’t know. I like to think it did.

Remembering my mother Geanette Benger. 13.2.32 – 16.8.17.

Make ’em laugh

Recently I was having one of those days. You know, when it’s all a bit crap and you can’t get your mind off the negative. I turned to something that (for me) invariably flips the ‘I’m over it’ switch in my head. A good comedy series.

I grew up on British comedies. My parents watched the ABC religiously, only flicking over to ‘Sale of the Century’ as an allowable aberration. ‘Are You Being Served’. ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. ‘Porridge’. ‘Open All Hours’. The one I particularly adored was ‘Fawlty Towers’; and so it was to this classic I turned for some distraction. As expected, it transported my mind to a happy place the other afternoon. As I sat there smiling merrily on the couch, I found myself pondering why this politically incorrect, frustrating and in many ways excruciating comedy still ticks all the boxes. Having recovered my joie de vivre I did a bit of research.

‘Fawlty Towers’ was famously penned by John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth, first airing in 1975. The couple were to divorce after the first series but valiantly still worked together to produce the second in 1979. Only six episodes were written for each, with the scripts meticulously worked and reworked by Cleese. Just this year “The Radio Times” poll revealed that, yet again, it remains the most popular British comedy of all time. Why?

Well it’s certainly not visual production values. There are wobbly walls, the odd visible boom mike and the most unrealistic Siberian hamster/rat puppet in shot. The acting performances are of good quality, but some of the delivery is a touch stagey by certain characters. The magic is in the writing. In particular the creation of Basil Fawlty. Who is expertly portrayed by Cleese.

Cleese encountered his inspiration for Basil in 1970 when travelling with the Python crew. They had the misfortune to stay at a Torquay hotel run by a man named Donald Sinclair. Cleese was fascinated by Sinclair. He and Connie Booth stayed on for several days to observe him after the rest of the cast had left. By all reports Sinclair was rude, obnoxious and clearly disliked running a hotel. He appeared to resent the guests and see them as an imposition. He was a man with absolutely no filter.
Comedy gold.

It is accepted that comedy scripting has a basic formula. “A beginning, a muddle and an end”; as aptly described by poet Philip Larkin. Cleese and Booth honed this beautifully. They also created a character that you love to hate. Basil is very dislikable, but you sympathise with his dysfunction. There’s a bit of you that wants him to triumph. There’s a part of you that has Basil Fawlty days… where you just want to squat in a hallway, cover your head and make like a demented frog. When Fawlty comes out ahead betting on a horse you know he cannot prevail. You realise that Irish builder O’Reilly’s seemingly successful rectification of a building blunder can only end in further humiliation. The man’s life is a misery, and a misery of his own creation in the most part.

The scripts have an exquisite tension to them as they progress. In the majority there is a ‘false’ resolution of tension at the end of the exposition or beginning. This causes you to relax as the viewer. You then enter the middle of the writing and get swept up in the ‘muddle’ which is unrelenting and cringe worthy. Whilst there are elements of slapstick, it is not so overdone as to not have stood the test of time. The plot resolution is fairly swift in each episode. Each character does not change in their hierarchy throughout any of the stories. There is a comfort in knowing that is safely established. I describe ‘Fawlty Towers’ as the comedy where you can’t look …but you can’t look away either.

It is hard to know if people will still laugh at the plight of Basil Fawlty in another forty years time. It’s refreshing that in an ever changing world, where even language is morphing at a rapid rate, a classic still stands.

I would venture to say the American equivalent may indeed prove to be ‘Seinfeld’. Once again, the magic is in the writing. A consistency of plot quality and character creation that does not age. It too still tops the charts twenty years after its final season aired. There’s a grounding in real characters who were carefully observed and then honed to fit the comedy genre.

They say laughter is the best medicine. Trite, but in my experience somewhat true.

Just don’t mention the war. 😉

Add a dash of criticism.

I am going to open with a somewhat hackneyed sentiment. Creating a piece of writing is rather like cooking a meal. It may be a short story starter, a main meal novel, a cheese platter communications project or a dessert comedy script delight. Whatever you are working on, you start with a whole lot of ingredients that are put together. Some time after you’ve opened the pantry and slaved over the creative stove; you silently pray you’ve created something your figurative diners enjoy. Hopefully they’ll leave a tip ….and it won’t just be editing advice and a rejection slip. It’ll be in your bank account and paying for next week’s groceries.

I like cooking and I like writing. I’m a much lazier cook than I am a writer, which isn’t a total disaster. That’s what Youfoodz is for. Shove it in the microwave and away you go. There isn’t really a parallel shortcut in the writing arena. If you chuck something together with minimal care it will read that way. Once an editor or prospective employer has read one mess, they are not likely to return for more. That’s like going back for a second round of bad curry.

So. Let’s say you’ve decided to write a short story. You have characters in mind and have jotted down all the main elements of the planned piece. The timeline, the world in which the story takes place, those key players and the essential plot. You have your introduction, your middle and your end. You’re all set to go and you perch at your computer and write those 2000 words (or whatever the brief may be). Once that’s done you re read. Tweak. Re read. Tweak. Re read. Tweak. Is it improving or are you actually wrecking it? Are things missing? Are they relatable characters? Is the protagonist likeable, or really irritating? Is it readable? Are there errors in spelling and syntax that you are not picking up? Hard to tell. You’ve been staring at it for two days now and you’ve either created modern day Dickens or a disaster.

Time to request……….. A CRITIQUE.

Meme from ‘Writer’s Digest’
writers digest.com.

In some circumstances a writer can be in the advantageous position of having a professional editor at their disposal. Perhaps one has been provided as part of a brief with a newspaper, magazine or book deal. A writer may be a tad cashed up… oh #happyfantasy … and has privately engaged an editor to check their work. Or in the world of reality, you are seeking the opinions of fellow writers or understanding friends for insight with regards to your recently created casserole. This is where it gets tricky. We’ve all watched the carnage of shattered egos on ‘My Kitchen Rules’. No one wants to hear their soufflé sucks.

Any writer who really wants to evolve and hone their skills will seek those risky, critical opinions. It is relatively impossible to evaluate your own work with unbiased eyes. You often know if something has real potential or is (in essence) a lemon. Fine tuning however, is very hard to do completely on your own. That does not mean you take on absolutely everything offered. Blindly rewriting anything and everything. Three different people can have three quite different opinions on what works and what doesn’t. Instead, see if there is uniformity in any of the criticisms. If anyone has offered something that you can clearly see yourself when looking at the piece with rested eyes. That’s what often brings the lightbulb moment. Something goes from average to well above with some intelligent editing.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. (Aristotle)

Critiquing someone’s work is tricky and another topic for another day. There may be little to offer as the writing is excellent. You may have just read a real stinker. (I’m tempted to offer some blue cheese quip here, but I think we’re done with the food analogies). If you are tremulously offering up your writing for criticism, there is no harm in giving your friendly editing team a few guidelines. Key points to ask for are spelling, syntax, their impression as a reader, does the plot make sense and were they engaged by the characters. Constructive criticism is the name of the game. If they liked your literary laksa (sorry…. couldn’t help myself… this is fun), then it is most helpful if they give you the reasons why it appealed. Those can often be built upon during a final rewrite.

I had this experience the other day when I roped in a few victims to read something I am working on. The idea has been simmering in my head for some time, and I’ve been thinking about starting to make some inroads. Jotted down all the essential elements and then wrote a first draft. I had bashed it out and then fiddled with it….. it was hard to tell how it was really shaping up. The good news is my readers seemed to enjoy it. The other good news is, although there were various suggestions, one observation regarding my protagonist was uniform. Yes it was a criticism (how very dare they), and yes it was utterly valid. Fascinatingly, I had been blind to it as the character is my own creation. Therefore, she is already fully developed in my own mind. I know her trajectory and potential for growth from the outset. As a result, I had omitted certain necessary facets of her character at her introduction. In the second draft the lady in question is much less one dimensional- and more interesting as a result.

Survived the critique. Learned something. We’re all still friends. Win.

Offering a critique or receiving one are both tricky negotiations. Both are excellent exercises for writers as you learn something every time. No writing is ever totally wasted, even if it winds up not being a best seller. It’s an ever evolving skill.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to microwave my dinner. It’s time to write chapter two, and I don’t have time to be all Masterchef with actual food.

Bon appetit. 😉

#writing #editing #communications #critique #criticism

Better late than never.

Some Yuletide plonk.

Here’s a fascinating fact for all of you taking the time to read this little article. (Well, define fascinating).

Thus far everyone following along knows I am a dog obsessed, shoe loving, childless, divorced woman who loves to write. It is additionally apparent I am not averse to the odd drinkie. If I didn’t know me, I’d kinda think I sound like fun. Truth be told, I am rather fun a lot of the time …. but I’m also somewhat more complex than blogland portrays. A dog obsessed, Cosmo swilling, shoe loving divorcee sounds like someone who was smoking the odd Alpine behind the bike sheds at school. Swigging their uncle’s scotch when no-one was looking. Climbing out of bedroom windows to go drink a goon bag with friends when mum and dad had gone to bed.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. My liver went unsullied for nigh on three decades.

I was actually a teetotaller for many more years than I have been a bubbles and Cosmopolitan consumer. I may have blurred the lines with designer shoes, champagne and Pomeranians these days – but I am the girl who remembers everyones’ teens and 20’s for them. When others of my generation were going to clubs and ripping the pants off whoever they fancied, I was living a cloistered life. I had very strict parents. I came from a family where pants stayed ON and alcohol was 100% not acceptable. Thus passed all of the 80’s and much of the 90’s. Securely clothed and temperate.

I was led to believe I was allergic to alcohol by my elders for many years. Eventually social pressure won and I had my first swig at 29. TWENTY-NINE. Truth be told I wasn’t enraptured on that particular occasion. Then I had a French champagne at around thirty and the floodgates were partially opened. By about the age of 35 I had a real handle on the joys of a nice beverage, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Current wine rack stock……..

What has been fascinating is being the person who recalls everyone else’s youth with total sobriety. I was the girl who held girlfriend’s hair back as they lost their dinner by 10pm. I called cabs, sat people in gutters and picked up their discarded handbags. My party trick is to remember key events for them. I recall one notable occasion where a friend and I were talking to a fellow we came across at a social function. He’d last been spotted about a decade beforehand.

“Why do I know him? There’s something weirdly familiar”.
“Darl, you banged him in 1996”.
“Oh…….. sh*t”.

True story.

NADK Flinders University tell us that Australians aged 18 – 24 years generally drink more standard drinks on a single occasion than any other age group. Those aged 70+ are most likely to drink 2 or less standard drinks. This leaves me in the No Man’s Land of age related drinking. I missed the binge years, but I haven’t got to the pension stage either. I’ve thrown off the shackles of my restricted youth but truth be told, I’ve never gone on a bender. I had the spins once after a Christmas party and had to sleep with one foot on the floor. The next day I staggered into work and realised at coffee break (when squintily visiting the loo) I had put my undies on backwards. It wasn’t pretty and neither was I. I swore off alcohol for a week; and then someone offered me some Moët. There endeth my exciting, drinking stories.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that in 2003 the average age of first use of alcohol was about 14, compared to about 17 and a half in 1965. Which does illustrate the prevalence of drinking young has increased with time. It doesn’t matter what website you consult, or what generation you examine, having your first bevy at 29 makes you an oddity. I used to almost hide it like a dirty secret; which is an interesting social response to being a teetotaller. These days it’s just a part of my story and persona.

I respect whatever take you have on alcohol, as long as you don’t lecture me with it. It’s in the same category as religious views. Non drinker? Have a lemonade. Wine enthusiast? Behold my wine rack. What I have always hated is either being berated by a non drinker (or reformed drinker) for knocking one back; or being relentlessly coerced into drinking more than is my personal limit. Once I think I’m looking down the barrel of a backwards underpants scenario… I’m out. Once was enough.

Classily celebrating being divorced with some Veuve in 2018. #dontmentionthewar

A glass of bubbles and a Cosmopolitan will forever be my poison. (With the odd white wine and gin infused something or other for variety). Do I wish I’d had a rocking, alcohol soaked youth? Yes and no. I think being a non drinker saved me from various mistakes; but it also precluded me from that certain social ‘freedom’ that comes with having a drink or two. The teenage parties and University Bar mishaps. A certain rite of passage into adulthood. I don’t have any outrageous stories or escapades. As they say, no great story starts with “So we all went out and I ate a salad…..”. or …..”Had a big Saturday night on the Diet Coke”.

However, I am the biographer of various persons who rely on me to jigsaw together the pieces of their Coolibah soaked younger years. Or a few that need me to piece together more recent events. Like the Night of the Killer Cosmos. One day I shall tell the great story of poor Kate and her chuck bucket. But not yet. It remains a thing of whispered legend. On that fateful evening in September 2017, the struggle was real. Poor wee Kate hadn’t fathomed my cocktails can floor an elephant. *see below*


I missed out on the early years, but I’m certainly enjoying the catch up. I figure my twenty-nine was everyone else’s eighteen. My liver is positively youthful with such a late start. These days it’s good friends, good times and good memories with a glass or two. If it ever all goes horribly wrong and I’m found with undies on backwards clutching Kate’s bucket…. we’ll just call it a second adolescence. Bottoms up.


NADK Do younger or older Australians drink more alcohol?
<https://nadkflindersedu.au/kb/&gt;

National Institute on Alcohol abuse and Alcoholism
<https://pubsniaaa.nih/gov/&gt;


Follow that hero.

When we read a book or see a film (and love it), we instinctively know it had a formula that worked. What we don’t consciously realise is that the formula used is one that has in fact, run endlessly on repeat. A magical writing potion utilised in the majority of films and books we have loved. An intrinsic tool in successful novel and script writing for generations.

Ladies and gentlemen I give you…… “The Hero’s Journey”.

What? Like the Prince kissing Snow White when she’s in her glass coffin?? She wakes up, spits up some apple and defeats the Wicked Queen??? He’s a hero.

Well not exactly, but you’re in the ball park.

This ‘formula’ was identified by Joseph Campbell, who outlined his theories in his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” (1949). Campbell sets out that the great historical myths and stories all share an underlying structure he names the ‘monomyth’. When I first read the odd quote from Mr. Campbell I went….. meh. It was all a tad Dungeons and Dragons for simplistic me. However, I studiously started looking into how it works as it is so widely recognised and used. The steps have been clarified by smart people for the, ‘I don’t have time to wade through all that’ kind of person. Such as myself. I read through those steps – and then thought about many of the films and literature I love.

Revelation! Mr. Joseph Campbell was bang on.

Of course it’s easy to look at a work retrospectively and think, I see what they did there. As a writer, the challenge is to create characters and plot that seamlessly integrate the theory. You can’t just put together a pile of badly written hooey following the steps, and expect success. One writer who came into my mind as soon as I had my mini revelation was the magnificent Tolkien.


My well loved copy of ‘The Hobbit’.

Now, my classroom teacher in Grade 6 was rather an idiot, but I can thank him for one thing. Once a week he sat us down and read us a chapter from “The Hobbit”. I was enthralled. Little Bilbo Baggins and his epic journey. Gollum, Gandalf, Smaug the dragon, a collection of dwarves and a magic Ring that made you disappear. What ten year old wouldn’t be enraptured. To me, it was simply an incredible story and I recognised it as really well written. What I didn’t recognise was that I was being read a rather expert version of the “The Hero’s Journey”. As the book was written in 1937, Tolkien wasn’t even using the template. He was just a damned fine writer.

So what are the steps? There are various interpretations available. I give here a nice, clear version from What is the hero’s journey? (screenwriting.io). They give us the twelve step model.

1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
5. CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
6. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.
7. They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
8. where they endure THE ORDEAL.
9. They take possession of their REWARD and
10. are pursued on the ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

It’s still a tad Dungeons and Dragons because of Campbell’s emphasis on mythology. So is “The Hobbit”, which makes that classic little book an excellent study. Tolkien nailed it all again with stunning expertise in “The Lord of The Rings”. (Which isn’t so little……..) ..

The steps themselves can be adapted and tweaked for almost any setting and most genres. The hero must have capacity for change and must face an ordeal. Considering no-one really enjoys a book or film where the protagonist is static and learns nothing, “The Hero’s Journey” is quite an intrinsic part of good storytelling. I’d been chucking it about in a clumsy kind of way for years before I consciously knew what I was doing.

In the case of Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton, his ordinary world is his little home in the Shire. His call to adventure is the arrival of the dwarves and the unexpected invitation to go on their quest as a burglar. He refuses to go but, with Gandalf as his mentor, crosses the first threshold and sets off. Thus begins his tale of tests, allies and enemies as he travels. He crosses the second threshold and encounters both Gollum and Smaug as his ordeal. His reward is the infamous Ring, and recognition as an honoured member of the party and successful burglar. His party are pursued but victorious and he crosses the third threshold resurrected and changed by all his adventures. He will never be the same little domesticated, sheltered hobbit of old. He returns home to the Ordinary World with the treasure of the Ring.

Snaps for Tolkien. Magnificent effort.
I unconsciously learned much, hearing this tale in Grade 6. Sadly I didn’t ‘unconsciously’ learn any maths at the same time, a subject which still eludes me to this day.

Once you know the drill, you can merrily analyse all your favourites. From “Aliens” to “Gladiator” (both by Ridley Scott who is a master) the steps of a journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary are all set out. The first is in outer space and the second is set in Ancient Rome. Makes no difference. Sometimes that final journey and victory can be pyrrhic. At the end of “Gladiator” Maximus doesn’t make it out alive. Yet he is rewarded and resurrected through his journey into the Afterlife to join his murdered wife and son. He restores Rome to the people through the Emperor’s death, thereby giving the Ordinary World a treasure through his actions. “The Hero’s Journey” is a versatile and wonderful device.

Russell Crowe as ‘Maximus’ in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”. (Dreamworks and Universal Pictures, 2000).

So there you have it.

Just thought I’d leave you with a picture of Russ. Not for educational purposes. The man has many faults, but it has to be said….. Whilst sitting on a horse in a skirt looking sexy growling, “What we do in Life, Echoes in Eternity”, he has a certain something that makes me go all thing. Academically, I’ll put it down to his portrayal of a great character in a film epitomising “The Hero’s Journey”. In truth, I think it’s mostly the burly buff biceps. Good storytelling with heroic, gruff allure. Five Academy Awards can’t be wrong.

I’ll just pretend I never watched “Les Miserables”, wipe that troubling memory and keep the Crowe magic alive………


What is the hero’s journey?
<https://screenwriting.io/what-is-the-heros-journey/&gt;

#writing #herosjourney #novels #screenplays #journalism

Baby steps

As little girls we are very often given a baby doll to play with. A birthday gift perhaps, or a present wrapped under the Christmas tree. Little boys get a racing car or a truck. You might think I am about to launch into a debate on gender appropriate toys; or state that little girls like trucks and cars to play with just as much as boys. That male children can be extremely happy playing with dolls and gender specific toy giving is sexist. All relevant topics worthy of discussion. But we’ll shelve that for now and take it as a given.

I’d actually like to talk about the first time as females we are expected to respond to the concept of being a mother. It is worth clarifying at this juncture that I am highly in favour of kiddies – but have never had one of my own.

My paternal grandmother gave me my obligatory baby dolly. After she had been excitedly unwrapped I dutifully named her ‘Anne’. I examined the little feeding bottle and potty she came with whilst grandma looked on proudly. I recall my immediate concern was if I put water or milk in Anne’s head end with the bottle provided for that purpose…. it would consequently shoot out Anne’s opposite end and make a mess. I didn’t have siblings and I was rather an uptight child from an uptight family. I didn’t do mess. Nnoooooooooooooo. Having politely thanked my grandmother, I tenderly plonked baby dolly on her potty and moved to my next birthday gift. Poor Anne continued to perch on her pink plastic throne for many years in my toy cupboard. I’d bring her out into the light of day when my grandparents came for tea. As well as being an uptight child, I was unerringly polite to my elders. Even if I proved somewhat of a failure as a baby doll parent.

I did enthusiastically play with dolls. I loved doing their hair and dressing them up. Anne’s ‘potty situation’ however was a total non starter as far as I was concerned.

The older dollies enjoy my favour whilst ‘Anne’ languishes in her cupboard.

The truth of the matter was I had no interest in Anne, or her bottle or her potty. I was a feminine child who loved pretty dresses and dancing and music lessons. The older dolls, and subsequently Barbie, with their outfits and accessories were my personal bag. Babies really held no interest for me. I determinedly stalked the neighbourhood cats and dogs constantly for pats (as my parents wouldn’t allow me a pet). If someone had a new puppy or kitten I was instantly clamouring for a cuddle. If someone had an infant sibling I was habitually polite, but never asked to hold them or see them. I’d slip away from the circle of parents and children and go occupy myself elsewhere. (Most often with the family dog who was looking forlorn in the backyard).
High school years arrived, and friends were talking about how many kids they’d like when they grew up and got married. I always confidently replied I was not getting married and not having children. (Got it half right). As a teen there was no circumstance where I could envisage myself with a flesh and blood ‘Anne’. As I was an affectionate child, it was assumed this was a phase and one day I too would decree, ‘I want a boy and a girl!’. Yet school years passed and my opinion did not alter. Ditto my University years. I was valiantly sticking to my guns.

Obviously as life chugged onwards, the girls of my generation began to have families. I was always very happy for them. I attended baby showers, bought gifts, sent cards, handed out hearty congratulations. This was what my friends wanted and I was incredibly happy for them. I was still a bit of a youngster, so my statement I would not be joining the motherhood train was not taken that seriously. I was becoming aware however, that it was starting to be viewed by some as less of a ‘quirk’ – and more a character flaw. My grandma had handed me that baby doll for a reason. It was my apparent destiny as a woman to eventually desire a live ‘Anne’ of my own. Tendrils of inadequacy started to wrap around me that I found difficult to shake.

I did marry. #dontmentionthewar. I went into that union being transparent that I didn’t want a family. About a year in, my ex husband stated (in not wildly pleasant terms) that he expected I’d now have a change of heart. He had subsequently decided that he wanted a child and expected me to comply. Nnnoooooooooooooo. I had quietly wondered if I would experience some invisible ‘click’ somewhere along the line. A sliver of me secretly hoped my baby gene would magically kick in and I’d join the club. That unpleasant marital exchange was a pivotal moment. I decided that, even if my biological clock started ringing, I would shut it off again.

It had a mild jangle a couple of times but never enough to be of any consequence. The faint dinging was only heard on about two occasions when I saw a very doting and protective dad with his bubba. At those times I ‘got’ what it was about. It had no bearing on my own circumstances though.

Being childless was a burden for many years. I dreaded every baby shower, every birth announcement and every awkward question which now bordered in the invasive. People wanted answers. Why was this seemingly nice woman who obsessively mothered her dogs not producing offspring? My favourite was, “Can’t you have children?”, to which I retorted, “I don’t know. I’ve never tried”. I became an aunt to two little ones, which gave me great happiness. Still does to this day. They were the first two babies I ever held. My terrified countenance as I cuddled them is forever recorded as you see here. I was very concerned I’d drop said tiny infant…. or its head would fall off. Both are now old enough to drive a car and survived the ordeal.

Worried aunt clutches newborn with wobbly head…….

My marriage failed, but not for reasons linked to lack of offspring. I am immensely grateful I stuck to my ‘no baby’ guns. It was one of the only times I stood firm in those early years. It was simply too important a fight to lose, despite incessant berating and pressure. A baby is a little person who deserves things to be done right. I was never going to be a mum if I wasn’t confident it was the right choice. It would have been a catastrophic choice.

I have cried tears of joy for friends who have fought terribly hard to have a baby and finally succeeded. Tears of sadness for those who have wanted it so badly and it never happened. The person I have never cried for is myself. In my own circumstances, to be childless was the right path.

I am single and older now. The baby ship is inevitably heading out to sea due to age; and enough arthritis drugs on board for the last decade that cause birth defects to make things impossible (even if I were espoused). The awkward questioning is growing silent, although it still pops up. Had #dontmentionthewar ended sooner, perhaps I would have met someone different and changed my mind. Perhaps he would have been the protective, decent type of guy who made my alarm clock ding on occasion. We’ll never know, and it is not something I have ever dwelled on.

I have learned one thing. I think as women we all ‘mother’ in many ways. I’ve realised I am brimming with maternal instincts that are used in other capacities. I may have rejected poor ‘Anne’ with her bottle and potty…. but I have still been a mother. I have mothered my nieces. Most notably I have mothered my fur children to bits; and will undoubtedly be doing that for the rest of my life. (And they’ve made much bigger , stinkier messes than dolly on her potty could ever have achieved).

A message I would send out into blogland is to never ask people too many questions on the baby topic. Unless you are personally invited into their story. You never know what raw nerves you may be pulling. Only now can I answer the difficult questions I was asked as a young woman. Indeed, it is only now I can begin to sort out the jigsaw in my own head of exactly what my journey was.

They say “It takes a village to raise a child”. It’s always lovely to be part of that community. My little duties as a villager have all been precious. No regrets. 🙂

The print of a great author.

For those of us who love to read, there are always those books which have the title of having turned you into a book worm. For those of us who love to write, there is also the author that you first realised had a mastery of words you could only aspire to.

As a youngster I had three favourite authors. Although I have expanded my horizons over the years, those three have remained my biggest influences. (Unless you count Enid Blyton, to whom I was addicted from about ages 5 to 12).

Secret Enid Blyton stash remains in my possession
on very dusty shelf.

I go back and read these three writer’s works regularly. I invariably see bits of their style creeping into my own blather. It’s an eclectic mix.

The first is Gerald Durrell. British naturalist and zookeeper who changed the face of zoos around the world. The book that got me started was “My Family and Other Animals”, which was on our reading list in first year high school. Obviously the animals were an attraction, but what mesmerised me was his use of English and his mix of humour and pathos in exquisite measure. You knew his characters. Durrell’s use of imagery took you to the heart of the places and people within his recollections of a childhood spent in Corfu. That book led me to all his other books. Animal collecting expeditions, zoos, failed marriages and various adored yet unsavoury relatives and friends. I devoured them all, and I still do. Sadly he passed away in 1995 from a love affair with whisky. On reading his biography, I learned he was a loveable yet frustrating character who was simply a natural writer. His wife (or wives) and secretaries fixed all his spelling and edited a lot of his work. The man simply had a fascinating life and a gift for story telling. His was an unconventional background with little formal education. Durrell’s type of ‘conversational’ writing has been imprinted on me permanently. Vale sir.

A side note for book fanatics is that his older brother was Lawrence Durrell, also a respected writer. Both had the same eclectic background and obvious talent for the written word, but very different styles. Lawrence pursued further education and ‘high literature’ whereas Gerald didn’t give two hoots. He tortured a few home tutors and then extricated himself from schooling with remarkable ease. That choice makes his success as a popular author quite incredible. Raw talent and a dollop of good luck.

Second favourite is Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle. Not a lot of explanation needed really. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stands alone. Beautiful writing, well constructed narratives.

Then it’s time for my biggest influence and a book I can read on a loop, never getting bored or tiring of its masterful techniques. That book is ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier. A British female writer who penned quite a prolific amount of work. This however is the book that put her on the map, and establishes her (in my humble opinion) as rather a genius.

Daphne Du Maurier in 1936.

Du Maurier was a complex woman who – pardon the cliche – was somewhat ahead of her time. She had sexual relationships with both men and women, although history confirms she was in a long term marriage from 1932 until her husband’s death in 1965. She had three children. ‘Rebecca’ was written in 1938 at a time of marital boredom and frustration. It was her 5th novel, the first being published in 1931. The story was made into a film by Hitchcock as well as several television adaptations, cementing its notoriety. Many people know the story of ‘Rebecca’ because of the Hitchcock film. If you have seen the film and not read the book, may I be so bold as to suggest you get a copy. The novel’s iconic opening phrase “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” begins the film, but film cannot do justice to the writing. When published, ‘Rebecca’ was a smash hit and marketed as a gothic romance novel. This apparently annoyed Daphne no end as that wasn’t its intention. (Although she couldn’t argue with the money the book generated for her. Her success as a writer put great strain on her marriage however). The book is moody, gothic in feel, suspenseful and all it was touted to be. But it is a lot more. Using some very remarkable techniques.


The first thing that strikes you about the novel as you delve into it, is the use of imagery. Masterful use of concrete and abstract language. You are with the narrator as she revisits Manderley Estate in that opening dream sequence. The house immediately becomes a character within itself. Something that is lost in ‘Rebecca’s retelling on the silver screen is the fact this is a tale being shared by a woman who is in command of her life. She has been shaped by the events linked to Manderley which we are to subsequently traverse through her eyes. The tale is harrowing, yet she has emerged in control of her own mind. She distracts her husband when she perceives he is remembering the past, she organises their travels, their daily routine in the foreign land where they have retreated from their former existence and history. They are a team, but she is his carer. His guardian. She is the stronger of the two. She has chosen her path dutifully, despite it proving something of a claustrophobic prison. The woman of Chapter One does not resemble the woman we meet in the bulk of the retrospectively focussed writing.

Indeed ‘Rebecca’ is not a gothic romance. It is a story of innocence lost, deception and eventual self realisation and resolve.

An emotionally distant, selfish and in some respects abusive man attempts to self distract by taking advantage of an isolated teenager with a crush on him. He’s sophisticated, older, wealthy and behaves with full knowledge that she is inexperienced, alone and completely out of her depth. He acts on impulse, not ever thinking of her eventual destiny as his much younger and naive wife. Maxim de Winter only cares that he’s lonely, she’s besotted and it might fix some of his own mess. The attraction isn’t even particularly sexual for him. (In modern prose, this guy is VERY f**ed up). Once they return from honeymoon to his Manderley mansion, he goes into full on self centred mode. She’s abandoned to the tender mercies of his scary, obsessive housekeeper and the ever present shadow of his deceased first wife. Rebecca. Rebecca, whom he hates and the narrator brokenly presumes he still pines for. It doesn’t occur to our dashing hero to have a quick word with his second wife and tactfully explain that’s not the deal. Without indulging in a complete synopsis (again in modern text) the conclusion runs thus. Our youthful narrator learns the truth and stops torturing herself she’s inferior to her predecessor. She forgives and then rescues her handsome, self obsessed, guilt ridden, arse of a husband. She becomes a mouse that roars; with steel to survive.

That’s more feminist masterpiece than gothic fluff.

The book is remarkable in two respects, in terms of writing technique. The first is that the most powerful character we take away with us is -Rebecca. Yet she is dead from the outset. There are only hints at her physicality (we learn she is tall, dark, a social genius and inevitably… has great beauty). Any dialogue from her character is extremely sparse. She dominates the narrative as only something that threatens can.. when it is not entirely revealed. The second device the author wields is that we never learn the narrator’s name. When asked, Du Maurier remarked she set herself the challenge as a test of writing technique, which she made easier for herself by composing the piece in the first person. She could not think of a name when she began to create the novel, and the process went on from there. Intentional or not, it adds to the power of Rebecca’s character and the helplessness of the storyteller. Nameless, she embodies being ‘unimportant’ and we can stand in her shoes unhindered. Her name can unconsciously become our own. The entire piece is a tour de force of creative skill.

I think I can safely say I will never write at the level achieved by Daphne du Maurier. However when putting pen to paper, or digit to keyboard, it is always worth learning and relearning what writers of this ilk have left us. I guess what got you into books, perhaps into writing and what floats your creative boat is a matter of personal taste. As a female writer, I can only admire what Daphne put together at a time when being a woman with a voice and ambitions was not the social norm. She was seemingly both tortured and liberated by her talent and personality for most of her eighty-one years. As you can possibly tell, I highly recommend a night on the couch with the print version of ‘Rebecca’. It is a book universally loved by women for reasons they probably never bother to analyse. The appeal may be complex when taken apart, but it’s also self explanatory. The story and characters simply strike a very powerful chord. It’s a damned fine piece of writing.

“What a pity I’m not a vagrant on the face of the earth. Wandering in strange cities, foreign lands, open spaces, fighting, drinking, loving physically. And here I am, only a silly sheltered girl in a dress, knowing nothing at all – but Nothing”. Daphne du Maurier (taken from her personal diary, aged 21).

“Women want love to be a novel, Men a short story”. Daphne du Maurier

“It’s people like me who have careers who really have bitched up the old relationship between men and women. Women ought to be soft and gentle and dependent. Disembodied spirits like myself are all wrong”. Daphne du Maurier (taken from a personal letter to friend Ellen Doubleday).

Daphne du Maurier in her beloved Cornwall, 1970’s.


Biographical detail in this article has been sourced from the Introduction to ‘The Rebecca Notebook’ Daphne du Maurier (1981).

Daphne du Maurier’s Personal Life (Daily Telegraph) 2017
<https://www.telegraph.co.uk>Film>MyCousinRachael&gt;

#writing #rebecca #daphnedumaurier