A truly beautiful Minxy mix of charm, inspiration, practical advice, and pretty projects to simplify and beautify your life and home. - Jane Brocket, The Gentle Art of Domesticity
When in London recently I found myself with an unexpected day on my own. There were so many choices and old haunts to revisit, it was hard forcing myself to go somewhere different. Not to the Tate or the National Portrait Gallery then, followed by hours whiled away in the bookstores of Charing Cross Road or prowling through Soho. Not shopping (not quite yet), and not stomping over the grounds of past neighbourhoods. It was too chilly to brave the Heath or Hyde Park and the Serpentine, and I was too excited to eat.
Almost without thinking, I hopped off the Tube at Bond St, an area I’ve barely explored before, because it’s the workplace of Maggie, the protagonist in my novel. I made my way to her offices at about the right hour, observing the people around me and listening in to their conversations (writers are terrible eavesdroppers), before ordering a coffee and watching some more while making notes. It was quite surreal feeling her world become more solid than my own… I felt very much the stranger there, an invisible visitor in my old home town.
It was Maggie later, too, popping out to grab a bite for lunch and slipping in, unnoticed, to the Royal Academy of Arts (Amy Tan talks about this ‘transparency’ between herself and the story she’s imagined here in her brilliant TED talk). I let her take me along for the ride, and we saw a photography exhibition on Dennis Hopper: the Lost Album.
I wasn’t aware that the actor wrote and directed Easy Rider, or was a sculptor with connections to the civil rights movement, Andy Warhol, the Vietnam draft dodgers and Hells Angels, although I probably would have been if I’d given him much thought at all. In retrospect Easy Rider was such a political film, but my teenage memories of watching it are all about the quaint idealism of the sixties flower children and Timothy Leary’s LSD casualties.
I got lost for hours in this exhibition, immersing myself in the counter-cultures, upheaval and violence of this decade in which the world changed so dramatically.
My novel spans several lifetimes and covers a number of eras throughout the twentieth century, but for various reasons I skipped over the sixties. I think there simply wasn’t enough space to explore them properly, or satisfy my desire to dwell. I also felt that Mad Men has done such an admirable job of conveying the conflicting ideals of the era, and I could only add a footnote. Seeing some of the 18,000 photographs that Hopper took over the course of six years changed my mind, though. I’m plotting a way to weave them into my second novel instead, which I’ve just started work on.
I/Maggie tore myself away sometime in the early afternoon and gravitated towards the familiar.
If you’re in London soon, you must visit the Royal Academy and take a look for yourself. It was so inspiring.
Just one month ago my friend, the writer Hannah Richell, lost her husband, Matt in a surfing accident. Every day since then I’ve thought of them; of their children, Jude and Gracie, and the love between them.
I wanted to share this here because her words keep reminding me that life is indeed precious and beautiful, and every moment with the ones you love sacred. I am trying hard not to forget it.
I’ve only just regained my equilibrium after an overseas holiday and find myself starting to sink into old routines again with pleasure and a little sadness.
Being on the road is lovely. Visiting new places every few days and catching up with old friends and family… It’s always a surprise to find I enjoy the nomadic lifestyle when I’m such a homebody at heart. I miss it – even the annoying bits like airports and disappointing meals. But one can’t travel forever (one can, of course, but I doubt it would suit me and we’d end up very poor!) so here we are, home again.
It was a wonderful holiday. There were a few days spent exploring Dubai, a week in England visiting London, Oxford and tripping about the countryside catching up with everyone, four days in Rome alone with James (bliss), a week in Umbria with the extended family and another couple of days in Thailand on the way home, just us three. It felt like being away for twice as long. The key was to keep moving; nothing felt stale.
There were so many favourite moments: England was all nostalgia for me, my second home. Visiting my husband’s family farm in Somerset, wandering about the galleries in London with essential trips to the V&A, Natural History Museum and Liberty (yes, I’m a grown-up Clara Button) and a day in Oxford with my treasured friend, Meiling. Dubai was a blast of heat and strange luxury, Bangkok humid and delicious (oh, how we ate) and Italy was, as always, sumptuous, inspiring and seeped in the sort of history that makes my mind boggle. Get this - in Rome we were staying in a little hotel (a former Palazzo with soaring ceilings) opposite 2,500-year-old Etruscan ruins. With a bus stop and busy thoroughfare roaring only a few feet away. It was madness.
After pouring everything I had into the novel I’ve been working on for the past year or so, I was feeling so empty; emotionally and physically drained. It was the best panacea I could have asked for.
And there’s something else to look forward to, if not another holiday on the horizon. We are finally starting our daunting house renovation. Yes, it’s time, what with the leaky roof and fifties oven called Kimberley. I really hope we can create something that suits us and doesn’t break the bank.
Stay tuned on Instagram and social media as I post wallpapers, fabrics and various other oddments along the journey. I’ll show you where to find them if you’re interested as well and please, do wish us luck!
My multi-talented friend Rebecca Huntley, presenter of ABC Radio National’s Drive program has published this sweet children’s book about the tradition of family recipes. Illustrated by Ilona Tar, you can find it online at Nonna’s Gnocchi or Berkelouw Books.
See here for a review by cooking legend Stephanie Alexander:
‘This delightful story will almost certainly lead to a gnocchi-making session at your house. Make sure you have some potatoes in the cupboard! Subtly it reinforces the importance of traditional knowledge and of how it is passed from one generation to another. Sofia is learning just as her mother also learnt from Nonna. The illustrations are charming and the kitchen will be familiar to many readers.’
Sometime last year I went to a writing workshop at Faber Academy with novelist Carrie Tiffany. The title was Fiction Mining, and it was all about taking inspiration from your experiences to perform a sort of alchemy within your writing. But the lesson I learnt most was through an offhand comment she made, about the process of essentially doing nothing after a book is done.
The suggestion was to take time off to visit galleries or go on walks, listen to music. To read and recharge the batteries for a good few months, at least. I realised I’d never actually done this. I’ve always been so worried about being without another project to keep me busy, I don’t actually stop and chill for a bit, or really savour each small success.
I feel so uncomfortable in limbo. Even if you love what you do, being in the middle of something’s all about the daily grind and the importance of simply getting it done – whether that’s a creative project or otherwise. But limbo does give you energy to keep going, and puts things in perspective. It’s also a time of endless possibility, which makes things exciting.
Lately I’ve been forced to rest. I’ve started taking pleasure in long walks around the bay and just stretching. Towards the end of last year I was punishing my body with exercise as a way of counteracting the work of sitting at a computer all day long, nutting out writing problems. All go go go, then stop & atrophy.
The other day I sped over to the bay to do my relaxing walk(!), ready to listen to some music to make me walk faster and beat my time from the day before. Then I realised I’d misplaced my headphones. I almost went home, but I didn’t. And that was the first time in years I found myself alone, without stimulation, simply walking and breathing.
I slowed down. I listened. I watched some clouds, and didn’t let myself think about anything too much… It felt good.
Yesterday Jess and I had a stall at the Round She Goes Market at Marrickville Town Hall. It’s such a gorgeous venue with these high ceilings covered in original ornate mouldings and lightshades, and the organisers did a wonderful job of promoting it. I was clearing out the closets and some of the dresses from Minxy Vintage because space is such a premium in our tiny cottage and, really, there’s only so much you can keep. I was on buying frenzies with each of the books; first with fabrics, then with vintage clothes, then with wool and more fabric and props to style The Crafty Minx at Home, now it just feels good to streamline a bit and pare the house back to basics (or my basics, which is the things I use, and those I love or which have some special memory attached – the rest seems unnecessary).
It was a little strange for the both of us because Jess has closed her vintage clothing business, Coco Repose, and is in the process of becoming a very fine artist (check out her Instagram feed to see some of her oil paintings and illustrations, or her website here) and I’ve been focusing so hard on the novel it feels like I haven’t had time to do much in the way of craft or fashion upcycling. But in truth that’s not so – I’m always doing small things each day, like re-arranging a bell jar display or collecting leaves and flowers to dry and press with Olive for cards, or simply cutting out scraps from fashion magazines and collaging them with watercolours in my home recipe journal to liven up the pages a bit. And I never stop rummaging – most weekends you can find me at Rozelle Markets or popping into boutiques for inspiration – or thinking about the new-season styles when I’m not writing or researching.
I was feeling drained when we arrived but just being with Jess and all those visitors – there must have been a thousand or more who came over the course of the day – was invigorating and fun. I brought my books along thinking, why not, and besides selling a few it was truly lovely to meet some women who’d already read them. I’d kind of forgotten how nice it is being told how much someone enjoyed the book you wrote and hearing other people’s recollections of their own finds and stories.
Today we’re indulging in a cruisy day at home and I’m stuffed full of these pancakes, which James made for breakfast. I thought it couldn’t get any better than his Crepes Suzette, but this is the healthier version we just ate, topped with yoghurt. De-lish.
P.S. Olive actually took most of these photos – I gave her my phone and she just went for it!
My friend Maggie once said something along the lines of, ‘although winter seems so bleak and cold, there’s lots happening beneath the ground. When spring arrives, everything bursts into life - but it was growing all along.’ That’s been my spring. And summer. And the beginning of autumn. Yes, it’s been awhile.
The last year has been beyond hectic in our household. Olive started school, I’ve been working on redrafts of my novel for a period which feels like eternity (but is actually only six or seven months), and both James and I have been struggling with health issues. My neck got so bad recently, I haven’t been able to sew, cook, exercise or even write at times. The universe is trying to tell us something, but I’m still figuring out what that is. Actually, I know what it is, but I’ve only just admitted it. I’m getting help and – with Sydney Writers’ Festival on next week – not a moment too soon. Now is always one of my favourite times of the year.
Today I had lunch with the beautiful Pia Jane Bijkerk and came home feeling so inspired, I knew I couldn’t leave the blog appearing so unloved any longer. It’s early days, but we’re cooking up something special. Something collaborative, something you can be involved in, and – most importantly – something nourishing. Because it’s been too long playing hermit (for me, at least) and I’m missing that connection. Stay tuned; more details will be coming soon.
Another dear friend gave me this card last night. A passage inside reads ‘I know you’ve had a rough trot, but hopefully resolution is nigh. Simply gaze plaintively towards the horizon, raise a (mildly) strong cup of tea to your lips and know you’ll get there.’ Thanks, Katrina. I’m onto it.
Almost six years ago I left a rewarding, stimulating job for the uncertainty of writing fulltime. My daughter was born a few months later. The sacrifices were not easy (such as delaying the home renovation we’ve been planning for the better part of a decade, and going through heavy times of work, illness and stress) but the gains have been tremendous.
I managed to stay home and slot in work around Olive, something I’ve been particularly grateful for and couldn’t have achieved without the support of my husband and friends. But despite the challenges, somehow we managed it.
Yesterday she went to school for the very first time. And though it’s early days, she seems so ready and so thrilled to be there… I wasn’t expecting to feel so relieved. So light. So new-chapter about it all. I’m pleased as the sun for her.
In five years I rarely had the opportunity to write for more than one day at a time. But this morning I did. And it was GLORIOUS.
So what I’m saying is, do it. That thing you’ve always wanted to do. It’s going to be hard (sorry about that, no point lying). It will take you to the very edge of what you thought yourself capable of, and humble you greatly in the process. But it will change you. And it’ll be worth it. This I know.
How can you not love this song?