Have I taught them enough?

My oldest two are moving out of the family home within three weeks of each other to pursue their studies out in the country. I’m very excited for them as they embark on the next part of their lives. But there is a part of me worries about whether I have taught them everything they need to be out in the world on their own.


Photo: Stocksy

When I decided to move out of home, my parents loaded me with guilt about leaving (I was the last to leave home, and the only one to leave before getting married). Mum yelled-cried at me that I wasn’t ready to leave (I clearly was as I had already organised the house, had an income and was desperate to leave), while Dad told me that he wanted me to learn from his mistakes (which I couldn’t as I didn’t know what his mistakes were and I needed to make my own to learn from them, even if some of these mistakes were big). My boys leaving home feels quite different to that. We’ve known for a couple of years that the oldest would be leaving this year as it is a requirement of his course (Medicine) for him to spend the next three years out in rural areas (part of a strategy to get doctors into the rural areas), and he’s really excited about it. My middle boy is excited about the idea of living out of home and the course that he’s about to embark on is only offered in Ballarat (Paramedicine and Nursing).

I also know that this means that we’ve done something right for them to be confident to move out. They can both drive (my middle boy has his licence test in a couple of weeks), they’ve got jobs and skills that can get them jobs in new places, they can cook and clean and they manage their finances.

I remember when I moved out of home, I realised that I had never had to clean a toilet before along with many other things that Mum had just done or Dad had just done and I hadn’t realised I needed to know. I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years trying to teach my boys how to do all the domestic stuff; the last thing I wanted to do was to send my boys out into the world expecting any female to do the domestic things for them. My husband has been a great role model for them with this as well by being the chief ironer, cooking a few nights a week and being more fastidious with cleaning than me.

Still, I worry. Have I taught them enough? Are they ready? Will they remember how to make a quick and healthy meal? Will they know how to make their dollar go a long way at the supermarket? I’m tackling my worry in the way I know best: write. I’ve started writing a little book for them that has all the family favourite recipes and extra tips and tricks. Things like how long you can leave food in the freezer, use red lentils to thicken a dish and add protein to the meal, which meals are great for making up a batch to freeze for busy days, how often to clean the toilet, and what are good staples for the pantry. My husband is going to add to it when I’m done and I’m keen to see what things he will add. Who knows if either of them will even use it when they leave, but even if they don’t I know I will feel like I’ve done my bit.

Have you had kids move out? Did you send them off with tips on what to do? What things did you wish you had known before you left home? What else do I need to tell my boys? Tell me all! Time is running out.

How to go on while Australia burns

Today is cool in Melbourne. I woke to the strange sound of rain on the tin roof; it is easy to forget that there are so many fires still burning in Australia when rain falls. Yesterday Australia had its hottest day on record, and Penrith was the hottest place on earth. I doubt that much rain is hitting the areas that need it right now.

It is hard to think of anything at the moment other than our ravaged land, our people who have lost homes and livelihoods, people who have not survived the catastrophic fires. I find myself refreshing the browser of the Incidents and Warnings website to see if there is any change, if the fires will stop. The news tells me that the fires will probably continue for another eight weeks, and I can’t even comprehend what this must feel for the people most affected.

A few days ago we were camping in Harrietville, nestled in the valley between Mt Bulla, Mt Hotham and Feathertop. The water in the river was warmer than it should be, but the trees were still green. We made the call to leave when the fires began at Hotham and surrounds. We felt like we could be a burden on the community if it all turned bad.

I am lucky. I have a house in the inner city. I am safe. My house and my land are safe. I don’t rely on my land to ensure my family have food, water and shelter.

I turn my mind to my writing. It seems useless in these times. Who cares about my story when their world is burning down? I read instead: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, Three Women, The Superior Spectre. Three Women leaves me feeling vulnerable and aching. I listen to The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone as we drive through the dehydrated landscape and somehow it amplifies the story.

At the start of every year I set my goals for the year, but this year it has felt too hard. I can’t seem to bring myself to sit down and do it. It doesn’t seem to matter in these days. My goals seem to be much smaller and feel more like my hopes for the world.

It’s now day five of 2020 and I have forced myself to sit with these fractious feelings. I have donated* what I can to the efforts of the firefighters and to the support of those who have lost so much (see below for ways to donate). There is nothing else I can do right now with this. Our useless government will continue to be useless whether or not I refresh my feed to see what else #ScottfromMarketing has to say. The greater community will, in the meantime, do everything we can to ensure the fires eventually stop and that people have the essentials.

I am easing myself back into the words with the admin: filling out my submissions spreadsheet with due dates coming up. Reminding myself that I am a writer again. I am warming myself up to work on my manuscript again. There are quiet moments here and there in my house as my husband takes our middle son for long driving lessons and the other two do their own things. I commit to throwing some words down about my feelings about what is going on right now, about the strange feelings I had while I was up in Harrietville; they may become something one day, or not. I commit to finishing my visual goals in my diary today; I know they help me during the year. I shuffle my to-be-read books around so that something lighter can rise to the top.

How to help bushfire victims

Cash is the best way to help bushfire victims. My chosen charities at this stage are Red Cross and Vic Emergency Bushfire Appeal. I also chose to support Haus of Dizzy who is donating to the First Nations People who have been affected. Some official charities to donate to are:

(NOTE: The featured image is from TripAdvisor of the Harrietville Caravan Park. We always forget to take photos when we are there. The creek this year has much less water.)

End of year thoughts

I have been putting off writing this post for a long time as I knew it would not be filled with any brilliant news or great successes. It’s hard to not compare myself with all my other writer friends and to wonder what I am doing wrong, but as the days creep closer to the end of the year and I try to regather my energy, I think it is important to have a quick look back and a longer look forward. It is a year that has taken its toll on many I know as we have been thrust into a global climate emergency with lame leaders. It has been hard to stay hopeful with this as a backdrop.

This year I took on full-time work at the high school where I have worked for the last five years. The one thing that worried me about taking this on was the impact it would have on my writing life. I committed myself at the start of the year to write every day after work, but I was not prepared for the effect the job would have on me. The reality is that my writing took a hit, but I also learnt a great deal about my dedication to it. The job has been a very busy one. It is managing a high school library (by myself) as well as doing all the communications and marketing for the school. I have never run a library before (other than my private one) and had no knowledge of how to do it, but I was prepared to learn. My day is busy. I start at 8 am and supposedly finish at 4 pm with a short half-hour break to eat my lunch. School libraries are not what they used to be. Our school library, which contains a cafeteria area with sandwich makers and microwaves, is the hub of the school. Kids flock to it whenever classes are not running, and during class time it is filled with kids who do not have classes, or who need to use the photocopier. To say it is noisy is an understatement, and this drew a lot of energy from me given that I am an introvert who loves her quiet time.

At the end of Term 1, I was ready to leave. I was exhausted from learning everything there was to know about running and cataloguing a library, resurrecting the library collection, and rectifying the library catalogue all while managing the students, as well as managing my household and completing another full draft of my manuscript. I began Term 2 with tears and dread. Not only was I worried about whether I would have the energy to keep going, but I also had a knockback from an agent. I sought counsel from a dear writer friend who empathised and encouraged to me keep going with my writing, to maybe write before my day’s energy was sapped from work, and reminded me that what I was doing in the school was good, that I was inspiring young readers.

During the year, my husband and I also battled various health issues with my husband having a moon boot for five months for two stress fractures, and I have had persistent plantar fasciitis all year and a torn meniscus on the knee on top of the worst year yet for my chronic migraines with more days of pain than not.

While I had hoped to have a contract by the end of this year (don’t we all?), I now know that the manuscript that I had sent out was not the one I want published. It pushed me to think more about the story: what is the best way to tell this story? I read more than I have read in any other year, with many of those sixty books being read to understand different ways to tell story.

So, while I may not have a contract (yet), I finish the year with some things I am proud of:

  • beginnings of a new and brave draft that is breaking my brain
  • first words of another manuscript that is making me laugh
  • admiration for my ability to get up early five days a week to write, despite how tired I am
  • knowledge that I am brave enough to completely break a well-written story to try to craft something more beautiful
  • learning new skills, and leaving the place in a better state than I found it
  • increasing borrowing by five (5!!) times in the library
  • attending the Historical Novel Society of Australiasia conference in Sydney alone
  • attending the School Library Association of Victoria Conference and making great and important contacts
  • going to two writing retreats even though I felt I didn’t belong
  • sending my young adult for a manuscript assessment
  • ability to live with and manage chronic pain
  • resilience in the face of rejection
  • publication in the Victorian Writer magazine
  • letting go of some overly ambitious goals.

I am deeply thankful for the people who have stood alongside me this year and cheered me on. It has not been an easy year and I have spent a great deal of it in pain, tired and grumpy. I have cancelled more things than what I have gone to. I have complained and cried. But with the love and kindness of my friends and family, I have picked myself up and gotten on with the work that needs to be done despite the pain and tiredness.

I am also deeply thankful for my medical team (neurologist, doctor, myotherapist, psychologist, podiatrist and osteopath) who have thought long and hard on how to help me live my best throughout. One of them told me to ‘just do a good job instead of a perfect job’, which was key to hear as it enabled me to let go of some of my perfectionist traits at work.

My family are everything. Without the chaos and laughter with my boys, I would feel bereft and selfish. I love them to bits. I am deeply proud of who they are and what they have achieved and are aiming for. They continue to ace at their studies while working part-time in various jobs and being their best persons to the world around them. I am thankful for my close relationship with each of them.

Next year is a huge year of change for our family. Two of the boys will leave home to study in regional areas. We are planning a small renovation during this time of a smaller family so that when we all come together again we will have a light-filled space to be chaotic together again. I have begun a new migraine medication that has been likened to a miracle prevention medication and I have high hopes woven with a dose of reality.

My goals for 2020 have more flexibility than other years as I am learning that this is important.

  • I don’t know if I will have this manuscript ready by the end of next year, or if it will be picked up by a publisher or agent, but I will complete the next draft and let it rest while I write something different.
  • I will review my young adult manuscript and see what needs to be done, or it if belongs in the bottom drawer.
  • I will keep reading wonderful books mostly by Australian women writers who deserve more space than they get.
  • I will spend time with my wonderful writing group who are deeply important to me.
  • I will spend whatever quality time I can with my boys as time passes quickly.

I hope that 2019 has been kind to you, and if it has not I hope that you can find some sense in it or are able to put it behind you. I hope that 2020 is a year that we can be proud of the decisions that our government make. I hope that 2020 is a year that brings kindness and love to you.

x Meg




Every story takes time (and a cheer squad)


The beautiful Ned and Musk Farm House where the magic of writing and writing friendship happens.

Two weeks ago I said to my husband that I should stop calling myself a writer. I felt utter despair with my two large writing projects. They felt too big, too overwhelming. It was the end of the school holidays and I had not done the big thinking and planning work on either of them that I thought I could have. I had been working at them five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day on my work days, but it was not enough. Those tiny moments each day I spent with my writing before I started my day job were not enough to see the story as a whole and I began to doubt everything about my merit as a writer. I began to feel that working full time meant that I should give up my writing.

My two manuscripts have been redrafted a number of times and both of them need another draft (at least). One of them needed a new beat and a theme threaded through in addition to some sharpening to clear away the superfluous words. The other manuscript needs uninterrupted time to read through a manuscript assessment before I can even work out what needs to be done. Both of these things needed a big chunks of uninterrupted time (every parent and full-time worker) knows what I’m talking about here). I knew I had a week booked to write away with my writing gang, but two weeks ago I was overwhelmed and wondering if the sacrifices I make to write were worth it.

Luckily I have supportive partner and a writing accountability partner who both told me to stick at it, that I was a writer.  They both believed in me, even if I wasn’t sure I could do it. They cheered for me.

I am home now from my seven days away and I am exhausted and energised. Spending time with my writing gang has always helped me to refocus and to feel more confident in what I’m doing. It helps that doubtful voice to quieten. It reminds me that everything I am feeling is normal. This year we have not caught up as much as we used to and I am sure that this has also added to the spiral down of writing confidence.

I spent the first three days researching, reading, reacquainting myself with the manuscript. These days felt full and wonderful, but time was ticking by and I was losing myself down many rabbit holes (like the one that led me to the images below).  I worried that I would go home with nothing to show for my time away.


(Little sparks of joy from my rabbit hole researching. Images from https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/6-october/features/features/sewing-stories-unpicking-the-faith-of-girls-past)

I scribbled notes on cards, paper and in new documents. I decided that if I could go home with nailing what the story was really about (in the words of a wonderful teacher: What is your story really about?), how the beat would hit the pages and that I would be able to hit my early morning writing date with confidence, then that would be a win.

The first great moment was deleting the first 11,000 words. What had been running through my mind were the words: start as late as you can. Suddenly I had the energy to run with it. It felt right (don’t worry, I did put those words into another document aptly named ‘Cut’).

The next great thing was when I applied something that I always told my creative writing students. I changed the point of view from third to first (i.e. ‘She’ to ‘I’).  Just to see.

And, oh. WOW. It worked!

I am now on the roll with again. It will be a better manuscript when I finish it. I am confident of that. Will it be the last draft that goes out to a publisher? I can’t answer that. What I can say is that it takes work—lots of work—to shape a story into something that is not only publishable, but is also interesting and stands on its own. While that work is being done (which is years) every writer needs to have people in their camp who cheer for them, encourage them and remind them that they are writers whether or not their book is in the world.