Ode to a lost beetle


Poetry doesn’t have to be serious. Sometimes I notice things and just want to wax poetic about them. I have been fascinated by beetles since at least the age of seven. Today I saw a particularly cute one and decided to write an ode to it, using the traditional English ode form. Enjoy.

golden tortoise beetle 1

Not my beetle; just a beetle.

O tiny six-legg’d thing of golden sheen!

Whither do you go? At whose behest?

You belong amongst the shady green,

Wherefore do you clamber up my dress?

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Talking to myself: a poem

The Celestial Kris is shaping up beautifully, thanks to my brilliant ASA mentor and my always-enthusiastic beta readers. Once again, it’s time for me to do my old proof-read the whole novel aloud to myself routine.

A few things have changed since I last wrote that piece about proofing. I still record the chapters on my phone, and I still love hearing them read back to me. It’s the first time I’ve really been able to step back from the work and read it for enjoyment. But I’ve become a bit more relaxed about it now. I don’t have a studio anymore, so I do just read it in my bedroom – always with a warning to others in the house that the crazy voices upstairs are all me. I don’t worry too much about having a cup of tea or glass of wine on hand, although water is best. And this time, I’m recording at my standing desk, which is quite a lot better than doing it from a chair.



This is from my workshop with the Grade Fives in Adelaide on my Fellowship last month. I get pretty animated when I’m talking, whether it’s to forty kids or just to myself. ‘I shrink the moon…’


‘I GRAB the moon…’

The main purpose of the read-aloud sessions is to find small errors that otherwise go under the radar. And when I find those errors, there’s a noticeable break in the story because I correct them as I go, which can make things pretty funny later because I forget I’ve commented on them. So I’ll be wrapped up in the story and then in the middle of a serious scene, I hear myself going, ‘Now hang on, I’ve written hero twice… doot-dee-doot-dee-doo…’ (Computery tapping sounds.) ‘Having proven himself. There.’

These interjections are the source of today’s poem.


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The passing grade: a sonnet

Don’t you hate it when you’re writing a Masters of Teaching assignment with a creative aspect, spend the evening composing poetry for it, then have to cut fourteen lines of meticulously-crafted iambic pentameter because you’re only going to have space for not three but merely two analyses of a practicum pedagogical experience?

I do. I hate that.

Anyway, if it isn’t already abundantly clear, I am a big nerd, and basically always have been. I am also, sometimes, EXTREEEEMELY DRAMAAAATIIIC!!!! When I wrote this for my assignment, it was intended to poke fun at how seriously I took myself as a thirteen-year-old. I had to cut it because of word limits – and besides, compared to the other two episodes, it didn’t offer as much.

As usual, there’s a little poetic license here; this teacher is fictional, and the events of this poem are kind of cobbled together from real events. And as for why it’s a Shakespearean sonnet, what else could capture the hand-to-forehead, cry-to-the-heavens drama of receiving (gasp) a merely satisfactory grade?!

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Elephants in medieval art: a review

One of the great things about WordPress is that you can see where your views are coming from, and what pages get the most views. So imagine my surprise when I checked my stats and found that, on this blog of poetry and writing-about-writing, one of my most popular pages is making fun of dead people’s crappy art of dead people.

Give the public what they want, I say.

It’s easy enough to draw an animal that no one has ever seen. But it takes guts to draw a real animal that you’ve never seen, based on second-, third-, and possibly tenth-hand descriptions. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen an elephant. You’ve seen them at the zoo, and you’ve seen them on nature docos, and you’ve seen this video.

As for me – I’ve stuck my hand in an elephant’s mouth to feed him a banana. I’ve been in an elephant water fight and had snotty water sprayed in my face (the elephants won). I’ve had an elephant give me back a pair of sunglasses that I dropped when I was sitting on his head. Short of surgery or, I dunno, pachyderm midwifery, you can’t get much closer to an elephant than that. (Don’t worry, it was a sanctuary for rescued work elephants and they didn’t use those heavy seats.)

Medieval Europeans artists had no access to such privileges. But they were going to paint elephants anyway, dammit. After all, it wasn’t as if anyone who saw their art would know any better… right?


If I hadn’t found it under elephant, I would have assumed this was some sort of lion-footed pig. Tusks and wrinkles are about all this elephant’s got going for it.


Little more recognisable here. We’ve got a trunk, we’ve got wrinkles, we’ve got a big solid body and two tusks and flat feet with toenails. But for some reason, we’ve also got a dragon and a cycloptic face of abject misery. It’s an elephant only in that it’s less like anything else.

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Last time I wrote a sad one, I think I broke a few people. If you don’t want to be sad today, read this instead.

I like narrative podcasts. True crime stories often have a consistent narrative spread over six to ten episodes, so I’ve listened to a few of them.

But I’m so often disappointed by the season finale. After hours of exploring a tragic incident, and all the reasons and personalities behind it, there have been a few times when the journalist has said, at the end, ‘We may never know who killed little Timmy Tragedy, thanks for listening, now buy my merch and listen to my new show.’

That seems so awful to me, especially when the prime suspect gets to speak his piece over the course of the series (from jail – and so far, it’s always been a he). It makes it seem like the whole purpose of the series was to render sympathetic a person who doesn’t deserve sympathy. Talking to the guy doesn’t seem to yield any evidence one way or the other. He always says he’s innocent, but his story inevitably doesn’t add up. The purpose of speaking to him seems to be a calculated attempt to thrill the audience: ‘you are hearing the voice of a killer! … allegedly.’

Even when other potential suspects are found and interviewed, or those close to them are, it’s disappointing. If the person is guilty, well, great; the wrong person got away with it. Hooray, there’s a murderer on the loose. If they’re not, here’s the journo coming back to hassle an innocent person about a sad and possibly frightening time in their life. It seems to pile lies on top of lies, the free suspect’s word against the incarcerated one’s, and adds nothing to the facts of the case.

Of course, we never get to hear the voice of the person or people who could tell us for sure. Today’s poem is for them.

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The data bank

Afternoony post today! Aren’t I just full of surprises?

Sadly, my time in Adelaide is nearly over. But I’ve got heaps done while I’ve been here. The reason today’s post is late is that a) I’ve been REALLY productive on Grandest Bookshop and b) today I ran a workshop with some Year Fives!

The point of the exercise was to test out a few things on them. The last time I ran a school workshop, it… wasn’t that great. I pitched it a little too high, and read a part of a story that wasn’t age-appropriate (the vocab was a bit beyond eight-year-olds). But this time, I read from Chapter One (not Chapter Three). I brought along a lot of resources to ground the kids in the story before we started, and got them excited about Cole’s Book Arcade. I also had my Cole books with me to show the kids.

This session ran really well. The teachers were thoroughly prepped beforehand and everyone knew what to expect. The kids were SO EXCITED by my pictures and by the Book Arcade. They loved the first chapter and wanted to read the rest immediately. Then I tested out some of the brainteasers from the story on them. These were all girls, aged ten to eleven. None of them worked out the answers right away, but about two-thirds said their puzzle was ‘just hard enough; not too hard’ which was excellent.

A few couldn’t solve theirs, which was useful to know. The puzzle that I thought would be the hardest – a version of Einstein’s Riddle – was actually not too hard when the kids read the instructions carefully and worked through the logic of the problem. The hardest riddle was actually one involving palindromes. The grammar was a little dodgy, which threw them off: ‘do not start at rats to nod’ is a perfectly fine palindrome, but not really grammatical in English. Some of the visual puzzles were quite tricky but they were all solvable.

Anyway, this was a workshop specifically designed to generate material (or cull it) from the novel. Earlier in the week, I found myself at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, where I saw one excellent show (Bangarra: Bennelong) and one… other show. It was a musical, and it was corny, and I was completely unable to escape. But when I have such experiences, one thing that alleviates the frustration or boredom or despair is the thought that I can use it in a story.

In that spirit, here is this week’s poem.


In the labyrinthine brain

of a wordsmith or creator

there nestles the refrain:

don’t worry; use this later.


When a cyclone starts to form

in a land near the equator

the writer tells the storm

I’m sure I can use this later.


‘This is fine.’


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Our imaginary pals

Over the last week, I’ve been hearing a lot of writer talks. And something that comes up for me, again and again, is how weird we storytellers must sound when we talk about our characters as if they are real people.

Today, I’m going to attempt to describe this phenomenon with regard to my own relationship with my characters.

Firstly, we talk about them like they’re real because to us, they are. Yes, we’ve never really seen them or spoken to them – I mean, don’t hallucinate about my characters – but they are as real as friends you just saw the other day. When you spend a lot of time with a character, trying to inhabit their mind and write from their perspective, they become real to you. You know that human (or giant, or lizard spirit, or robot, or haunted tree) literally inside-out.


Pictures of the Coles for The Grandest Bookshop in the World

At the same time – for me, at least – I don’t think they know me. I suppose it’s because, as Neil Gaiman puts it, ‘he’s me but I’m not him’ – which is to say, parts of ourselves go into our characters, but we don’t treat them as avatars (or at least, we shouldn’t). This can mean that Character A has my nerdy side, B has my teenage goth phase, C has my love of nature, D has my big sister side… but also, A is kind of arrogant, and B is into Wicca and music, and C is a long way behind in his formal education, and D is naturally quiet and hates to dance, and so on. And none of them look like me.

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