Minimal Appeal

MinimalismRight now, I am straddling three homes. My in-laws’ house (where we sleep); my family home (where I spend a lot of time, and where my stuff is stored); and the house that I am building, which is taking much longer to complete than anticipated (new estimated completion date is April 2016, please God).

First world problems considered, living away from my own home has been a little difficult. I’m sharing a place with people after I’ve lived independently; and my stuff is sharing a place with my mother. Once in a blue moon, she rearranges the contents of my boxes to a system that better suits her (which makes looking for things hard). Sometimes she piles things fished out of those boxes into a corner to ask a question about them (eg: do I really need these Parisian slippers?), then starts bemoaning all the clutter in her house when I fail to notice said corner, or she forgets to ask me about it. It’s difficult, but it’s so very typical of our relationship. (Also: she was the one who insisted I not pay for storage).

These difficulties aside, I’ve noticed that living away from my own home has also liberated me somewhat. Living with my Anglo-Australian in-laws has added an element of simplicity to my life that wasn’t there before. Lebanese people don’t do things simply. They do everything – meal times, celebrations, home decor, ordinary conversations – in a louder, more ostentatious way. It’s something I’ve noticed among a few migrant communities, as if building their ‘wog mansions’ and filling them with furniture and statues compensates for their poor upbringings in the mother country.

My mum has always despised clutter, but she’s also always made the best use of space and storage. Now that I have very little space (we’re confined to a very tiny bedroom, and I’ve become quite adept at squishing things into any places I can find for them), my hatred of clutter has intensified and extended to so many areas of my life. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon this post by Sarah Wilson, where she talks about the things she doesn’t own. Wilson’s post led me to Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits, and after religiously reading a few of his posts for a week, I resolved to change my life.

‘Change my life’ is probably a strong, ambitious term. But it’s reflective of an ongoing internal monologue that revolves around having less stuff, to enable me more time. I don’t like being flustered or forgetful, and yet, even before becoming a mother, I started to notice that having more stuff meant being busier. Life became about cleaning, filing, tidying and storing, or at least, thinking about it. I stopped being mindful, my mind was always ahead of me and my focus was non-existent.

These days, when I am living in cramped conditions and when I realise I have hardly had to access most of the stuff in storage, I am firm in my resolve to implement some basic aspects of the minimalist philosophy to my life. I’m inspired by people like Leo and The Minimalists (whose book I purchased last year, and which is currently making the rounds among friends), and by the prospect of having more time to do things like read, play with my daughter and make lemon bars.

But mostly, I’m motivated by the concept of consuming less. It’s a good place to be on the cusp of a new year. If you’re interested, I’m sharing how I am putting some of this resolve into action in an upcoming post.

Image Source

The Yearbook Committee: Full cover reveal + other book news

The Yearbook CommitteeThe Yearbook Committee goes to print this month. When it is finally released on March 1st (although it hits stores in late Feb), it will be the culmination of two years of anxiety. I didn’t expect this from the outset. I thought it would be easier because I had done it before. But this time, there were expectations. Knowing the ropes meant I had to meet those expectations. When I struggled, my agent comforted me. She told me that for the majority of authors, writing the second book is the hardest. I’ve only written two, but I can say with absolute certainty that things were so different with this book. While Hate is such a Strong Word took longer to write (three drafts before I even sent it to HC), this one just spanned a longer length of time. I had a new publisher, a new life with a baby, and for the first time, no place to write in the editing stages. I would snatch any hours that I could in the library. It’s also a process I felt a little more removed from – it was my readers (and any YA fan on social media really) that determined the cover, it was my publishers who determined the blurb, and after I met the deadline for the first draft, I hardly spoke to my agent about it. This process just felt more solitary, and the little bits of confidence (or was it optimism?) that I had in the aftermath of Hate‘s release have waned. Now, I’m just nervous. Until March 1st (or until I have more news on the book front) here are a few things you might be interested in:
  • you can now pre-order the book at selected online bookstores, like Booktopia and Angus & Robertson
  • the playlist that helped me write it is coming soon, just trying to decide if I should mention the songs in the book too, which helped the characters bring the yearbook to life
  • this interview I’ve done with fellow creative Damien Madden
  • I’m honoured to be an ambassador for the Stella Prize Schools Program, and they’ve interviewed me about that here
  • Put the CBCA National Conference in your diaries – it hits Sydney in May 2016 and I am chuffed to be presenting a panel on social issues in children’s + YA literature (aka Myriad Possibilities for a Better World) at the event
  • The first review is up on goodreads.com and I’m still trying to decide if writing ‘clean’ books is a good or bad thing. That said, I like that it’s been referred to as The Breakfast Club for the millennials
  • Finally, if you fancy a chat or a signed copy of one of my books, I’d love for you to come along to the official launch at Kinokuniya in Sydney on February 25th. Details to come soon!

Also, stuff that I am personally excited about that I feel I should share:

  • All the #loveozya releases of 2016. There are too many to list but off the top of my head: Helen Chebette’s Bro, Kirsty Eager’s Summer Skin, Shivaun Plozza’s Frankie; plus new Gabrielle Tozer set in regional Australia (I adore books set in regional Oz) and a new one by Jaclyn Moriarty. I can hear my wallet sighing already, and Braiden Asciak’s excellent goodreads list of all the upcoming titles is not doing it any favours.
  • An upcoming talk by my friend and mentor Rachel Hills, at All About Women next year. This woman has inspired me from day dot and her intellectual prowess and stellar achievements haven’t changed the fact that she is a ‘nice girl’.
  • The amazing Danielle Binks working with my brilliant publisher Chren Byng on an anthology of #loveozya to be published in 2017. Chren has been the brains behind all the amazing cover options for The Yearbook Committee with ZERO input on my part, so I know her creativity + Danielle’s excellent grasp of everything YA will make a great book. (I know this because I pre-interviewed Danielle for a story on NA that I wanted to write, and her answers blew me away. So I paused writing said piece because I just figured I knew too little and it was all too big in my head).
  • Christmas! Because it is just the best time of year for me and really reminds me of what ought to be valued. I say this particularly after watching this video, which broke my heart and reminded me of the people suffering in places that we just see as war zones. But I love that I feel the buzz in the air everywhere I go, hearing Christmas Carols in the shops, flicking through the bumper recipe books that supermarkets bring out…
  • All the online love from people excited about my book. Off the top of my head I would like to thank Eugenia at Genie with a Book, Anjulie Pickett at the Perth YA Book Club, Annie McCann at Read3r’z Re-Vu and Annie Fisher at The Book Cube. Your enthusiasm really helps to clarify my feelings about why I do what I do (and how I do it, even if I am not sure if ‘clean’ is bad), but mostly, I love the solidarity because I too am a fan girl at heart, just about other people’s books.
  • The movie Suffragette. If my husband’s surname didn’t sound very similar to Christabel Pankhurst’s, then I would have named my daughter after her. I have loved the suffragette story for ages, and am looking forward to seeing these first-wave feminists on screen. (Also, I love a good period flick).
That’s it from me. My husband has just notified me that I have burnt the chips I put in the oven, which means my current carb craving will not be met, but at least the distraction was worth it. I haven’t blogged in ages!

First Book Journey: Rachel Hills on writing The Sex Myth

Rachel Hills The Sex MythI invited the brilliant journalist, author and blogger Rachel Hills to share the first non-fiction first book journey on the site. She is currently touring around the US promoting her book, The Sex Myth. It’s the longest first book journey you’ll read on the site, but it’s guaranteed to shed light on the industry.

The proposal:

I started thinking about writing The Sex Myth in 2007. I’d been writing professionally for about two years at that point, and a couple of publishers had told me to get in touch if I ever had an idea for a book. I’d been flirting with a couple of ideas in my head, but when the idea of The Sex Myth came to me, I knew immediately on a gut instinctual level that this was IT.

I’d always loved reading feminist non-fiction – books like The Beauty Myth or The Whole Woman helped me to put my personal experiences into a broader social and political context – but I’d never come across a book that looked at SEX through that lens. Conversations I’d been having with friends and articles I’d worked on indicated that a lot of people felt alienated by the sexual ideals that were promoted in the media, and it seemed to me that this was an area in which I could make an original contribution.

I figured it would take me a year or two to put together, and I would be (as the script ran in my fantasies) the author of “the great feminist book of 2009” – a precocious young intellectual.

Needless to say, it did not unfold that way. In 2007, I’d also just been hired for the dream job I’d spent the last couple of years hustling for, so wanted to take a little time before I embarked on my next big project. I also knew that to write the book I wanted to write, I would need to understand my subject matter in a pretty deep way, so I got in touch with some of the academics I’d worked with in my undergrad, and asked them about doing an honours degree. They recommended I enroll in a Masters program instead, and so I did, starting my research in earnest in May 2008.

I spent the first year or so hanging out in the library, reading everything I could find about the sociology of sexuality, and gradually piecing together my own ideas and theories. I got ethics permission from the university to start interviewing in mid-2009, and did around 35 interviews before I left Australia to move to London in mid-2010.

I’d done a bunch of academic writing around the ideas in the book at that point, but it was only when I moved to London that I started writing the book in earnest. Partly, that was down to fear. I didn’t know what a good non-fiction book proposal looked like, and despite my contacts in media, I didn’t really know anyone who could show me how to write a good one. My mentors all advised me not to be too quick to sell, either, and stressed the importance of going out to publishers with something rock solid so that I could get the best deal possible. At the same time, as my ideas grew, I came more convinced I wanted to share them with an international audience as well as an Australian audience, which meant selling first to a US publisher – which I was even more clueless about.

By the end of 2010, I had a first draft of a proposal and a couple of sample chapters. It was time to call in reinforcements. I’d visited the US a couple of times over the previous few years, and had met a lot of feminist writers there, and in my conversations with them the name Brooke Warner had come up a few times. Brooke was an editor at Seal Press, a mid-size feminist publishing house, at the time, and I’d recently learned from my reading online that she also offered coaching. It seemed like a perfect fit. Who better to show me how to navigate the US publishing system than a woman who received enquiries regarding books like mine for a living?

I went into the coaching process hoping to hear something along the lines of, “Wow! This book is amazing! Let’s get you a six-figure book deal ASAP.” But Brooke’s first comments were more along the lines of, “I hope you’re willing to do some work on this.” It wasn’t that the book I was proposing was BAD: the book I’d laid out in that earliest proposal wasn’t all that different to the one you’ll find on the shelves today. It was that I wasn’t communicating it properly. The ideas were in my head, but they weren’t coming out clearly on the page.

Brooke and I worked together on the proposal for 4 or 5 months, Brooke making sure that the proposal answered every single question a publisher could have about buying work from an unknown Australian author who didn’t live in the country. The proposal we ended up with was at least 50 pages long (as opposed to my previous 15 or so), and included a list of every single article I had ever published, as well as a section called “Praise for Rachel Hills” – AKA, nice things Americans had said about me on the internet.

The book deal:

The next step was to find a literary agent. I logged on to Publishers Marketplace, and started researching agents who represented ideas-based nonfiction. Despite the fact that these were my favourite types of books to read, I quickly realised that they made up a minority of books published. My final longlist had 40-50 agents on it – keeping in mind that there are thousands of agents in the US – and I divided these into groups of 10, according to how good a fit they were for my book.

Brooke warned me that even with all the work we’d done, it still could be months before I found an agent to represent The Sex Myth. Fortunately, this was not the case.

One of the great things about selling a book in 2015, as opposed to 1995, is that so much of the process takes place via email. This means that instead of needing to read through 50+ pages of documents when considering whether to represent an author, your agent’s first contact with you is likely to come in the form of a 400-word or so pitch email. Ie, something they can read in less than a minute.

I sent my pitch to ten agents on a Thursday afternoon, and heard back from two who wanted to see the complete proposal before the day was out. One had been recommended to me by a woman I’d met a party a few months earlier, and the other represented a number of high profile feminist authors. On Friday, the first agent – Rebecca Friedman – emailed me again, saying she loved the proposal and could we speak on the phone on Monday.

When we spoke, her enthusiasm for the project was infectious – she totally “got” the book, and had big dreams for its potential, both commercially and intellectually. I signed on to be her client the next day. That night the second agent got back to me with a polite rejection; he thought the proposal was interesting, but it would be too hard to sell in the US market with my being Australian.

Part of an agent’s job is to talk regularly with editors, both to spruik their own projects, and to find out what kinds of books publishing houses are looking for. Rebecca said she knew a couple of editors who would be very interested in my book, but asked me to first make some minor changes to my proposal: to build out my chapter summaries from a paragraph or two each to a page each, and to write a third sample chapter. She also wanted to wait until the right moment to take the book to market.

In November 2011, Rebecca took the proposal to Karyn Marcus, an editor at Simon & Schuster, in a pre-empt – where a project is offered to a publisher exclusively for a brief period of time – and she made an offer to purchase world rights to The Sex Myth in less than a week. It all happened so quickly that for a week or so, I wasn’t even sure that I had a book deal. It seemed like there should be more obstacles involved. Like they might want to speak with me on the phone first, to make sure I wasn’t a crazy person, or something.

A few months later, Simon & Schuster sold Australian/New Zealand rights to Penguin, and much much later, the British rights to the book to Simon & Schuster’s UK offices.

After the signing:

Where fiction is generally sold after the book has been completed, nonfiction is sold on the basis of a proposal, which means that the bulk of the writing work happens after you’ve signed the deal.

I was given a little over a year to submit the first draft of the book, and my first step after signing was to bulk up my American and British interviews. I started posting callouts for interviewees to my blog and other online venues, and in the space of three months conducted another 180+ interviews. Fortunately, there was no shortage of people who wanted to speak to me – when one popular website posted a link to my callout, I received more than 600 emails in 48 hours.

I also spent a portion of my advance travelling through the United States meeting a lot of my American interviewees in person. I travelled through 20 cities and towns in a little over a month, sometimes interviewing as many as four people in a day. It was exhausting, but it was a great way to really get a feel for the sheer size of America, and I loved meeting the people I interviewed. I also did a lot of face-to-face and phone interviews in the UK.

After the interviews, it probably took me about 8 months to write the first full draft of the book. I tried to get through a chapter every two weeks, but realistically it was more like a chapter every month. I spent a lot of time reading over transcripts to pull out the best quotes and stories, weaving these together with the research I’d done at university, and a whole suite of new journal articles I was reading to get me head around the intricacies of all the different topics I cover in the book.

Two months or so after I submitted my first draft, Karyn got back to me with her first round of edits. My edits weren’t really split into “structural edits” and “line edits” – each round of edits I went through were a mix of both, with my editor(s – I also worked with Simon & Schuster’s Sydney Tanigawa) marking up the manuscript with suggested changes, and also providing general feedback: on arguments that weren’t clear, or tics in my writing I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of. The advice my editors gave me also informed the changes I made on my own accord. A request to spend more time describing the people had interviewed, to give more of a sense of them as a complete people, for example, also resulted in me looking at my arguments more carefully, and trying to spend more time and detail parsing them out.

I went through four rounds of edits in total, over a period of eighteen months. As a freelance writer, an “edit” usually just means an editor cutting a sentence here or there, or telling you to tighten up a paragraph. But editing The Sex Myth meant rewriting the book each time I produced a new draft. This wasn’t something my editors requested of me, it was just the only way I knew of to tackle the task of kneading such a complex combination of stories and ideas together. The sentences and paragraphs couldn’t be addressed in isolation; I needed to remake the whole.

In academia, they say that writing a PhD is “an iterative process” – that through reprocessing the same ideas over and over again, you come closer to the truth each time. The Sex Myth isn’t an academic book, but for me the process was the same. I had to go over my ideas again and again in order to get them right, and whether they were “right” or not was something only I knew.

For me, the hardest part of the process was probably the first round of edits. I sunk into a depression for a couple of months, lying on my couch and home and playing games on my mobile phone. I think I was only then fully coming to terms with how prolonged and detailed this process would be, and how much longer it would take me to get to my final result. It was depressing to be doing so much work and to have so little to show for it, and I felt pretty worthless in terms of my professional life.

The second round of edits was pretty stressful too. I remember bawling in bed the night before they were due, upset that the book still didn’t read as I wanted it too, that the ideas still didn’t reflect what my brain knew instinctively but was yet to find the words for. But by the time I finished my fourth round of edits, I was so glad I’d taken the time to process the ideas (or most of them, anyway – there are still a couple of parts of the book I’m not 100% happy with!) properly.

I rewrote the key argument chapter of the book – the one that had sold it to publishers in the first place – in that final round of edits, and I’m so glad that I did. Because finally it said what I needed it to, instead of skirting around the issue.

Aesthetics & essentials:

I received my first designs for the cover in late 2013. They were all attractive and eye-catching, but the more I thought about them, the more I felt they didn’t capture the spirit of “my book.” So I sent the publisher a selection of covers I liked from similar books, as well as information on what I wanted the cover to convey (“intellectual gravitas, while also maintaining an approachability for younger readers”) and how I wanted it to appeal to.

The next round of designs were much stronger – smart and witty, with the feel of the classic books that inspired The Sex Myth. The final designs you can see on the Australian and US/UK books today are both variations on those designs.

At this time, manuscript was also sent to an external copyeditor, who pointed out yet more unnoticed writing tics and any inconsistencies in the text, and then went through two rounds of proofreading. I also produced a set of “questions for readers” to help people think more deeply about the issues in the book after they’ve read it.

Seeking blurbs was quite stressful. Basically, you have to get in touch with a bunch of people you know or admire and ask them to endorse your book. Some say yes, many more say no (especially if you’ve never met them before, no matter how nice your letter is), and even many of those who initially say yes won’t end up getting back to you, leaving you paranoid that everyone hates you and your work. I ended up getting some fantastic blurbs in the end, though, so all is well that ends well.

Marketing & publicity:

I am currently working with five publicists across three continents at the moment (crazy, I know) – chiefly Amanda Lang at Simon & Schuster, and Rhian Davies at Penguin Australia, both of whom have been fantastic. I’m also working with a marketing expert at Simon & Schuster, Ebony LaDelle, who advises on social media, design, and other promotional efforts.

In my experience, publishers actually do pay a lot of attention to authors on this stuff, so my advice is to get as involved in your marketing and publicity plans as possible. If you don’t know who you want to read the book, or how you want your publisher to talk about it (to bookstores, to the press, or even in the copy on the back of the book) you can’t expect them to know either.

Most people at publishing houses are very busy and working across multiple projects. And while they’re the experts on books, YOU are the expert on YOUR book, and often on the intricacies of your own sub-genre – especially if you’re working with big publishing houses, who work on such a broad range of titles.

In addition to print, radio and TV press, there are a load of marketing and publicity efforts we’re doing that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made them happen: among them, the Ambassadors Project with some of my blog followers, the bookstore and college tour I’m arranging around the US and Canada, merchandise like badges and stickers, and a lot of our outreach to “influencers” and bloggers. I’m also doing a lot of work looking at how we can turn the ideas in the book into broader cultural change.

My favourite thing about the publicity process so far has been all the switched-on journalists and bloggers I’ve had the good fortune of being interviewed by. It’s great to speak with people who really “get” the book, and it’s something I’m trying to replicate in my book tour – instead of readings, all my bookstore events will be “in conversation” events, talking about the book with local writers I admire, followed by an audience Q&A.

I’ve also been really moved by the press support I’ve received in Australia. People are really getting behind the book, and it’s making me feel very loved.


 

ALL ABOUT RACHEL’S FIRST BOOK, THE SEX MYTH:

The Sex Myth by Rachel HillsFrom a bold new feminist voice, a book that will change the way you think about your sex life.

Fifty years after the sexual revolution, we are told that we live in a time of unprecedented sexual freedom; that, if anything, we are too free now. But beneath the veneer of glossy hedonism, millennial journalist Rachel Hills argues that we are controlled by a new brand of sexual convention: one which influences all of us – woman or man, straight or gay, liberal or conservative. At the root of this silent code lies the Sex Myth – the defining significance we invest in sexuality that once meant we were dirty if we did have sex, and now means we are defective if we don’t do it enough.

Equal parts social commentary, pop culture, and powerful personal stories from people across the English-speaking world, The Sex Myth exposes the invisible norms and unspoken assumptions that shape the way we think about sex today.

The Sex Myth is published in Australia by Penguin and overseas by Simon & Schuster.

You can connect with Rachel via her blog, Twitter or Facebook page.

Dates with old foes

This evening, I sent three emails. Two to friends on the other side of the world (Hello Liv, Hello Ahmed), and one to someone coordinating school talks for authors. Writing those three emails felt like the biggest accomplishment, and for someone who has actually accomplished things, that’s a really dumb thing to say.

But unfortunately, that’s how I feel. And that’s because I am currently trying to evade the clutches of an old foe, and it’s taking all my energy once again to go up against it.

I say once again because this foe tortured my life for most of my 22nd and 23rd year. It was a rough time, when brighter days seemed so far gone and when the future seemed bleak and scary, hidden behind a thick fog that consumed all my thoughts and all my senses. But I made it out, and each year without that torturous foe in my life was wonderful. Wonderful because I had lived real sadness and real despair (albeit all in my head), and without it, I could appreciate everything and anything.

I feel compelled to share this with you to explain my absence, because when I relaunched this blog earlier this year I had such high hopes for it. I was committed to it. I had resolved all my past issues with blogging and for the first time in a long time I had found an angle that worked for me. And it worked for some time. And then I disappeared again.

Some of it was for editing – I can’t blame everything on this current state of mind. But then I finished my editing and other things happened, and slowly I found myself descending into a downward spiral of despair. And it sucks, because I have so much to do, so much to look forward to, so much to write about.

But I can’t. I can only sit and stare at things, and urge myself to do stuff. Today it was three emails and two posts to instagram. And trust me, those two measly tasks took all the energy I had.

They say that comparison is the thief of joy, and in my despondency, I am wondering if my use of social media is somewhat to blame for the way I feel. But I don’t know for sure. I didn’t have social media before, so maybe I am just prone to this sort of ‘illness’. And, I might add, I am by nature a champion of people doing great things, because I am inspired by other people’s achievements (hence some of the segments on this blog). But when everyone’s life is out there on display, it’s easy for us to ogle. And when you’re going through some major life changes (for me its parenthood, and the fact that I will be 30 next year), and you feel like time is moving so fast and you are standing still, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed by the fact that you won’t ever get to where you feel you should be.

But that’s the problem. It’s all feeling. Even though everything is great on paper, and in my mind I know there’s nothing to feel lost or sad about, I can’t help the way I feel. And I feel like the clinical depression I was diagnosed with at 22 is back and dragging me down and away from everything positive. And I really don’t want to let it.

But it is strong. Still, I take solace in the fact that I am not the only one going through it. And even though it makes me sound like a ‘booey’, I feel the need to talk about it. To break down the stigma and the taboo. And to explain to you all that the promises I made about sticking to this blog aren’t being broken at my will – but by a forced hand of something powerful and scary that we so desperately want to understand.

Winston Churchill called his a black dog, but I liken my foe to a grey cloud that rains dire thoughts on everything in my life. And I have a blessed, full life. I’ll keep on repeating this internal monologue for as long as I have to, but I am desperately hoping that my cloud has a lifespan much shorter than a big scary dog. I hope it has the lifespan of its namesake – a short burst of rain on a dreary day, or the temporary dampness of a winter that you know will soon turn into spring.

 

Bonus Chapter: Happy Birthday Hate is Such a Strong Word

This month, my debut novel Hate is such a Strong Word turns 2. When I first published the book, I was inundated with messages from people who wanted to know what happened at the formal. The gap in that part of Sophie’s story wasn’t intentional: the original manuscript did contain a chapter set at the formal, but it was scrapped in consultation with my copy editor during the structural edit. In the months following the book’s release, I remember promising one person in particular that I’d send the chapter over, but I never got around to it. This year, I sat down, and decided that as a little gift to the readers who wanted more, I would finally share that chapter. In the end, I re-worked it a little, and for something a little different, decided to re-write it from Shehadie’s perspective. It doesn’t alter the ending in any way, but at least it gives those people who’ve been asking me to write another book on Soph & Shehadie (no) another glimpse into their world. They would be 19 and 20 right now, so I think it’s time I left them alone. After all, Sophie doesn’t need yet another Lebanese person (even me) butting into her life…

So to all of my wonderful, beautiful readers – the cheerleaders that keep me going – this is for you. I am so very thankful for your support. And to Bianca Fazzalaro especially, who gave me this idea to begin with. I hope you enjoy it.


 

Dance with me, Soph.

‘This place should be sued for destroying the environment,’ Jenn says next to me, scowling.

‘Hold that face right there so I can capture your expression,’ I say, reaching for my phone. ‘It can be your 21st photo invite.’

She swats my arm away and I chuckle, glad that even in her mood we can still joke around together.

We’re sitting in the car outside the CSC Formal Venue – a South-Western Sydney restaurant that has transformed the former Flower Power next door into a little garden oasis for outdoor functions. She’s already sighed more than she’s needed to, whinged in that awful sing-song voice she uses and asked me how long she thinks the night will take before she can leave. I take it as an obvious sign: for a pretty-laid back guy, I definitely attract the company of those best described as melodramatic.

‘Seriously though, they went overboard with the fairy lights,’ she says, shaking me out of my thoughts. ‘I guess that’s what you’d expect from Lebs.’

‘What, atmosphere?’ I ask, smirking.

She shrugs and shakes her head. ‘Atmosphere, drama…whatever you want to call it,’ she mumbles.

‘Don’t be a snob,’ I say, elbowing her. ‘You’re not impressed with their fairy lights; they’d laugh at a surf club.’

‘Here we go again with Shehadie’s lessons on life in the hood,’ she says, elbowing me back.

I scoff at her, amused, and she reaches over and adjusts my bow tie.

‘There,’ she says, fingering the edges. ‘Much better.’

I wink at her and she smiles, then turns away to stare at the CSC students arriving in their finery.

I glance down at my bow tie and make a face. I don’t have the heart to tell her I prefer my tie kind of crooked, just like my personality. Or my life right now. The fact that I am sitting here at my year 12 formal with the gorgeous girl who has seen me at my worst and still calls me her best friend should fill me with all sorts of happiness. The fact that this has happened after the worst two years of my life should make it even better – but something is missing.

Well, someone.

I look down at my watch and wonder why she isn’t here yet. The corsage will wilt in this summer heat and more time in this car will give Jenn another reason to complain. I look across the lot and see Zayden arrive in one of those done-up race cars and I shake my head. At least he’s not in my face any more. I crane my neck to see who he’s bought as his date, and when Vanessa emerges in a low cut, backless red dress, I can’t say I am surprised.

I play with the box some more until Jenn gives me a death stare and sigh.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say, making a face. ‘She’s not the type of person who rocks up late.’

‘What?’ she asks. ‘You think she’s not coming?’

‘Having a date to this thing kind of meant a lot to her,’ I explain. ‘She’s not…like us.’

She looks at me, amused. ‘And what?,’ she asked. ‘You think because you said you were promised to someone else that she got all depressed and decided to miss her formal and stay home? You wouldn’t fall for someone that pathetic.’

You wouldn’t fall for someone that pathetic.’

I laugh to myself. ‘Yeah, you’re right.’

‘Look,’ she says, a minute later. ‘A few more cars are arriving.’

I get out of the car and open her door. But we don’t move. We stay where we are, leaning against her car, watching like the outsiders we feel like we are. Even after a year in their presence, it’s still something I’m slightly aware of. Like I am not completely one of them.

Seconds later, I see her. She’s in a strapless cocktail dress that is puffy and pastel. No glasses, eye make-up, and hair in this loose-up style, away from her face. She looks radiant, confident, sure of herself. So unlike the girl I met 11 months ago.

I find myself staring at her legs again and shake my head. No point worrying about that, I think. But she’s worth it.

I nudge Jenn and gesture towards them.

‘That’s her’, I say, not tearing my eyes away from her. The restaurant has erected a little arch just inside their side garden. It’s a white wire one and they’ve woven flowers – and yet even more fairy lights – around it. Admittedly, even to a guy who wouldn’t notice such things, it makes for a good background for photos.

‘So she’s the game changer,’ Jenn says, staring. ‘Wow, you didn’t say she was this gorgeous.’

‘Correction,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘I said there are no words. Because there aren’t.’

She smiles and checks her lips in the camera on her phone for the billionth time, then looks up again. My eyes haven’t moved. It’s like they’re fixated on her, even when she moves between her friends, taking photos.

‘Who’s the guy?’ Jenn asks, gesturing to the bloke in the quirky suit accompanying her.

‘Jacob,’ I say. ‘One of her mates.’

She smiles. ‘He could be fun.’

‘He is,’ I assure her, thankful that she’s doing this.

‘Thanks again,’ I say, grabbing her hand. ‘You are amazing for doing this.’

She looks at me awkwardly then shakes her head. ‘So you’re ready then?’ she asks.

I nod, ignoring the heart beating furiously inside my chest. I wasn’t going to come tonight. I’d only been here for a year – it made more sense to just go to Jenn’s formal. At my old school, in a place I belonged, with people like me.
But she wanted this, and lately, I felt like my sense of belonging in this world was so intimately wrapped up in her, and what she wanted. Sophie, the girl who changed how I felt about life when I was just about ready to give up on it.

‘Well?’ Jenn asks, taking my arm. We cross the road and are just about to walk into the garden when she turns. And then she’s the one who looks nervous.

‘You came,’ she says, quietly.

I nod. ‘I had to.’

She looks from me to Jenn, then smiles, extending her hand.

‘I’m Sophie,’ she says, smiling.

Jenn nods in recognition, giving a half-smile. Protective, as always.

‘I’ve heard a lot about you,’ she says finally. ‘Too much, even.’

Sophie blushes again then turns back to Jacob.

‘Wait,’ I say, grabbing her arm. She looks at me quizzically. ‘Don’t go. Not yet.’

‘Shehadie, I’m not standing around outside tonight. I waited 13 years to be done with school and I want to celebrate it right. On the dance floor. I want to be able to smile at people when I think about how I will never see them again.’

I laugh and shake my head.

‘So dramatic,’ I say.

She smiles. ‘Might as well own it.’

I shake my head, then gesture to the garden.

‘Is it what you imagined?’ I ask, trying to make conversation. There’s still too many people around for my liking.

She scoffs. ‘You know that my imagination tends to get the better of me,’ she says, looking at me with a bemused smile. ‘Living in books and all that.’

I shrug. ‘Some might say that’s an endearing quality,’ I point out. ‘Happy endings aren’t so bad.’

She looks at me intently. ‘Yeah but they’re so unrealistic,’ she counters. ‘So no point dwelling on them.’

Things go quiet and I am aware of the crowd starting to make their way inside.

‘So how do you think you went?’ she asks. ‘In the HSC I mean.’

‘You’re asking me about exams now?’ I ask. ‘Really?’

She shrugs. ‘What, you prefer I ask about your trip?’

‘When did you get so cocky?’ I ask. ‘What happened to the girl with the journal who thought things instead of said them?’

She smiles, catching me off guard. ‘Someone helped her see the light,’ she says, looking around.

I bite my lip and look at her intently.

‘Can I tell you something?’ I ask.

She shrugs. ‘It’s a free country.’

‘You’re beautiful.’

‘I bet you say that to all the girls.’

‘You’re beautiful.’

‘I bet you say that to all the girls.’

I chuckle and she looks away. I follow her eyes, Jenn is standing by the door, staring.

‘Speaking of all the girls, I don’t want to keep you,’ Sophie says, clearing her throat. ‘Or her.’

She steps away and I am in front of her a second later, blocking her path. I turn and motion to Jenn, standing next to Jacob, who takes her cue.

I look back to Sophie who looks perplexed.

‘Um, Shehadie?’ she asks. ‘My formal is in there and I’ve kind of been looking forward to it.’

‘I know,’ I say, giving her my arm. ‘Shall we?’ I ask.

She looks at me again, puzzled.

She gestures at the corsage. ‘Shouldn’t you wait for your date?’

‘I’m looking at her,’ I say earnestly.

Her face reddens again and she looks around, scanning the path for Jacob.

‘He’s upstairs,’ I tell her. ‘With Jenn. His new date.’

She looks at me again, pained. She thinks I’m messing with her.

‘Wait – what? What are you doing?’

I take her hand and lead her to a little garden seat by the fairy-light-laden arch way, and pull the corsage out of the box. ‘Something I should have done a while ago,’ I admit, grabbing her hand again.

‘Sophie,’ I ask, taking a deep breath. ‘Will you go to the formal with me?’

She looks at me for a moment then breaks into laughter.

‘What, in this old thing?’ she asks, motioning at her outfit. ‘How lucky am I that I just happened to be dressed like this?’

‘Answer my question, Soph.’

She leans up and adjusts my tie. ‘Crooked suits you better,’ she says, smiling at me.

I take it as a yes.

***

Inside, it looks like five different types of decorative themes have thrown up on the dance floor. It’s a mess, but no one notices, because if the Lebs can do anything right, it’s a party. Even Jenn – who resisted this part of my plan for so much – looks like she’s having a good time. I make a mental note to thank Jacob for giving up one hot date for another one.

We dance alone and in groups and alone again, and remarkably, Sophie doesn’t complain about her shoes once. But back at the table, she doesn’t stop talking. She talks about how her steak is overcooked and how the lady that did her make-up went too over the top and how she’s obsessed with Sue’s hair now that it’s short.

Jenn catches my eye and I sense judgement in the look that she gives me. I shrug. She’ll get it someday. Maybe not now, but she will.

Sophie goes quiet for a moment so I instinctively reach under the table and grab her hand. It’s a little sweaty, which says my instinct was right.

‘Don’t be nervous,’ I whisper, leaning in to her shoulder. ‘We’re all your friends.’

‘I can’t help it,’ she whispers back. ‘She intimidates me. And I ruined her night…the big plan…what your mum wanted.’

‘My mum would have wanted me to be happy,’ I say, brushing the fringe from her face. ‘I don’t have to live in the past to honour her memory.’

‘She likes you,’ she whispers. ‘She thinks I am not good enough.’

I turn my chair and then turn her to me, grabbing her shoulders.

‘What do you think?’ I ask, pressing her. ‘Forget everyone else in this room and tell me that you’re not good enough.’

She looks down into her lap then looks up at me and smiles.

‘I’m the best thing to happen to you,’ she says, smirking.

I smile, wondering how I took all the wrong steps but found myself in the right place. Next to her.

***

I head outside with the boys while she stays at the table. I naively assume that Jenn will warm up and talk to her while I am gone, but when I come back, I can tell she hasn’t moved. She’s been my best friend for ages, but she has the thickness of a brick wall.

‘I might go home,’ she says, standing up and grabbing her keys. Sophie looks up from the apple crumble and cream she’s been quietly demolishing and looks at me.

‘I’ll walk you out,’ I say, rising from my seat again. No point arguing with her now. I’ll hear it all tomorrow. I give Sophie an apologetic look and she shrugs – right now, I could be Prince Charming and still not any more appealing than her plate.

When I return, the 80s funk has started and I am desperate to get back on to the dance floor.

I slip into the chair next to her.
‘Dance?’ I ask.
She gives me a funny look.

‘Shehadie,’ she says sternly. ‘There are desserts present.’

I laugh and shake my head, looking around. ‘Wait, did you eat mine?’ I ask.

She bites her lip and has the decency to look embarrassed. ‘Sorry,’ she says, apologetic.

I shake my head.

‘Told you not to trust her,’ Sue calls from across the table. The two girls make a face at each other and I run my fingers through my hair.

‘I’ll make a mental note,’ I say. Sophie looks at me again, eyes sparkling.

‘So Soph, can we dance now?’

She gives me her arm just as Jermaine Stewart’s We don’t have to take our clothes off comes on.

‘Hey,’ I say, twirling her around. ‘This should be our song.’

She laughs and shakes her head.

‘Stop for a second,’ she says, grabbing my arms. ‘Let me say this while I am in a good mood. Thanks for what you did for me today.’

‘I know how much it meant to you,’ I tell her.

‘I mean it,’ she says, looking up at me. ‘I hate the way it happened, but…’

‘Shh,’ I say, cutting her off. ‘You’ve spent the last few years hating. Don’t you think it’s time to start learning how to love?’

‘You’ve spent the last few years hating. Don’t you think it’s time to start learning how to love?’

She laughs.
‘What, and you’re going to teach me?’ she taunts, mocking me.

‘No,’ I say, lifting her up into the air. ‘I’m going to show you.’

* The end *

Interview: Julian Leatherdale

  1. How did the idea for Palace of Tears come about? 

    I have lived in the Blue Mountains for over 25 years and often wondered why more novels are not set in this beautiful part of the world. Not long after reading Kate Morton’s Secret Keeper, it occurred to me what a great setting the Blue Mountains would make for a family saga and mystery thriller. Its eerie and wild landscape appealed to me as the perfect backdrop to a Gothic story of secrets and tragedy. But I realised craggy cliffs and rising mist were not enough; such a story also needed an imposing building at its heart, a family inheritance haunted by memories.Like many locals I have long been fascinated by the magnificent and unique Hydro Majestic hotel built by successful department store magnate Mark Foy at Medlow Bath. I was soon convinced by my early research that here was a fantastic source of inspiration for my own fictional creation, a story of the secret and troubled relations between the wealthy Fox family, owners of the elegant Palace hotel, and their neighbours, the Woods from the cottage next door.  

  2. Palace of Tears is rich in detail, and spans a significant time in 20th century Australia. How much research was involved, and how did you go about it? To be honest, there was a huge amount of research involved as I tried to take nothing for granted. As a result, I worked on this book solidly, seven days a week for over two years. My research into the Hydro Majestic included a back-of-house tour of the property in 2013 while the hotel was being refurbished by its new owners. I explored the local archives discovering great photos of the Hydro’s fancy dress parties in the 1920s as well as a long, very informative and funny interview with Mary Shaw, Mark Foy’s grand-daughter and self-appointed family historian.I read books, blogs and journal articles on local history and Australia’s homefront experience in both wars as well as biographies of famous guests Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Nellie Melba. I dug into the National Film and Sound Archives for publicity shots and interviews about a (now lost) film shot at the Hydro in 1921. The National Library’s digitalised newspaper archive on TROVE was a brilliant resource. I downloaded hundreds of articles, interviews and photos on topics as diverse as hydropathy, 1920s dinner menus and the treatment of single mothers in the 1950s.    

    Once I had sketched out my story arc, I researched whatever the next chapter demanded but always stayed open to new possibilities and surprises to influence my writing. The hardest part was knowing when to stop and what to include and exclude. I was always guided by what the story needed in the end and was willing to let lots of my research go when it came down to the final editing process. I accepted that my research had served its purpose to help bring the novel into being.

  3. What were your reasons for fictionalising real places – like the Hydro Majestic – and real people – like Mark Foy?  

    It was simply to give myself the freedom to write my own dramatic story rather than be tied down to a rigorous, detailed historical fiction account of the Hydro and its founder. Palace of Tears is a fictional drama in its own right with a plot and characters that are entirely my creation. Adam Fox shares a few personal qualities with Mark Foy – ambition, showmanship, risk-taking – but he is by no means a fictionalised portrait of the historic person. In the same way, I think of the Palace as a fictional half-sister to the Hydro, her story drawing on colourful episodes in the Hydro’s history without being a slavish copy of the actual hotel. 

  4. What were some of the difficulties you encountered when writing the novel and how did you rectify them? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help? The ‘difficulties’ included some of the usual logistical ones for writing a novel. I am still a scribbler in black notebooks which piled up higgledy-piggledy in my study and meant that I relied on my memory to find what I needed. My wife, who is also a novelist, has told me she has been using a tool called Scrivener to organise her research notes and I am seriously intending to look into that for my second book. I still find working on paper the best way to visualise and massage a sketch of the storyline; it is fascinating and instructive to go back and see all the circles and arrows that led to revealing linkages and new story directions.Because the story involves three major plot twists, I had to play around with the structure in later drafts. I had to make sure each chapter was clearly signposted in time and place to help the reader keep track. In later drafts, I made a decision to keep all chapters under a certain length. I was thrilled when I cut several in half and rearranged them to find I had created even more dramatic tension. I also tried to be scrupulously fair in my storytelling so if you reread the book, clues to all my plot twists are there for you to find.  

    My closest person to a mentor is my own wife who read the first draft of the novel and provided critical feedback at both sentence and structural level. I trust her judgement completely as she does mine. We are very lucky to have each other as our first readers.

  5. What is the biggest lesson you have learnt on your author journey? Persistence and acceptance. Like all writers, I have several manuscripts in the bottom drawer and I had to learn the hardest lesson: how to persist as a writer in the face of rejection but also have the discipline and maturity to know when to move on to another project. Writing takes a great deal of courage and risk but then all worthwhile things in life are like that.
  6. What gets you inspired? Often it is an image. I was a photo editor in my early career so I love the expressiveness and mystery of old photos that suggest the beginning or middle of a story or a scene. Historic research turns up the most unexpected details and incidents that challenge the writer’s imagination to fully inhabit those moments. Or sometimes the point of inspiration is a simple scene in my own life. My first chapter in Palace of Tears started with me looking out my study window and watching my daughter playing inside our hedge.
  7. What’s next on your goals list? A second novel. I have started researching and have some elements in mind for a story.
  8. What’s your typical day like? I’m not sure I have a typical day any more. But here goes. After getting my kids off to school and having coffee with my wife who is also a novelist, I try to deal with the ‘administrivia’ (emails, phonecalls, bills) and buckle down for a day’s research or writing, hopefully no later than 10.00 am. I always dress for work – nothing formal but no PJs or track pants. Habit of a lifetime.Somewhere in the day I try to fit in some exercise, usually a brisk walk, a great time for generating new ideas – and writing is so bad for your back! Making cups of tea ensures I get up from my chair every now and then. I find I need at least two or three hours to really get into the flow of writing which can peak around mid to late afternoon.

    I usually write until about 5.30 or 6.00pm. If there have been interruptions I will often work late into the night until the inspiration dries up for that day. During the research phase, I will have a pile of books to read and take notes as my night-time reading. But at the moment I am enjoying reading novels for pleasure in the evening – after watching Dr Who with my daughter!

    On other days, I do some bread-and-butter freelance journalism in which I may have to research a topic, interview one or two experts by phone, and deliver a finished article to my editor on short deadlines, typically a week or less. And for the last two months, I have been writing blog posts and author talks for Palace of Tears which has been most enjoyable!

  9. What advice can you offer to people who aspire to become authors?  

    Read. Read widely. Support your fellow Australian writers by buying and reading their books as you presumably hope that people will do the same for you one day. Be content to get something down on the page to get you writing each day – you can always fix it later. A first draft will usually contain what I call ‘the scaffolding’ – the text that helped you build the story but must now go.

 

The Speedy Six

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Curious.
  2. You wish you wrote: The Cat in the Hat
  3. Can’t leave home without: Notebook.
  4. First thing you wrote: A short ‘novel’ inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield when I was 10.  
  5. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: The Cat in the Hat!
  6. The best thing about being a wordsmith: Freedom.

7 things I learned in my first year of parenting

Motherhood

  1. It never goes according to plan:

    All your pre-conceived notions of parenting and pregnancy? Throw them out the window. Or put a match to them and set them on fire. I had the simplest, easiest, most wonderful pregnancy, and when it came time to deliver, everything changed. My epidural didn’t work on one side of my body, my vagina did not do its job and dilate, and I went in to an emergency caesarean that turned to a scary experience. My daughter was born with a complication that took ten months to fix (although I am very thankful that it was treatable, and was detected early), and because the attending nurses had never seen a case like hers before, kind of freaked out. They were talking throughout the process and when she finally came out, went silent. I had to ask them what I had a few times, and when she was finally given to me, she was completely wrapped from head to toe so I wouldn’t notice the aforementioned complication. Given the fact that I had spent 30-something weeks listening to the importance of early skin contact with the baby, I was crushed. And given the hushed tones I could overhear from my place on the table, I knew something was wrong. I spent my first 90 minutes as a mother crying alone in the recovery room, and the crying continued at sporadic times of the day for about five weeks post delivery, when my maternal instincts finally kicked in and I at last bonded with the kid who is now the light of my life. I had no qualms about interference in delivery, c-sections or anything else until I went through it in a fairly traumatic way – and thanks to people’s uninvited comments and ‘advice’ – something that happens fairly often impacted me in a big (and quite negative) way. Lesson learned: Expect anything.

  2. Buy simple, not fancy:

    When friends first found out I was pregnant, they excitedly spoke to me about all the fancy gadgets and accessories that a new mum needs. Assumptions were made about what kind of baby bag I would carry. I had a penchant for designer bags, surely that would extend to my baby gear? Erm, no. I buy my designer goods for their durability, elegance and timelessness (I’ve had the same black bag for eight years and it still looks great), but there’s no way I’d invest a whole lot of my hard-earned cash on something that will be in my life for a fleeting few years. Also: babies are messy. They are cute and wonderful and cuddly, but there are things that come out of their mouths and bottoms – and things they smear with their hands – that you would not want on a baby bag that cost you a few hundred bucks. Trust me. I bought my baby bag from Target when it was 40% off and it cost me $25. I loved it…for the short length of time I used it. As Alissar grew and I realised I only needed some wipes, nappies and a change of clothes, I started carrying a large-ish cosmetic bag/pouch in her pram basket. It was so much easier than lugging about so much crap ‘just in case’. Speaking of lugging, the pram exercise was probably the lesson that taught me the most. Husband and I had small heart attacks when we went pram shopping. There were dozens of prams in this giant showroom and the assistant greeted me with the polite but confusing question of ‘What kind of lifestyle do you have?’. Though she was not at all impressed with my answer (‘the regular kind’), she proceeded to show me the numerous bells and whistles and storage compartments of a variety of prams out there, some of which cost just as much as my first car. Luckily I had prefaced this excursion with a lesson learnt from the spontaneous surveys I conducted with strangers on public transport in the early months of the pregnancy. The overwhelming majority of parents – some of whom had bought large, fancy prams – implored me to purchase something light for the sheer convenience. One guy told me he couldn’t fit in some shops with his pram, while one woman told me she bought a second, cheap, and light pram after using her big, expensive one for just two months. That said, my pram was still fairly costly at about $800, but it had both seats and weighs less than 10kg, which makes it perfect for zipping around in, folding into the car and carrying on buses/trains and up stairs. That said, I wasn’t as bright when I bought the high chair – although there were not as many options in the baby shop for that trip – and I went with one with a cushioned seat. After about 13 days of cleaning inside the cushions on a regular basis thanks to all the food smearing, I sold it on ebay and bought a $25 plastic chair from IKEA. It is a move I do not regret when I wipe down the chair in a hurry of an evening.

  3. Routines take hard work and commitment:

    The R word is the holy grail for a lot of new parents. It’s how you try to maintain a life once you’ve been entrusted with the care of a human being that needs constant supervision, nurture, love, etc. But routines require a lot of hard work. Babies beyond the ages of four or five months (who now spend more time awake) do not know about your desire for sleep or schedules. They just do their thing. When I started working solidly when my daughter was six months old, I really strove to make that routine thing a reality. And because she wasn’t always in my care (due to time with grandparents on both sides while I worked), it was bloody hard. When I decided it was time to commit to it for my own sanity, it took a lot of hard work. I had to tear myself away from things I wanted to do for an hour to set her up for those associations with sleep. Initially, I would put her in her bad after a feed/story/lullaby, and she would cry for 15 minutes straight before falling asleep. After a few days, she would only cry for five minutes, and by two weeks, she would cry until I walked from her bed to the light, and once the light went out, she was silent. All those tears broke my heart, but I was clear in my resolve and the results have been worth it.

  4. Don’t stress:

    Sure, this is easier said than done when you’ve just experienced the biggest change in your life. But if you have someone you can rely on (see #6), lean on them and take the time out that you need for yourself to feel better. You can’t be a good parent if you’re not in good shape. I stressed so much about my birth experience that my breast milk dried within 5 weeks, and then I stressed out so much about that, and for a while I felt like I was constantly stressing. But by the time she was six months old, I had really learned to relax, and even friends who had babies a little older marvelled at how blasé I became when they were still stressing. I just needed to remind myself that all kids fall/get sick/ go through times when they don’t eat etc. It’s just part and parcel with the experience and there will be times of change (including moments when they don’t stick to the routine). Sometimes, you just have to throw your hat in the air and just do what you can. They’re resilient, they’ll be fine.

  5. Throw perfection out the window:

    So far I think I am doing Ok. I have a happy healthy baby (thank God), I have a career I am proud of, and sometimes, my hair doesn’t look like shit and I have time to fold the laundry. But sometimes, I don’t pee until noon. This is motherhood. I can have it all, but it’s not going to be picture-perfect. I work. I have relationships outside the one I have with her. I like preserving my sanity and sometimes that means she will eat a meal out of a jar so I can do something else. We always talk about the work-life balance and sometimes that means you can’t put 100% into both. Sometimes it means 80% in each, but 80% is still a distinction where most grading systems are concerned so if I don’t meet someone’s expectations then they are unrealistic. When my daughter started eating solids I made a conscious effort not to make her special meals. I would slightly modify whatever I was eating. Hopefully this means she will be less picky as she’s been introduced to so much variety and texture, but it also saved me some much needed time and energy which then goes into valuable moments with her. When you become a parent you expect so much to change, but you are still who you are, and it would be unhealthy for you to sacrifice yourself completely at the altar of ideals to fulfil a fantasy. Children are worth compromises and sacrifices, but they also appreciate a good short cut if it’s going to mean more quality time.

  6. Build an arsenal:

    Of medical supplies, parent guides, potential babysitters, Sesame Street episodes on your Foxtel, and so on. Children are unpredictable so you have to be prepared for anything. One of the best gifts I received as a new parent was a basket of all the essentials – huge bibs for feeding, Vicks vapour rub, nasal spray, pain killers etc. I loved it. It’s great to just arm yourself with anything you might need so you don’t drop all the balls when you’re juggling and one goes somewhere it’s not supposed to. And the most wonderful thing in your arsenal? Other mums. I’m so thankful to parent-friends who have been there for discussions, questions, advice and anecdotes when I have needed the. Liv, this includes you.

  7. Don’t emphasise on milestones:

    My daughter spent the first ten months of her life in a brace and three weeks before her first birthday, another mother pursed her lips at me and said ‘Isn’t she walking yet?’. This ignorance kills me. You know, I can write a book but there’s no way I can build a car or play soccer for 90 minutes straight or drive a train. Just like we adults have different skills and develop in different ways, so do these little people. And sometimes, when your child is taking their time to do something, it’s not a reflection on you, or them. It’s just life. Before you know it they’ll be bigger and smarter and a lot less cuddly, so instead of expecting and rushing and stressing, take the time to enjoy the time you have with them right now. It is fleeting and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Build that parental bond, trust your instincts and everything else will fall into place without much effort. It’s been happening for centuries, and it’s worked out just fine.