Spring has sprung, the grass is riz!
Ah, who doesn't love a sense of play? And with longer warmer days ahead, it's time to immerse ourselves in new-found pleasures...
Spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the birdies is.
They say the birdies on the wing, but that’s absurd.
I always thought the wing was on the bird.
Spring in the Bronx by anonymous, (although variously attributed to e.e. cummings or Ogden Nash)
Well hello lovely,
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My mum taught me the above poem when I was little and I’ve taught my kids too. You’ve got to say it like you’re a New York gangster, so bird becomes boid. I tried to find a video of it but instead came across another favourite Springtime ditty by the fabulous American mathematician and humourist, Tom Lehrer. (If you haven’t heard of him, he’s kind of a precursor to performers such as Tim Minchin.)
Lehrer penned such classics as We Will All Go Together When We Go, The Elements and The Vatican Rag. And this celebration of spring, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. (Warning, it’s not quite PC these days but still very witty.)
Shenanigans aside, this month, I’m sharing an update on the Work in Progress and I cast my eye back to where it all began. (Cue fadeout.). Plus, I have some fabby books to recommend and one to give away.
Let’s dive in!
Behind the scenes
I’ve been in full-on drafting mode since mid-July on my yet-to-be-named new novel about a deliciously complicated cat-sitting arrangement. Judging by the feedback, everyone’s pretty keen that the cat in question, Igor, the hirsute and temperamental feline, stays as Igor.
I’m about 40,000 words in. To date, our reluctant cat-sitter, Delia Watson, has found herself trying to track down a mysterious letter-writer who goes by the nickname Henny Penny (as in, ‘The sky is falling down! The sky is falling down!) Against her better judgement, she’s accompanied by the bridge ladies from Hibiscus Court Retirement Village, who are keen for adventure and one of whom rather fancies herself as Australia’s answer to Brenda Blethyn’s Vera.
Meanwhile, the downstairs neighbour has roped in Delia to be in charge of costumes for The Pretty Point Players annual production, The Importance of Being Earnest. And after telling her mother-in-law that she’s planning to work on the family tree, Claudia threatens she’ll call the police if Delia dares darken her doorstep again. She still hasn’t met her fellow cat-sitter Harry, although he has been painting a picture of the flat next door’s brick wall, which seems bizarre. And her research into the Watson clan has turned up a graveyard’s worth of skeletons in the family closet. So much for a quiet and slightly dull retirement!
There you have it. As you might be able to tell, I’m having lots of fun with this. There are some serious themes beneath all the hilarity but I might keep them to myself so I don’t ruin your future reading pleasure. But while I have you, if you have any hilarious cat stories you’re willing to share, then please send me an email. The sillier the better!
As always, I’ve read more than I have the space to fit into a single newsletter. Here are some titles that I think you might enjoy.
Without a doubt, Anna Funder’s Wifedom is fully deserving of all the accolades coming its way. Even for those of us (ahem, me) who hated 1984 and have refused to read any George Orwell since, this exploration of a man considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, is intriguing, frustrating and sometimes down right annoying. Why? Because as Funder explores the canon of Orwell’s work, the many biographies lauding him, what she discovered was that the woman who made all this possible, Orwell’s wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy, had been conveniently erased from Orwell’s story. Using recently discovered letters from Eileen as a springboard, Funder plays with form and style to probe the historical and cultural record and recreate the Orwells’ lives. Eminently readable, Wifedom is a biography like no other. Possibly the best book I’ve read in 2023.
Rebecca F. Kuang’s Yellowface has received mountains of hype. After all, she’s the award-winning author of the Poppy War trilogy and the blockbuster fantasy bestseller, Babel. Yellowface is about June Hayward and Athena Liu, friends from Yale, who were once both touted to be the next big thing in publishing. As it turned out, Asian-American Athena is the literary darling and June is just another white girl telling white girls’ stories. But, when June witnesses Athena dies in a freak accident, she takes Athena’s just-completed manuscript about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I and claims it as her own. What follows is a hilarious novel with serious themes that address the sometimes-vexed conversations occurring in publishing today. Whose story is it to tell? What does diversity even mean? And possibly the most fun part, do publishers play favourites? No spoilers from me 😊
Emma Young is back with her second novel, The Disorganisation of Celia Stone. The Celia in question is a super organised thirty-something that obsessively runs her and her husband’s life on via a spreadsheet and copious to-do lists. She’s also a dedicated journal writer and that’s the vehicle through which we learn that Celia has a bit of a problem. She might think she’s on track for publishing her financial self-help book and early retirement but we all know, the best laid plans often collapse in a heap. Witty, relatable and tender, this is a joyous novel about how we cope and how we heal.
Books to Love
Beatrix & Fred by Emily Spurr
Forty-something Beatrix is a loner. She lives in a rented apartment and works as the Office Manager in a firm where nobody, except her colleague Ray, likes her. Her downtime is usually spent nursing a bottle of vodka on the back steps of her apartment, pondering the point of it all and talking to her stuffed canary, Horatio.
Already emotionally off-kilter, Beatrix begins to suspect she’s stalked by an old woman. More than that, she thinks the old woman comes into her apartment when she’s not there. Paranoid delusional? Maybe. Or maybe Beatrix has met the one person who really does know the meaning of life.
Emily Spurr’s Beatrix & Fred is a gorgeous, warm, witty off-beat novel about loneliness, aging and the precarious nature of being human. Both Beatrix and Fred are delightful characters who push and pull against each other in a tug of war of will power. Spurr makes the unbelievable believable as Beatrix is harassed by her mental health bot, is rude to everyone, and grows to realise that frail old ladies can be a force to be reckoned with.
But beneath all the fun and games, Spurr is probing real questions about the moral complexities of life. Whose right is it to survive and thrive and at what cost? How we are captive to our past even as we continually tell ourselves that we’re not. How easy it is to be lonely surrounded by people. And just because we can play God, who gives us the right to do so? Beatrix & Fred is refreshing, quirky and entirely relatable.
The Sitter by Angela O’Keeffe
The artist Paul Cezanne painted the portrait of his wife, Hortense Cezanne, twenty-nine times. Less than the number of self-portraits, apples or Mont Sainte-Victoire, which is perhaps telling. The daughter of a farmer and book binder, when Hortense first meets Paul and he asks her to sit for him, she considers it to be the greatest luxury — to sit idly while someone paints your portrait. She discovers the hard way that sitting, immobile, for hours and days on end, is the most exquisite torture imaginably.
When writer, who we know as Georgia, goes to France to research her novel about Hortense, she feels as if Hortense is with her, in that Parisian hotel room overlooking the charred and damaged Notre Dame. But as the pandemic locks down the city, the two women, one dead a hundred years, one falling ill, the threads of their stories bend around each other. Georgia’s secrets from her past and Hortense’s unwritten story as Cezanne’s lover, wife, muse.
Angela O’Keeffe has written a deceptively brief novel that is muscular and powerful interrogation of the nature of female relationships with each other as well as with as the men in their lives. But it is also about the absent relationships of those who have died or left or worse, never leave us. The interplay between Hortense as a spectral figure and Georgia who is a shadow of herself is subtle as to be almost liminal. As opposed to the real and concrete relationship Georgia has with her only daughter. But O’Keeffe is also examining the relationship between artist and subject. How accurate is the representation on the canvas to who that person is, or does it really reflect how the artist feels at a given point in time. Or, to put it another way, what stories are being told by us and about us and where is the truth in that. The Sitter is clever and sharp-eyed while also being exquisitely painful, funny and regretful. It truly is a gem of a novel.
"I promise you one thing, young lady. Building a fence is not going to keep the world out and won't keep your children in. Life's not that simple."
What does it say when you have to rely upon Facebook to remind you that it’s your books anniversary 😊 😊
Tuesday 30 August, 2016 was publication day for my debut novel, The Fence — that’s seven years ago!! For an author, there is nothing quite like the first time you have a book released into the world. It’s nerve-wracking, exciting and the ultimate Emperor’s new clothes moment all at once.
I love The Fence. I love Gwen and Frankie in equal measure. Gwen came to me years before I actually sat down to write the book. She was so persistent, I ended up writing a few pages about her just to get her out of my head while I finished what would become my second published novel, The Making of Christina.
The Fence was inspired by our real-life dispute with new neighbours who were every bit as unpleasant as Brandy and Frankie, although without so many dogs and children. Thus, when I did eventually sit down to write the story, it came out of me in a rush. I started writing it on 1 June 2015 and finished it on 30 June 2015 — the same day I signed the publishing contract AND we exchanged contracts on our farm down the NSW south coast. I had two days off, one because I was interviewing Kate Grenville and the other? I don’t recall. Maybe I was tired! Whatever the case, I wish writing every novel had been as easy as this one was!
I’ve had five books published in the past seven years and now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on what I’ve learned. The best of the best has been meeting readers and finding out that my stories bring so much pleasure to quite a few people. The most difficult bit is how being a published writer is a hard world filled with uncertainty. But I persist, mostly, because writing brings me great joy.
If you haven’t read The Fence yet, you can still find the audio book here and while it’s no longer available in bookstores, I have a dwindling number of copies in my shed, which makes them a limited edition! To read the blurb, find the book club notes and to purchase a copy, pop over here.
Actually, this month there is one give away only. C’mon, give me a break, you’ve been spoilt all year!
Thanks to the wonderful people at University of Queensland Press, you could be in the running to win a copy of the wonderful new novel from Angela O’Keeffe, The Sitter. You know the drill. All you have to do is send me a reply email with the answer the question below.
Who are the two women at the centre of the novel?
The fine print: Giveaways are currently only open to subscribers and you must reside within Australia to be eligible to win (postage!) The winners will be picked at random and will be emailed on 21 September 2023. Good luck!
Batemans Bay Library
5.30pm Wednesday, 1 November 2023
Join me for a wine and cheese night as I talk about my books and the writing life at Batemans Bay Library. More details to come but I hope to meet some of you on the night!
New Voices Down Under
It’s not too late to sign up for the September newsletter. There are some really special new releases coming our way. This month in Meet the Author, we chat with Madeleine Gray about her hilarious upcoming release that’s received so much pre-pub hype, GREEN DOT. Plus, we’re excited to feature a review of Kell Woods’ historical take on the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, fifteen years on, AFTER THE WOODS. And, we review the winner of the 2022 City of Fremantle Hungerford Award, SALT RIVER ROAD, a compelling coming-of-age novel by Molly Schmidt about grief and healing set in a small town in the 1970s.
For your chance to **win** copies of GREEN DOT by Madeleine Gray or AFTER THE WOODS by Kell Woods, you MUST be a subscriber. Don’t miss out! You can subscribe here.
The end of the cup
Well, my friend, my cup is empty. Thank you so much for hanging out with me today.
Don’t forget, you can check out updates on events at www.meredithjaffe.com or you will always find me chatting on socials on either Instagram or Facebook @meredithjaffeauthor Why don’t you leave a comment or drop me a line. I love hearing from you!
Thanks for reading A Cuppa With Meredith! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.