My life (from then till now)
I was born on Anzac Day, 1961.
For the record, I was born in a hospital in Kew, Melbourne. So I am a very Victorian person. When I moved to Sydney I was called a Mexican (because I came from south of the border), but growing up in Hawthorn did not feel very Hispanic.
Myself and 2 sisters
In the 60s and 70s, however, it was growing un-Anglo. We were caught (as largely Anglo-Australian Jews) somewhere between the new migrants from the Mediterranean and everyone of UK or Irish background. My father was (for a time) Chair of the Hawthorn Greek Soccer Club - I believe they selected him because he was everyone's dentist and an all round good bloke. He was such an all round good bloke we had to send search parties out for him when he went to buy milk or bread - he would be chatting to all and sundry.
I went to Glenferrie Primary School and Camberwell High School (Disco consulere aliis - yes, I still remember the school motto and I still can't sing that top note in the song).
I was a very busy soul at school, especially high school: I guess I have a low boredom threshold. Among other things, I was in the school orchestra (violin and viola), and debated, and helped in the library (books!), and ran 100 metre sprints when I could not avoid it, and sang (off key) in musicals.
Our front yard when I was in my teens.
I wrote, but from age 15 (when a kind relative told me how incapable I was of such things) it was strictly in secret. Warning to all - never tell teenagers they are incapable of doing things. They may believe you.
Eventually I went from school to university. I stayed there a very long time.
When people asked me what year I was in at university I would tell them very precisely - the count got up to nine in that initial long stretch. And those thoughtful people would answer my count, in a commiserating tone "One day you will pass." I often wondered why they didn't ask if I was an undergraduate.
I kept up the debating interest, discovered more about being Jewish, and pursued history as my major. History was a very ardent pursuit. It still is.
I also did a little French. Sometimes even more than a little. I do adore the French language, and French history and literature. One of my favourite poems of all time is called Pour faire le portrait d'un oiseau. It is a mystery to me why it is on my list of poems that fails to stay memorised.
I remember trying to combine my History and my French as an undergraduate. My star effort in combining was when I gave a tutorial in French on Sumerian time perspectives. This must have been in second year, when one of my subjects was Preclassical Antiquity.
Second year university is when I started focussing on historical method and historiography in general, on views of time and the past and what precisely makes up what we call history. Which is what my doctorate was on. The doctorate is why I could count up to nine years straight studying at university.
I still adore Melbourne. I go back there regularly. I stay with my mother and spend a lot of time with family and friends. It is not the Melbourne of my childhood though - for some reason the family has all shifted further out from the city centre in the last 20 years.
I have actually been gone 27 years. Oh, horror!
Sydney was amazing. I went there to do my doctorate. To tell the truth, I went there to do a Masters, but ended up doing a doctorate instead - it was a tad unexpected. My last year there was amazingly awful, but that was not the fault of the city, the university or my friends. I just had a bizarre run of bad luck.
Prior to that horrid year, I had spent two of the best years of my life in Sydney. I still have a lot of friends from my time in International House, and I still plan to travel the world and catch up with them, eventually. Somehow I need to convince the world to buy lots of my books and queue up in demand for my teaching, so I can get the money for all those visits. I am very good at dreaming.
The Sydney Uni International House log cabin, Belanglo Forest.
I drop in on Sydney from time to time and still find it one of the world's great cities. I missed the Olympics, intentionally (I am not a lover of crowds) but was very happy to see the fireworks over the Harbour 1 January 2000. I have family in Sydney, and friends, and I never quite get to see everyone I should.
My few years living in Sydney included lots of detours. I detoured to Toronto for a year in the middle of my doctorate, for instance, because it bugged me I didn't have a Masters degree.
My favourite winter walk in London
I think I grew up a lot that year in Toronto. I started off very young, and ended up about the right age. One day I must tell some stories about my Toronto days. I lived in University College and attended the Centre for Medieval Studies. It was a very intense period of living.
My other detour was via London and Paris via Japan. Less than a year, all told. Just a little detour. Oh, I loved that year!! It was my "field trip" stuff for my doctorate - all the research using material just not available in Australia. And three weeks with friends in Japan was utterly memorable.
The Paris bit coalesced much, much later into Rose and her experiences in my novel, Illuminations (I do like typing "my novel, Illuminations" - it sounds very much like something that I should not be saying). I didn't know I was collecting material for a novel at that time. I thought I was writing other things entirely.
My favourite summer walk in Paris
My dream novel at that time was pure fantasy - very formula, very quest, very adventure. And it was something to be written in the interstices of pondering my doctoral thesis which, for the record, is one of the most boring documents ever written.
My final year in Sydney was, as I said, a disaster. My father was dying. I had glandular fever (mono to North Americans). My scholarship was running out and I had no chance of getting an academic job in Australia due to the collapse of the job market. My first novel (after having been enthusiastically received by Corgi and Bantam - "think about writing a trilogy" they said in their initial answer to my submission) was rejected sans contract, just in time for Dad to find out before he died.
My room at Sydney University. Place of much fraught research.
Basically, I lost the plot for a bit. I gave up most of my dreams in order to stay in Australia and see Dad in his final months. It was worth it.
I became a public servant in Canberra. I did this work for ten very strange years. I am not really suited to the public service. I do all the right things, but I do them idiosyncratically. What I am suited for is having friends who are public servants. Lots of my Canberra friends are in policy positions or do fun project work or are seriously good administrators. They care about society and they do wonderful work. They also get regular income, which is something to envy.
A few years ago I managed to make myself redundant. That was another of those years when I lost it. I had been building up to this spectacular year for a while -I was increasingly unsuited to my job, my writing was telling me it was not going to stay hidden much longer. And all the rest is private.
So I left my job (but not Canberra, which is a great place to live) and completed some teaching qualifications. If Dad were still alive he would have made his usual joke about me having enough paper to line the toilet wall with. But he wasn't and my stepfather is way more sophisticated (another thoroughly good bloke - quite rare to have two fathers who are so very nice) so I got my graduate diploma, rediscovered some of my health, and started teaching. Right now I teach at the Centre for Continuing Education at the Australian National University, at the ACT Writers' Centre, at the NSW Writers' Centre and wherever I am invited. I adore the teaching - I get to teach everyone from pre-teens to professionals and everything from Cross-Cultural Awareness to Medieval backgrounds for Writers.
Canberra in Spring has Floriade. Yep. Lots and lots of flowers.
I also started admitting that I could not live without history, without teaching, and, more than anything, without writing. If I never get published again, I will still write. Except I keep on getting published, slowly but surely.
For the last little while I have been back firmly in the world that makes me happiest. I research heaps. I write a ton. I do the teaching I adore. I do my little bit of community stuff. But mostly I joke.
I joke about the personality change that overtakes me with each book. I joke about footnotes being in one novel, recipes in another. But the jokes are just a way of admitting how much the process of putting an imaginary world onto paper is a deep part of me.
Right now, I have no long term plans: I am not yet published enough. I am part writer, part teacher, part researcher. My life is run carefully from year to year, month to month, week to week, day to day. There are always surprises.