I want to complain about the cold again. When frost comes early, as it has this year, I want to complain until it goes away, which will probably be around August. It’s not that I dislike the cold, it’s that the cold frolics frivolously with my chronic illnesses. I used to go to work early purely to crunch the frost underfoot on my way in. That was my twenties, and this is my sixties and it’s as if I’m two different people.
My new self brings some surprises. Someone was respectful to me today. I kept looking around to see if they were talking to someone else, but there was no-one else there. I could get used to respectful.
The other thing I noticed today is that I didn’t instantly want to write a chapter of novel full of crunchy frost and chill air. I used to love taking the weather and telling it strictly to march alongside a novel, keeping my characters and their life struggles company. I used a very hot summer to bring magic ants into Elizabeth/Lizzie/Liz’s everyday in Ms Cellophane and also to make a memorable Christmas. I needed help to make a memorable Christmas because I’m not that good at Christmas.
I still bring weather into my fiction. I love weather and it’s fun to use it to shape moods. The opening of The Green Children Help Out has London weather. That rain isn’t critical to the story, but it helps me remember that most of the story is set in a wetter country than my own. It’s dry outside, and around zero degrees Celsius. We’ve been given a sheep graziers’ warning (spellcheck wants to change this to “a sheep braziers’ warning” or, alternately, to a “sheep grenadiers’ warning” – Spellcheck is quite obviously not Australian), which is a common weather alert up here in sheep country. Although, to be honest, the town I live in has more kangaroos than sheep.
All national capitals should have more kangaroos than sheep. Washington DC would be far more entertaining with mobs of ‘roos staring at the tourists and politicians and public servants. When a mob stares, every single one of them takes the same pose and only their heads move until you’re past. That’s my experience, anyhow.
One Christmas (since it’s cold it must be Christmas – I get this message from films set in the northern hemisphere) we had a work celebration at the restaurant next to the golf course with its full wall of floor to ceiling windows to bring the green into the dining room. We were all a bit drunk by dusk, because, of course, real Christmas is in midsummer. At dusk (again, of course, this is normal in civilised countries) all the kangaroos and wallabies came down and stared at us through the never-ending windows. One group of ‘roos did the mob stare. Drunk public servants wearing silly Christmas hats stared right back.
The older I get the more daft stories I collect. I tell my favourites over and over again. Sometimes I put them in my novels. My novels are littered with tellable moments.
For a full decade I asked readers to guess which moments in the contemporary novels were the real ones. They never guessed correctly.
I found myself blinking in stupid surprise when a reader told me, very seriously, that the real-life incident in Ms Cellophane was me swimming naked in the Murrumbidgee and getting arrested for it. I was wondering how to explain that I’m not very bold… and that I cannot swim. I blinked even more energetically when someone explained to me very sincerely that the series of events at Parliament House in The Wizardry of Jewish Women was obviously fabricated. I fictionalised it enough so that I wasn’t precisely representing the real people, but the events happened. As I love telling people, it’s just as well I fictionalised, given what happened to one of the people whose character I changed. Although I also love explaining to people that if you’re a politician and get a bit grumpy at lobbyists who want to talk, be very careful that none of them write fiction.
For those of you who haven’t played this game before and would like to guess a real incident from one of my novels, go for it. If you’re right, I’ll send you an unpublished short story so that you get something to read before it enters the big world.
Or you could tell me why I was happy to explain that yes, I once caused a Deputy Prime Minister to fall down a mountain (not at all intentionally, I assure you!) but am glad I rarely see politicians these days, because the original person I based a character on is not someone I really want to be introduced to with the words, “This is that writer who put you in that novel.” Guessing correctly who the politician is will also get you a look at the short story. I’ll give you a hint: you don’t need to know a great deal about Australian politics. You do have to occasionally read the news.
What I do in winter these days then is play mind-games. The first three correct answers this week get a sneak preview of a short story. If you don’t want people to see your answers, you can find me on social media and let me know privately. If anyone plays, then I’ll decide if the short story will contain weather.