Friday, July 24, 2009

Kangaroos and Cars don't Mix

This is the story of something that happened to me a couple of months ago. I had lunch yesterday with Mme Benaut, dear friend and inspirational blogger, and she suggested I should recount this for the edification of others. And to serve as a cautionary tale.

It was, as they say in the classics, a dark and stormy night. In fact it was the night before I was to leave for a weekend in Sydney to celebrate my friend Nina's birthday. Being away from home of course necessitates putting my canine children (Fergus and Scully) up in a boarding kennel, much to their disgust. We've become accustomed to using a very good one at Mylor, (Top Spot Kennels) which although some distance away in the wilds of the Adelaide hills, looks after the dogs really well.

This particular night saw the onset of the autumn rain, with a vengeance. It had been raining steadily all afternoon and by the time I'd dropped the dogs off and turned back towards home, it was already pitch dark at six o'clock or thereabouts and absolutely teeming. While the rain was like manna from heaven to this driest of dry cities, it made driving conditions hazardous in the extreme. This wasn't helped by the fact that the stretch of road between Mylor and Aldgate, the next hills town, is very narrow, winding and dark.

My night-time eyesight is not all it could be, along with all the other failing faculties, so I was peering myopically through the windscreen and feeling fairly anxious already when a huge greyish white apparition loomed up out of the blackness to my left. With an enormous thud it smacked straight into the passenger side of the car knocking it off course and then seemed to disappear. There was nowhere to turn off the road and cars were right behind me so somehow I managed to keep driving, but very hesitantly as I didn't know how badly the car was damaged. I was also in a state of panic because I didn't know what I'd hit. For all I knew at that stage it could have been a person or a child. Visions of being convicted as a hit-run driver flashed before me. A bit further down the road there was a muddy turn-off to the left so I managed to pull in off the road and stop, very shaken. The drivers of two other cars behind me both stopped also to see if I was alright, which was kind of them.
One of them, a young girl, came over and I tried to open the passenger side door but it was stuck. She told me I'd hit a kangaroo as she'd seen it bounce off my bonnet and disappear over the other side of the road. The other driver who stopped was a young man who was really kind and thoughtful and had a very close look at the car for me to see whether it was driveable. He was soaked to the skin, it was raining so hard, but he still got down in the mud and looked under the car to see whether any oil or fluid was leaking out. He then offered to drive in front of me until we got to Aldgate, as by now I only had one headlight. I don't know who he was but I am very grateful for his help. It seemed like the car was alright to drive, in that it had no mechanical problems. Just the slight problem of a busted headlight and missing rear view window on one side, which had apparently been sheared off by the kangaroo.
I felt pretty bad about the kangaroo and was afraid that I might have killed it or at least seriously injured it, but there wasn't much I could do. Subsequently quite a few people told me they are actually pretty tough and unless you hit them full on with a vehicle with a roo bar attached, they often survive without too much ill effect. So I hope that was the case with this one.
It was a hair raising drive home as although I'd negotiated the rest of the narrow, winding hills road I was on, the remainder of the route was not much better and of course it was still raining heavily. Visibility with only one headlight was appalling so I had to keep the working one on high beam, which the approaching drivers probably didn't appreciate.
Finally I got home in one piece, which is more than I can say for the car. I still went away for the weekend and left the disaster locked up in the garage to deal with on my return. It needed quite extensive repairs as it turned out, although fortunately the insurance paid for them, all except the unavoidable excess.
Running into a kangaroo was the last thing I would have expected to happen so close to the metropolitan area, thinking they would only be a concern out in the middle of the outback. But apparently they are not uncommon in that area, and of course there are also lots of koalas. It made me realise that wherever you drive where there are trees and bushland, it's important to be aware of the wildlife that may be around and keep alert to the possibility of an animal getting onto the road. Of course in the case of this one, as it seemed to literally launch itself out of the bush on the side of the road straight into my car, there was little I could have done to avoid it. But I will be a lot more wary driving through those parts in future.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


On Friday my sister Rosemary and I had a girls' lunch with my two nieces, Renee and Melissa, ostensibly for Renee's birthday but also just to get together, the four of us, for a gossip and a catch up. We do this all too rarely and it was great fun.
Both girls have grown up into lovely young women and although they're both currently single, I'm sure some lucky bloke will be smart enough to snap them up some day.
They take after their aunt slightly I think in that they were a bit unsure of what direction to take in their lives when younger (in their aunt's case she was completely all over the place!). But they've now both found their way and are doing really well. Renee (in the middle) is a very dedicated primary school teacher and Melissa after quite a few years working, decided this year to take on a science degree at Flinders. She's done very well in her first exams and is enjoying learning again. Although it's a big challenge, I know the family attitude of persistence and industriousness will ensure she gets there and will then be able to look forward to an exciting and rewarding career.
Rosemary can be very proud of her girls, which she is of course!!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

To Plot or Not

I've recently been reading quite a few books on writing by writers of varying degrees of accomplishment. These are not so much "how to" books as advice from those who may be expected to know, in so far as they have had books published. As an aspiring writer, I am eager for all the advice I can get, although as with any field of learning you must take some and leave some.

There is a common theme among a lot of such material that emphasises the indispensability of plot. This premise is based on the notion that in today's world of instant gratification, audiences have limited attention spans. As well, because film and television have become the entertainment of choice for the masses, being accessible, cheap and undemanding, people have become accustomed to a fast pace, quickly unfolding events and a speedy resolution to the drama. They are therefore not willing to hang around waiting for something to happen. Writers who hope to engage their readers are as a result encouraged to hit them between the eyes within the first couple of pages, or risk having their book unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin, or worse put back on the shelf.

I don't necessarily disagree with this. An exciting unputdownable book is a great way to while away the time, hence the popularity of airport paperback outlets. But the corollary to this, propounded by at least some of these advice givers, is that fiction that is not plot focused and escapist in nature, that is instead too much like "real life" is boring, tedious and not worth the time spent in writing it. Why, this school of thought suggests, would we want to read about something that could happen to us, who cares, yawn yawn? Most people's lives considered in this way are I suppose predictable and humdrum. And if one was to catalogue in detail the minutiae and trivia of day to day existence, no-one would be terribly interested least of all the writer.

But life is not all about that. There are highlights, lowlights and moments of great drama within the ordinary. People I am convinced like to identify. They like to find their own experiences in the lives and words of others. They like to know that others have felt the same emotions; frustrations, anger, joy, sorrow, whatever as they have. We can even find solace in reading about how someone has handled a tragedy in life that we have faced or may face. There is a place for this stuff.
As the writer Anne Tyler said in a recent interview, "the whole purpose of my books is to sink into other lives .... I would love it if the readers sank along with me." And plenty of readers have, considering her hugely successful body of work, recognised by the Pulitzer Prize no less. Possibly it's a way of portraying our shared humanity.

So there's no place really for an extremist view about plot driven fiction. There's room for both kinds. Some people love Harry Potter and anything by J.R. Tolkien, some love Virginia Woolf. Some just love anything that keeps them awake or helps them to nod off, whatever.

I like books of all kinds but I especially love books where I can relate to the protagonists and what happens to them, and they're the kinds of stories and books I hope to write. Equally there is great skill in writing good science fiction, suspenseful cliff-hangers, blood curdling thrillers or passionate bodice rippers. Horses for courses, as they say and anyone who is reckless enough to issue imperatives about what should and should not be written, deserves not to be read!