Interview – me and the Australian Writers Centre

I can’t stand the sound of my voice. I will eventually listen to this podcast, in the foetal position. This is me with the Australian Writers Centre – fantastically, the byline (if you read it really fast) makes me sound like Obama’s speechwriter!

Thank you so much to the AWC. I couldn’t have finished The Barrier without you and your brilliant Crime and Thriller course. Loved chatting to Val Khoo:

https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/ep-200/

Interview – Australian Writers’ Centre

I did an interview recently with the AWC, talking about their brilliant Crime and Thriller Writing course, as well as life as a new author. Thank you very much to Su Lin for letting me borrow her beautiful home. She should be in PR.

Interview – Dymocks Podcast

Loved doing this podcast with the folks at Dymocks.

https://soundcloud.com/search?q=shankari%20chandran

Mamamia – I’m self-medicating with Seth Meyers.

Here is my latest piece for Mamamia.com.au. It’s about how I cope with the news.

Link: http://www.mamamia.com.au/how-to-cope-with-trump-chaos/

 

Panel – South Asian Festival of Arts and Literature

I was recently invited to speak on a panel at the South Asian Festival of Arts and Literature in Sydney. The topic was South Asian Writing in Australia. It was wonderful to be featured with talented, committed writers, playwrights and academics like Roanna Gonslaves (author of Permanent Resident), Adib Khan, Sharon Rundle and Champa Buddhipala.

There was talk about cultural appropriation. The documentary maker, Ana Tiwary, noted that Australia is multicultural and its stories are multicultural. The audience and readers want those stories. They are fascinated by those stories.

But between the artists and the audience, there are the funders/producers/publishers. They are monocultural. These stories don’t resonate with them, and they don’t think these stories will be of interest or will sell. These people in the middle create a barrier (largely because of what they will or will not fund). This is a systemic problem and challenge for the kind of art that makes it into the public space.

The festival gave me a lot to think about.

It also reminded me that people do incredible, creative things. It takes courage and support. I felt really welcomed and supported by this artistic community.

Here’s a photo from that day. Thank you to Simran Dalia at Vinz Photography.

 

 

To Read a Mockingbird

Hi guys, this one went up on MM a while back. It’s about my favourite novel and my favourite man:

http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/my-husband-took-7-years-to-read-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

 

In 2010 Husband embarked on an important personal journey. He began to read To Kill A Mockingbird whilst we were on holiday. He’s not a prolific reader of fiction. It’s one of his few failings and over the years I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve grown to accept it and to focus on his many other strengths as a best friend, husband and father. He is an avid reader of The Economist, which has a Valium-like effect on me, despite the fact that I have been known to publicly pretend that The Economist is where I get my news from. In reality, I get most of my news from Husband who I use like a hot RSS feed with fringe benefits, in between reading the works of fiction that I love.But I digress.

As I said, in 2010 Husband began to read To Kill A Mockingbird. I can not begin to describe my excitement that finally he was going to read this masterpiece and we would be able to spend hours talking about it together. And I mean hours. Like many people, I love this book. I read it as a child, I studied it as a teenager and I memorised it as a young adult.  As an older adult, it is the novel I turn to when I’m anxious or worried.

To Kill A Mockingbird inspired my childhood belief in justice and the importance of defending fairness, even when, as Atticus said to Jem, “you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”

I could go on and on and on about it.

In 2010 Husband started To Kill A Mockingbird but he didn’t finish it. I KNOW. I hear you, people. He has continued to carry it with him on the following three years of holidays and long train journeys. When he wasn’t reading The Economist, the European football scores or other books, he dipped into this piece of the literary canon.

I have had to learn to swallow my impatience and incredulity as the months stretched into years and he still hadn’t got to the court case, Mrs Dubose’s camellias or even that timeless scene with the rabid dog.  I had to learn not to ask ” What do you think?” instead, confining my desire to book-club it to my head. (Yes, to book-club is a verb).

And finally, on holiday in Fiji, aided by a Kids Club and poor Internet reception, he finished it. I was so happy I could have jumped him. But of course I wanted to know what he thought of it first.

“Yeah, it’s really good.” FULL STOP

I had waited three long and critique-barren years for that. I probed him gently, hoping to elicit further comment that would allow me to unleash the torrent of deferred deconstruction that was waiting, bursting to come out. But no. He loved it, no further comment.

I tried “Would it help you to talk about the novel if we were both naked? ” It helped but not to talk about the novel.

He did add that over the years, when he read the novel on public transport, strangers would come up to him to tell him how much they loved it and he enjoyed this break with public transport privacy protocol.

I briefly pondered recasting the novel. “Darling, if Atticus was Arsene Wenger, and Jem and Scout were a younger, idealistic version of Arsenal, and the court case was the European Cup Final, how would it make you feel…?”

In the end I decided to hold hands and watch the movie adaptation with him instead, to re-read the novel (again) and to join a book club.

A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolfe wrote that ’a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. I haven’t finished reading her entire essay yet but I feel smarter and more emancipated simply by owning it.  My copy is kept on my bedside table right next to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, another book I haven’t read. I have started Salman’s masterpiece 6 times and I really think that if Vintage Press could publish an edition with illustrations by Lauren Child, I would actually finish it.

Mamamia recently published one of my blog posts – an incident that caused great excitement and then emotional chaos at home.

You see, I have an excel spreadsheet of our four children’s activities (it’s the only way I can remember to take the right child to the right place on the right day with the right bag – we’ve had a few mishaps. Apparently my 7 year old daughter Prima does not play U6 boys football on a Thursday). Once a week, when Prima learns the piano, I have a 25 minute window in which to blog.

This is my time and it makes me incredibly happy. It’s like eating a whole box of Lindt balls (the original kind, before they got all fancy) without feeling sick or guilty afterwards.

Except that recently I did feel guilty.  When Mamamia published my post, I tried to respond to some of the comments from people who were kind enough to read it and offer their own thoughts. I tried to email a few friends with the link to the piece, asking them to hit the “Like” button, to create the false impression that I have a wide readership. I tried to think about what I would like to write next.

My children are like baby sharks and the thoughts in my head that are not about them, are like blood in the water. They smelt my distraction, quickly circled and went in for the kill. For example, Newborn (aged only 17 months) has learned how to turn the computer off at the plug point. In the last 2 weeks he has perfected a continuous whinge that sounds like a cross between a swarm of mosquitoes and a fog horn (it’s hard to imagine, I know – but it is impossible to renew your car insurance with that noise in the background, let alone blog).

I finally realised that between:

– school runs (how long could it take to load the car? – as long as Tercero (aged 2) wants);

– homework (an exercise in heavy sighs and multilateral conflict mediation);

– cooking with Newborn attached to my leg;

– tidying up with both my U3’s attached to both my legs; and

– comfort settling (shush-patting for 30 minutes so that Newborn naps for 40 minutes)

there was no time in my life. There is no time to do the 25 minute blog either, now that Newborn is mobile and insists on reorganising the piano teacher’s extensive CD collection.

We have several rooms in our house, but there is not one room “of one’s own” where one could sit on one’s own – I wee with an entire committee that decides how much toilet paper I get.

I understand what Virginia Woolfe was saying about how the lack of education and poverty has denied women the freedom to write.  But I am as educated as Husband and I am as independently wealthy as he is. By that I mean I am as co-dependently mortgaged as he is and my consent to this precarious but not uncommon situation was fully informed. There are rooms in my life Virginia but no space.

For the first time in a long time, the life I have chosen made me feel frustrated, then unfairly annoyed at my children, then angry with myself for feeling unfairly annoyed at them, then guilty for feeling unfairly annoyed and guiltier for actually wanting a room of my own. Oh Virginia, Newborn has woken up again. So that room, your essay and my writing shall have to wait.

Writer’s Block

I didn’t write over December 2010 and January 2011. Not that this was noticed by the literary or blogging world of course, but it was the first time since I learnt to put an HB pencil to paper that I didn’t want to write. Not a blog post, not a postcard, not even a list of things to do.

Ostensibly, my reasons were (in no particular order):

  • Packing up our lives in Canberra where we had been living with my parents for a year;
  • Renovating our new home in Sydney;
  • Moving to our new home and unpacking our lives as well as the 200 boxes from London (who knew I had so many clothes I don’t wear or flashcards I don’t use?);
  • Settling the children into their new school and the ridiculous range of activities aimed at developing them into well-rounded individuals; and
  • Setting up a new internet connection in an old house.

The real reason (I didn’t write) was because I felt sad.  So sad and worried about our new life in Australia that I couldn’t write about it. This blog is supposed to be an honest exploration of our migration South: the good, the bad and the ugly. Over Christmas, it got ugly for me and I was afraid that if I blogged about it, facing up to that was a little more than this sleep-deprived mummy could cope with.  So I packed and unpacked boxes instead, because that is so much easier.

I don’t know why it happened in December, or why it happened at all, but for the first time since we left in November 2009, I felt the full weight of that decision.  I suddenly missed the familiarity and security of our lives in London.  Australia, the final frontier, became terrifyingly hard instead of happily challenging.

I missed the security of our old jobs in London, jobs we loved and were successful at.  I missed my clients and colleagues at work, and that feeling you get when you think you are changing the world together, even if it’s only a little.

I started wondering if I had rolled the dice on my children’s educational and professional future by leaving an island that operated like a member state (albeit reluctantly) and bringing them to a country that operated like an island.

I missed my cousins in England who visited me, held my children whilst I showered and dowloaded movies for me when I couldn’t leave the house (legally downloaded of course).

I missed my beautiful mummies of Primrose Hill, the comfort of our Friday morning coffee and the weekly debrief of all things domestic and not.

I even missed Andy, the rotund and ruddy-faced butcher on England’s Lane (Belsize Park) who prepared my weekly meat order without me having to order it first.

I started doing crazy things like drafting an email to Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

Dear Julia,

Who does your hair?  Perhaps you should consider toning down the iridescent red, it looks ridiculous on the international stage especially when you’re standing next to Michelle. And since we’re talking, our natural resources can not possibly last forever, a country that does not make clever things or sell clever services is not a clever country as one of your predecessors famously said we should be. Healthcare is expensive over here Julia, and not at all universal. Childcare is frighteningly expensive and more prohibitive than motivating for parents returning to work. And there is a world out there that will leave us behind if we don’t learn to engage with it, learn from it and compete with it on its level. On a happier note, the quality of Ice Magic, that uniquely Australian chocolate sauce that hardens on contact with ice cream, has improved dramatically in the ten years since I’ve been away.

 Best wishes

 Duckformation

I’m sure much of the above is unfair and unfounded. But I was having a bad day (couple of months). I suddenly realised that I was a Londoner who used to be an Australian who had now returned and felt stranded on big island that turned out to be a small country far away from the things, people and places I had grown used to over a decade; things, people and places I had grown to love.

Basically I had a very long panic attack. My anxiety escalated to Stress-Con 1 and I started thinking:

(a)    what are we doing here? and

(b)   I had made a terrible, terrible mistake by initiating this move.

After ten years of talking about returning, the full weight of actually returning to Australia felt heavy, then it felt terrifying and then it came crashing down – a growing ball of frustration, disappointment and tears exploded and was released. Husband might qualify that verb and say it was unleashed.

December and January were hard months for me people (by people, I mean my readership of three cousins). My sense of humour that usually amuses me, Newborn and no one else, failed spectacularly. My sense of perspective that usually reminds me of the world’s cruelty that I am privileged enough to avoid, also failed spectacularly.

All I could do was doubt, panic, cry and wallow. In that order: Doubt, Panic, Cry and Wallow. DPCW. It’s not a cool acronym. Let’s face it, it’s not SWAT, CIA or even BSG (hands up and Good Hunting if you know that one). But December was all about DPCW.

There was no watershed moment when things started to get better. It was just the little things:

  •  a holiday at the beach with the Australian contingent of cousins and old friends, cooking and playing board games together, all of our children learning to swim together;
  • a slideshow of the photos my grandfather took in the sixties when he travelled Europe with my grandmother.  My grandpa, Appappa, doesn’t really talk to any one now, he’s old. But in his youth: he explored the world; he took photos of my beautiful Ammamma, posing like a movie star by the Trevi Fountain, he loved to read Readers Digest and PG Wodehouse books, and he laughed until he cried at British comedies. I hope and pray that my children, his great-grandchildren, will remember him, even just a little.
  • The hair on my children’s backs (hirsuteness being part of a rich genetic heritage) bleaching in the sun, their naked bodies revealing the swimming costume marks that are like permanent tattoos now.
  • The weekly play dates I have with childhood friends who knew me before I knew my blackberry. We pretend we organise these play dates for our children, but I need them more than our offspring. Husband, cousins and old friends have anchored me against the panic.
  • Watching husband go to Bunnings for a pack of screws and come back with a power drill that apparently converts into anything your heart desires.
  • Eating Ice Magic with my children and teaching them all the different ways I used to eat it with my brother.
  • Moving into our new house, our first real home together and watching the children’s delight as they claimed their castle, my husband’s pride as he claimed his.

And so the list goes on and the DPCW subsides.

It is a Wednesday in April today which means my little brother will come by with his son. My children are deliriously excited at the prospect of playing with their cousin and by 7:30 this morning I had cooked three enormous vegetarian quiches for my brother so I must be excited too.

Our lives still feel uncertain and insecure here.  I feel like Captain Kirk:  Australia, the final frontier.  Actually, I’ve always felt more like Mr Spock: nerdy, unusual eyebrows and poor social skills.  Even Mr Spock explored and enjoyed new worlds. I am counting the little things because it’s the little things that count – the small joys and victories of our new life here are accumulating into the big things, slowly but surely.

Anxiety down to Stress-Con 4.  HB pencil to paper.  There will be more Writer’s Blocks to come, some because of the above, some because of our internet connection. The only thing I am sure of is that with time, a little help from my husband, cousins and friends, and a lot of Ice Magic, they will get better.