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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

2012 Book ChallengeKeen on romance, fantasy, crime, YA, literary, mainstream women's fiction? Contemporary or historical? Memoir, other nonfiction or poetry? 

Whatever your preference, whether you're a fan of one genre or a devoted eclectic, the 2012 Australian Women Writers Book Reading & Reviewing Challenge invites you to celebrate a year encountering the best of Australian women's writing. 

Challenge period: 1 January 2012 - 31 December 2012 

Goal: Read and review books written by Australian women writers – hard copies, ebooks and audiobooks, new, borrowed or stumbled upon by book-crossing. 

Genre challenges: 
Purist: one genre only 
Dabbler: more than one genre 
Devoted eclectic: as many genres as you can find 

Challenge levels: 
Stella (read 3 and review at least 2 books) 
Miles (read 6 and review at least 3* 
Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review at least 4 books)* 
* The higher levels should include at least one substantial length review 

I will be joining the challenge and it is my GOAL to be a "Stella" reader (I'm a painfully slow reader these days!) in a genre other than my own (OK...choosing CRIME!).

If you would like to join me GO TO the Goodreads Australian Women Writers Challenge and sign up!  

And if anyone would like to choose one of my books (yes, I am an Australian writer!) to read and/or review, please email me at and I will give away a free copy of the chosen book in the e-format of your choosing.

Happy reading in 2012.


Friday, November 25, 2011


Donne wrote “No man is an island” but for many writers starting on their writing journey, they can feel that they are not only an island but a very remote island stranded in a wild sea. When I first started to write it felt like some sort of guilty pleasure that I would be embarrassed about if anyone caught me at it! I felt completely and utterly alone.

Gradually, as that first novel began to take shape I started to believe that this was something I could do, that a childhood dream of being a writer was achievable but like any spring growth, that dream felt new and vulnerable to criticism. A couple of wrong words and I would have crawled into a corner and tried to forget all about it. It took a couple of chance encounters to realise that it was all right to keep writing and to keep dreaming.

The first encounter was with a woman in our church choir who I’ll call “Ann”. To me she was an idol…a successful career woman who had managed to reach the pinnacle of her profession and yet also be a wife and mother at a time when women were still expected to be the little housewife. I can’t recall how the conversation started, during which she “confessed” that in her spare time (what spare time, I wondered?) she liked to write romance novels. I never knew if Ann was a published author or not – in hindsight she seemed rather cagey about that aspect of her secret life. That short, snatched conversation in the choir vestry had a deep impact on me and it felt as if she had given me permission to pursue my dream. If this amazing woman wrote romance novels then it was OK for me to do so too.

I typed “The End” and that first manuscript (begun when I dislocated a shoulder on a skiing holiday) had become a fully formed book. A BOOK! I'd done it! But publication seemed an unachievable aspiration as the rejection letters began to flow in. In the meantime my legal career limped on and led me to my second chance encounter in the crowded foyer of a local magistrate’s court, among the speeding drivers and petty criminals. There I met an upcoming crime writer, and lawyer, by the name of Kerry Greenwood. I had read several of her wonderful Phryne Fisher novels and she was enough of a local identity for me to recognise her. In the course of the conversation I blurted out my hopes and dreams of leaving law behind and becoming a writer. Kerry listened patiently and told me that of course I could do it. I just had to keep at it.

The rest is history. I found a writing family with Romance Writers of Australia and no longer felt alone. I kept writing and eventually my stories were published but I never forgot Ann and Kerry’s encouragement to a young, vulnerable, fledgling writer with a dream.

Recently I met Kerry Greenwood again. No longer up and coming but arrived, Kerry’s fabulous stories are being transformed into film with a Phryne Fisher series due for release on the ABC next year. Like any nervous fan I sidled up to her at the end of the panel and began “You won’t remember me, but…”. “Of course I remember you,” she said. “How is the writing?” I felt myself flushing with pleasure that a chance encounter so many years ago had stayed with her. If she only knew what it had meant to me at the time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Musing about the Muse

"Those who work only when the Muse strikes them make little progress." (William V. Dunning)

Thank you William, your words are so true! Any writer, poet or artist will tell you that if they waited for the muse to appear at their shoulder then there would be little in this world of great literature, poetry or art. The creative life is, I am afraid to say, 10% inspiration and 90% hard graft!

Since becoming "differently employed" in November last year, I have learned that my previous excuses of work pressures no longer excused me from writing. I have spent many mornings sitting at a blank computer screen (well not completely blank, generally it was occupied by Facebook or some other distraction). In order to write I have had to chain my muse by the ankle to the desk and she has howled and sulked and occasionally come up with the goods, but writing, like my previous employment is hard work. Some days the words flow and other days they have to be drawn out like fingernails.

So, who are these muses that so torment us?  According to Greek mythology there were nine of the lovely ladies:

  • Calliope:  Epic Poetry (symbolised by a writing tablet)
  • Clio:  History (a scroll)
  • Erato: Love poetry (a cythara - harp)
  • Euterpe: Song and Elegaic Poetry (an aulos - flute)
  • Melpomene:  Tragedy (tragic mask)
  • Polyhymnia: Hymns (veil)
  • Terpsichore:  Dance (lyre)
  • Thalia:  Comedy (comic mask)
  • Urania: Astronomy (globe and compass)
The word "muse" comes from the Greek "mousa" meaning to excel in arts and in the ancient Greek culture, this covered all learning. Modern words such as "music" owe their derivation to the mousa.

I have decided my own personal muse thrives on stress.  With an imminent overseas trip, a bathroom renovation and general domestic upheaval, I signed off on a draft of one of my WIPs last week with the decision that I would take a break from writing to get everything sorted out. 

That is when my muse came out to play. Without warning I felt compelled to shake the dust off my novella. I have decided this particular story is born of stressful occasions, as I started writing it during my father's last illness.  Suddenly I found I could pass the computer and out would come another few hundred words, without conscious thought and recourse to Facebook or Spider Solitaire. 

Perhaps I am not meant to be a "full time writer", maybe I need some added dimension to my life to kick start my muse into life, or maybe it is just about self discipline and taming my muse into submission?

What kick starts your muse? 

PS You may notice that my blog has changed "look" - that's just me procrastinating again. Then again I am still in spring cleaning mode so a fresh new look for the spring?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guest Blog: How does Feng Shui Work?

I have done several blogs on Feng Shui and its accidental role in my life. This week I am delighted to have a practitioner in the subject as my guest, Michael Shnippering, who is far better qualified than I am to tell you how Feng Shui works!

In order to understand how Feng Shui works, it is crucial to understand chi. Chi is energy; chi is life force. There exists both positive and negative chi, or energy. Feng Shui is used to promote positive chi and subdue or remove negative chi.

However, there are also other, crucial concepts that form the foundations of Feng Shui. One of these is harmony. Harmony, balance, and symmetry are very important in Feng Shui as well. By improving chi flow, creating openings for chi to enter, and formulating spaces where harmony, beauty, and balance are abundant, Feng Shui works to make a home and the people who live there healthy, happy, and prosperous.

Because energy affects us on every level – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, by working with the energy and creating positive situations, Feng Shui helps us improve our lives. With Feng Shui, if you change the energy, you change your life.

Feng Shui is referred to as a science and an art. Some even call it magic. It is all three. For those who don’t believe in magic, simply open your understanding to define magic as a science we don’t yet understand. Because in the Western world, the study of energy is often considered to be “New Age”, there is a great deal of ignorance about it and people tend to negate what they do not understand.

In many other places and civilizations in the world, the study of energy has existed for thousands of years. Scientific experiments have proven that we have energy. Whether you call it chi, prana, or energy, it not only exists but plays an important role in our lives.

A doctor named Masuro Emoto did a study where he froze ice crystals. On some of the crystals he wrote the word “love”. On another set he wrote “Hate”. The ones marked “love” produced beautiful, symmetrical crystals. The others, marked “hate”, yielded deformed, lopsided, sickly-looking crystals. You can think of Feng Shui working for similar reasons.

Feng Shui works because like attracts like. When we attract positive energy into our homes, we attract positive energy to our bodies and the events that surrounds us. Certain elements in our homes may promote negative energy. This is often because they are disharmonious. For example, things that are dirty, broken, or ugly make us feel bad – we are picking up on the energy they emit and cause.

The ancient Chinese studied chi in great detail. They were able to discover how things in our physical world carry a certain kind of energy or cause a particular type of energy. They then translated this into a template for making a home harmonious,. In addition, they also used astrology and astronomy, for the positions of the planets, seasons, elements, and other aspect of nature also guide and shape their own energies.
The bottom line is – Feng Shui works. People have noticed the changes to their homes and lives.

BIO: Michael Schnippering is the founder of of Feng Shui at Work. He is committed to the true art and science of Feng Shui. Over the years his Feng Shui practice has taken him to various parts of the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Colombia and Argentina.

Visit Michael and his team at 
Feng Shui at Work
Twitter: @fengshuiatwork

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Spring Cleaning and Blogs

Spring is in the air and I am spring cleaning! So far I today I have cleaned the oven, launched a new book and revamped my website.

In September I will be part of an exciting new grop blog -- Historical Hearts -- which launches on September 14 and in the interests of maintaining my sanity and the best use of my time, I am moving my personal blog over to my website. Past posts will still be able to accessed here but all future blogging will be done from

Oh... and the new book I have launched today is a collection of my short stories:  TOWER OF TALES available at Smashwords and Kindle.  From now until the end of August you can download it for free from Smashwords. Just quote coupon #CZ59R!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fit to Write - A Personal Journey

This time last year I was a mess. 

My dream job had begun to unravel as the organisation I worked for as a senior executive went through an organisational restructure. I was working long hours, dealing with some difficult issues,  what little exercise I did was getting pushed to the back burner and my diet seemed to largely consist of Board room sandwiches and take away. My weight climbed up over the 80kg mark for the first time ever which on a 162cm frame was not a good look! I was going to bed exhausted, sleeping badly and waking up just as exhausted. In short I was stressed, overweight and miserable. 

My father had died earlier in the year and in retrospect I was still dealing with his loss - I simply hadn't acknowledged my need to grieve. I was also frustrated because that five minutes I grabbed on a Saturday afternoon to write was just not enough time to produce anything of any worth. So add 'creatively stifled' to the mixing pot and I was going nowhere fast.

You know things aren't going right when you feel nauseous just driving into the car park in the morning and you tear up just looking at a white board!

Something had to be done or I was heading for the ubiquitous "burnout". Early in September I attended a conference at which the motivational speaker was Matt Church. Every conference has a motivational speaker these days but Matt Church brought a different perspective. He talked about the chemistry of the body and how it affects your working life. He described "Adrenalin Junkies" and as he spoke I could hear the voice in my head..."He's talking about you". To paraphrase him, our bodies give us effectively 3 hours of adrenalin a day and if you are an adrenalin junkie (and I ticked all the boxes), you've burnt it off by 11am. After that cortisol kicks in which, while giving you the same energy level, has the physical effect of thickening the blood. When you stop, "it's like being hit by a Mack truck" affects your sleep, causes weight gain...etc.  

How to deal with the problem? Seratonin - it takes at least 3 weeks to begin to replace your seratonin levels. I couldn't change the work situation but I could change me - diet and exercise needed serious re-evaluation. So I signed up to Michelle Bridges 12WBT program. This is not a quick fix weight loss program; it is careful eating and a minimum of 6 days of exercise. I began to use the gym at work in a quiet hour in the afternoon if I could grab one, I changed into my exercise gear before I left work thus ensuring I made it to my Step Into Life classes or simply worked on Michelle's "Learning to Run" Program.

Then in November my employer and I parted ways. It was one of those unpleasant Friday afternoon discussions that come from left field. Yes, I was devastated but at the same time exhilarated. I felt as if I had been set free. As a measure of how stressed I had been, it took at least two months to begin to feel as if I had achieved some sort of equilibrium again. In that time I had lost 8kg and I was exercising every day. In May this year I ran my first 5km "Fun Run" (not two words I have ever put together!) in 37 minutes.

I now write full time. I sit at a desk from 9 to 5 talking to imaginary people, which after my recent work experience, certainly beats talking to real ones! But you have to be fit to write. It is an occupation that demands as much attention to your physical well being as any other job. I'm at an age where bits of me are starting to wear out but that is all the more reason to exercise.

Exercise is now a vital part of my life, if I miss a day then I know it. I still need to lose more weight but at least that is not down to Board room sandwiches any more! The fact is I like a glass of wine in the evening and good food and I'm at an age where the metabolism doesn't function quite the way it used to but at least I don't FEEL overweight any more.

So where am I going with this? Some advice for being "Fit to Write" 

  • Make exercise part of your day - whether it is going for a walk, yoga or anything. Start setting yourself goals. You do it with your it with exercise. "Today I will walk one street further" or (as happened to me) "In May I will participate in a Fun Run". It is easy for me to say this and I can hear the excuses (I know them all...believe me) but you can do it. Not exercising is a habit. It takes 21 days to make a new habit. If I could do it, you can too. 
  • Watch your diet. I know chocolate is a compulsory part of any writer's life, but make it a treat, not a part of the daily food group.
  • Get up out of that chair at least once ever hour and do something different for 5 minutes.
I know many of you are not just writing, but also balancing employment and families. Nothing changes what I've said above. I did can too! When I started running, I could barely make one minute before feeling as I was about to have a coronary, now I can run 3kms without stopping (OK...I will never be a marathon runner but this is about you...not what others can do!).

In summary: Listen to your body, cultivate a "whole of body awareness" and set yourself goals, even if they are "baby steps". Striving to achieve a goal is better than just sitting back and letting life happen to you.

Any more tips to allow us to be "Fit to Write"?

Alison after the Run for Kids - still smiling!

(PS Another great reference that resonated with me  is the "Strong Women Stay Young" concept. See the website at )

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Soundtrack to my Writing Life

Being a creature of habit (in other words a typical Capricorn) from an early age I developed a routine around the way I worked, of which music played a significant part. Back in the days of LPs (remember those large shiney black things?) I would never start a study session without Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture or Handel’s Water music. It would have been as unthinkable as not playing a couple of rounds of solitaire (with REAL cards) while I ate my lunch. 

More recently when I needed to concentrate at work drafting agreements or finalising complex meeting minutes, I would put my iPod on and listen to an eclectic selection of music in a playlist called “Music to Work To”. This included Celtic and Opera.

You may be rolling your eyes and  thinking “OCD” here, which I am not at all but when I have a goal to achieve I find music and routine helps to soothe the savage beast. Putting the music on (and occasionally lighting the oil burner)  seems to provide a clue to my scatty brain that we are here to WORK.

As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that my published novels were both written to music. THE KING’S MAN with its dark undertones had behind it the music of Purcell. The music of Loreena McKennit  features strongly in my writing world, and her eastern influence is providing background to one of my current “WIPS” (work in progress) which is partially set in the Arab world of North Africa in the seventeenth century.

At the moment I am deep into rewrites of my post World War One novel and you would think that maybe something 1920s or a selection of the war poetry of  Wilfred Owen might be the kick start, but oddly it is a simple little ballad by a young singer called Christina Perri.  Her song “Arms” seems to perfectly capture the fear on the part of both my hero and heroine to allow themselves to fall in love. I am probably singlehandedly responsible for the number of You Tube hits Christina’s video is experiencing as  neither the CD nor the digital download seems to be available in Australia yet, but here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Do you have a musical soundtrack to your writing, reading or working life?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The next best seller is coming along nicely...

I have had a few readers ask me lately when my next book will be coming out. The truth is I don't know!

For the last eight years I have been occupied with the thing called "career" as I rose to being a senior executive. While I liked to think it didn't interfere with my writing, the truth is it did. I will be the first to admit I am not superwoman. After a day at the executive grindstone, I would crawl home from work too tired to do much more than throw some food on the table, watch an hour of mindless TV and go to bed. Weekends were then spent catching up on cooking, shopping, cleaning and life. So those spare five minutes on a Saturday afternoon were not terribly productive. I could feel all my creativity just disappearing. I couldn't write and I couldn't sew - my two creative outlets. All I had was work.

In November last year I quite suddenly found myself "differently employed". The circumstances don't is one of the realities of corporate life and the higher up the ladder you are, the shakier it becomes. If anyone has ever found themselves in the same position you will know that it is a horrible experience and despite all the silver linings (and there are plenty!), it shatters your sense of self.

I suppose I am more fortunate than most. I didn't feel defined by my career. I realised that I had one solid rock to cling to and that was my writing. While I don't think my "career" is completely over, I have consciously taken the time out to consider where it was going and, more importantly what it was doing to me (I think that is the subject for another blog).  In the meantime I have thrown myself into my alternate career - writing.

The reality is that By the Sword and The King's Man were mostly written during my time in Singapore where once again I had found myself "differently employed" (as an expat wife). What this means is that I have a cyber sock drawer stuffed with ideas and half started novels but nothing close to submission quality so I have set myself this year to finish some of those "UFOs" (Unfinished Objects).

I believe the best tool of writing is "time" and by that I mean setting your work aside to "set" for a while (months is good) and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. My writing style is to complete a rough draft (and I mean ROUGH) - the plot may change from the beginning to the end, it will have missing chunks with "put more stuff here" annotated into the manuscript but what it will be is the skeleton of the story. I will then put it away and pull out the ugly object some months later and begin my favourite part, the rewrite. This is like putting flesh on the bones, or for an artist starting to apply the paint to a rough sketch. This process will need to be repeated several times as you deepen the layers of paint, add complexity to the characters and depth to the plot. It is like any craft, it needs to be done with care and love and above all, time.

Time is not a commodity that many professional writers enjoy. There are nasty things called "deadlines" so the honing of their work needs to be tailored to meet that deadline. I suspect this is why so many writers first couple of books are infinitely better than their subsequent books (until they get into a rhythm of writing).

So where am I at? I currently have four pieces of work on the various burners of my literary stove.

  • A ghost story set in 1922  encompassing a Regency mystery and the shadows of the first world war. A big departure from my usual period of history and quite a complex story. 
  • The long awaited sequel to By the Sword and The King's Man. Set in 1680 it brings the strands of both stories together with the "next generation" plus Barbary Pirates. 
  • A Regency-set romance. I am venturing into very well covered territory here so I am not hopeful this will get much of a run but it has been interesting playing in another period of history.
  • A time travel novella...English Civil War to modern times. It's been fun to write!
There we are...that is what is simmering at the moment, in various stages of production. I am shuffling them around and my hope is by the end of this year, they will all be to submission standard. It is one thing to write them, the next thing will be to find a publisher and in this rapidly changing world of books, I have no idea how hard that is going to be!

So thank you for asking, I would love to say my next best seller will be coming out soon, but I would be lying!

However what I am doing is putting together a collection of my short stories which I will self publish so watch this space.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Colours of Lake Eyre

The early settlers in Australia clung to the fragile coast line of this great country and could only dream of what lay beyond there own existence. They watched the sea birds flying inland and explorers began to venture into the interior in search of the great inland sea that drew the birds. Charles Sturt carried a whaling boat with him into the dry interior in the hope of finding this mythical sea. Other explorers found the great sea but it was an illusion...a great salty sink in the centre of Australia, named Lake Eyre.

We have watched in horror as massive floods raged through Queensland earlier this year. Some of the water went out to sea but a great deal of it filled the inland waterways of the Cooper Creek and Diamantina River systems and after 10 years of drought the rivers flowed at last, spilling out into Lake Eyre. The filling of Lake Eyre is said to occur only once a lifetime but it seems that this phenomena may become more common as the climate adjusts. As it fills, life comes back to it, filling it with fish and water birds. It is no coincidence that the pelicans have gone from my own waterfront in Melbourne. Some primeval urge draws them to the waterways of Lake Eyre.

Just as it draws the birds, so too it draws people and my husband and I headed off on a 4000 km round trip to see Lake Eyre for ourselves. Our own explorations have already taken us to Innaminkca, Longreach and Birdsville and we have seen the "channel country" as it is called in drought and flood. Lake Eyre was the final pilgrimage.

The human ability to settle in what seems utterly inhospitable country never ceases to amaze me and on those dry, barren desert plains of northern South Australia, you come across the ruins of old homesteads and railway settlements from the days of the great Ghan rail link between Adelaide and the north. Lake Eyre itself is very hard to approach from land as the country around it is privately owned - the great Anna Creek Station, the size of Belgium, being one such landholding.

From William Creek, a one pub town that once used to be a siding for the Ghan, we took a flight in a small pain over the great Lake which is the only way to get a real appreciation of the size of this inland sea.  Pictures speak volumes so here are some of the colours of Lake Eyre

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Books and Printing

The original 17th century print machines

To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list.  ~John Aikin

On a recent trip to Belgium, I came across a small gem - an intact insight into the world of books and printing in the seventeenth century. The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp. 

This little treasure is a museum of books and printing (ah yes I can see a few eyes rolling) but far from being a dry museum of glass boxes, it is a world heritage site because the museum is in fact the actual home and printing works of the Plantin-Moretus family and is exactly as it was in the late sixteenth/seventeenth century.

The printing house was founded in 1555 by a Frenchman, Christoffel Plantin, who by 1575 was running a thriving business employee 70 people and 15 printing presses (two of the oldest printing presses in the world are still extant in the museum).  The business was inherited by his son-in-law Jan Moretus and the business continued in the family for the next three centuries. The house  printed not only in Latin but also in Greek, Hebrew and other languages, producing itself a bible in three languages (Greek, Hebrew and Latin).

As a home, it is a fine example of a seventeenth century wealthy businessman’s home. Many of the rooms are lined with leather, with the design gilded – a sort of seventeenth century wall paper, only affordable by the most wealthy. By far the most impressive part was the library – particularly for the seventeenth century, it is a phenomenal collection.

But the real interest is in the process (the craft) of producing a book. The original letter dies (and the business actually made its own dies) still in their wooden racks are to be seen. The wide range of letters and fonts (many still used today such as Garamond)  in languages such as Ancient Greek and Arabic – in sizes from almost microscopic to full size makes you realise the skill of the typesetters who had to set the forms for the printing press.  The illustrations were generally done by copper plating (a process very well demonstrated at another museum we visited – the Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam). Many of the illustrations were done by Balthasar Moretus’ great friend and fellow resident of Antwerp – John Paul Rubens (whose paintings hang on the walls of the house).

To print a page, the form had to be individually inked and then put in the press, one sheet at a time. In another part of the house at two huge desks, the editors sat, red pens in hand. These men were not just editing. To do their job well they were language scholars and academics.  The editing marks are the same as those used today by modern editors. Once the pages had been edited, the book could be printed, page after individual page. These were then wrapped and taken down to the shop to be sold in loose leaf form. If you wanted your book bound then you went to a book binder, a different trade all together.

When seen as an entire process, I came to realise why even after the invention of printing, books were so expensive and so valued. To possess a library even approaching the size of the one owned by the Moretus family, required enormous wealth.

And the reason for the quote at the beginning of this piece? In a corner of the museum there is the Inquisitors list of banned books which included several printed by the Plantin-Moretus press. They nearly came undone, had it not been for some very quick work by Jan Moretus in securing the Catholic Church’s contracts!

If you find yourself in Antwerp with nothing to do in the afternoon, don’t miss this wonderful museum and tribute to the art of creating a book!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Read an E-book Week

Did you know that far from being a modern phenomena the concept of the electronic or ("e-book") goes back at least 40 years?

In 1971, MIchael Hart was given $100,000 worth of computer time with a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer. He decided that the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but would be the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries. The first "e-book" was born—a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Those humble beginnings would become Project Gutenberg. Today Project Gutenberg houses 20,000 free texts and over 100,000 books are available through their partners. Today over 3,000,000 books are downloaded each month.

It has been a difficult journey for the e-book which I once saw described as a "solution in search of a problem" but with the advent of e-ink and affordable e-readers, not to mention the iPad phenomena, the e-book may finally have arrived as a real alternative to print books. For a comprehensive history of the e-book revolution go to

To celebrate "Read an E-Book Week" my e-books are available at a 50% reduced price.  Go to and select the book of your choice. At the checkout quote coupon # RAE50 to receive your discount. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Tiger Painting

The Tiger Painting
In 2002 we were living in Singapore on an expat posting with DH's (Dearest Husband) company. DH was always travelling so was rarely at home, Number One son was doing HSC at the Australian School, Number Two son was in Year 9 and a lump of teenage misery and  I was trying to hold the whole ship together. Don't get me wrong, I was having a perfectly wonderful time but it did have its moments...the ones they never tell you about in the "Expat life is wonderful" articles.

In May of that year I bought DH a beautiful painting of a tiger that I found in an obscure little Art Gallery in Holland Village. DH was suitably pleased with the purchase and we hung it in the dining room of our apartment. Our apartment was one of  the older style apartments, spacious, airy and multi level. The dining area was at the top of the highest level and we placed the painting on the wall facing down the stairs, effectively in the most dominant place in the apartment. This is IMPORTANT!
The Dining area of our apartment - Tiger looked straight down the stairs!
We started to experience a period of "general domestic unrest". DH was told that he may be posted elsewhere...could be back home, could be somewhere else or we could be remaining in Singapore. We began to quarrel in a way we had never done before - or since (one famous quarrel resulted in me offloading DH on the side of a road).  #1 son was going through the "HSC blues" and #2 son as well as being a general lump of misery, seemed to be continually unwell. It felt like our little ship was beginning to founder.

"Feng Shui" tours of Singapore are very popular and a group of us embarked on one of these tours. As the bus circumnavigated the popular haunts of the island, the Feng Shui master who was hosting us, went to great pains to explain the power of "tigers" and "dragons". Tigers he said were the most powerful images and if you had one in your house you had to be very careful where it was placed or the power of the tiger could overwhelm the household. I stared at him! The tiger painting...I had placed it in the MOST DOMINANT place in the whole apartment. I had upset the balance of our home and we were being overwhelmed by the tiger.

On the way home I gloomily considered whether art galleries in Singapore would take returns on the basis of bad feng shui. Stopping for coffee in one of the malls we were joined by a newcomer to the school mothers' group who, she told us, just happened to be a geomancer (from Sydney). I related the sad story of my beautiful tiger painting and she laughed (well who wouldn't!). The problem was easily fixed, she said. Just move the painting to a left hand wall (relative to your front door) and make sure it is facing a blank wall and then balance it with a dragon image on the other side of the room.
The $5 resin dragon

My first stop was one of the cheap touristy curio shops where I purchased a small, resin dragon for the huge sum of $5 , I then hurried home and moved the painting just as the geomancer had instructed to a benign wall in our living room, carefully placing the dragon opposite.

An hour later #1 son slumped in from school. In answer to my tentative "How was school?", he replied with a quizzical look on his face. "Good. Half way through the afternoon, it suddenly felt OK again.". I gave the tiger a wink.

Next morning, I received a phone call from DH. "Just had a meeting with the boss. Sorry, Al, but I am being posted back to Melbourne." Job uncertainty resolved, I gave the tiger a thorough dusting.

The following day, #2 son's grumbling appendix threatened to burst and he was whipped into hospital. OK, not a great outcome for him but at least it explained the ongoing ill health! At this point I felt I should be lighting joss sticks in front of the tiger.

Over lunch with some friends a few days later, I related the story of the Tiger Painting and one of my friends went pale. She had just purchased a large Tibetan chest, painted with the faces of six tigers. She promptly went out and bought a multi branched dragon candelabra (figuring so many tigers needed something more substantial than a $5 resin dragon) and had her sceptical teenager moving the chest into less dominant positions. Too late - the next day her husband's appendix burst and he was whipped into hospital with peritonitis - a week before they were due to be posted back to Melbourne. (I have often wondered if there was such a thing as contagious appendicitis as we had hosted a BBQ only a week earlier and 3 people from that day came down with appendicitis!).

So you can see, I am a staunch believer in the power of the elements and the principles of Feng Shui. The wealth corner of our property is the far left hand corner of DH's garage which is so cluttered and disorganised you can't even get to it. Knowing this was likely to happen if you dig through the junk, you will find a frog with a coin in its mouth. I can't change DH but I can do what little I can to influence the qi!

Tiger still lives with us, I couldn't find a non-dominant left wall for him, but he has his back to the front door and across the room is his little friend the dragon. Peace and harmony rules.

Tiger and the Dragon - in harmony

(If you find yourself in Singapore and you have exhausted the joys of Orchard Road, why not take a Feng Shui tour? You never know what you will discover!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dust and a Dose of Feng Shui

My grandmother used to say, "Darling, we all have our own standards of slovenliness and are faintly appalled by everyone else's.". My grandmother, I hasten to add, was not the best of housekeepers. When she died, my mother and I spent days painstakingly washing her incredible collection of valuable antique china all of which had a thick yellow patina from years of being confined in the same room as a smoker. And as the true colours of the beautiful pieces came through the smoke haze I felt an incredible sense of wonder and satisfaction (and moral superiority over my darling but distracted grandmother) . 

Just before Christmas I became "differently employed" - the choice was not entirely mine but finding myself at home (and now devoted to a full time writing career), I began to NOTICE that my own standard of slovenliness had definitely declined in the years I had been working. I have a wonderful cleaning lady who comes once a fortnight and manages in her 3 short hours to at least keep the house sanitary but the dust had accumulated on my collection of antique china (inherited from my grandmother) and under the furniture I did not have so much dust bunnies as dust elephants. I had simply stopped noticing.

In a pre-Christmas frenzy I spring-cleaned the living room (apparently a must before erecting the Christmas tree) and discussed the "need for clean" with friends on Facebook and why it particularly afflicts some of us (I will happily concede there are people out there to whom this will mean nothing) around the New Year. My Scottish friend claims "means you'll never be able to keep your house clean for the next year" and it got me thinking back to my time in Singapore.

The same frenetic "need to clean" afflicted my Chinese friends as Chinese New Year approached. A dirty house before New Year meant that the negative qi would stay around and make your life a misery for the rest of the year and I am sure if you were to scratch the surface of any culture you will find the urge to "spring clean" occurs at some point in the year. 

Of course in the northern European culture, spring cleaning was a necessity. One can only imagine what state ye olde castle was in after a winter. Those nice fresh summer rushes laid down in autumn would be rank - man and beast were indiscriminate about where they relieved themselves, throw in rotting food among the rotting rushes and it makes my dust elephants look positively benign.

But I do think the Chinese are on to something - they call it 'feng shui' (the ancient Chinese laws of aesthetics). For a very good reason (a long story to do with a painting of a tiger) which I should make the subject of another blog, I am a FIRM BELIEVER in the principles of feng shui and among them is the belief in the negative energies generated by clutter (and dust). So whether you are Scottish or Chinese, the principle is the same, at some point in the year (whether it is the start of a new year or spring) the negative energies that have accumulated in the corners of your home need to be expelled in order for you to have a prosperous year. (For some handy home hints on on dealing with your troublesome negative qi click here)

Well I'm not sure this year will be too prosperous (owing to a lack of a job) but I know I am feeling better for the slow (room by room) cleansing my poor neglected home is getting. Then there are the cupboards and book shelves... and quite frankly, when did I ever have time to work? Is this what they mean by a "woman's work is never done"?

What are your thoughts...?

(PS...When I typed "medieval househeeping" into Google, I got a gazillion sites on medieval torture!)