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Archive for the ‘anecdotes’ Category

When I first came to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, brush turnkeys were not protected. Consequently, a sighting of them was a rare thing. Sometimes as we were driving along we’d see one making its way stealthily through the bush. The kids would be excited. “Look, a brush turkey!” Now, with the advent of their protection, all that has changed. Today they stride confidently around the suburbs, chortling to themselves and ripping up domestic gardens. Nothing is safe. They will even hop up into pot plants and rip them up, too — just for the hell of it.

Brush-Turkey-001

Brush turkey

After losing my little vegie patch twice this year to brush turkeys, I went online to see if there was anything, anything, that might deter them. The web was full of the cries of irate gardeners, and not just from areas close to nature reserves and bush. Apparently the birds are striding around city suburbs as well. Fences don’t work; in spite of their heavy, ungainly appearance, the birds can get over fences ten, eleven feet high — ours like to fly up onto the carport port roof and walk about up there, their claws making nerve wracking sounds on the corrugated iron roofing.

Some people tried scarecrows, with differing results. The people across the road from me tried teddies.

Yard 15X8.5@72

Mostly, though, the consensus on the web was that nothing could be done. I liked my little herb and vegie patch; it provided a nice change from sweating over the content editing of my Brisbane novel. I liked to go out there when the going got tough and pull a few weeds, or just admire the silverbeet plants. Eventually I hit upon the idea of covering the patch with pieces of old aluminium fencing, which a neighbour kindly gave me. The turkeys still prowl about, but at least the parsley is looking healthy, poking up through the gaps in the fence, but something (not turkeys) is eating the silverbeet. And the marigolds.

Consensus on the web is that the only way of dealing with brush turkeys is the catch-and-remove method. You catch them and take them many miles away to the bush or a nature reserve, whichever comes first. As I don’t drive, this option is not available to me. Natural predators? They don’t seem to have any. The cat is no use; the birds are too big, you’d need a cougar to bring them down. As I watch them pacing around the garden in the late afternoon, my heart is full of trepidation. These birds breed every year. If we think it’s bad now, what’s it going to be like next year? And the year after that.

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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.

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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.

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Frightened woman

I’m afraid to open the parcel containing the Amazon proof copy of my short story collection. I’ve had it since Tuesday, it’s now Saturday. When I got the proof of the 1st novel I put up on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY, I fell on it like a famished wolf. Why this sudden turnaround? Perhaps it’s got something to do with the cover, which was unfinished when I sent off for this particular proof, and feels to me as if it will ever remain so.

Let me explain. You see, when I wrote my weird cat fantasy novel, which caused people to think I had finally lost the plot (though they were all too nice to say so), I had the image for the cover before I even wrote the book—a marvellous black & white drawing by US artist Marty Norman.

Marty Norman's cat illus'n 75 dpi copy No cats on pedestals

This time, I had chosen another of his works, a wonderful, hard-edged painting of a businessman on a tightrope, see below. (Sorry I’m too much of a luddite to know how to make the image bigger.)

man on wire

But beta readers from here to Timbuktu all agreed that to use an image like that on the cover of my collection was to mislead people into expecting a book about the problems of Wall Street suits. And that, my little short story collection set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales definitely was not.

What to do? I had no idea. In the end, I settled for a very ancient image (no, I’m not going to show it to you at this point), and hoped like hell it would work. To open the package from Amazon, even though I know the cover is unfinished and will make the necessary allowances, is to expose myself to immense disappointment if this cover idea hasn’t worked.

Now it’s all very well to say I’ve got time to think of another and still get the book out in October-November of this year, but you see, I can’t. Having been dragged from one fixation (which in my heart I still prefer) to another, something in me has said, This is it. Further than this, I’m not prepared to go. In other words, I’m stuck with this cover, no matter what. So the parcel feels very threatening to me and just sits there on the sofa, accusing me every time I walk past. Thank heavens I’m going out today. I’ll be out all day – so there, parcel!

This state of affairs could go on indefinitely if I don’t so something, so I’ve set myself a deadline of Monday morning. On Monday I must take a deep breath, rip open the parcel and take it on the chin, come what may.

Am I scared? You bet. But will I keep the deadline? Oh yeah; I’m a creature of deadlines. I’m not really happy unless I can see one looming somewhere on the horizon. So Monday it is. Meanwhile, I give the sofa a wide berth.

 

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A few days ago I paid one of my biannual visits to friends at Dyraaba in northern New South Wales, about half an hour’s drive out of Casino. They have a 240 acre property there, where they run 30-40 head of cattle and half a dozen horses.

IMG_7623

It looks idyllic, but the beauty of this photo belies the amount of work it takes to keep a property like this running smoothly. To add to the workload, when the couple moved here four years ago, the paddocks were overgrazed; fireweed, blady grass and lantana were rampant.

Lantana 2Lantana – hell to eradicate

Four years of hard yakka has pulled the property back into shape, with improved pastures on the flatland, hardly a fireweed in sight, and very little blady grass. One more year should see the last of the lantana.

That’s the extra work, of course. Just everyday running of a place like this involves so many things that owners have to keep on top of. There’s worming, earmarking, drenching, dipping and hand feeding of stock during drought, the keeping up of miles of fences, sitting up nights with calving cows, saving stock from wild dogs, etc. etc. Some winter nights when the dogs are bad, you can hear them howling in the distant paddocks like something out of Dr Zhivago.

Some people on a neighbouring property have filled in the wetland where black swans used to come every year. Now my friends have swans gracing their biggest creek.

DSCF4402

It all looks very idyllic, as I said, but the work required would stimey most people. In summer you need to be in the paddocks by 4.30 a.m. at the latest, so you can get in a good six hours toil before the heat hits. From noon to four, the fields are impossible. However, work can recommence at 4.30 and go onto until night falls. Winter is different, of course, but those early mornings are mighty chilly; it was 6 degrees C when I was there.

All in all, it’s a beautiful place to visit, but not a place to live if you shy away from hard work. Fortunately, both my friends are tigers for punishment and thrive on the lifestyle.

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Having worked with animals all their lives, they understood when they bought how it would be, and so didn’t suffer the fate of many tree changers who move from the city to the bush, chasing the dream.

 

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God chasing cat, b&wWatching my cat Tim this morning leaping from the washing machine to the linen cupboard and from there to the ledge of the little window from where he likes to survey the kingdom, I was reminded of another cat I used to have and his adventures with a rescue dog my then partner brought home, wanting to take in. Just why we didn’t realise from the start just what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days, what with the two children and my elderly mother.

The cat’s name was Mao; he was a bluepoint Siamese, and he knew it.

Bluepoint siamese

The rescue dog’s name was Harry.

Harry was a German Shepherd that nobody seemed to want. That should’ve given us pause right there, but as I said, we had a lot on our minds, particularly in the mornings. Harry was obviously well bred, the sort of dog that would’ve had “papers”, yet nobody wanted him.

We tried him out with the children; he was fine, so we let him stay.

Night fell. We fed Harry and bedded him down and locked him into the shed at the side of the house. Next morning, unbeknown to me, as I was working in the kitchen, making breakfasts, ironing uniforms, getting the children off to school, my partner let Harry out.

Mao, the Siamese cat, having finished his breakfast, strolled out to inspect the dawn from the doorstep of the back porch. As he sat there checking out the day, Harry came around the side of the house.

 

Shepherd looking tough

The cat, accustomed all his life to being superior, waved a paw at Harry to tell him his presence there on the step was not required, that he was persona non grata, in fact.

But Harry came on. The cat found himself being pursued by this slavering beast. He raced into the nearby bathroom and leapt up onto the hand basin. Harry’s first leap landed him in the hand basin, too. Just in the nick of time, the cat leapt up onto the edge of the shower stall, a precarious position.

Harry was leaping and snarling at him, but he couldn’t quite reach the cat, when I came out, atracted by the commotion. I grabbed a straw broom and began to beat Harry with it, to no avail. Then the cat teetering on the edge of the shower stall lost his balance and leapt onto the head of the straw broom when it was at the height of one of its upswings. Anyone could’ve told him this was not a good idea, but it seemed it was the only one he had. He then fell off the broom head, and saved himself from landing in Harry’s waiting maw by latching onto my thumb.

I screamed, turning this way and that to save the cat. The dog leaped and snarled, the cat clung. I don’t know what would’ve happened next if my partner hadn’t arrived just then and whipped Harry off with one of the studded leather belts he liked to affect.

After that, we locked Harry back in the shed and drove to the hospital so that I could get a tetanus injection and, of course, I needed stitches. As I said, just why we hadn’t realised from the start what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days.

Harry stayed, by the way. He and the cat arrived at an uneasy truce, with the cat dominant. The tucker was good, and there were lots of cattle to harrass in the nearby paddocks; Harry knew he was on a good thing.

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Many thanks, Danielle, for inviting me to say a little about my latest release Cold Faith, the first instalment in a three-part series being published by Hague Publishing.

Cold Faithhttp://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00VBZQ8FY

 

Cold Faith is set in the aftermath of a protracted volcanic winter that has devastated the planet and left only isolated pockets of survivors. Seeing just one slim chance for survival, the main character Rab decides to set out on a perilous journey north in search of a fabled city rumoured to be one of the many staging areas where spaceships were launched to ferry the people of Earth to a salvation planet; the evacuation plan was known as Safe Harbour. Unfortunately for Rab, he is coerced into taking the last three surviving children of his village with him. After one of the children breaks his leg, they are rescued by a young woman named Sunny, who leads them to her underground city where a large band of survivors are living in comparative luxury. As far as Safe Harbour is concerned, Sunny appears to be a belligerent sceptic, while her old grandfather is a believer like Rab. The two insist on joining Rab as he continues his journey north with only the young girl from his village. It’s then that Rab’s real troubles begin.

Despite its scientific foundation, Cold Faith is a character-driven narrative that follows Rab’s journey of discovery—which ultimately reveals not only the true nature of the planet’s desperate situation but also much about himself. Like Rab, I had a bit of a quest of my own in writing Cold Faith. I wanted to explore the drive behind humans’ unyielding struggle for survival in situations where all seems lost and our capacity to accept that all questions may not necessarily be answered even at journey’s end. Ultimately only the readers will be able to tell me if, as an author, I succeeded in my quest.

My favourite character in Cold Faith is Sunny. She is tough and complex. Some reviewers have been quite taken with the relationship between Rab and the young girl who features prominently in the story. My stories are all heavily character-based, so I’m glad readers are identifying their own personal favourites.

While the opportunity for writers to see their work published has expanded, the fall-out is a flooded market and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any one emerging writer to be noticed. I’d like to take this opportunity to invite everyone who purchased and enjoyed Cold Faith to keep an eye out for the sequel Faithless, which is due out in 2016. In the meantime, I have two earlier books readers may like to sink their teeth into: Bus Stop on a Strange Loop, a time travel novel, http://www.amazon.com/Stop-Strange-Loop-Shaune-Lafferty/dp/0980749794 and Balanced in an Angel’s Eye, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0987154877 both of which are available from the usual places as well as Amazon. You can find out a bit more about my books on Goodreads, Amazon and on my publishers’ websites.

Thanks, Danielle.

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