A long weekend – a golden time for all things ‘bookish’

As a republican – of the Australian let’s-cut-those-antiquated-ties variety, not the American political party type – I realise my excitement about a long weekend for the Queen’s birthday is not quite right.

I can’t help it, though. Long weekends are like gold and I’ll take them where I can get them.

My idea of a well-spent long weekend is not about relaxing and kicking back. I cram long weekends with things-that-need-to-be-done. I (try to) to catch up with the things-I’ve-missed-doing.

I have plenty to be keeping me busy over the next three days.

There are the usual chores and regular appointments. I have some bits and pieces from work that I need to play around with. I’m catching up with a couple of friends for a screening of the RSC production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.* I want to do some writing. I need to do some reading. I’d quite like to catch up on the exercises for Blogging 101 that I haven’t managed to do.

My priority for this long weekend, though, is to finish sorting my study. My ‘Authority to Enrol’ letter arrived this week. I can’t wait to get started.

Before I do, I need to be sorted.

My desks need to be clear. My filing needs to be done. My books need to be ready.

I need to make some space for library books because as soon as I have a new library card…there will be guests to accommodate.

Looking towards the Tropical Grove from the reading terrace at the Reid Library
View from a favourite working space

The home library

I’ve spent the last few weekends pulling my library into a semblance of order. It’s a long way from where I need it to be, but it’s coming along. The real work will happen over the Christmas/New Year break. In the meantime, I’ve been sorting and shelving.

I’ve been thinking about a cull. Thinking. I must stress that. It’s just thinking so far. I can’t remember the last time I cleared space on shelves…

There are a two or three titles that I know I will never go back to. Never. I didn’t enjoy reading them and I wouldn’t suggest to my friends that they sit down with them, either. They should probably go. The only emotional attachment I have to them is negative.

Now that I think about it, they can leave the premises this afternoon.

There are also some books that are in an appalling condition. They should probably go. Probably. Some of them. Maybe.

I’m wondering whether others could reside in an archive quality, acid-free box for a bit.

Would that do them any good? Would it do them any harm? Should I already have done this?

The books I’m thinking most concerned about are my grandparents’ prayer books and missals. They are old and in poor condition. I have no plans to cull them. I just don’t know what to do with them. I use them sometimes when I’m writing. They are a link back to people and beliefs that I’ve lost. I treasure them but they are not looking well.

Even if I had them rebound, I think they’d need some better accommodation than I am currently offering them.

Two Books of Common Prayer and two Missals
Family relics

Let the games begin

Signing up for a PhD while working full-time is a tad daunting. It’s not an impossible task but it will be tricky.

I gather I have about six-eight years to get the work done. I’d like to think I can get it done perhaps a little ahead of time. If not, I’d like to be done within the six years.

I might be dreaming. I might not. We’ll just have to wait and see.

It would be an awesome 50th birthday present to myself if I’ve kept to my planned timeline.

I’ll need to maintain a pretty structured approach to my weeks. Weekends will need to be guarded jealously. Long weekends – especially when uni is open – must be utilised.

I’ve said it before, long weekends are golden.

Family, friends and fun…all need to be in the mix as well.

I’m excited about my topic. For now – because I know it might need to be tweaked as I get into the research – I’m working with the title Representations of late medieval and early modern English women’s agency.

Here is my overview.

This project will explore the forms of agency available to women through examination of historical and literary representations in vernacular texts from the late medieval and early modern period in England. For the purposes of this project, agency will be taken to be the capacity of an individual to act of their own volition. Women’s actions and responses will be examined to investigate the proposition that agency is available within specific ways and contexts; that historical and literary texts test social structures. A particular focus will be the experience, description and expression of agency in the context of emotional communities – where the domestic as well as the civic is politicised and emotionally discursive.

While women in positions of privilege are likely to offer the greater amount of direct textual material, examples representing women in less privileged positions will be sought. In particular, textual representations of opportunities for women to actively respond to situations, engage in negotiations and decision-making processes, and determine access to their bodies will be explored. It is in these activities that the forms of agency available are directed by context.

Texts about, for and by women will allow for the consideration of a broad evidence base. The late medieval component will use texts ranging from romance and lyrics to legends of women saints and accounts of pilgrims, letters, wills and testaments, and sermons and treatises. Consideration of the early modern period will expand the project’s focus to include plays, poetry, creative prose and life writing.

There are some great texts and references that I came across during my Masters and I’ve found some more while doing the preliminary reading and developing the topic. I can’t wait to get started properly.

Would it be too keen to be at the enrolment office when they open on Monday morning?


*I’m never sure about films of stage productions but I’m looking forward to it in any case.


Time to reflect – taking stock and making plans

The idea of ‘where to next?’ has been keeping me busy.

It’s that time of year where I like to take time and consider where I’m at and where I’m going.

Although it felt a lot like summer in Perth yesterday, it’s spring. Trees are in bud. Ducklings are trying to fall into line behind their parents.

Distant shot of duck with four ducklings
Ducks in a row … of sorts

To celebrate the season, I’ve indulged in some low-level spring-cleaning. It’s probably not a surprise that that’s code for I’ve been sorting through books and paperwork. I’m trying to sort wardrobes, too.

I should probably take it up a notch and clean some windows. Perhaps even pull some of the flourishing weeds.

Looking around, I can see I’m not alone. Introspection and planning are the order of the season.

The year is nearly done and I’m not sure I’ve done enough with what January promised.

I should turn that around.

I’m not sure I’ve done enough with what I promised January.

It’s not just my promises to January, though. I’m coming up to a half-milestone birthday just before Christmas. How am I going with what I thought I’d do with my forties?

Milestone birthdays are a bit of a focus in our family just now.

Work-life balance and aspirations

I think it it fair to say that my twenties and thirties weren’t particularly balanced. Not as such.

I spent a lot of time working. It wasn’t about money but I prioritised my career over pretty much everything else. I had fun but I was locked into work and the idea of a career. I still tend to prioritise my day-job tasks over the other parts of my life. Back then, though, I made my choices on the basis of a career path.

In my twenties and thirties, I fed my passion by writing when I could. It was almost by stealth. I looked for windows when I could fit activities (and people) in. I studied externally – choosing courses that fed into my passion for the written word. My favourite example of this is that I wrote a Masters dissertation on Henry James, E. M. Forster and Michael Ondaatje mostly so I could spend hours reading Forster. I picked up a graduate certificate in professional writing because units in creative writing hadn’t been available during my undergraduate degree.

In my spare time, such as it was, I participated in writing groups and – when I could – collaborated on theatre projects and community arts activities. I miss rehearsal rooms and workshops. I miss performance nights. I even miss that come down when the season finishes and it’s not quite time to turn to the next project.

It made for a frenetic pace.

I juggled time and, when I wasn’t juggling it, I guarded it. Ferociously.

One day, as I neared forty, my friends and I were kicking around ideas for what we’d do if our lives were responsibility-free and we could do anything. It was a bit of ‘lotto dreaming.’  Travel, houses cars were high on priorities. My dream? … I said I’d want to go back to uni and pick up my studies in medieval literature from my Honours year.

Of course, you don’t need to win the lottery to go back to study* and I didn’t want to wait until I retired before studying in the area that fascinated me. Besides, part-time study and full-time work had become the norm for me. The obvious thing was to enrol in a Masters of Medieval and Early Modern Studies and just get started.

As far as that goes, I think I’ve spent the first half of my forties being fairly productive. Work-wise I’ve been busy as well.

The irony that my Forster dissertation is on travel narrative has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion.

If you’ve been read other posts on this blog, you’ll probably now I’ve worked out the next step as far as my academic plan goes.

I also need to work out my career options.

A lot of my self-definition is tied into my career and the way I work. Perhaps I do need to vary my approach, though. Feeding passions by stealth is (probably) not my best choice. It will do at a pinch. It has served me well in the past. In the meantime, I’m working towards greater integration in my fifties.

I figure I’m giving myself a good run-up.

Ebb and flow

While I haven’t quite worked out my where to next destination, I have come up with a visual concept for the next steps I want to make.

It comes down to constancy and change; like the solid presence of this shoreline rock and the always changing water.

I love the paradox of constancy in change, change in constancy. The rock  is steady but it changes imperceptibly with every lick and lap of the waves. The waves are coloured and flavoured by the rock.

Gentle waves lapping at shoreline rocks
Movement and stillness

I may not have solved my question where to next but I do think I may have found a poem.

*Well, perhaps it would make life easier … and there are the proposed changes to tertiary education funding and fees to consider …

Postscript: I’m not sure of the etiquette here. I made a couple of tweaks to this post after waking up far too early with a case of poster’s regret. I couldn’t resist. I’m not sure it’s the best way to do things, but … I just couldn’t leave it alone.  

Introducing myself (for Blogging 101)

Hi, I’m Jo from Perth, Western Australia. How do you do?

Why am I here?

I posted my 14th post on my blog – joleemerrey –  over the weekend. My main purpose in starting to blog was because I wanted a place to think aloud – mostly about writing but also about books and films. In my first post I said I was planning to ‘think out loud about topics that might range from fourteenth-century England to modern day Australia’. I figured it would be good to keep my options open.

For the most part, I’ve found myself focusing on my writing processes and reading practices. There are some topics that I’ve decided are out of the scope of my posts. For example,  I have a day job and a family that I choose not to write about. I’ve avoided commenting on modern day Australia up to this point. I think I will stay with that decision for a while.

I don’t want to politicise my blog and I think I might if start commenting on current events…

I’m in the process of organising to enrol in a PhD (late medieval and Early Modern English focus) so there’s the reading and writing I’ll be thinking about around that. I also write poetry and prose and I’m interested in the (shifting) processes that go along with the writing I do ‘for fun’.  I’ve been enjoying just mucking around so far.

While I have a couple of dud posts – there are a couple that really didn’t do what I wanted them to do and I should have walked away rather than hitting ‘publish’ – I’m pleased that I’ve made it to my desk and committed to pulling some ideas together.

I’ve signed up for Blogging 101 because there are some things I don’t quite understand – about the process of blogging and the mechanics of the platform. I know that I would be able to work most things out for myself given time but it’s always nice to learn things as part of a community of learners…

Hi there, fellow Blogging 101ers!

The plan

Keeping to the schedule of posts might be a shade tricky. My dance card is always pretty full (day job, family, friends, study – even though I’m not officially enrolled at the moment – writing, books, daydreaming … the bits of life that fill up days so quickly and, it seems at time, silently) but I plan to get to the tasks as I can. At this point, I want to keep my Blogging 101 posts and my regular weekend posts ‘separate’. I’ll just have to see how I go.

Perth city skyline at night
I love living in Perth

A moment in the sun – reading and writing when the sun is shining

Yesterday, I took some time out.

When I packed up my laptop and headed out the door in the morning, my plan was find somewhere to write. It was a beautiful day and I thought it would be good to be in the fresh air.

I can’t begin to describe how much I like fresh air. Or, at the very least, air to be moving across my face. I think of a walk in a bracing wind is one of life’s pleasures. I need a fan on my desk while I work.

There was no bracing wind in Perth yesterday. Well, not the parts of Perth I was in. It’s a sprawling city. It could well be that there was a bracing wind somewhere in the area but I didn’t come across it.

What I did find was sunshine. Beautiful, spring-time sunshine. In a few months the searing heat will make asphalt melt, but this was a gentle warmth that was just right for basking. The sunshine in Perth at this time of the year is delightful, the stuff of rhapsody and odes.

I burn easily, so I wasn’t in the sun for long but I did take the time to sit and feel its warmth on my skin. I enjoyed how different the day was from last weekend’s storm. I watched the gentle movement of the flowers in the garden outside a shopping complex. I sat and was still.

Random flowers from a sunny morning
A moment in the sun

Just thinking

I didn’t end up writing very much. Some days are like that. Yesterday, I was in a reflective mode.

Even when I was looking at the shelves at New Edition I was thinking about other books. There were titles I was looking out for but I couldn’t see, authors who reminded me of other authors. It was one of those free-wheeling episodes that bookshops offer up. I found it really hard to work out what I wanted to buy.

I was trying a new approach to book buying and reading: select one book and commit to reading that book over the week to come.

I was on my way to an appointment and only had half an hour or so to spare. That in mind, I’d parked in a fifteen minute bay. As I tried to find a book … the book … I became aware that I must have been in the shop longer than the fifteen minutes. Perhaps not. I find bookshops are places where time can be particularly elastic.

I thought the ‘one book experiment’  would be helpful.  Just the one book on the, frankly overwhelming, to be read pile has its enticements. I was backing up last week’s successful enterprise of reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog.* Repeating the experiment seemed a good idea.

It turned out to be quite pressuring.

I eventually settled on A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro because I’d been thinking about how much I like Never Let Me Go in the light of my previous ‘top ten’. Faced with all the possible choices it made sense to settle on an author whose work I’ve previously enjoyed.

Later, when I went to enter my purchase into my Goodreads list I found out I already had a copy. The annoying thing about it was that I had been flicking through Goodreads while I was scanning the shelves. Clearly, I hadn’t been paying attention. There had also been the over-time in the parking bay issue to consider.

I walked back to Henry Street to exchange the duplicate copy. I still had plenty of time to spare in my new parking bay. Staying with my initial decision seemed the best (and most time-efficient) option so I picked up an alternative Ishiguro. This time it was When We Were Orphans. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans and stamping material
Accessioned and ready to read

In the meantime, I can’t find the copy of A Pale View of Hills that I gather I should have on my book shelves. Perhaps it is lurking somewhere unexpected – waiting to ambush me? A sentinel gone AWOL?

There is a substantial pile of books waiting for a new bookcase. I guess it must be in there – buried deep in the middle.

Paying attention

Although there wasn’t any actual writing done I did make some progress. I walked away from the day – and the week – with more fodder for the (recently disciplined scrawl of notebooks. I’m not a fan of lifting people and their habits or situations from their daily lives and dumping them into stories. I’ve never been able to work like that.

That said, I do find it useful to pay attention. I’m happy to make a note of tiny things that catch my eye and might be useful, ideas especially from images and phrases. They can sometimes be assembled at a later point. Mostly, however, I springboard from a note into something that has no obvious relation to the original observation.

I like how that works for me in my writing.

There are images that stay with me for ages before I work out how to use them.

I’m not ready to do anything with yesterday’s but I have been thinking about one from quite some time ago: as I reversed out of my driveway I looked out of the window – to check for traffic. I remember the morning was already hot and my eye was caught by a crow. He was black and glossy. In his beak he carried three coloured chocolate balls (the type with the glossy sugar crust on the outside…the logo was still clear on one). There was a blue, a red and a yellow. They were vibrant against the blackness of his beak.

This happened years ago and I think that – finally – I might have a way to use it. I’m still not sure whether it will be whole image or just a shadow. I hope I’ll be able to resolve it soon, though. Perhaps I’ll be ready to share the ‘final’ (things are never really final) product next time I post.


I can be impatient for the weekend to come. The two days loom as opportunities to do everything that I didn’t get done in the week. Sometimes I try to schedule too much in. I always have high hopes of getting a good amount of reading and writing done.

The promise of sunshine and fresh air lured me out of my study and I didn’t quite do what I planned but that’s ok. It is probably more than ok.

Instead of the planned writing, I

  • solved a problem (well, worked out how to use an idea that wasn’t really troubling me, but … let’s go with the concept of a problem solved)
  • thought about my response to The Elegance of the Hedgehog (not that I’ve decided whether I like it or I don’t – I have some issues with the penultimate chapter and I’ve been thinking about that, and how my attitude fits in with my own approaches to structuring stories – since I finished it last weekend)
  • felt the sun at my back and a gentle breeze in my hair.

Not a bad day to end the week at all. Looking at the day ahead of me now, I have plenty to be going on with.

Here’s to a fruitful week of reading, writing, thinking and mooching.


*I’m not sure I would have finished The Elegance of the Hedgehog if it hadn’t been my book for the week.

Playing favourites – the trouble with settling on favourite books

I love alarm-free mornings. I drift into awareness that I’m ready to be awake and I don’t have anywhere that I need to be in the next few hours. They are golden.

Today was a case in point.

I listened to the rain. I skipped about the internet on my tablet. I wandered out to the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal.

No rushing. No fretting. A pleasant change of pace.

This week I’ve been thinking about reading

This week I found myself at the Millpoint Caffe Bookshop. I used to go there a lot and it was lovely to walk back through those doors.

It got me thinking about reading – especially about how my reading habits have had to change over the years.

Black and white bird searching for crumbs
A bookshop companion

I’ll be honest. It can be hard to get to my reading pile. I’ll be honest, again; there’s more than one.

There are pillars of books that threaten to topple. There are books that have been shelved without being read. They wait. I think of them as hidden sentinels. They lurk.

I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

Well not as far as the multiple reading piles go. I suspect others might be reluctant to admit to allowing a degree of anthropomorphism to their libraries.

Then again, books are companions. They function as tokens – in the sense of standing in for something bigger or less permanent. I run my fingers along the spines of books on my shelves and I remember where I was when I bought them or read them.

I remember who was with me. I remember conversations. I remember if I laughed or cried.

One weekend, at the start of my first teaching job, I sat down to read all the books that had been assigned my classes. I was stepping into someone else’s reading plan and the assigned texts were all new to me. All five books left me in tears. Two of them escape me just now but I distinctly remember finishing first Bridge to Terabithia then The Chrysalids and, straight after that, I Heard the Owl Call my Name. I wept my way through all of them.

I haven’t read them for years but I know I’ll go back to them. Even taking them off the shelves today brought back memories. There was the frangipani by my window, the brilliant stars when I went outside at midnight to force a break in the reading and its impact.

Picking favourites

A friend asked me for my ‘top 10 books’ during the week. – It was one of those ‘you’ve been tagged in a post’ things…

As I hit post to share the list I felt that regret that I knew I would have as soon as I started to pick and choose.

The list I put up was:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman
  2. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter
  4. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  5. L’Etranger – Albert Camus
  6. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  7. The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers – Delia Falconer
  8. The Patron Saint of Eels – Gregory Day
  9. Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura
  10. Pearl – Jane Draycott

As soon as I read back over the list I realised that I’d missed including The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Instant remorse. I know I had specifically meant to include it because it was the reason Jane Eyre made it onto the list. (The only reason Jane Eyre was in question was because I’d set myself a rule about not including books I’ve taught. L’Etranger made it because I cheated with that rule a smidge…I haven’t taught it in French…)

Then – and I back to the anthropomorphic potential of books – I spun the chair in my study and looked straight into the spine of Fly Away Peter by David Malouf. If books could glower…

Even with the (broken) rule about not including books I’ve taught I knew it was a book I probably wanted to have on the list.

It would be cheating to have a top 10 in point five increments, I suppose.

What I’m reading now

For the past few months my posts have focused on writing (and not writing) and buying books. It occurs to me that I haven’t dwelt on reading.

At least, not in any great detail.

Perhaps I should review my posts to check this is correct but I know I don’t really need to.

I never seem to have the time I’d like for reading. By that I mean the sort of reading where I kick back and read a novel just for the pleasure of the ride.

I’ve been re-reading Silk by Alessandro Baricco. It is such a slim volume I could have ripped through it in a flash. Instead I’ve been making myself take my time. Just a chapter at a time, spaced out over days. The measuring out of the reading has been a great way to engage with Baricco’s story.

When I picked up Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer a few weeks ago I planned to save it for the Christmas break. I’ve been dipping into it but I think it does need more space than I’ve been able to give it so far. I suspect I need to be more focused and reflective than I’ve been able to be just lately.

When I found myself in a bookstore last weekend I decided it was time to buy a book that I wanted to just read. With that in mind, I made myself settle on just one book as THE ONE that I would commit to for the week. I chose Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (as translated by Alison Anderson).

It won’t just be the book I remember, but the people I met up with and  the bird that pecked at crumbs by our table. I’ll also remember that we were sitting a table where I’ve sat with those and other people over the years. People who are no longer with us and people who I’ll meet up with at other times.

It’s made for a rare and wonderful day. I had been dipping into the novel on and off for a couple of days. Today I’ve been able to concentrate on reading for decent chunks of time. I took it with me when I went to run the usual Saturday errands.

Cafe table with novel and refreshments
A lovely spot for reading

I don’t tend to read before bed. I find that, rather than helping me unwind, late night reading leaves me wanting to read until the end of the story – and perhaps the end of another.

It’s not a school night, though, is it? It’s  late but I only have a hundred or so pages to go…

I think I’ll make sure tomorrow is another day that begins with the alarm clock staying silent.