Today I listened to Beethoven’s 9th. Back 32 years ago, in 1989, Christmas Day… there was a pivotal moment in my life that I remember mostly for its symbolism. I was born during the latter stages of WW2, but I grew up under the belief that we were always just a hiccup away from nuclear war. That 1989 Christmas day I was sitting with my family in front of the TV to listen to Leonard Bernstein conduct Beethoven’s 9th symphony. We were living in Vienna at the time, and had just observed the fall of the Berlin Wall and its ramifications — on our doorstep so to speak. And when the Ode to Joy was sung that Christmas Day, we unexpectedly heard the choir change the words from Freude (joy) to Freiheit (freedom)… I still remember the way I felt. That glorious music, written by a deaf man, conducted by a American Jewish terminally ill gay man, sung in a city so torn by war and division … To this day, I can’t hear that movement, that choir, without the tears welling up.
We had such high hopes. Alle Menschen werden Brüder… Everything seemed possible just then, even that.
Among other things (like working on the copy edited MS of my latest book), I have been sorting through the photos and letters that record bits and pieces of my father’s war history.
That’s the First World War, not the second. Not that they called it that…they had no idea they were fighting for nothing, rather than gloriously battling “the war to end all wars” as they were told. The photo of him was taken in France. He was about 27 y.o.
Here’s an extract, written to his sister in W.A. in pencil on a tiny piece of paper now brown with age: “I can tell you it is a great consolation to one and all of us when we get good news from home…Of course I don’t get letters very regular on account of so much shifting about…” He goes on to mention two friends from the wheatbelt of Western Australia where he owned a farm with his brother. He writes, “Reggie Parker was lucky getting out with a wound; I only wish Alec Waterhouse and all the other lads were as lucky…”
The Alec he mentions was English-born. They had both embarked with the Australian forces in January 1916, but Alec went missing, believed killed, at Pozieres in France in August of that same year.
But more than a year or so later, having been a German PoW, and having recovered from a chest wound, Alec escaped — walked through enemy lines and turned up in Holland… Back in England he sent a message to his mother, who still lived in Kent:
A happy story? Yes — and no. I believe Alec found it hard to deal with life after returning to Australia.
NEWS : my new book — a standalone — is now with the editor. Not long to wait…
In the meantime I’ve been digging into family history, and today came across a newspaper cutting pasted into my mum’s 1988 diary — a reprint of something written Feb 1919 at a time when my dad was trying to get home from a war in France, and my mum would have been 15 years old, living in Melbourne. She wrote in her 1988 diary: “How well I remember this!” and described how several of her classmates died at 14 y.o. and everyone was wearing masks soaked in eucalyptus oil — and her family all went and got the innoculation against pneumonia. She says, “It seems to have worked with us, though we were all very ill, none of us got pneumonia. This I think happened when I was 13 or 14.”
I HAD NO IDEA UNTIL TODAY THAT SHE’D EVER HAD THE 1918-19 FLU.
Sometimes the task seems overwhelming. Which is what I am feeling at the moment. I have to do a final edit on the latest book, and while the story is fine, it’s not in the right order. And the trouble is that when you start switching scenes around, it can alter a lot more than you bargained for. All of a sudden character X doesn’t know something because that incident hasn’t happened yet in the storyline. So I have to go back and insert bits and cut other bits out…
Aargh! It’s a nightmare.
Maybe that’s how my grandson felt when he went to learn about falconry — and someone handed him a buzzard instead of a falcon. The wingspan is wider than he is tall!
It has been a long time since I updated my blog…but I am back.
OUR SITUATION: A lot has happened, not all of it good, much of it related to the health of my husband and me. And of course, Covid has interrupted much of life just by existing. Even now, we are worried about my husband’s family members who are suffering its inroads, and one much loved member is currently in hospital. My husband and I, however, are about as safe as it is possible to be. Both of us have had two AstraZenica jabs. We live in a place which goes into lock-down whenever the disease pops up. (Unfortunately we also live under a federal government who gave very little attention to obtaining vaccines, which has meant that Australia has one of the world’s worst vaccination rates as a percentage of the population.)
WRITING NEWS: I have finished a new book, in the sense that there is a beginning, a middle and an end — however, I was not happy with it. I’ve sought the help of wonderful readers and, and as a result I have now embarked on a very thorough re-write, mostly to do with the structure of the novel, rather than the story which I still think is sound.
When and how will it be published? Not sure. Probably self-published…
LOCK-DOWN (West Australian style) : At the moment we are three days into a lock-down where we must wear a mask when we leave the house…which can only be for grocery shopping, medical reasons and an hour’s exercise nearby. Luckily we have lovely wild places just outside our back gate, see below.
The difference between Australian, French, German, UK, Russian, US covers of the same book:
The marketing people don’t seem to care that they might be misrepresenting the product (which would, one would think, lead to a dissatisfied customer who is not going to come back to that author again). All they want to do is sell the book. That seems short-sighted. I’d love to know what readers think.