Archive for December, 2011

Weather-gods

December 10, 2011

I’ve now realised how lucky we were. When we left Wollongong for the flight to Paris, it was the start of a downpour here, and it didn’t stop raining until we came back on Friday. Now Paris is suffering the absence-of-Aileen-and-Richard effect – the temperature has dropped and looks set to continue around 7 degrees for days. It’s happened like this other times too. We ought to hire out our weather-enhancing powers!

I dreamed dreams of Paris last night! Today, I started to think my way back into the ongoing flow of the next novel – as usual, starting from far out with further planning. Tomorrow, closing in on the scene to be written next, then building up to a larger amount of actual writing day by day. Thin end of the wedge principle!

Meanwhile, here are a few more images from Montreuil, selected from all the ones Gilberte sent me, taken by the official photographer at the event.


Me in steampunk gear, signing.


Me and the lovely Bénédicte at the Hélium stall.


Gilberte standing between Aileen and me, Marie (who helped at the stall) to the left of me, some of the young readers from the Montreuil club at the front, and Valérie and Élodie (librarians and organizers of the club) on the far right.

Figtree Again

December 9, 2011

Here are the photos I failed to put up when my camera battery ran flat! Our local Rue St Maur Metro entrance


And the spiral staircase going up to our apartment on the 2nd floor


Ah, memories! Far removed from the Figtree present, separated by a long plane flight. But not quite as bad as the flight out to Paris, once we were over the initial seven hour wait at Charles de Gaulle airport. We were 11 hours flying to Hong Kong, 2 hours at Hong Kong, then 8 hours to Sydney. Aileen got some perfume at Hong Kong, which will be an Xmas present from me, the Hong Kong officials managed to get us on seats together (after everyone had been saying it couldn’t be done, flight was chockers – still don’t know how they managed to move the passenger who would’ve been next to me, but they did it, at the v last minute when almost everybody had boarded. Thanks, HK officials!).

The most interesting event of the second flight was when I asked Aileen if she could see the dinner trolley coming; A’s answer, No, but they won’t be coming until we take off; R’s response, Well, actually we took off half an hour ago. We’d been standing idling on the tarmac for ages, then Aileen fell asleep for the actual takeoff, and didn’t realise our smooth cruising through the air wasn’t more idling on the tarmac.

So, we ate airplane food, fell asleep at times (we had two full albeit shortened nights on the plane) and generally felt like two very grubby termites squeezed into a very tight log – until we finally landed, got waved through customs, and caught the airport train back to Wollongong. It was as though the weather had decided to celebrate our return, after twelve days of rain (as Michelle told us) – the sun was out, the sky was sky-blue, the bush and grass was v green after all the rain, and the sea was sea-blue. So much green and blue! And temperature in the low twenties … A perfect Australian day! It seemed fitting that we shared our railway carriage with a guy dressed up in a rooster suit of bright red and green feathers.

Michelle collected us from the station, Habibi welcomed us home


We dragged our suitcases over the threshold – my big one was 22.8 kilos, small one was at least 12, not to mention four and a half litres of duty-free liquor – and now here we are. Half-unpacked, desperate for sleep but trying to hang out till evening, 14 days mail and newspapers to catch up on.

Au revoir, Rue Saint Maur

December 7, 2011

Off today! Groan! But happy memories of the time we’ve enjoyed in Paris.

Yesterday evening we celebrated our last night in the apartment with a bottle of good French champagne and, er, pizzas. Well, we’re half class. It had to be something takeaway, and there’s a really good pizza place right next to the front door of our apartment block. The guy who makes the pizzas is from Bangladesh – it’s a multicultural world…

Today, all can be revealed – the divan bed folded out had a tilt on one side, so we made a bigger bed facing the other way by folding out a chair that converted into a bed. But the way it converted – we couldn’t make sense of it when we tried to turn it back into a chair on our second day. We were thinking we’d never manage it at the end. But hurrah! We worked it out (after about half an hour!)

We took our time packing, had a final lunch, went to our local cafe for a final coffee. We said au revoir to our little apartment, au revoir to our local metro and supermarket. Then I called for a taxi on Aileen’s mobile. Mine had already run out of credit, and I was sure hers would too before I completed the booking. It’s hard enough hearing taxi reservation voices in Australia – add a different language, and it was a nightmare. I couldn’t hear enough to press the right buttons, and when I got someone on the other end who spoke a little English, even then there were so many tricky questions to understand and answer.

Anyway, we got our taxi and made it out to the airport – we had plenty of time then, but now we have even more. Because the first thing we saw when we looked at the Departures board was that our KLM flight to Amsterdam was ‘annule’ – cancelled!

When I went to the KLM counter, it turned out we’d already been booked onto an Air France flight going to Hong Kong, followed by a Qantas flight to Sydney. So we didn’t avoid Qantas in the end after all! Our plane doesn’t leave Paris until 11.20, almost 5 hours after our original flight, but because we don’t have the extra flight and airport stop at Amsterdam, and because our stop in Hong Kong is 2 hours instead of about 7, we end up arriving in Sydney more than an hour earlier. So it’s all good – better to hang around now through the evening than at Kuala Lumpur when we’d be already half zombified. And we’ve got a voucher for a restaurant meal, so no complaints from us!

Au revoir, Paris!

December 6, 2011

Today, we head off to Versailles, thus completing Aileen’s wish list of all the things she wanted to do in Paris. Mine’s already been completed. It was only a wish-list, and I was only hoping to get some of it done – amazingly, we’ve done everything, alone or together but mostly together.

We’ve developed a new habit. At home we take it in turns to make coffee/tea in the morning, then drink it in bed while reading the newspaper. Now instead of the newspaper we use my iPad to read and answer email in bed with morning coffee. I think I’ll have a struggle to reclaim the iPad when we’re home – Aileen has become very VERY attached to it.

Ditto Habibi – I suspect he’s become VERY attached to Michelle. She’s ended up staying the whole time in our house, and the cat follows her everywhere, I hear, even into the toilet. He’s going to get a reality check v soon!

Later in day … We’re desperately trying to eat as many patisserie cakes and Algerian sweets as we can before we have to leave. Well, I exaggerate, but it’s a good thing they only weigh the baggages and not the passengers for the plane.

We went to Versailles today – lucky, the sun shone, even though it was so cold I used the earflaps of my Russian cap. Versailles is very grand, not to say grandiose – all that heavy gilt and marble, but it doesn’t look as if anyone ever actually lived there. Relatively unfurnished compared to Fontainebleau. I suppose no one ever actually did live there in an ordinary human way – it was all a show of magnificence, a public display.

I knew my camera battery was low, but I took a picture in one room and the power died on me completely. I took a picture of our local metro (just fifty meters away) and the stairs to our apartment, but I can’t transfer anything from my camera now. Here’s a photo inside our apartment I took earlier –

Last Day at Montreuil

December 5, 2011

A little early morning blogging. Today’s the last day of the Salon de Montreuil, and I’ve got a couple of hours signing to do. Aileen’s already gone off to re-visit Rue Mouffetard, an open air market sort of street we fell in love with when we stayed close by last time in Paris. I think she plans to dawdle from patisserie to patisserie, cafe to cafe.

She’s taken her spoon with her for getting back into the flat. To open the door, you turn the key through two locks, then a little bit extra to draw back the latch – and that last bit is very stiff. Aileen’s long fingers can’t manage it on their own, so we re-discovered the lever principle – she inserts the handle of the spoon through the hole in the part of the key you grip, then presses down on the spoon to turn the key. A triumph of human ingenuity!!

OK, many hours later … We’re just warming up after taking an afternoon stroll around Père Lachaise cemetery. It an enormous place, bigger than Rookwood in Sydney, and filled with countless ‘sepultures’, which I guess means sepulchres – like miniature houses. All different styles, medieval and Renaissance and classical, some huge and showy, others, well, like little sentry boxes. They have a door at the front, often with a metal grille so you can see inside. Sometimes the doors are open or have fallen in, like this sepulchre Aileen’s ghouling around in –


The sepulchres are all packed in close side by side, an enormous city of the dead.

We started out looking for famous names, the sepulchre of Heloise and Abelard, and Moliere and La Fontaine. But after that it got more and more difficult – although we bumbled around looking for Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and many more, the only other one we actually found was Balzac, the French novelist. Meanwhile, it was growing colder and colder! It was a mostly sunny, but usually also means a cold day – my raincoat and padded jerkin weren’t enough to keep me warm.

Earlier in the day was my last session of signing at the Hélium stall. I shall miss it. I signed quite a few copies after a slow start – but I was also the subject of a great many photos, in my aviator’s helmet and steampunk goggles. Then, saying goodbye to everyone at the end, well, it seemed very strange and a little sad to think that we wouldn’t all be meeting again the next day! But I think Sophie and Gilberte, Bénédicte and Hélène, Cécile and Elsa – I think they’ll all need a week to recover. I had the easy job!

Lazy morning, busy afternoon

December 4, 2011

Lying in bed this morning – I don’t have to do signing until midday, then I get to meet with the Salon de Montreuil young readers. So I’ll do some blog now and finish off later.

We ate at a nearby estaminet last night. Did I mention we’re in a great area for restaurants, bars, nightclubs? (Thank God they didn’t have a party upstairs last night!) We’ve taken to enjoying as much French cuisine as we can. We went a bit cheaper one night, and learned our lesson – good cooking costs around 17€ for a main course dish ($25 Australian), and there are heaps of places for that. I guess haute cuisine would be on a different scale again. For wine, you can get pichets (mini-carafes) or quarter bottles – perfect for us, because I usually want red and Aileen wants white.

For lunch, if we’re chez nous, we have a baguette with prosciutto-style jambon cru (Whoo! See how I’m getting pretentiously French!), smelly French cheese, cherry tomatoes, duck (my only attempt to cook in the apartment – I was just amazed at being able to buy thick fillet of duck in the supermarket) – and for me at. He moment, this scrumptious 1999 Bordeaux red I found in a different supermarket for a mere $20. Ah, the good life!

I’ll have to be v careful with photos from now on. My camera battery is almost exhausted and I didn’t bring a charger. I suppose I could always email myself photos from my mobile, if my French SIMcard lets me. (Strange system, where you have to identify yourself with passport or proof of identity to keep using a SIM – but since you get 15 days before they cut you off, it’s no worry for us.)

Hah! Back from Montreuil, and I just discovered that I’ve been keeping my blog on Ripping Ozzie Reads (which I’m v happy to do, as long as I don’t overdo my column inches) – but I haven’t been publishing to THIS blog. Which is why, all of a sudden, the last four days have popped up all at once!

Today was great. First, two hours of signing … And the best bit about it was the number of people who were buying Le Worldshaker because someone else had recommended it to them. That’s the best! Here’s me signing at the Hélium stall (hmm, photo seems to come up later in the blog entry …


Then came the meeting with the Club de Montreuil – a group of young readers, voracious readers, who meet and argue over their favourite books – and I’m so happy to say Le Worldshaker was a favourite! I think of it almost like the French salons of previous centuries, when they judged books, recommended books, and generally influenced public opinion about books.

So, of course, it was wonderful to talk to such special readers. The librarians, Valérie and Élodie (hope I spelled that right) did a great job of helping me to understand the questions, and I answered in French. There were some v thoughtful questions! I finished off with a Mr Gibber/M. Gibbon reading and gave away all the posters I’d brought with me.

Here’s a photo taken with the club members afterwards. I’ve become really fond of my steampunk goggles! Because I’m doing this with an iPad app, I can’t publish a large-size image, but as soon as I get back to my laptop in Australia, I’ll put up a better photo.


Merci, club de Montreuil, c’était un grand plaisir de vous rencontrer!

Rain and Fans

December 4, 2011

So sad – we can see the end of the Paris is it approaching, and we’re nowhere near ready to go!

Here’s me in my steampunk goggles, aspromised


I put them on now and then when doing signings this afternoon, and for interview photo afterwards.

Today we got rained on – not heavy bucketfuls of rain, Australia-style, but it lasted the whole morning, varying back and forth between drizzle and light shower. Aileen and I enjoyed the St Ouen flea market experience we went to another at Montreuil (not far from the Salon or Book Fair). Whereas Montreuil was more serious vintage and antiques oriented – and more expensive – Montreuil was mostly clothing, secondhand or cheap, a treasure trove of everything imaginable. We were selective only because we have to keep inside weight restrictions for the flight home. I bought a padded jerkin, Aileen ought an amazing skirt and a dozen other small items. Only problem was the rain – these were open-air stalls – plus the fact that my fold-up umbrella turned inside and then started coming loose from the prongs. It was only half an umbrella by the end.

So we headed back to our apartment. I was on for two hours signing at the end of the afternoon, then had an interview with Nathan, a big fan of the juggernaut books, and his brother and friend. I really feel as if I have ‘fans’ in France more than any other country – young readers who don’t just like the books, or love the books, but who get right behind them and influence others to read them. It’s a great feeling to have that special level of support!

Boost for the Ego

December 4, 2011

Had the best possible author’s night last night! It was a Battle of the Books at Montreuil, where young readers, in groups of two or three or solo, spoke up for their favourite book in 3 minutes. There were about eight books presented – and Le Worldshaker was the only book that got spoken for twice! What could be nicer than to sit and hear words of praise for one’s own novel, as young readers try to persuade everyone else to read it! Here’s the first group


They had drawn pictures of Col and Riff that they held up as they talked – just visible in the photo. The second group focused mostly on doing a reading, which they did v well … But it was bad luck that their reading overlapped with the same passage that the first group had read. Here they are reading


Other groups or solos used different forms of presentation, e.g. Interviewing one another about the book – each group trying to do something different.
I’d have loved one of Le Worldshaker groups to win – a jury of three each gave a mark out of five for every presentation – but no, their best score was joint third, I think. The girl who won, speaking solo, was a v good, v natural public speaker.
I was the only author there, dressed in my steampunk gear, of course, and I got a big introduction at the start. Honestly, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Earlier in the day, we went to the chateau at Fontainebleau – another out-of-town trip. ‘Sumptuous’ was Aileen’s description – endless rooms of unbelievable luxury. And the sun came out for us!

The Salon de Montreuil

December 4, 2011

Whew! it’s big, this book fair – even though only for children’s and YA. Seems to me there’s about 100 publishers’ stalls. We wined and nibbled at the opening night last night, and managed to talk French with the help of many hand gestures, plus Italian in Aileen’s case. Here’s me with publisher Sophie (on right), editor Gilberte (on left), and Elsa who looks after overseas rights.


Today I had a presentation with a class of school kids who’d all read Worldshaker – I managed to answer their questions in French – at least they said they understood! Then they enacted some tableaux from the novel – here’s the scene where Riff goes to eat the jelly, Col tries to stop her, and Sephaltina is about to faint –


It was a real treat for me!
Later I went to the Louvre. Yesterday I wandered around the Marais and bought some shoes and books. Did I mention I found the perfect steampunk goggles at the fleamarket at St Ouen. They’re actually Austrian army goggles, probably for use on snow, v old like WW I. I’ll take a piccy, but right now here’s a steampunk Metro station – it’s on one of the lines at the Arts et Métiers stop –

Adventure Beyond Paris

December 4, 2011

Today we took a train trip to Chartres. Outside of Paris, it was real late autumn weather, very misty, and the leaves on the trees all beautiful yellows and browns. Still not full-on winter, in other words.

We must jinx public transport: on Friday, there was an accident ahead of us on the line, blocking trains for hours. Yesterday, the lights inside the carriage went out, and there was an announcement that there was someone on the line (a body on the live third rail?) That was only a 5 min delay. Today, the train stopped halfway to Chartres and we had to go the rest of the way by bus.

Chartres is as I remembered it from over thirty years ago – the most beautiful stained glass in the world. I loved it all over again. Here’s a photo, but only the palest imitation of the real thing.


We wandered around the old town, warmed up on onion soup in a tiny restaurant (I still think I do a better onion soup), and somehow didn’t get rained on even though you could almost see the raindrops forming in the air. (We’ve noticed this before, how it can come so close to raining you’d swear it had already started – yet it still stays dry.) Here’s us at the restaurant –