Bibelots

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Author: Rosalie (page 1 of 4)

The gap in my bookshelf

a row of books on a bookshelfA tribute to Colleen McCullough

Last week saw the passing of a well-known Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Colleen was a neuroscientist, a researcher, and was responsible for one of the most popular Australian novels – The Thorn Birds.

The Thorn Birds was published in 1977. I can’t say for sure when I first read the book, but I know it was decades ago. It feels like the book has been in my life, one way or another, for a very long time.

The gap on my shelf is where that book should be.

I don’t know where it went. I have a lot of books and most of my books are double-stacked in the shelves. I’ve moved house a few times. I’m always willing to loan out my books, especially the old favourites.

I know how it looked. It was old, worn and tattered. As an author trying to earn a living from the sales of her books, I’m sure she would have preferred me to buy a new one. As a book-lover, that’s too bad. The old and tattered darlings always have a special place in your heart.

The book had been loved by my half of my family. It’s possible it’s with one of them now.

I can remember it and its story. I remember its shape and how it felt. I can also remember the moment I realised that authors could come from here.

I grew up reading all sorts of things and most of it was from the UK, the US and Europe.

I’d previously read Colin Thiele – you can see one of his books on my shelf. It isn’t Storm Boy. I long ago loaned that to someone who was passionate to read it. I think they still have it. That’s okay. So long as it’s loved.

But as much as I loved Storm Boy, I didn’t ever think about Colin Thiele the author. Not until much later.

Colleen McCullough – the author, the mind behind the fiction, the woman that wrote the words – was in my thoughts from the very last word in the book.

I doubt I can ever fully describe how I felt at that moment.

It took me years to realise I could write. I’ve always told stories. Always written them for myself. I know, without a doubt, that she was a solid step on my stony pathway to writing. It’s a pathway that never ends. Not while you’re still breathing.

And now that the world has lost such a fine mind, a novelist, a scientist, a local, and a woman with a way with words, I can only stare numbly at the gap in my bookshelf.

It wasn’t until she was gone, that I noticed what I was missing.

It is a void that can’t be filled.

Vale, Collen McCullough. And, thank you.

Dear Mister Asimov – a memory

science-fiction magazine coversToday I briefly described myself as a science-fiction fan at heart. Nothing new. Nothing unusual. For some reason, this time as I said it I was suddenly struck by a memory of the moment that I learned of Isaac Asimov‘s death.

Asimov died over twenty years ago. That makes it pre-internet-as-we-know-it, so I can’t be sure of the exact date that I found out. Still, Asimov wasn’t sure of his exact date of birth, which he celebrated on January the 2nd, so I guess that’s okay. If I had read the news online, I know I would have been reading about it on the exact day of his passing. But perhaps it wouldn’t have impacted me in the same way.

I was standing in a specialist science fiction bookshop called Galaxy. It was a little shop, but packed tight with  every type of science fiction a woman could hope for.

I was browsing amongst the A books. I always stopped there first. There was Aldiss, then Anderson, then Asimov. And above Asimov’s set of star-filled words sat a small newspaper clipping. Asimov had died.

I don’t know how long I stood looking at the clipping. At one point, my hand reached out to touch the newspaper, perhaps in hope that it wasn’t real. After a time, I turned to see someone at the counter watching me. I can’t recall her exact words, but I can still see her face.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s just so sad.’

He’d always been there. I’d grown up reading short stories and articles by Asimov. At first, in all the astounding science fiction magazines, then later in books from libraries and bookshops. He had started writing nearly twenty years before I was born. From the Stars, Like Dust to Gold, he just kept coming. Whenever I wanted a bit of pure sci-fi, but with the finest of humanitarian sensibilities, I knew where to look.

A is, was and will always be for Asimov.

Other wonderful authors have since passed from our midst. Harrison and Dickson and Sprague de Camp, White and Norton and Sagan. Stories and authors who delighted and amazed me. None of them, though, felt quite like this.

I wasn’t there, not in this way. I felt like I was with him. Him and his books. His grainy, grey, side-burn-bearing face looking back at mine. I can still see it. I hope to never forget it.

I never got to meet him. I’ve stood in long and winding book-signing queues for other authors and I would have stood an eternity if he had ever come here. But the man who taught me to love the stars didn’t like to fly.  My biggest regret is that I never wrote to him. To say how much he meant to me. He might have heard it all before, but maybe not. And he never heard it from me.

Asimov is gone, but his words will outlive both you and me. And that’s what it’s all about. His unstoppable words.

All the same, you’ll bear with me for a moment as I say this.

This is for you, Mister Asimov. This is my unwritten letter.  With the warmest of affection and the greatest of admiration.

Thank you, dear Asimov. Thank you.

Our dictionary

Have you ever heard an Australian say ‘our dictionary’ when talking about the Macquarie?

I think that’s partly because the Macquarie Dictionary is “Australia’s National dictionary”. But it also feels like it is ours. It has our slang, both old and new, and it captures the subtleties of Australian English. It’s also where we can find beautiful regional words and phrases, like three-corner jack.

All this is thanks to the hard work of the lexicographers and editors at the Macquarie. But it doesn’t stop there.

Baubles and word play

Recently, after a few too many hours editing and writing, I was troubling over of the definition of the word bauble. A lovely word, to be sure, but if you’ve stared at it too long it can – like any word – begin to befuddle you. I checked both the spelling and the meaning in the Macquarie and was quite surprised to find that it was not defined as a Christmas ornament.

After chatting with a couple of wonderful writers and looking in a few other dictionaries, we decided that the Macquarie might possibly be lacking something. I didn’t really believe that – I thought there must have been a system (read user) error.

One writer suggested I contact the Macquarie as she’d heard they are open to feedback.

So, I did.

I passed on our thoughts and our references. I couched it in terms of seeking their opinion. I’ll be honest: I expected no response.

And this is usually the where the story ends. In a dry, lonely corner of inattention. Yet another dull little ‘thank you’ auto-reply.

Not this time.

I heard back. I heard back quickly. And I heard back from the lady herself – Susan Butler, editor of the Australian Macquarie.

They listened. They welcomed our feedback. And here’s the big bit – they used it. With our information as the kick-off, their experts had prepared new entries and definitions.

The dictionary – our dictionary – will change. Next year, these new entries will go in when they upload all of the other updated words and listings in the online dictionary.

Would you like to see what will go in?

Too bad. No spoilers from me. You’ll have to wait.

Make it your own

As pleasantly surprised as I was, I shouldn’t have been.

The Macquarie has always been this way.

In the very first edition, a newsletter was included that encouraged contributions from dictionary users, as referenced in The Macquarie Dictionary, its History and its Editorial Practices.

The Australian Word Map has long been there to receive and discuss regionalisms. And if you have a brand new shiny word that you think should be in our dictionary, you can add a word yourself.

For me, this experience has been like manna from word-lover-heaven.

Next time you find yourself wondering at something in the Macquarie, don’t leave it at that. Question it, discuss it and send them your thoughts.

Our dictionary is our dictionary because, as always, it contains our words.

What more could you ask for?

Writing hack anyone?

Don’t mind if I do…

Yesterday I had my second go at Twelve – a twelve hour writing lock-in at the SA Writers Centre. That’s it. No tricks. Sit down, write. Go.

Was it good? Yes.

Should you do it? I don’t know.

Let me explain.

It’s good

Damn me, but it’s good. So good it hurts.

It hurts physically. I lost myself so thoroughly that I forgot to move for hours on end.

It also hurts creatively. At hour 11, just to keep pushing, I found myself writing when I had forgotten how to write a proper sentence. How can that be good for me? Because, despite that, I was still writing. The neurons were firing, the bits of my brain that I need to keep limber and elastic were being worked – perhaps overworked – but they were still going. Any other day, I would have stopped writing, but I kept on.

I guess, in a way, I was hacking my own brain. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing.

Is it for everyone?

I truly don’t know. Even if I knew you, if you were a close personal friend, I wouldn’t know if you should do it.

For me, seeing other writers writing whenever I look up is an incentive to keep writing. It’s a tonic.

It isn’t pressure, it’s the opposite. We’re all there by our own hand. We’re typing, scribbling and creating because we want to. It is almost inexplicably good.

For anyone else, I can’t say. The way we write, the act of writing, is personal and individual. All I can say is that I think it might be worth having a go. You might discover something about yourself as a writer that you never knew.

That’s enough from me for now. There’s a great big pile of words I need to go and read. This time, they’re mine.

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