Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Teaching Old Women New Tricks

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yet it appears you can teach an old woman. I now have the certificate to prove it.

Twenty-five years earlier I received a diploma in direct marketing from the NZDMA. That certificate was presented to me framed at an awards dinner. I’m proud of it. It’s never hung on a wall.

I travelled the length of the country to receive my Storylines certificate. Buzzing with pride. I may never receive another. My family wanted to come to witness my moment of literary achievement, son 13 especially. But events clashed and I said they’d be bored - the ceremony was three hours long.

I took a wrong turning and arrived late. The AGM had started. I wasn’t on the list. I’d forgotten to RSVP. Yet I received a warm welcome and was ushered towards a vacant seat. A white-haired man lent over and said protectively, ‘Someone’s sitting there.’

I’d just visited my Dad in his rest home in Leigh. He’d eaten Sunday lunch at 11.30. In a dining room full of strangers. ‘Any chance of a glass of wine?’ they served him a mug sized chalice of Merlot. ‘Mmm jolly good,’ he sipped and waited till everyone was served.

He became chattier by the mouthful. The slabs of pale brown roast beef drowned in gravy, mashed pumpkin, green beans, and roast potatoes fueling his mind. But thoughts started with naval direction lost their way and fizzled out. Confusion masked his face in knotted brow. He stared out the window. ‘We’re happy here. We have good friends and the … and the … well ...

We played Scrabble after pudding of tinned fruit salad and canned cream. He asked permission to place, ‘pert’. ‘That’s fine, Dad,’ I said and added ‘pony’. 

A female (inmate) took a post-prandial stroll outside. She stopped and tapped on the window, put her face close to the glass, smiled at Dad and waved. A childish game of cheap thrills. Dad tapped the glass, wiggled his fingers and smiled back.

I told him. ‘I’m going to an event in Auckland to receive an award for my children’s book.’

‘Good for you!’ he said. ‘What time does it start?’

‘2.30pm.’

He checked his watch and said, ‘It’s 1.15 now!’

I hoofed to the city in my Madza 3 rental. The touch screen radio stuck belligerently on talk back. When I realised my navigation error I got off the motorway and typed the address into google maps. Destination 17 mins. Too long. I swapped my jandals for black Italian sandals (David Jones Sydney/sale) at the lights at Green Lane east. And swiped on Antipodes Rose Red lippy. I tried to zip up my dress, undone for ventilation. But couldn’t for fear of zipping skin.

The University of Auckland’s Music auditorium, Epsom campus does not approve of air conditioning on Sundays. The outside temperature was a moist 29 degrees. The inside more on par with the Victorian glass cycad’s house at Kew Gardens. Phalaenopsis heaven. Humid for humans. Women fanned themselves and perspired.

I wore a tailored dress in a bold flower patterned blue. Its last outing my little sister’s wedding. I bought it in a sale in Valencia. Sounds posh. And it is. And it’s synthetic. Also lined. And form fitting. I twitched in my seat. Peeling off opposing cheeks, crossing, uncrossing my bare legs. Hoping I wouldn’t have tell tale seat sweat when I walked up. To receive my certificate. I also hoped I wouldn’t look like a member of an exotic South American reptile family in the obligatory group photo.

Bridget Mahy, presented the Margaret Mahy medal. She looks like her mum. Barbara Else, its elegant and talented recipient spoke of her writing life. Des Hunt read from his recently awarded Much Loved book, The Hunt for the Taniwha. Told us he was the character Hone. He wore gold rimmed spectacles to read, returning them to the top pocket of his checked shirt when finished. He looked as old as my dad but tanned and fit and sharp. He’s 75.

In hindsight, I’d wished I’d encouraged my family to attend. Sat there in row five, I kept thinking to turn around; check if any of my team had shown up to see me. Other authors had family there. I had friends.

I enjoyed the emotionally charged speeches of the authors who won the major awards. Knowing that feeling of being offered the opportunity to edit, polish and finally publish a book, only too well. The Notable Book certificates were the last to be awarded. The junior fiction group was the largest. We had to squash up for our photo. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Then everyone disbursed. Finito. Bar myself and two other noters. We regrouped on Jervois road and celebrated with moderate drinking and exotic fish. The restaurant tried to charge us for two bottles, when we’d consumed two glasses. A pop. We toasted Sue’s book, currently sitting with the drama department of a well know TV company awaiting reading and the next kids series funding round. Order the Limo! We toasted Suzanne and her top selling Scholastic junior fiction novel. 7,000 copies. 7,000!

When I got up for a drink of water at 3.21am – the stingray was spicy. I worried for my 34,000 word work-in-progress. Sue (fiction editor) said at dinner the first 12 pages she’s read of Book 2, were a lot more like my completed Book 1. I guess I’ve done my share of 10,000 hours. And learnt some stuff. Thanks to the skill and guidance of my publisher, Steve Braunias. Thank god!

In that middle of the night moment I knew, if I can write another good book, certificate or not, I’ll be happy. 

ps. The author would like to thank the Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust. And their panel of fantastic judges. You're cool!!
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