Archive for the 'Books' Category

On Father by John Birmingham

“On Father by John Birmingham published in 2019 by Melbourne University Press.

On Father - John Birmingham

Well known Australian author, John Birmingham, had his world shattered by the lengthy illness, and subsequent death, of his father. In this short book of only 80 small pages, he chronicles his loving relationship with his father, his struggle with his father’s prolonged sickness and the fallout from his death.

Birmingham grapples with his attempt to accept his father’s passing, quoting from a range of writers and philosophers down through the ages as a means of understanding his grief. He also outlines how his period of bereavement negatively impacted his writing for many months.

I bought this little booklet for two reasons. Firstly, I have read and enjoyed a number of his books. Secondly, early last year I lost my own wife after 47 years of marriage. I am really struggling to move forward with my writing as well. This book has helped me to move on with my own grief, rather than move on from my grief.

As Birmingham found out, almost every pleasant memory or experience is tainted with a touch of loss. I found that to be acutely so on a recent driving holiday in New South Wales and Queensland. I saw so many beautiful things and wished so much that my wife could have seen these amazing places and scenes.

Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland

Memories of childhood reading

Always a reader

I have always been a reader. My earliest memories are of always having a book or two to read. The example was first encouraged by my parents. My father regularly read the local paper called the Murray Pioneer which was published weekly in the nearby town of Renmark, South Australia. As far as I know, this paper is still publishing over 60 years later.

My earliest writing

I can also remember Dad reading the weekly paper simply called The Chronicle. This was primarily aimed at farmers like my father and was full of useful articles for those living on the land. As far as I can determine, this publication ceased in 1954. I think that I read parts of this paper, mainly for the cartoons. Dad also read parts of the weekly paper called The Sunday Mail. I still enjoy reading this paper which is based mainly on South Australian news. Some of my earliest writing was published in the children’s pages of The Sunday Mail.

My mother’s example

My mother also set an example to me regarding reading. Her main interests were in reading various women’s magazines such as the Australian Women’s Weekly. This is still being published, though now it is issued once a month. She also read New Idea, a similar publication aimed at women. As a young writer, I remember the thrill of having some letters published in these periodicals. I was even paid for my letters, a whopping five shillings (50 cents) which was a lot in the 1950s.

In my blood

I guess that writing was in my blood at an early age. Somehow, I was sidetracked into teaching for 35 years, though that brought a great deal of satisfaction.

Childhood books

As a child, I always remember having books in my home. I would always ask for books for Christmas and my birthday. There was always a book prize from the local Sunday School Christmas breakup and I eagerly looked forward to receiving one for good attendance. Any new book was devoured in a matter of hours. I remember reading many Enid Blyton books – Famous Five and Secret Seven among many others. I probably read many of the W.E. Johns’ Biggles series which were popular at the time.

School Libraries

The primary (elementary) school I attended was about a ten-minute walk from where I lived on the family farm. Taplan Primary School never had more than about 30 students and I have very pleasant memories of my school days there. A good proportion of the students were also my cousins. This one-teacher school had a library corner with only several hundred books. This was naturally a magnet for me and I read many of the titles in this small library – though I can’t recall being able to borrow the books to take home. I do remember having a small, compact Collins Gem Dictionary which I took to school every day and home again in the afternoon. I would frequently consult this little book, constantly learning new words.

High School Library

I think that it was 1961 when I started at Loxton High School for my secondary education. Here is where I really began to read voraciously. The school had a large room full of books and I was able to borrow them to take home. Many of these books were devoured on my 40-minute bus trip to and from school. It was here that I discovered the delights of fantasy, especially science fiction.

Readers; please leave some comments about your earliest childhood reading influences and habits.

Good reading and writing,


My review of Bird Therapy

I recently came across a new book about birding which I quickly bought and read through over just a few days. Joe Harkness, a teacher who lives in England, struggled with mental health. This was until he took up birding more seriously. His book, simply called Bird Therapy, describes his journey from illness, including depression, to better health.

I won’t go into more detail here except to link you to my review on my birding site here.

If you want to read more about this project, I encourage you to check out the Bird Therapy Blog written by the author, Joe Harkness.

What I have been reading

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I took a chance on this popular book and I am so pleased that I did.

Once you get through the first few pages, it is obvious that Eleanor is not completely fine. From a very protected and regimented routine, she learns to accept changes to her life, many of them imposed upon her. This adversely affects her with extreme challenges to every aspect of her rather sheltered life.

Eleanor’s social life is largely non-existent. Her only social contacts are at work in the accounts department of a large graphic design company. She keeps very much to herself and rarely has contact with anyone on weekends, except while shopping. Her solitary weekends are spent alone with two large bottles of vodka to numb the pain of her self imposed social isolation, as well as the memories of a painful childhood.

When she has problems with her work computer she meets the company IT specialist Raymond. He is her complete opposite. She finds his eating habits repulsive, his dress sense totally lacking and his general lifestyle choices unfathomable. In a random act of care, they join forces to help elderly Sammy during a medical episode. From that point on their relationship blossoms into a close friendship.

Eleanor becomes infatuated with a musician who becomes the catalyst for her to undertake a complete makeover in her appearance. When a carefully planned encounter with the “man of her dreams” goes terribly wrong, Eleanor’s world crumbles to ruins around her. She tries to erase the pain through excessive drinking of vodka until Raymond comes to her rescue. At his insistence, she seeks medical help.

Through many sessions with a compassionate and understanding psychologist Maria Temple, Eleanor slowly confronts her horrific childhood memories. The focus of these sessions eventually helps Eleanor to distance herself from her cruel and obsessive “Mummy”.

Her extremely quirky nature reminded me so many times of Don Tillman (The Rosie Project). I very much enjoyed this novel and the twist at the end caught me by surprise.

Brilliantly written.

Highly recommended. I give it five stars.

The importance of young writers

The future of writing

I do not think that I would get many arguments when I say that the future of writing is in the hands of young writers. I probably could go on to say that the future of books is also in the hands of our younger writers. A future without writers is bleak indeed, but a future without readers is something I cannot imagine. It is a bleak pessimist who states that writing and reading are doomed.

My Hope

In the spheres of reading and writing, I am a romantic optimist. I see an unbelievable future for the art and craft of writing, and a beautiful rosy prospect for the joys of reading. How and what stories writers weave with their words may change – just look at how the internet, social media, blogging and eBooks have changed how and what people write, so too reading may change just as dramatically. We can see this already in the popularity of audiobooks and podcasts.

Very young writers 

I spent all of my teaching career of 35 years encouraging young students aged between six and twelve to read and to write. I don’t think any of them have devoted their lives to writing, but many of them have pursued great careers. Over recent days, I have been reminded again of the importance of reading and writing to very young students. I have been staying for a little while with my son and his family. My granddaughter, age 7, has always been a voracious reader.

The importance of reading

I have very fond memories of reading to my children when they were very little with my daughter on one knee and my son on the other. It was a nightly routine and a love of reading has stayed with both of them throughout their lives. I also have fond memories of reading to my grandchildren in a similar way whenever staying with them. (We live 1300km apart, unfortunately.) The habit of reading to the children every night – and sometimes during the day, too, has also been a hallmark of my grandchildren’s upbringing. Both are very competent readers with excellent comprehension and an amazing vocabulary to match. This competence flows naturally over into their writing.

The importance of writing

While on my current visit to stay with family I have been once again impressed by my granddaughter’s writing ability. She has an extremely active imagination and a great command of language and how it works. even at age 7 (nearly 8), she can write a very imaginative story with ease, the words flowing quickly and seemingly effortlessly. This has to be as a result of countless hours of reading and being read to by her parents.

Planning and structure in writing

One aspect of the writing I have seen her produce is that she plans her stories out in detail, following a structure which has been carefully taught by her teachers. She has a great sense of story, the structure of a story, and how characters, emotions, settings, voice, speech patterns and the like are so important in telling a great narrative. I am so grateful that she has had several great teachers in her life so far. May this continue.

Good reading. Good writing.