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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

Here in South Golden Beach, just a few miles from the Tweed-Byron border, we’re having an easy time of it. There’s water in the streets, and people are boating up and down the lower end of my street, the end closest to the canal, but up on the higher end, we’re warm and dry. The water hasn’t even risen up the driveway and the biggest problem we have to face is that the rubbish trucks didn’t come this morning and we’ve had to retrieve our bins unemptied.

But many of the other parts of northern New South Wales have not been so lucky. The levee banks Lismore was relying on to keep its CBD safe from the floods have broken and they have feet of water in the main streets.

Murwillumbah’s CBD is also flooded, and thousands of people on the south side of Mur’bah have had to be evacuated.

Anyone who’s lived in the area knows this is nothing new, but the amount of water that fell in the catchment area this time was, depending upon what radio station you’re listening to, between 500 and 750mm, all in a matter of 24-36 hours.

So we’ve been lucky this time. The worst flood I’ve seen here in twenty years was the 30 June 2005  flood when the water came to within 15cm of the floor boards. For us here in South Golden Beach, this particular flood is nothing like that.

In truth, the biggest danger we’ll ever face here is from the ocean and our depleted dune system. Our dunes are so low now that the next time a cyclone storm surge coincides with a high tide, we’ll have seawater in the streets. It won’t be dangerous, not like a tsunami, but it will be unnerving for the new chums and for anyone who lives in a house that’s built low to the ground.

Fortunately, there aren’t many of those. The hippie settlers who built here in the ’70s and ’80s understood about flooding.

SGB Cottage. jpg

Their little timber cottages, spurned by richer folk for not being built of brick on a concrete slab were all built at least a metre off the ground.

We’re lucky.

 

three-snakes

I had another snake in my little 2-storey apartment the other day. It’s the weirdest thing. For twenty years I’ve lived here and never had a problem with snakes — except for the night the python came looking to make a meal out of my old cat, who was sleeping near the back door. https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/quoth-the-raven-nevermore/

To have two in six weeks is strange. See: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/snake/ This one I found at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at the bottom of the internal staircase. I’d locked the cat in with me from 2 -4 to prevent him hunting and bringing them in while I was having my cuppa-tea-and-a-lie-down. I can only conclude that I must have inadvertently locked the snake in with us when I came back from the beach and shut the doors at two.

A sobering thought.

Whether it was the same snake, come looking for more skinks (they live under my stove), I’m not sure. It certainly looked the same. Same size, six feet, same colour, black. Fortunately, he eventually slid out just the way the other one did, sailing out through the front door, which I’d opened wide for him. But I had a few bad moments before that: I’d lost sight of him when I went to look for a bucket to catch him in. That’s the hard bit. You come back, the snake’s disappeared and you don’t know where it is. All I could do was sit on the sofa in my living room and wait, like the woman in Henry Lawson’s short story, “The Drover’s Wife”.

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

In that story, which appears in his collection, While the Billy Boils https://www.amazon.com/While-Billy-Boils-Henry-Lawson/dp/141919383X the woman, seeing a large snake go into the slab hut she and the four children live in (her husband is away six to eighteen months at a time, droving), sets down a saucer of milk and waits through the night for the snake to appear so she can kill it.

Compared to the drover’s wife, I had it easy. But I’m faced with a quandary now. I’ll have to start keeping the front door closed when I’m out and keeping the cat flap closed, even when I’m home. The old cat has been coming and going through the front door for fourteen years. It worries me that he might be chased by one of the many loose dogs in South Golden Beach, run for the safety of his door and find it shut. But I don’t like the idea of six-foot black snakes sailing around the place whenever they feel like it, and I hate the idea of encountering one at night. I seem to have no option. The snake repellers on the internet have opponents and proponents. I’ll probably try one. In the meantime, I hope to retrain the cat to use the back door only, but I don’t like my chances.

(For reasons I can’t explain, this post is showing up strangely, even though it’s written as usual in 12 pt TNR in the original document and nothing untoward is showing in the WordPress menu. Another internet mystery. These little things are sent to try us.)

I recently had occasion to reread the in-depth review (below) by Paul Smith, and thought his unusual take on the story might be of interest to others.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Back in July 2014, he reviewed “Remains to be Seen”, the 3rd story in my linked short story collection entitled Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories. Paul has a blog at  http://twogreytoes.blogspot.com.au/ The unusual title for the blog comes from a cat he once owned, which he and his partner called Two Grey Toes.

Two Grey Toes

Two Grey Toes

Below is Paul’s review of “Remains”, reprinted with his permission.

VIETNAM VETERAN BUCKS THE TREND

REMAINS TO BE SEEN BY Danielle de Valera – Some thoughts

Remains-cream-khaki

What is it about human nature that, no matter how much some blokes get blown off course, their homing instinct swings them back around so that their deepest urgings drive them to have a crack at what evolution made them for. Just being born male is enough to be led in the wrong direction. Peer pressure to transgress for the hell of it is just the start. Being born working class ensures that options that lead to independent success, taken for granted by the privileged few, are rarely considered. Going to war all but seals the fate of too many who take that route, whether voluntarily or by ballot. Existing, even if only briefly, as an agent of human destructiveness all but strips away the tissue of connectivity that makes us human – all BUT! The bond that men form with one another when the life of each depends on the loyalty of others endures more widely than marriage. That bond makes it difficult in some cases to overcome the nearly universal condescension of their gender towards women. Women therefore exist in the lives of such men as a convenience at best or an unavoidable encumbrance. Children, the evolutionary point of there being men and women in the first place, are a fearful and even distasteful prospect. Yet, here’s the story of a bloke and his woman, mired in pitiful relationships with his peers, who choose each other and embrace the prospect of having children – even if the likelihood of failure can’t be ruled out.

Danielle de Valera has done something I once thought I would never tolerate: writing in the first person about the life of a Vietnam Veteran. I first encountered this phenomenon in a writing course. One of the other students wrote about an incident in Vietnam, not only as though it had happened, but as though he’d been part of the action. I was incensed! In that moment I understood the outrage of indigenous people when a non-indigenous person writes (or paints etc.) as though they are indigenous. Anyone remember Wanda Koolmatrie? Or Eddie Burrup? Well, Ms de Valera has cured me of my possessiveness. (Yep, I am a VV.) I think what made the difference was that, in her use of first person narration, she does not come across as a “wannabe”. Her extensive knowledge of David Hackworth, one of the most acclaimed Vietnam Veterans certainly helps her achieve an authentic sense of “being there” without intending to claim as much. She also strikes the right tone in narrating events in Mullumbimby in the mid eighties – not as they actually happened, but as they would have, given the cast of characters in her story. There can be little doubt that she was there – as participant and as observer.

Ms de Valera’s story alternates between events in Mullumbimby in post-Vietnam war times and moments in the thick of it in-country, as we used to say. Each episode is a panel of an unfolding mural. The first combines inconsistent messages about the Japanese – as a former enemy on the one hand, and as purveyors of the stuff of our prosperity on the other. Being denied entry to the Ex-Services Club provokes cynicism and confirms the sense and fact of isolation for the two Vietnam Vets. This commonplace episode resonates with the animosity of Second World War Returned Servicemen towards Vietnam Veterans until 1987 or thereabouts. As they drive away in the slashing rain the story segues to an operation in Vietnam, as chopper-borne Diggers are dropping through the rain into a clearing for a rendezvous with US forces for what was to be a joint operation. Not for the last time in this story would the Diggers be let down, and worse, by their so called allies. Do we hear the voice of David Hackworth, disillusioned with his own country’s military, in this story? It wasn’t just the Diggers who questioned the professionalism of their overlords. Each of the alternating snapshots has such issues embedded in the narrative.

This is a story that can be re-read numerous times without exhausting all that is hidden between the lines. It is a Coming Home story that, in this and other works by Ms de Valera, unfolds over a number of years. That thought suggests a link with the film that bears the name of its genre. Is Michael O’Neill an Aussie version of Luke Martin – emotionally rather than physically disabled– who decides that the best way to help his mates is to escape the horror of their post-war life (for its destructive nature is every bit as horrific as their experience in Vietnam) is to throw himself into something resembling a “normal” life? Does Azure thus have her Lucky Out in Michael’s self administered “cleansing”?

Snake!

Here in the sub-tropics, a mile from the Queensland border, it’s all pretty laid-back. Flouting council laws, many denizens of my suburb like to let their dogs run loose — I’ve had to cut a hole in the front and back screen doors so my cats can get inside when the dogs chase them. For the same reason, I can’t lock the glass doors when I’m out during the day. Last week, I’d just come home from town and changed into my everyday rags when it oozed out from under the fridge.

Three feet. Four feet. Five feet. Six.

A black snake.

black-snake

I was barefooted, as I always am in summer. The snake was three feet away. Fortunately, it was only 1 o’clock in the afternoon, noon if you’re not on Daylight Saving Time. What you don’t want is to find yourself with a snake loose in the house when night comes down. The electric lights throw shadows, and it’s much harder to see under furniture etc.

What to do? I’d had snakes in the house before. My now-old cat used to bring them in when he was young. Once on a visit my daughter inadvertently took a shower with a yellow-bellied black. Apparently, the cat had brought him in, taken him upstairs and lost him. The snake had then concealed himself behind a pot plant in the shower recess. My daughter’s screams when she saw him halfway through her shower could’ve woken heaven. All these snakes I’ve managed to catch by upending an empty bucket over them, sliding an unwanted  vinyl record in its cover under the bucket, inverting it, and placing a weight over it. After that, it’s a simple matter of walking to the nature reserve with the snake in the bucket and releasing it.

As luck would have it, all the buckets were outside, full of water. I nicked out thru the front door, leaving the sliding door open and rushed back with an emptied bucket. If I could just get it over the snake, I figured, I could take my time after that.

I returned just in time to see the last foot of black tail disappearing into a rolled-up hall runner lying on the living room floor. Well, I thought, if I could block the ends, that would give me time to think how to get him into the bucket from there. And maybe get some help — though on the three occasions in the past I’ve had snakes in the house, I’ve dealt with them alone; my neighbours are mostly women.

Fortunately, black snakes are more obliging than browns, one variety of which, the tigers, will attack you if you disturb them during the mating season. While I was trying to block one end of the hall runner with books, I noticed a snake sliding under the bookcase and slithering out the wide-open front door.

Was it the same snake? It looked like the same snake. As Gertrude Stein would have said, “A snake is a snake, is a snake.”

gertrude-stein Gertrude Stein

Or were there two, and I still had the other in the hall runner? I dragged the hall runner out of the apartment, all the while wondering if another snake was going to appear from the unplugged end. But there was nothing.

Why it happened took me a while to figure out. In twenty years of living here, I’ve never had a snake come in of its own volition, except for the python that came in thru the back door one night a couple of years ago, see: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/quoth-the-raven-nevermore/

Apparently, snakes eat skinks, and I had a family of these striped lizards living under my refrigerator. (When you can’t have proper screen doors, these things happen.)

skink

They’re very handsome, and quite intelligent, and they like to eat the food the cat leaves behind, a form of al fresco dining. Perhaps the snake came across the skink when it was outside taking the air after lunch and, when it fled to the safety of the refrigerator, the snake followed it inside. That’s all I can figure.

Getting rid of the skinks will not be easy; I don’t want to kill them. Now, whenever I return from somewhere, I always do a check of the apartment. However, I’m very aware that these checks can only go so far. I’m keeping a wary eye on the floor at all times.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it strange celebrating a winter solstice festival in the middle of summer. As Christmas approaches and we swelter here in Australia, praying for rain on Christmas Day so we won’t be bathed in sweat while eating the Christmas dinner, we find ourselves looking longingly at pictures like this.

christmas-roomOh, how we wish …

All’s fine with me, up here on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. To anyone who bought Dropping Out, the collection of linked short stories I put out in early October at https://www.amazon.com/Dropping-Out-change-novel-stories-ebook/dp/B01LXF9QEB I’d like to say thank you.

droppingout_e-cover

And so I currently have a little cat fairy tale called “Perversity” going free at: http://www.catsstories.com/perversity.html If you’re in the mood for a cat fairy tale, this 700 word story could be for you. The story’s zany illustration (below) was done by my daughter Tara Sariban.

taras-cat

While all’s well with me, my old cat seems to be failing.

timmy-p-72

He’s fourteen, and for some months now, he’s been losing weight. I know animals tend to lose weight as they grow older; a device nature has to lessen the load on the heart, but his weight loss came on suddenly (since the end of August), so it’s a cause for concern. I’ve had various tests done on him, and he’s due for a blood test for FIV (feline HIV) and feline leukemia on 3 January. He’s seems well and happy, and he’s eating well, so at this point, it’s a bit of an unknown.

I plan to spend the first six months of next year putting the scenes for the sequel to MagnifiCat (https://www.amazon.com/MagnifiCat-Animal-Fantasy-Danielle-Valera-ebook/dp/B00H0ORWQY) into the right order.

 

mcat-cover-300

After that, I’d like to spend some time finding a title and cover for the Brisbane novel I hope to put out in 2018. Because it’s a long work (108,000 words, at present), I’ll start content editing it in the second half of ’17. That way I’ll have plenty of time to pull the whole thing together, line edited, copy-edited and proofed by September ’18. I’m a tortoise at everything I do, I need all that time just to get all the various processes right.

For the rest of this year, though, I’m not planning to do much at all, except catch up with a lot of things I’ve been avoiding doing on the internet. If you’ve been working hard all year, I hope you too find time to kick back and take it easy.

time-to-recharge

Merry Christmas, everyone! And a safe and happy New Year.

Dani

The other day I found myself with nothing to read so I pulled out my old copy of A Book of Australian Verse, selected by Australian poet Judith Wright. I was reading the collection when I came across the poems of John Shaw Neilsen, whose work I’d always admired. This shy, slight figure, who had almost no education, had a love of natural beauty and could produce lines of effortless simplicity such as:

“I was around by the cherries today: all the cherries are pale. The world is a woman in velvet. The air is the colour of ale.” He is considered one of Australia’s finest lyric poets.

Shaw Neilsen

Shaw Neilsen

Whenever I think of Neilsen, I’m reminded of a story my old friend Lyle Freeman told me. Lyle (gone now, alas) wasn’t a writer, but he moved on the edges of the literary circles in Brisbane and Sydney in the 1940s and early ‘50s. In his late teens, he ran away from the family business in Kingaroy, went to Sydney and with friend Lois Whose-last-name-eludes me, they opened a boarding house in the vicinity of Kings Cross, where itinerant writers and artists often stayed while they found their feet. Or not. At one stage, Charlie Blackman and his wife Barbara (not his wife at the time, but) boarded there.

I think it was his friendship with Queensland poet Val Vallis that would have got him the invite to Judith Wright’s house that Sunday.

judith-wrightWhenever Lyle told the story (it was a story I asked to hear more than once), the house he described was in Mount Tambourine, though Wright never moved there permanently until 1950, and the event Lyle described must have happened before 1941. (Neilsen was at that time up from Melbourne; he returned there and died within twelve months of this encounter.) Perhaps Wright toyed with renting houses in the country outside Brisbane as many of us did in those days before land inflated to preposterous proportions; my partner and I had a weekender at Mt Glorious in the ‘60s.

On this particular day, Lyle told me, a group of seven or eight aspiring writers were sitting in Wright’s kitchen debating the state of Australian arts and letters when there came a gentle knock on the back door. Standing there was a shy, slight man in his early seventies. Perhaps an elderly gardener, they thought.

The man spoke only one sentence. He said softly, “I’ve come for my tiffin.” (He meant afternoon tea.) Wright handed him a cup of tea and a plate containng some cup cakes and he went away. “That was Shaw Neilsen,” she explained to the Young Turks. “He’s staying with us for a while. He’s a bit shy.” Lyle said he felt immensely humbled to see this unassuming man shuffle away with his tea and cake. There they’d all been, debating the parlous state of Australian literature, and there he was, the real thing, just wanting peace and quiet and a bit of tiffin.

Lyle had an interesting life. He was a roadie for the Borovanski Ballet when Kathleen Gorham was one of the principal dancers, and he was gay at a time in Australia when it took real guts to come out and say so. He was once insulted at a party by Patrick White, that dour, sharp tongued Australian novelist.

patrick-whitePatrick White

Wine must’ve loosened my old friend’s tongue sufficiently for him to begin talking about his ambitions for a novel. “Hmph,” White said to him. “You’re a small man, and you’ll write a small novel.” That put my friend Lyle, who was six-foot-two, nicely in his place. White was famous for these bon mots.

Lyle never did write that novel. There were no mobile phones when I knew him, and the only photo I have of him is more than forty years old and somewhat blurry. Thanks to the expertise of Paul Smith I’m able to reproduce it here.

The photo was taken on the verandah of the house I shared with Queensand poet, Michael Sariban.

the-presentation-on-the-verandah

From L to R: Ann Hurley, DdeV holding a young Sasha Sariban, Olga Sariban and Lyle Freeman.

Roadworks, Anyone?

One hundred metres to the east of where I live a small boy’s dream is in progress. Road works, and lots of them.

 

Trench diggers, graders, rollers, water wagons and huge trucks filled with dirt come and go all day on the avenue to the east of us, the first in a series of streets in this long neglected part of the shire to be drained, guttered and footpathed, and have their surfaces completely redone.

Until now, the area to the far north of the shire has been largely left untouched. Reason: it didn’t have many tourists. Now, with the advent of the music festivals three miles to the north — something the locals fought against and lost (of course) — large numbers of mostly young people are being attracted to the area, and they need good roads and somewhere to stay while they’re attending the festivals.

 

music-festival

And so the long suffering residents, lurching for years over the broken roads, shaking their teeth loose, damaging their suspensions at every turn, have now been remembered. Well, sort of. Most of the people I speak to in this area couldn’t have cared less about the footpaths and guttering — or even the drainage, which might yet turn out to be questionable. They just wanted good roads.

Now it’s happening.

All day long, from 7 a.m. onwards, the road works continue. Little boys beg their mothers to take them there, eschewing trips to the park in Brunswick Heads, accompanied even by ice cream. All they want is a good view of the machines.

 

earthmoving-equipment

And it is exciting. Catching a bus now resembles the scene from First Knight, where Richard Gere as Lancelot ran the gauntlet for a kiss from Julia Ormond as Guinevere. Residents dodge artfully between bulldozers, water wagons, etc. in their efforts to reach the bus stop. And just where your particular stop might be that day is also exciting. As different sections of road are closed, the bus must reroute, and there’s never any notice of this in advance. One just turns up and, half-blind from the dust, dodges various pieces of large machinery (all in motion in different directions), and hopes to find a spot the bus might conceivably pass. It’s interesting. And it’s going to go on for a long time to come, as the council gangs work their way through the suburb.

The cat’s already on tenterhooks from all the tumult. He particularly dislikes the beeping. (I thought machines only beeped when they reversed; these things beep all the time.)

 

annoyed-cat

One thing’s for sure: he’s not going to like it when they’re doing his street.