Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: family life

What used to be the Corbett Family Christmas Letter

This time last year my mum was given a few weeks to live. We all hunkered down for what looked to be a series of ‘last time’ events. As it turns out, Christmas 2017 has arrived and Mum is still with us. She has grumbled about this on-and-off throughout the year: I’m ready to go Elizabeth. But it has been a big year with many exciting moments and we are all glad she is still with us.

The Tides Between

I haven’t hit the best seller lists, or purchased a castle next to J K Rowling yet, but, the publication of my debut novel has probably dominated my year. It started with the announcement of a publishing contract in January and worked its way through professional author shots, cover designs, author panels, conferences, and late edits, to a fanfare launch at Hawthorn Library on 9 November. I’ve since done interviews and written guest posts, in Welsh and English, been reviewed, asked to refrain from posting on a few Facebook groups since, with the release of my novel I’d become a ‘commercial venture’ (ha,ha,ha says every mid-list author in the world). I have also received emails from both friends and complete strangers telling me how much they enjoyed, or have been touched, even healed, by my novel, how parts brought tears to their eyes. Those small messages have made the whole journey worthwhile. As did mum, proudly hawking copies from a recliner chair in her nursing home.

 

The Work in progress

In between birthing on the above magnus opus I have been doing the groundwork for my current work in progress. It will not be the sequel to The Tides Between for which I have so cruelly set you up. See, I’d got to the end of writing the manuscript and figured it wouldn’t be good for my mental health to be working on a second book while receiving rejection letters for the first. The concept for Stone Promises was born – a novel written from the viewpoint of Marred ferch Dafydd (the ignored-by-history wife of Owain Glyn Dŵr). I spent a couple of months in May/June visiting Glyn Dŵr sites and beavering away in Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. I am now in the process of reading, noting, and creating a world out of what I unearthed. I will return to Wales for more research in August 2018 (because I can) and stay at the wonderful Stiwdio Maelor again. I hope to have a good first draft by this time next year (the sheer weight of research is making this a slow process) and will then get onto that sequel I have promised.

The Family

Andrew and I continue to enjoy post-family life in our timber cottage in Melbourne’s funky inner-North. Andrew has run seven marathons this year and also done a 100km ultra marathon. He continues to pedal his bike up horrible hills for pleasure and has also enjoyed some challenging walks in Tasmania. Oh, yes, in the absence of the above mentioned bestseller status, he also pays the bills.

Around this time last year, Jack, Ness, and Charlie welcomed baby Christopher into their midst in Southhampton. The whole family came back to Oz for two months mid-year. We all enjoyed watching Christopher make his first forays in to the world of commando crawling and hearing Charlie’s linguistically delightful stories. Strangely, at this point in the calendar mum went a bit quiet on the: I’m ready to die front. It was quite nice to see Jack and Ness too. 😁

 

Phoebe and Andy have also enjoyed a number of hiking trips, including the Overland Track in Tasmania. They are gearing up for a Swiss hike in the New Year. Phoebe represented the family at our AFS daughter, Alice’s, wedding in in October. Priya and her partner Evan moved house again this year (never fun). Priya also exchanged her aged-care job for a retail job which she finds far less stressful. Seth and Monique have had a successful year on both work and home-renovation fronts. But the big news is the arrival of their baby Genevieve Isabel born 22nd December just in time for Christmas.

 

The arrival of a brand new Corbett is a worthy conclusion to what used to be the Family Christmas letter. Needless to say, we are all looking forward to oohing and ahh-ing and getting to know baby Genevieve over the festive season and have all raced out to buy an extra present for under the Christmas tree. In fact, mum is so delighted, she’s glad she stuck around for another year.

Juggling on a six lane highway – some thoughts on the creative life

Today as I sat at the busy intersection of two, six lane highways I watched a man juggling. Not on the footpath, no. He was standing in front of the banked up traffic performing as if his life depended on it. I envied him his brash confidence and, perhaps, because of the way my day had panned out, I also sensed his creative desperation.

There was nothing wrong with my day, per se. Only I wasn’t writing. At least, not sitting at a computer. But there is this buzz that goes on in my head. Even when I’m not at the screen – characters chattering, scenes forming, a strange giddy spinning of thoughts that won’t go away until I’ve written them down. Making notes helps. But it isn’t enough. Because you don’t know if a scene is going to work until you’ve written it fully and you won’t know if it has worked, like really worked, until you’ve written the next scene and the next scene. Which is fine when you are not juggling multiple commitments.

I’m not complaining. I’m going to Wales in twenty-one days three hours and seven minutes (who’s counting). Most of my tasks are self inflicted – like getting my phone unlocked, finalising dog-sitters, updating my driver’s license so it won’t expire while I’m away, and madly trying to scan documents so I don’t have to carry hard copies to Wales. I’m also trying to do lots of reading so that when I meet academics in the field I can ask semi-informed questions. So, no, don’t feel sorry for me at all. It is totally self-inflicted.

But there is another aspect to my juggling. See, part of the creative experience means participating in writing related events. I’ve been fortunate to be part of the Women’s History Month Celebrations at Eltham Library during March. I have also been asked to chair an HNSA event. Added to which, I am writing an article on coming-of-age novels for the Historical Novels Review. As a consequence of these commitments, I will need to read multiple free books (yes, I know, someone’s gotta do it), not to mention analyse their themes and write about my impressions. Again, I am not complaining. These are amazing opportunities. But they don’t involve  interaction with my fictional world. Nor do they help the buzz in my head.

I have another task which is self-inflicted. I’m calling it an act of daughterly redemption. You see, last September when I booked myself the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, I didn’t think of my mum’s birthday. Not when I paid for my Air BnB accomodation. Or when I organised with an Aussie friend to meet in Llangollen to do some walking in the Berwyn Mountains. Not even when I locked in my residency dates at Stiwdio Maelor. Or when I started planning a holiday with my son and his family in the Lake District. Mum’s birthday simply didn’t enter my head. Until she started talking about it…

‘I will be eighty in April. Imagine that, Elizabeth! I never thought I’d see eighty. What shall we do to celebrate?’

I didn’t answer. Or confess. Only screamed silently into my pillow that night.

Then Mum got sick. We were told she only had a couple of months to live. My brother flew home from Africa. There were tears, serious conversations, funeral discussions. In the midst of all the emotion mum lost some of her teeth. It didn’t seem important, in the scheme of things. Neither did my trip to Wales. Or for that matter her birthday. Our calendar had been wiped clean.

Then against all odds she rallied. The doctor said she wouldn’t be leaving us in a hurry. Our thrice weekly visits dropped back to sustainable levels. My brother headed back to Africa. Normal life resumed. We even started bickering. It was time to confess.

I’m going to Wales again Mum.’

‘That’s nice dear, when?’

‘April,’ I said, a little too quickly.

‘Oh, for how long?’

‘Two months. I’m going for research. I’ve got all the accomodation booked. I’ll be visiting the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol and meeting academics and viewing sites. I’ve got a new English grandchild. I’ll visit him too. And go on a language camp.’

‘You’ll miss my birthday.’

‘Yes. I’m sorry. It’s too late to re-schedule.’

‘My eightieth birthday.’

‘I need to do the research mum. It’s my job.’

Mum’s eyes narrowed. ‘It’s not a real job though, is it Elizabeth?’

Now it is pay back time. Mum needed to go to the dentist. If she is going to live her missing smile is important. Fair enough, I wouldn’t want to end my days looking like a pirate. My brother is back in Africa (though he will be in Australia for the birthday). As I don’t have a ‘real job,’ the dentist visit fell to me. I booked an appointment. Turned up at the surgery. Only to find I had booked at different location. For which I hadn’t retained an address or phone number (yes, I’m not only bad at birthdays, I’m generally sh*t at life). I made a second appointment. Right there in the waiting room, so there would be no mistakes.

‘Lovely,’ mum said. ‘We get to go out twice.’

But here’s the thing about the ‘going out.’ Mum can’t walk. She has no upper body strength either. She can barely manage to transfer from her wheelchair into the car. At the dentist today she sat on the sliding part of the dental chair. It took three of us – me the dentist and the assistant – to stop her slithering all the way down to the end. The dentist decided to examine her in her wheel chair. After which, Mum needed an x-Ray. I had to hold her upright in a small space on a spinning stool while she bit down on a thin metal object. Next week, we will go back for extractions, then fillings. After which, there will be denture fittings. Basically, I’ll spend the next twenty-one days three hours and seven minutes in a dental surgery. Which is where the desperate juggling at the traffic lights comes into the equation.

‘Remember this on your eightieth birthday,’ I said to mum.

‘Yes, dear, I will.’

‘My brother might be there to help you blow out the candles. But I organised your dentures.’

It won’t be enough. It will never be enough. But I’ll be in Wales – immersed my fictional world. So, I’m happy to concede this particular sibling honour.

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