Waiting to hear from a publisher is a nail-biting business.
And sending a book-length manuscript to a publisher is an act of bravery, especially if, like me, one does not have an agent.
Nearly a year ago, I tried to attract an agent, but I discovered the hard way that agents (like publishers) can take many months to decide whether or not they can make money from your book. After I’d spent almost twelve months on that venture, I decided to try my luck by taking a more direct route.
Since my first book was published, that book’s publisher had been taken over by a much larger firm; the person who had nurtured me (and my book) through the maze of publication had moved elsewhere and she said my new manuscript ‘did not fit her list’.
I really understood her position: my memoir, a romance of sorts, would not suit her readership. Although my new memoir is about falling in love and marrying when I was a few months short of my seventieth birthday and my husband was already seventy-one.
As I said, the story is a romance ‘of sorts’, even if we did elope to escape our families. The memoir is also about the aftermath of marrying in what some people consider to be old age.
The next publisher I contacted required a three paragraph synopsis of my work; a sample of the manuscript (up to the first 5000 words); and my writing curriculum vitae or a summary of my previous publications/awards/recognition for my work.
That was easy. I had a completed manuscript that had been read by a couple of my adult granddaughters whose opinion I trust, as well as by a handful of knowledgeable friends. On the whole they had liked it, and made constructive suggestions about what would make it better. Gratefully, I incorporated many of their suggestions and then self-edited it to within an inch of its life.
My first memoir, Other People’s Country, was long listed for the Walkley Best Non-Fiction Books Award and short-listedfor the Western Australian Premier’s History Award in the year it was published. It is on the reading list of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation organisation and used in several Autralian universities.Writing my CV was not too hard.
Less than a fortnight after the initial contact, I was invited to send the whole manuscript. Such a joyful, half-forgotten memory!
That was three and a half months ago. Such a long, long time when I’m waiting, waiting. I’m wondering what my next steps will be.
I’ve started a new piece of writing and like what I’m doing well enough. My heart is not really in my new project yet, and real life keeps getting in my way.
Publishers are usually clear about how long it will take for them to assess a manuscript; it’s often three months or more. Some also admonish writers, sternly, not to contact them, but to wait until they hear.
So, like Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s Godot, or the character in the AA Milne poem, ‘Fishing’, that’s what I’m doing. I’m waiting!
‘Killing Daniel’ is a powerful story about real events. It is just one story in a collection of gritty writing in True Stories, by Helen Garner. The subject matter of ‘Killing Daniel’ should concern all of us. This special story should be compulsory reading for everyone who cares about the safety of children.
Over the past month, quite by accident (if one believes in this sort of ‘accident’ rather than understanding synchronicity) I’ve read three recent novels with neonatal loss at their hearts, all by Australian women*. The books, and a recent tragic family experience, have deeply touched me and caused me to evaluate one of my own experiences of death of a child.
Just before midnight, fifty years ago today, my third child was born following an induced labour at thirty-seven weeks, necessary because of the maternal preeclampsia which threatened to overwhelm both of us.
If I had not insisted on holding my baby, the midwife would have taken him immediately to the ward nursery and left me ‘to rest’. But I did hold him, and I put him to my breast, to the consternation of the midwife who said she’d never heard of such a thing. He sucked enthusiastically while I admired his lovely face, so like the faces of his older sister and brother, and yet so unique. I stroked him, held his tiny hands and touched each of his fingers, cradled his feet in my hand. In those few minutes while we were alone, I fell in love with the tiny boy.
Tragically, that was the last time I saw my baby. Sometime early the next morning, he was taken from the ward to the special care nursery, where he died with only staff members present.
No one told his father or me that he was ill and likely to die, or even that he’d been taken to the special nursery.
I woke in the morning and lay between the crisp sheets in my single room in a highly-regarded, private, maternity hospital, listening as the ward came alive. Babies screamed lustily. They’d spent the night in the ward nursery, where they were segregated from their mothers according to the custom of the time. Midwives trundled steel-wheeled, baby-laden trolleys along the linoleum corridor to breast-sore mothers, ready to feed their infants after an eight-hour separation.
When the ward returned to a silence broken only by the scurrying of nurses’ feet and the thud of closing doors, I rang my bell.
‘Where is my baby?’ I asked the midwife who appeared at the door. ‘Can you get him for me, please?’
‘Oh, just a minute,’ she answered, and turned on her heel.
I was not yet worried. My other babies had also been separated from me at birth. Perhaps I dozed. I don’t remember. Soon, someone placed a breakfast tray on the table by the bed.
‘Thanks, but I’m not ready to eat,’ I said. ‘I haven’t fed my baby yet.’
My next visitor was a tall, pleasant-looking nun with a stamp of authority in her bearing. She did not smile when she came into the room, and I do not recall whether I asked about my baby before she began to speak.
‘Dr P, your obstetrician, will be here any minute,’ she said. ‘He wants to talk to you.’ She paused, her gaze attracted momentarily by something in the garden outside the window. ‘We did everything we could, in the nursery… The paediatrician…’ she murmured vaguely.
I did not understand. Did not take in what she was saying.
‘We asked the priest to come and baptise him; we knew you’d want that…’ her voice trailed off.
At last I began to comprehend.
‘We named him “Paul” because he died on the feast-day of St Paul,’ the good sister said. ‘We didn’t know what name you and his father had chosen.’
I was angry that no one had told either of his parents that their precious baby was dying, almost as if we were of no consequence. Angry, too that our child had been given a name not of our choosing. These were basic parental rights that had been usurped. But I was young and unassertive, so I said nothing.
After all, that was the era when a baby could be removed from a woman if the authorities thought she was not fit to raise a baby (e.g. if she was unmarried). Removals were often without consent and forcible.
There was no suggestion that I could see my baby’s body. Perhaps in those days people thought it was not appropriate for a woman to see her baby who had died. Maybe it was simply an idea whose time had not yet come.
The following morning, I was sent home, shocked and grieving, to my two other babies, both less than two-and-a- half years old. The injunction that I should resume my normal life as soon as possible – as if it were that easy – went with me. I wept over the bassinet I had so lovingly prepared and bundled the tiny waiting clothes into a bag for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Because Paul’s death occurred within twenty-four hours of birth, it was counted as a stillbirth. There was no funeral. No ceremony marked his birth or his death. He was buried in an unmarked grave, possibly with others.
Few people understood our grief that our baby had died. ‘Pull yourself together, get over it,’ was a frequent remark; and so was, ‘It is not as if you knew him. It’s not like losing an older child.’ ‘You are still young. You can have another child quickly,’ others said, as if that would take away the ache in my heart and arms.
Of course, some innately kind people, as well as those who had experienced similar tragedies, supported me with love, care and kindness as I mourned the death of my baby. Somehow, I survived. But it was at a cost to myself, my children and my marriage.
These days, hyaline membrane disease which killed my baby is better understood. Now it is more commonly known as respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) – a condition in which gas exchange in the lungs of a newborn baby is difficult, sometimes impossible. The risk of RDS can be assessed while the baby is inutero. Treatment administered to the mother before birth can reduce the risk or decrease the severity of the syndrome. With adequate support of the newborn’s breathing and ventilation, the RDS resolves within four or five days.
I am glad the grieving process of parents whose baby has died during pregnancy or after birth is also much better understood. Such deaths are regarded as a tragic loss and every effort is made to help parents through the grief. Hopefully, parents will be supported by health professionals, pastors and dedicated organisations at every stage of the grieving process.
Fifty years is a long, long time. I occasionally remember the overwhelming disbelief and sadness that surrounded Paul’s death. Each new grief I experience reminds me. At the same time I am pleased that so many things have changed for the better.
The Dowerin Bed and Breakfast and its guests have been at my mercy for over a week. This old woman has masqueraded as the boss, while my sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Peter, are overseas on holidays. This is a diary of the week.
Dowerin is at the cross roads to a number of important places.
There are many responsibilities when you live in the country. I had to
Feed Hannah and her sisters. Which chook is Hannah?
The hens rewarded us with real farm eggs with orange yolks. The guests and my husband, John, and I ate them for breakfast almost every day.
Admire one of the garden rooms from the outside.
Choose my favourite.
Set the table for one guest for a 6.15 a.m. breakfast. (The next morning there were five for people for breakfast at 6, and no time for photography!)
Explore the in the shed at the bottom of the property
and discover John, hard at work.
Photograph reluctant neighbours.
Persist until I found some that were more amenable
Park in the main street, which was never a problem, especially on a Sunday. It is difficult to believe that during the Dowerin Field Days at the end of August space will be at a premium.
Find this Tin Dog on the edge of a paddock. This is the emblem of the town, about which a whole post could be written,
and also a bookshop in the middle of town.
Find a sunny spot on a verandah of the main house where I could do a spot of craft work – but where, sadly, I wrote not one word of my new book for a whole week!
A full wood box and several stoves
kept us warm on the odd wintry night
What more could anyone ask for during a week in the country?
I’d love it if you followed my posts, or made a comment.
I am honoured to have received a nomination for the Versatile Blogger Award from the generous Lisa Rieter. Thank you, Lisa. Variety, novelty and learning are my passions, so this award is very special. I’m excited to pass it onto some fantastic bloggers who have posts to suit my mood whenever I browse their blogs. I was delighted to find WordPress actually run a site for this award, to provide a central locale for the winners and maintain the rules.
The rules are:
Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
Include a link to their blog.
Next, select 15 excellent blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award – include a link to this site.
Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
When you consider nominating a fellow blogger for the Versatile Blogger Award, consider the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered, the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page. Or, of course, the quality of the photographs and the level of love.
Please take some time to visit these great blogs read around them – I promise you there’s something for everyone on all of them!
Louise Allan – ‘Life from the attic’ at louise-allan.com
I always wanted to be a writer, but my first book, Other People’s Country, was not published until I was 70 years old.
My husband and I eloped the year before my book was published. Eloping saved the hassles of explaining to our combined children (nine of them) and deciding which of our granddaughters would be flower girls.
My first trip to Europe was to France for our honeymoon, and I’ve been back three more times. I can’t get enough of the country and the culture.
This week I’m in Dowerin, a tiny country town in the Eastern Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, where I’m ‘minding’ the Dowerin Bed and Breakfast for my sister while she’s in Bali. Today, I cooked and served breakfast for five people by 6.15 a.m.
I started my blog six months ago, and after a few weeks of not knowing what I was doing, now love the process. I am delighted to have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award.
My garden occupies much of my attention. I’m passionate about my orchids, and slightly in love with my Pierre du Ronsard rose.
I expect the phone will ring any moment and my daughter will tell me that my second great grandchild has been born; then I will drive to Perth to greet him or her.
There’s been a state of chaos àchez nous for the past few weeks. Chaos isn’t usually a state I embrace readily; my mind demands external order, quiet and peace. But this mess has been for the sake of a worthy cause. Believing passionately as I do that lifelong learning is not only a right for everyone, but an obligation, it seems that a dining room in a constant mess in an open plan house is a small price to pay for John’s newest learning venture.
Lifelong learning has been defined as the ‘ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated’[i] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons or to develop skills as a volunteer. As well as acquiring knowledge and practical skills, a person engaged in lifelong learning also gains resilience and enhances his or her social inclusion, active citizenship, personal development, creativity and self-sustainability.
Adults of all ages who are actively engaged in learning and experimenting can become as engrossed as children at play. They experience the same enjoyment and sense of achievement when they uncover fresh concepts or demonstrate new skills. Involving oneself in learning is more important than what one learns.
After we married seven years ago, my husband found that the elderly writer with whom he now shared his life was determined to spend time in solitude, tucked out of sight and writing. In defence, he decided he would to learn to paint.
Using books from the library, he learnt as much as he could about acrylics before he committed himself to art. He bought some inexpensive paints, brushes and a couple of canvases and began to play. His books and art supplies were boosted with gifts from family and friends; soon he was painting steadily. Before long, he produced some pleasing artwork that he has had framed and given as gifts. Some of it hangs on our own walls.
We agreed we each needed our own space. When we moved to our new house, we decided he would use the upstairs area, which also accommodates the guest room, as his studio. He set up his desk in one corner with his laptop, printer, office supplies, bookshelves and files. We had a sink with running water installed in a corner of the studio, and he put his easel and paints in the middle of the room. I was very happy; my tidy, sunny study with a door that shuts is downstairs. And anyway, I am not too fussed about climbing stairs these days.
In the past few years, John has researched and set up a ‘no-dig’ vegetable garden in the tiny space at the back of the house and now we have an almost constant supply of herbs, greens, chillies and capsicum. He also volunteered to read at Mass, and has become arguably the best reader on the roster in St Dominic’s Parish.
Six weeks ago, he volunteered to help a relative with some research. When the task was explained, he discovered that he needed more skills. Researching was the easy part, but using the computer in new ways was more difficult.
Not wanting to admit defeat and back down, he set about what was to become a major learning task. I love my husband’s determination that allows him, at 78 years of age. to pursue difficult new learning and practise freshly acquired skills.
He’s had a computer for years, and has used it for receiving and sending emails; banking; booking holidays; searching the internet for information and performing daily ‘brain training’ exercises via an online site. He also reads on an android tablet, and often uses that to check things as well. But he’s never worked in a computer environment and computers have not been topics of general conversation in the circles in which he mixed.
He brought the laptop downstairs.
‘So you don’t have to run up and down the stairs, while you teach me how to do it,’ he explained.
‘Thanks. That’s thoughtful,’ I said as he reorganised the dining room and commandeered the table.
There were a couple of obstacles to his new venture: he is a one-finger typist (if that’s the word), and no one had ever shown him any of the amazing, simple tasks a computer can perform. In addition, his ancient laptop only had a very basic word-processing program. He’d never needed anything else.
It took us an hour to buy a new laptop, and a little longer to set it up.
At my brother Peter’s suggestion, our father gave me my first computer in 1985, a MicroBee for the technically minded, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Primarily a writer, I’m competent and confident with word processing; I use the internet for research and can manage the social media applications that interest me. But I’m a novice in other areas. Any child over the age of seven could run rings around my general knowledge of computers, and some under seven could show me a thing or two. My older granddaughters (I have fourteen granddaughters and three grandsons) show me new tricks when I need to know.
With John next to me at the computer, though, I shone. I felt like a genius as we talked about cutting and pasting; margins; double and single spaced lines; switching from the internet to his Word page; saving work; and using a USB-drive. He took notes in an old brown notebook, and noticed if I deviated even slightly from something I’d said previously, or took a short cut.
Bit-by-bit, he accumulated the knowledge and skills he needs for the first major task. There will be more things he will want to know about, of course. But he’s well on the way to having an improved base from which to start his further learning about the world of computers.
I look forward to seeing where his next venture will lead him.
If you would like to comment, or have a story about lifelong learning, your own or another’s I would love to read about it in the comments on my post.
[i]Department of Education and Science (2000). Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education. Dublin: Stationery Office
Two lots of ballet within a few days last week might have been overdoing it. But as a writer I know how important it is to keep the creative well topped up with new ideas, sensations and memories and two such completely different aspects of ballet so close together touched chords and left me with much to think about.
John’s inspired gift to celebrate our wedding anniversary was tickets to the Western Australian Ballet performance of Giselle, with music played by the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra.
I don’t often go to professional ballet performances, although I love it when I do. I’m certainly not in a position to judge a production. But I do know that John and I were spellbound from the second the curtain went up on Giselle, and we enjoyed every movement on stage until the end of many well-deserved curtain-calls.
According to a review in the Sydney Morning Herald following opening night, the production at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth was very close to perfect. That is certainly how it felt for us.
Act I of this beautiful ballet is set in a village in Germany. A peasant girl, Giselle, falls in love with the disguised Prince Albrecht, who is engaged to a woman from his own social situation. Hilarion, a local lad who loves Giselle, is suspicious of the prince from the start. When he reveals Albrecht’s deception during the peasants’ celebration of the harvest, Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart.
Act II takes place at her graveside in the forest.
The Wilis (the spirits of women who have died after being rejected by faithless lovers) chase Hilarion away from the grave. The Wilis dance in the moonlight, dressed in their wedding dresses. Out of revenge, they force any men who come into the forest to dance all night until they collapse and die.
Prince Albrecht, in remorse, brings lilies to Giselle’s grave, and Giselle’s spirit appears to him and forgives him his wrong-doing. However, the Wilis force both men to dance until they reach exhaustion. Hilarion dies, but Giselle’s love helps Albrecht to survive the night. The Wilis fade away as daylight breaks, the lovers make their peace and Giselle returns to her grave in tranquillity, leaving Albrecht alone in his sorrow.
While attending professional ballet may have been outside my usual circle of activities, I am certainly no stranger to other ballet classes and productions.
As a five-year-old over forty years ago, one of my sons insisted on attending ballet classes with a neighbour’s little girl. Many years later, he said that he thought his experience with ballet had been helpful in the development of his considerable skills as an Australian Rules football player.
These days we know that ballet lessons can be useful for football players. Ballet can help to improve their strength, increase flexibility and make them more agile, while providing a mind-body connection and reducing their risk of injury.
While our children attended their classes, my neighbour and I also went to jazz ballet lessons, even though we were in our forties. To the tunes of ABBA, and in particular their ‘Dancing Queen’, a group of mums stretched and flexed our muscles and pushed our bodies beyond what we thought we were capable of. Over a year, we got very fit, even if we weren’t particularly skilful dancers.
My jazz ballet days awoke the latent role of dancer deep inside me, and went some way to fulfil one of my thwarted childhood dreams. I was convinced that my mother, for some reason I never fathomed, did not want me to be a ballerina. As a child, I also longed to write. But that is another story.
Five of my granddaughters have learned ballet, beginning when they were little more than babies and continuing into their high-school years. One of my granddaughters, Amelia, still ‘does ballet’ and I look forward her end-of-the-year performance.
I’ve loved watching my grandchildren and their classmates in performances when they were tiny tots dancing ballet steps dressed as flowers, gumnut babies, elves, rabbits and little, often chubby, fairies. It has been a privilege to see these same girls as they grew into graceful ballerinas in a variety of roles.
Now a new cycle has begun. My great-granddaughter, Elizabeth, who has just turned three, became fascinated by ballet after she was taken to a production in which her aunt, Amelia (12) performed.
‘I liked the pink ones,’ Elizabeth told me seriously afterwards.
She, too, is now enrolled in ballet classes.
John and I walked to the Scarborough Recreation Centre on Saturday morning, and met up in the audience with Elizabeth’s parents, Claire-Helen and Bhen Linton.
Saturday morning at the balletIt’s fascinating to watch a class of three-year-olds in pink tutus learning the basic ballet positions and attempting their first simple ballet movements. For some, these are a real challenge, especially when they try to balance on one leg and keep the foot on the floor in the proper position. Some of the children are shy at the beginning, but they all seem to improve each week. Progress from term one to term two has been remarkable as the little girls have gained strength, skills and confidence.
As part of the class, the young teacher blows bubbles to encourage the children to stretch high and catch them; she provides fairy wands and bunches of tinsel that wave like trees or turn into horses’ tails as the girls move across the hall to ‘gallop’ music. She manages with aplomb when baby brothers and sisters crawl across the floor.
Mothers and fathers, younger siblings and an occasional grandparent sit in a row of plastic chairs at the back of the hall. From time to time, one of the dancers breaks ranks and runs back for a reassuring cuddle before returning to the class. Sometimes they stop mid-step to hug each other. They all turn around to make sure their parents are still watching.
I imagine that the cast of the WA Ballet Company’s production of Giselle must have begun their careers in a ballet school similar to this one, somewhere in the world. Perhaps one day, one of these tiny, aspiring ballerinas will take her place in the cast of Giselle, too.
For the past few years, I’ve been writing my second memoir. It’s about falling in love and marrying in old age.
John was married to my life-long friend Marcia for almost fifty years. Some time after her death, their children invited me to his seventieth birthday. Exactly a year after the birthday celebration, we married.
We didn’t just marry like a good conforming aged couple should, surrounded by our children and grandchildren. On a Monday morning in May, 2007, we eloped. We celebrated our wedding in spectacular fashion with Nuptial Mass, complete with music, flowers and candles, in my parish church – empty except for us and our four witnesses.
In honour of our wedding day, Father Trevor Simons, my parish priest and the celebrant of our Mass and marriage, wore the gold-fabric vestments he usually reserved for high feast-days . He acted as if John and I were starry-eyed twenty-some-things, embarking on our first marriage.
At the airport that evening, before we flew to Paris at the beginning of our honeymoon in France, we posted a pile of carefully-crafted cards to our families and friends. The cards announced that John and I had married that morning and we would see them again in a couple of months’ time.
Little did we dream of the storm that would erupt in some quarters when those letters arrived.
My new memoir is about our courtship and marriage in the last third of life, and about the aftermath of our decision, complicated by family and the reality that he had experienced a long and happy previous marriage and I had lived alone and celibate for the previous thirty years following a divorce.
Four months ago, after working on my story for some years, I decided, as one does, that it was finished. At any rate, I was finished with it and wanted to move on. I bundled it off to a publisher.
As anyone who has done it will well understand, sending a tender new manuscript out into the world is laden with the terrible twin emotions of fear and hope.
There is fear because of the high possibility of rejection of one’s baby. Like new parents, writers find it difficult to admit their babies aren’t perfect. Parents quickly discover that the infant for whom they had so longed and hoped has a tendency to leak at both ends, and to sing out of tune, especially at three o’clock in the morning, when the parents might prefer to sleep rather than attend to the needs of the small, demanding person who has taken up residence with them.
Writers also often discover that their manuscript is not perfect; no one loves their baby as much as they do.
On the other hand there is hope because there is also the possibility, however slim, that some discerning reader will love the manuscript so much they will convince a publisher that it is a must-buy, destined for the best-seller lists in the near future.
I sent my manuscript to a publisher I know and trust, who had recently taken up a position with a different publishing company from the one she had worked with previously. She said she liked my writing and the story. But she added,
‘It doesn’t fit with our list. Perhaps you could try…’
The second publisher liked the first 5000 words I sent him well enough to ask to see the complete manuscript. He has had my baby for a couple of months and he let me know me last week that it is still under consideration.
If writing a story is the gestation period, waiting to hear about its fate it is like a long, long labour. Little wonder I am anxious and impatient – an understatement if you listen to my husband.
Meanwhile, I haven’t settled down to write anything new. A writer who is waiting to hear from a publisher would be bad enough. But a writer who is waiting, and at the same time not writing, is decidedly – messy. Writers write. That’s what they do. When they stop, the consequences can be dire. They clean the pantry, bathroom cupboards and the top shelves of the wardrobe in the guest room. They fidget. Moan. Complain. Find fault. Start arguments.
Now it’s definitely time for me to engage with a new writing project. Dusting off old, half-forgotten, unpublished novels won’t do – I’ve tried that. A blog is good – I’ve tried that too – but it isn’t enough. The next project needs to be meaty, research-based and satisfying.
As the author Natasha Lester pointed out in a blog post recently, at 500 words a day it takes just under six months to write a book of 80 000 words. I can probably write 500 words most days if I put my mind to it.
Please stay tuned for the next instalment of my writing journey. You will read it here.
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I owe a debt of gratitude for my love of autumn to Sr. Mary Theophane, the nun who taught me most school subjects in years 8, 9 and 10, way back in the mists of time during the early 1950s.
Fanny, as we girls called her behind her back, was a woman who could turn her hand to teaching any subject that her superiors nominated. From my first day in her classroom as a twelve-year-old, I adored her. In the next three decisive years I absorbed the knowledge, attitudes and skills that she bestowed generously on her students. At the same time she encouraged me question everything and to think for myself.
Not everyone had the same rich experience of being taught by nuns as I did, but the sisters were good to me and for me. Sr. Theophane and the others were quintessential feminists. They imparted an understanding that women can do anything to which they set their minds.
Although the subject of John Keats’s romantic ‘Ode to Autumn’ bears little resemblance to an autumn in Perth, Western Australia, each year at this time I revisit the poem and the warm memories it evokes of my dear teacher, with her love of language and her enthusiasm (one of many) for poetry.
Autumn in Perth has few distinct markers. There are seldom mists here, and mellow fruitfulness appears a bit thin. Instead, in this city, we know it’s autumn when, after months of the searing heat of summer, one morning we sense it’s time to put a blanket on the bed; the day-time temperatures have dropped below the 30 degree Celsius mark; the roses that have been quiet in the heat of summer are blooming voluptuously again; in the shops, new season apples are crisp and even a little tart.
One of my own special markers of autumn is that, if you know where to find them, quinces appear. Until the last few years, they haven’t been readily available in the shops. In my childhood, there was a quince tree in our garden and my mother picked the fruit and made ruby-red jelly, and we ate stewed quinces until we were bored with them. Years later, I used to visit a quince and apple orchard in Dwellingup, where I often camped by the Murray River with my children and, later, grandchildren.
This week, a stack of quinces at $4.99 a kilo confronted me in a local fruit shop. Surely that was too good to be true? I bought five, not sure what I’d do with them. Make jam, I thought, my mother’s jelly, perhaps. Or I’d simply stew them. The idea of making jam appealed to my housewifely heart, but the jars of marmalade (two varieties) from last winter still sit in the pantry, and we’ve hardly touched the green tomato chutney created from a glut of tomatoes that didn’t seem to ripen. It turned out later that they were Green Zebra variety that we’d planted by accident. They would have been perfect in salads in spite of their odd appearance.
Idling at the computer (as I often do) I checked for stewed quince recipes in case my old, well-tested one had been superseded, and found David Lebovitz’s site,living the sweet life in Paris with, among many other lovely posts, his recipes not only for rosy poached quinces that judging by the photographs lived up to their name, but also for a quince tarte tatin. The poached quince recipe sounded fabulous and I was keen to try the tarte, too.
But there was a problem. My arthritic right hand, the one the physiotherapist has been working on in an attempt to redefine its claw-like shape, refused to hold a knife that would do the job of cutting and coring the fruit, and the hard knobbly fruit resisted all my attempts. In the end I had to call in some big guns. The man of the house was happy to oblige, and cheerfully hacked away at the fruit until I was satisfied. Even though his hands are older than mine, they seem to work better these days.
The result of our labours was not exactly what I expected. I followed the French rosy-poached-quince recipe implicitly, adding honey and lemon and wine, but they ended up looking little like the finished fruit in the recipe. Instead, mine were cooked until some bits disintegrated; and the liquid didn’t reduce as it was supposed to. In spite of how they looked, they tasted delicious.
It is still autumn, and there are still quinces in the shops. Perhaps this week I will make some jam after all – and we can eat the chilled fruit later in the day, coated in the thick red jelly as I remember from my mother’s simple recipe – and other years.
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For the Catholic Church, the feast of Easter is the most important event in the liturgical calendar.
While the Christmas story of the baby Jesus born of humble parents in a stable in Bethlehem has a certain readily accessible charm, the Easter story of a Man who rises from the dead after being crucified like a common criminal because He has preached a message of love is considerably harder to understand.
But for those of us who believe, Easter is so important that it is celebrated, not just on Easter Sunday, but for eight days from Easter Sunday to the following Sunday.
Lent is the lead-up time to those liturgies that commemorate the events of the first Easter. Traditionally the forty days of Lent are a time of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Catholic children are encouraged to ‘give-up’ something for Lent – lollies, chocolate, dessert.
As Catholics mature, and with it, hopefully, their faith, most of us take Lenten observances seriously. We begin on Ash Wednesday with good intentions. But I must admit, most years I expect to fail in much the same way as I find it hard to keep New Year resolutions.
Working on the idea that it is easier to take up something new as a way to break old habits, this year I enrolled in an eight-week course on St. John’s Gospel at the Maranatha Institute of Faith Education in Doubleview as part of my Lenten commitment in preparation for Easter.
The course facilitator, Ms Jan O’Connor, impressed and delighted me with her ability to impart knowledge about, and understanding of, the fourth Gospel, which scholars believe was written about a hundred years after the death of Christ, and which builds on the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke. My Maranatha experience ensured that my appreciation of the Gospel of John increased and my Lent was far richer than it would otherwise have been.
Even in the most humble suburban church, the solemn liturgies around Easter are full of drama and beauty.
John and I took part in the Easter Triduum in our parish church – the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the washing of the feet of a representative group of parishioners by the parish priest, followed by Mass on Holy Thursday; the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday; and of course, the solemn, joyful Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, with the Blessing of a New Fire, Lighting of the Paschal Candle, readings from the Old Testament, renewal of Baptismal promises and Mass to celebrate the Resurrection.
The Catholic Church in Australia and elsewhere has much for which to answer. Years of abuse inflicted at the hands of priests and religious have left thousands of suffering victims for whom there can be no resolution. Their situation is made even worse because of the failure of those in authority to acknowledge the crimes committed against them, and even, in some cases, the protection of criminals and the cover-up of their crimes.
Many Catholics suffer as a result. Even if we ourselves were not abused, we suffer for the pain inflicted on our abused brothers and sisters. We suffer from our loss of trust in the criminal men and women who inflicted such suffering. And we suffer from the loss of integrity of the whole Church.
In spite of all the suffering, the pews in the simple parish church of St. Dominic in Innaloo and, according to the media, many other churches throughout the nation, were filled this Easter with worshippers of all Christian denominations, full of joy and hope in the Resurrection.
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