John Cleese Creativity and 100 Book Reviews

I wish to thank English actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer John Cleese for this mind-expanding, succinct and humorous book ‘Creativity’ which has helped me in two ways. First, to celebrate my blog Thoughts Become Words 100 Book Reviews milestone and, second, to give me an insight into the creative mind – a mind which we all have, yet use and abuse in many different ways.

Happily, I listened as Mr Cleese read his book to me. It only took an hour.

Also I am going on the assumption that you know John Cleese work because he does refer to it. Do I have to say Monty Python? The new edition is 2020 so he’s in his 80s now.

Originally published: 1972 (re-released 2020)

AuthorJohn Cleese

Genres: Humour, Self-help book

The standout for me is how our brain keeps working on things whether we are conscious of it or not, thus “sleep on it” theory. But you are the one who has to put it into practice. It works for me!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

My Goodreads Book Review


A truly delightful little book which lives up to its title!

By accident, I listened to the audio version and was so glad I did because one hour just flew by. The inimitable John Cleese, actor, comedian, screenwriter, producer, talked to me about his past, his creativity and how our brain is always working even while we sleep. It is ready to come up with great ideas and answers to questions puzzled over during daylight hours. Hence ‘I’ve got it!’ inspirational moments on waking.

Call it pseudo-science or a clever comedy skit, nuggets of truth gleam through the wise words of Mr Cleese. For example, if you are getting nowhere with your work, put it aside and look at it later, next day, next week. Nothing new but the way he describes and elaborates on the process heightened my awareness in an enjoyable way.

If you listen to this guide on the bus, you may not laugh embarrassingly out loud but you may smile and nod at the sense of it. I can recommend for all ages and talents. GBW.

Heaps more of my book reviews on Goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward
Sep 2022 

‘The Empty Glass’ by Henry Lawson

The Empty Glass © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

The Empty Glass

by Henry Lawson, 1906

There are three lank bards in a borrowed room —

Ah! The number is one too few —

They have deemed their home and the bars unfit

For the thing that they have to do.

Three glasses they fill with the Land’s own wine,

And the bread of life they pass.

Their glasses they take, which they slowly raise —

And they drink to an empty glass.

(There’s a greater glare in the street to-night,

And a louder rush and roar,

There’s a mad crowd yelling the winner’s name,

And howling the cricket score:

Oh! The bright moonlight on the angels white,

And the tombs and the monuments grand —

And down by the water at Waverley

There’s a little lone mound of sand.)

Oh, the drinkers would deem them drunk or mad,

And the barmaid stare and frown —

Each lays a hand on the empty glass

Ere they turn it upside down.

There’s a name they know, in a hand they know,

Was scratched with a diamond there —

And they place it in sight — turn on more light —

And they fill their glasses fair.

There’s a widow that weeps by the Hornsby line,

And she stood by him long and true —

But the widow should think by the Hornsby line

That others have loved him too,

‘Twas a peaceful end, and his work was done,

When called with the year away;

And the greatest lady in all the land

Is working for her to-day.

If the widow should fear for her children’s fate,

Or brood on a future lot,

In a frivolous land with her widowed state

In a short twelve months forgot.

She can lay her down for a peaceful rest

And forget her grief in sleep,

For his brothers have taken an oath to-night,

An oath that their hearts can keep.

They have taken an oath to his memory,

A pledge they cannot recall,

To stand by the woman that stood by him,

Through poverty, illness and all.

They are young men yet, or the prime of life,

And as each lays down his trust,

May the world be kind to the left behind,

And their native land be just.

(Silence of death in town to-night,

And the streets seem strangely clear —

Have the pitiful slaves of the gambling curse

Fled home for a strange new fear?

Oh, the soft moonlight on the angels white,

Where the beautiful marbles stand —

And down by the rollers at Waverley

There’s a mound of the golden sand.)

Henry Lawson, 1906, Australian poet

Source:

http://www.ironbarkresources.com/henrylawson/EmptyGlass.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Lawson

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ageism Awareness Day 2022 Every Age Counts!

Ageism Awareness Day creates the opportunity to draw attention to the existence and impacts of ageism in Australia. EveryAGE Counts is an advocacy campaign aimed at tackling ageism against older Australians.

It is an important step towards changing community attitudes and building a world where all people of all ages are valued, respected, and their contributions acknowledged. 

Information from EveryAGE Counts

Don’t call me an old dinosaur – this campaign is important!

EveryAGE Counts advise “Ageism can have a profound impact on our job prospects, confidence, health, quality of life and control over life decisions”.

I know from my own experience that “it can limit us from participating in our communities as full citizens and has proven impacts on our physical health and longevity”.

Watch the video, share your story!

Click photograph for information

Legendary Aussie actor Bryan Brown narrates the video.

“Negative attitudes and beliefs about ageing and older people underpin and drive age discrimination in places like the workplace or the healthcare system”.

In my case I have been asked a number of times, in a condescending manner based on my age, if I have an email address/mobile phone, or can I drive a car. In each instance I reply that I have taught computer classes, use a mobile phone, and been driving safely for many years.

Do the quiz, take the pledge!

Show your support, visit the official website to quiz yourself and Take The Pledge.

I have taken the Pledge. I stand for a world without ageism.

From every avenue of life, mature people experience ageism. Please “Commit to speaking out and take action to ensure older people can participate on equal terms with others in all aspects of life”.

Ageism Awareness Day will be held on Friday 7 October 2022 (centred around the UN’s International Day of Older Persons which occurs on 1 October every year) and will be launched at 10am (AEDT) with an online event.

EveryAGE Counts are excited to announce that Ita Buttrose AC, OBE, will be the special guest for their Ageism Awareness Day panel discussion. Ita Buttrose is a truly exceptional Australian: a legendary media trailblazer, businesswoman and best-selling author.

Source https://www.everyagecounts.org.au/aad_2022

I may have wrinkles but my eye still twinkles.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bribie Island Butterfly House © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2019 – https://www.bribieislandbutterflyhouse.org/

Pink Cockatoo Variant

Title “Jak-Kul Yak-Kul” acrylic art on canvas by Hervey Bay Queensland artist Will Hazzard https://willhazzard.com.au/

Love at first sight when I saw Will Hazzard’s adorable cockatoo with plumage which goes against nature to dramatic effect!

My photograph was taken in Maryborough and this 81.3cm x 81.3cm painting was exhibited at the 38th Hervey Bay Annual Competitive Art Exhibition by Gallery 5 – Hervey Bay Art Society in July 2022.

Established in 1983, this annual art exhibition hosts seven award categories with styles ranging from traditional to contemporary. Will Hazzard’s striking work won Second Prize in the Australian Flora & Fauna Section.

Will is 21 years old and autistic. Art became a form of therapy with his autism diagnosis at age 9. His paintings aim for a connection with animals, the environment and the land on which he lives.

Click below to visit his website of wildlife art.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Will Hazzard

https://willhazzard.com.au/2022/07/30/hervey-bay/

Follow on Twitter

Will Hazzard @Will_Hazzard

Opens profile photo

Ann Cleeves Author Talk Exposé

The tenth and newest Vera book © image Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

A balmy Friday night with a nip in the air because it’s still winter, and it seemed everyone wanted to head in the same direction we were going. The bus was late, the traffic was jammed and lunch seemed a long time ago. Worst of all, we were most certainly going to arrive late for the author talk. And what a prestigious author!

The bus finally got us into town (or more accurately the Central Business District) to attend a Brisbane City Council Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence Series author talk in City Hall.

Ready to race… off the bus, through the ornate vestibule, up in the lift, straight through the door…

Brisbane City Hall Clock Tower © image Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

And there she was—Ann Cleeves author of Vera and Perez fame. She sat in a relaxed pose on the stage, speaking calmly, eloquently and humorously to the 300-plus audience seated in the ancient Ithaca Room. On such uncomfortable chairs with bad sightlines. But we were enthralled.

The host may have read Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope crime novels but his inept questions did nothing to ruffle her calm and considered replies. Such aplomb! Especially when the floor was opened for general question time. Needless to say she held the audience of besotted readers in the palm of her authorial hand.

First book in Shetland Mysteries series © image Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

It was fascinating to learn how book-Vera came into being, based on real women the author had known, and also the rapport she has with ITV actor Brenda Blethyn aka Vera. Later I discovered Ann was awarded an OBE in the 2022 New Year Honours List “for services to Reading and Libraries.”

When the event drew to a close, people filed out into the foyer, clutching their favourite book for signing or to buy the latest book for a signature on the pristine flyleaf. The book signing queue was jam-packed with readers nattering about their favourite characters.

I purchased two books The Rising Tide and Raven Black (see photos) but the line was too long and too slow for me to consider waiting while my stomach grumbled so loudly.

The Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence Series © image Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

Across mosaic hand-cut floor tiles, through the huge doors and outside into King George Square where the city was an evening fairyland of lights presenting countless alluring restaurants and eateries. My companion and I compared notes as we ate dinner, having purchased different books from the series. Then it was time to return to the suburbs.

Standout book quote so far, page 40, Joe Ashworth says of the deceased “They didn’t find a note. He was a writer. You’d think he’d want to leave a few words for his friends.”

“The Rising Tide” by Ann Cleeves

Two accidental milestones: As of August 2022, the number of my blog posts is 499, one digit off the magic marker of 500. This post will click it over to 500 posts. Ironically, and surprisingly for me, I am also one number off my current Book Reviews tally of 99. This will click over to 100 book reviews when I read and review Ann Cleeves latest novel The Rising Tide and discover what crimes DCI Vera Stanhope has sorted out this time.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Cat Circumnavigates World: True Story of Trim

Bedtime reading for kids and cats: Trim the courageous cat and his real seafaring adventures around the world.

A small book containing a big story. Matthew Flinders, British navigator and cartographer, sailed to and from Australia between 1795 to 1803 for various reasons including mapping the entire coastline. On these precarious, dangerous and adventurous journeys, Flinders was accompanied by Trim, his black cat with white paws.

Page 12 : Hand-written front page of Matthew Flinders tribute to his seafaring cat Trim, written 1809 and published 2019.

Written in conjunction with Flinders biographical tribute, this book “Trim The Cartographer’s Cat” or “The Ship’s Cat Who Helped Flinders Map Australia” shows a new and fascinating insight into the man who was the world’s most accomplished navigator and cartographer.

Matthew Flinders RN was the first to circumnavigate Australia and also instrumental in giving our continent its name. Trim accompanied Flinders through good times and bad, including a shipwreck, and this small volume has exciting chapters on their 19th century nautical experiences.

Page 29 Flinders and Trim dined onboard in the gunroom, the junior officers mess. Actually, Trim helped himself to their dinner.

Trim was a seafaring daredevil, surviving fur-raising adventures. When he wasn’t climbing rigging or cadging food, he caught his own ocean-fresh flying fish suppers.

I like to think Trim’s name relates to a ship being “trim” as in desirable weight distribution for better handling at sea. Certainly he was a neat and ship-shape cat! However, you may find that Trim was named after a character in a 1759 novel by Laurence Sterne.

MAIN CONTENTS (but plenty more topics)

  • “A Biographical Tribute in the Memory of Trim” by Matthew Flinders.
  • “Matthew Flinders Trim’s Shipmate and Bedfellow” according to Dr Gillian Dooley PhD.
  • “My Seafurring Adventures with Matt Flinders” from Trim himself, assisted by Philippa Sandall.
  • Timeline: The Voyages of Matthew Flinders and Trim.

The book illustrations are wonderful, research is thorough, the format is highly readable. A great read for those who are interested in factual exploration history. I feel as if I got to know Flinders and his life skills. Of course, Trim’s rodent catch-and-clean-up service is another skill altogether! This book has given me more than I learned at school – and is suitable reading for a family or feline friend.

By all accounts, both Flinders and Trim were exceptional characters.

Pages 42-43 Illustrates the circumnavigation routes of HMS Investigator and HMS Porpoise

Not many ships cats have one memorial statue, let alone six. But Trim does, including one outside Euston Station in London.

Trim The Cartographer’s Cat

Without venturing into the politics of what happened to Matthew Flinders (or Trim, or indeed First Nations People) after he sailed from Terra Australis, I enjoyed reading this publication and will go so far as to say every library should own a copy.

Meow! 😸

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Book: “Trim The Cartographer’s Cat”
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Pages: 128
ISBN 9781472967220
Imprint: Adlard Coles
Illustrated: Beautiful maps, historical artwork, quirky original illustrations
Dimensions: 182 x 129 mm
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Booktopia Online

Cold Night on the Footy Field

Waiting for the football match to start © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

A cold, misty night on an Aussie Rules AFL football field.

The grass of the oval is damp with dew.

A junior league game is about to start and already the families and friends of the young players have donned beanies and shoved frozen fingers into jacket pockets.

The siren sounds and puffs of steam escape from cold lips as wild encouragement is directed at the players jogging into position, each one wearing a sleeveless guernsey (different colour for each team) with large numbers on the back.

At half-time the siren sounds, sending supporters and spectators rushing to the canteen to buy hot meat pies, salty chips and coffee to fortify themselves for the rest of the game. The teams gather around their respective coach, drinking hydrating fluids and eating protein snacks.

I know goals are kicked through the white posts but AFL rules of the game are beyond me, click here if interested 😀

These keen teams have boundless energy; the youthful players are hyped up, jostling and joking, hand-passing the ball back and forth while their coaches issue last minute instructions.

The siren blares again. The teams sprint back onto the oval after a quick glance at the scoreboard which shows an incredibly close game.

Who will win? Does it really matter?

Life is one great big experience.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Mary Poppins and Folks Boppin’ at Maryborough Festival

Here is my pictorial of the Mary Poppins Festival 2022 in Maryborough, Queensland, where Helen Lyndon Goff (better known as Pamela Lyndon Travers) grew up with no inkling of her wonderful life ahead as an author and creator of a children’s literary icon.

Here are some of the fabulous people who made the whole day magical and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Next showing the historical side… more info on Mary Ann steam locomotive https://www.maryboroughwhistlestop.org.au/

Special buildings and ye olde shops were open, roads were closed, hot food stalls did a roaring trade, and there were nanny and chimney sweep races. The final parade was a sight to behold, everyone had happy smiles!

Below is the childhood home of P L Travers, formerly a bank (her father was the bank manager) which is now a beautifully preserved, interactive tribute to her writing career.

Mary Poppins Statue in Maryborough

The first window below echoes the words of author P L Travels while further on is the window of the family library in the corner of the building… oh, and there’s Mary Poppins…

After a meal, live music and a quick look at Phillips Botanical Gardens, next came chalk street art, a visit to the calm atmosphere of the Art Gallery and a bit of history found under the paint and framed.

Landmark photos below give an idea of early Maryborough, finishing with a late afternoon stroll alongside the Mary River.

I have a great desire to return and explore further. These snapshots were taken over the course of a day and do not encompass the diversity of the event nor the city and colonial past of the Maryborough region.

Mark you calendar for next year!

My previous post has more written info
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/07/09/mary-poppins-and-five-years-of-blogging/

Just loved the poster below and had to include it…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward
https://www.marypoppinsfestival.com.au/
Detail from Mary Poppins Festival publicity showing a drawing of the Admiral’s canon. During the festival a real canon was fired. Please note the Disney movie “Saving Mr Banks” starring Tom Hanks is fabrication and, apart from being filmed entirely in California USA, in my opinion it bears little resemblance to the true facts of author P L Travers life.

Scarlet Stiletto Awards and Young Writers Award 2022

It’s that time of year again!

The Scarlet Stiletto Awards – the 29th – are now open so it’s time to start polishing your short story or at least fire up the computer/sharpen that pencil.

A record $12,365 in prizes is on offer and this year’s Writers Victoria Award for the story with the ‘Most Satisfying Retribution’ now offers a choice of an online course worth $215 – start writing!

To download an entry form and list of FAQs, go here.

To pay the entry fee go here.

To submit the pdf, email here.

Make your crime (story) rewarding!

AND THERE’S MORE—

Do you know someone aged 18-25 who loves to write?

State Library of Queensland’s Young Writers Award is now open.

They are looking for inspiring, vivid and bold short stories by Queensland writers aged 18-25. Whether you’re just starting out or already making your mark as a writer, your creative work could win $2,000 and be published in the Griffith Review.

Have the chance to see your story published and win cash.

Enter your best work by Monday​ 15 August 2022, 5 pm.

The Young Writers Award is free to enter! To apply, submit a short story of up to 2,500 words.

First prize is $2000 and up to three runners-up will receive $500. 

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TIP: Always read the submission guidelines.

NOTE: I am no longer affiliated with either organisation although years ago I entered their competitions. I didn’t hear back but really enjoyed the experience and I encourage all writers to stretch their emotions and imaginations and start writing – now!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Mary Poppins and Five Years of Blogging

I never thought I would last this long and still be interested in blogging the miscellaneous bits and pieces which make up my literary life.

Over the last five years I have written, read, liked, followed, commented and corresponded with many other bloggers around the world. It is such informative fun, thanks everybody, and I look forward to continuing.

This is me formatting a new blog post © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

What have I got to show for it? To answer that question, a look through my Archive List is required. Select a category from the drop-down menu.

Meanwhile, I have just returned from a holiday in Maryborough (an historic Queensland town – actually the whole region is pretty special) and one of the highlights was attending the Mary Poppins Festival in the birthplace of her creator, author P L Travers. Many will remember the Disney version of her famous book.

Naturally I did heaps of things and took heaps of photos, so once they are curated I will be posting a travel pictorial. “Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-ee” there is more to see.

Mary Poppins in Maryborough where it all started https://www.marypoppinsfestival.com.au/

Unfortunately it had been raining for several days when we left Brisbane and headed north with no sign of letting up. The journey to Maryborough, situated inland from the Fraser Coast region, is about 250km and it rained the whole way; it was still raining when we arrived.

The next day was the Mary Poppins Festival and a huge amount of outdoor activities with most people in costume. Lo and behold, the rain stopped! The whole day was fine and sunny. You guessed it, the next day it bucketed down again!

WordPress 5 Year Anniversary July 2022

If I go prepared, rain is a novelty for me. I took an old family umbrella with frills around it. But when the wind blows cold (it is winter here in Australia) it’s not much fun hanging onto a brolly unless you are Mary Poppins. Her classic silhouette, in glowing red then bright green, blinks and beeps as pedestrians cross at traffic lights.

Anyway, the itinerary held good. We achieved our goals, seeing interesting sights (the Mary River curves around the town and there were a number of yachts moored), strolled through art galleries and parks, antique shops, City Hall, the library, the historic Story Bank museum, and ate local produce including pizza in the skate park after dark. We met friendly, welcoming and relaxed people, and waved vigorously at the Mary Ann steam locomotive as it huffed and puffed down the tracks. A different way of life…

Enjoy more pictorial highlights of my Maryborough visit:

https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2022/07/26/mary-poppins-and-folks-boppin-at-maryborough-festival/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Author Overview: Helen Lyndon Goff (author P L Travers) was born and grew up in Maryborough, Queensland, before being sent to boarding school in Sydney NSW. Her writing was first published when she was a teenager. Later she worked briefly as a journalist and a professional Shakespearean actress. As author P L Travers, Goff wrote many children’s stories, non-fiction and collections, and lived a varied yet personal life. Wikipedia entry reads “In a 1977 interview on the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, Travers remarked about the Disney film, “I’ve seen it once or twice, and I’ve learned to live with it. It’s glamorous and it’s a good film on its own level, but I don’t think it is very like my books.”

Mysterious Lemon Pudding

Bush lemons in the balance © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

TRADITIONAL

“Mysterious Pudding”

Wintertime in Brisbane, Australia, and my thoughts turn to hot food, preferably sweet. This old recipe brought back childhood memories!

Ingredients:

50g (2 ozs) Butter
50g (2 ozs) Sugar
1 tablespoon grated Lemon Rind 
2 Eggs – separate yolks
125g (4 ozs) Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 tablespoon Marmalade or Plum Jam

Method:

First grease a basin or pudding bowl and put jam in the bottom. Cream butter and sugar, add rind and egg yolks, beat well. Fold in stiffly-beaten egg whites. Sift and fold in flour and baking powder. Cover bowl with foil and steam for 1½ (one and a half hours). See BBC website for steaming technique.

Serving:

Carefully remove bowl and tip Mysterious Pudding onto serving platter. Serve portions hot with extra jam, cream or custard sauce.

Note:

Due to hot steam, not suitable for children to cook.
This recipe is from 1978 edition of Edmonds Cookery Book, New Zealand. Another lemon recipe Sweet Pastry Lemon Meringue Pie.

Stay warm and cosy 😀

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


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All Gloom and Doom?

Thoughts Become Words on a White Board © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

A DEPRESSING LIST

OR SOMETHING TO WORK ON

FOR A BETTER FUTURE?

Our Belloo Creative playwriting tutor Katherine Lyall-Watson asked us to suggest issues of importance to today’s society, issues which affect us all and need addressing. As we called out our single words, strong topics emerged to write about, and to heighten awareness for the future.

Founded by four women in 2013, Belloo Creative creates original new works fusing body and text. The Co-Artistic Directors of Belloo are Caroline Dunphy and Dr Katherine Lyall-Watson.

Belloo creates innovative, inclusive and experiential work including transcultural content.

Belloo delivers content globally across artforms that inspire imagination, collaboration and change.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Cake, candle, birthday or bomb? The world is ticking… © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

Knowledge and Wisdom

Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in full Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater (born 6 August, 1809, Somersby, Lincolnshire, England — died 6 October, 1892, Aldworth, Surrey) an English poet often regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry. He was raised to the peerage in 1884.

Source https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alfred-Lord-Tennyson

HRH Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee

In honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (and because I like umbrellas!) I have reblogged my enthusiastic post from 21st April 2018 to add to the 70th celebrations in 2022 – it’s all about the umbrellas!

_______________________________

In UK, Her Royal Highness has two birthdays each year: her actual birthday on 21st April and her official birthday usually the second Saturday in June.  Born in 1926, at the time of writing, she is 92 years-old and still going strong.  Happy birthday, Your Majesty!

The birthday of reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II is celebrated at different times of the year throughout the Commonwealth countries and usually accompanied by a public holiday.  In Australia, each State and Territory has decreed a different day.

In Queensland (named after Queen Victoria) we have a Monday holiday in honour of the Queen’s birthday and enjoy a long weekend.  This year it falls on Monday 1st October 2018 and Brisbane residents will head to official celebrations, BBQs, coastal regions, rainforest walks or just laze around at home and read a book.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

“God Save Our Gracious Queen”

View my blog post about my own umbrella
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/03/02/childhood-status-symbol/

TV Viewer Report

Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee concert in London 2022 was an over-the-top extravaganza of real people, digital wonders, popular songs, personal tributes and Paddington Bear served tea. The music swelled while famous folk talked, superstars sang and everyone swished up and down the huge stage. At night, Buckingham Palace was an ever-changing canvas of celebration showing special moments from over 70 years. High above, fireworks shimmered, creating magical icons for smiling members of the Royal family and the ecstatic crowd of well-wishers, literally millions of cheering flag-waving people spread out as far as the eye could see. What a night!

Review ‘Cutters End’ by Margaret Hickey

This is the perfect crime novel for an imperfect crime. First-time fiction author Margaret Hickey shows she has a superlative grasp on our vast dry landscape and uncomfortable small town atmosphere.

The story of “Cutters End” excels in the finer details, the misleading conversations and chilling moments. While the hitchhiker plot is not new, the way this one is handled is both clever and gripping, and gives certain Australian police procedurals a run for their money.

A series of events conspire to pull Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti out of long service leave and send him inland to Cutters End as an Acting Inspector to investigate the unexplained death of local man Michael Denby, hopefully to solve this decades-old case. The big question is “Tragic car accident or murder?” And will the result give Ariti a career boost or convince him to leave the force?

Detective Sergeant Mark Ariti wonders “Those courses, a lot of butcher’s paper and PowerPoint. What did it take to become Commissioner, role play?”

To compound matters, DS Ariti is having troubles at home (hhmm) and coincidently was an old school friend of two women, Ingrid and Joanne, the original hitchhikers who are entwined in the cold case. Joanne is now a high-profile celebrity. Also Ariti has Superintendent Conti breathing down his neck asking for updates at every turn.

At the Cutters End police station, Ariti meets Senior Constable Jagdeep Kaur and she shines in her role as the understated country cop. The characters, from pub owners to laconic farmers and the town’s snap-happy crazy man distinguish themselves as Ariti begins collecting old data and uncovering new information.

It is intriguing how author Margaret Hickey has woven and looped the plot so that I found it tricky to discern fact from fiction and who was telling the truth. Clues? There is an interesting side story about Ingrid’s travels and her overseas partner Sander.

Generations have struggled against the inhospitable conditions of inland South Australia, either too hardy or too stubborn to leave. Hot dusty life goes on in Cutters End and, intentionally or not, the townspeople are good at telling only half the story behind Michael Denby and the single vehicle crash.

The rundown motel, the struggling petrol station, the lacklustre pubs against a backdrop of hundreds of kilometres of flat, wide open country. “It was forgotten. Like the aunt with failing health who sends cards to family but is never invited for Christmas, this area had a forsaken feel.

Cutters End by Margaret Hickey

A stark tree, a lone shoe, several things didn’t add up yet held my interest and kept me concentrating. Then a vital link is discovered, suspects come sharply into focus and it’s game on.

I am really looking forward to reading “Stone Town” Margaret Hickey’s second book in this series.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

It never fails to annoy me when book reviewers find fault with indigenous language or slang in a book. I don’t mean a foreign language, for example an Irish character using a smattering of French, but the local terminology in the country in which the story is placed. For instance, Australian crime novels are often set in small towns or outback locations where descriptive words are used. They, like most informal terms used in common speech, are second nature to the Australian reader. But apparently this throws overseas readers into a tizzy. Well, guess what guys, we have been reading British and American books for many many years and we learned to cope! Embrace the difference! I am sure Mrs Google will help you learn a couple of new words 😀 GBW.

The Kookaburra and The Crustacean Claw

Kookaburra with yabby crayfish claw, Crows Nest, Queensland 2022

The Laughing Kookaburra can be identified immediately by both plumage and call. The cackling laugh is often used in scary jungle movies.

Laughing Kookaburras are found throughout eastern Australia. They feed mostly on insects, worms and crustaceans (like the yabby crayfish above) although small snakes, mammals, frogs and birds may also be eaten. Prey is seized by pouncing from a convenient perch. The meal is eaten whole, but larger prey is killed by bashing it against the ground or tree branch.

The kookaburra photograph (above) was taken at Crows Nest, located 44km north-east of Toowoomba on the Great Dividing Range, Queensland. It is one of the larger members of the kingfisher family with a wingspan 64cm-66cm (25in-26in).

This kookaburra swooped down and kept a watchful eye on our lunch but it’s best not to feed human food to native wildlife © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2018

I have always loved keen-eyed, stocky little kookaburras. Suburban kookaburras living in parkland sometimes loiter around barbecue cooking areas. They are not dangerous birds and rather stand-offish but I would not encourage them with human food. That powerful beak is better suited to nature’s diet.

Laughing Kookaburra feathers are generally off-white below, faintly barred with dark brown, and brown on the back and wings. The tail is more rufous, broadly barred with black. There is a conspicuous dark brown eye-stripe through the face, like an old-fashioned burglar mask.

Original 1960s artwork F.C. Bernet – Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

My grandfather was an artist, woodcarver and bespoke furniture maker, and he designed and cast this laughing kookaburra (above) in a plaster mould. After hand-painting the kookaburra, he framed it in the minimalist style of 1960s. Both he and my grandmother (a needleworker extraordinaire) created Australian designs when many things were influenced by British and European artisans.

The kookaburra’s scientific name is Dacelo novaeguineae but the name ‘kookaburra’ is generally believed to be derived from the original term ‘grab a stick’ or ‘gougou garrdga’ in Kamilaroi/Euhlayi language.

Group kookaburra calls are best heard in early morning and at dusk, and are crazy loud if you are standing under their tree.

A group of kookaburras is called ‘a riot of kookaburras’ because of the raucous noise.

Studies have shown that kookaburras pair for life. The nest is usually a bare chamber in a naturally occurring tree hollow. The breeding season is August to January and every bird in the family group shares parenting duties. The ideal set-up really.

My words, with kookaburra information courtesy of Sea World and Australian Museum.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Jasper Fforde ‘The Great Troll War’ Book Review

The literary equivalent of a supernova, sheer plotting brilliance, mind blown!

The Trolls are looking hungry and humans are on the menu. In besieged Cornwall, unhealthy scenarios are playing out and Jennifer Strange, Court Mystician to the Kingdom of Snodd, does not like it one bit.

Jennifer is always cool under pressure and prepares to take action, indeed it is her destiny. She is joined by her best friend Tiger, the sword Exhorbitus, a VW Beetle with links to her past, and a Quarkbeast. Meanwhile megolomaniac Mighty Shandar is a sorcerer out to conquer the world and needs another Quarkbeast to do it.

Jennifer hopes the Button Trench will hold back the ravenous hordes and that Mighty Shandar will back off. He ain’t gettin’ her Quarkbeast that’s for sure.

The Last Dragonslayer novels by Jasper Fforde missing the last book!

Unfortunately even regular characters Lady Mawgon and sorceress Once Magnificent Boo are floundering to find ways to thwart the ever-expanding evil. Drooling Trolls are multiplying daily and Mighty Shandar’s over-inflated ego expands by the minute.

In the mix are—Royal Princess Shazine Snodd in a commoner’s body whom glamour boy Sir Matt Grifflon is keen to marry; Mighty Shandar’s obsequious assistant Miss D’Argento; the two delightful reconnaissance dragons Feldspar and Colin (I learned how dragons make flames) plus integral quirky characters throughout. The likes of Kevin Zip and Full Price add to the story and you will probably recognise their personalities whether or not you have read the other books. But as the ubiquitous footnotes hint, read the other books!

Just as The Big Bang Theory song says “Maths, science, history, unravelling the mystery…” this book has it all, from subtle throwbacks, movie references, intertextuality, the Chrysler Building, to a very different type of submarine Bellerophon. I was surprised by an unexpected, unnamed Special Guest appearance—breaking the fourth wall—I would love to say who and why but in respect to spoilers I will abstain.

Over the years, author Jasper Fforde’s signature wit has given his readers a slightly skewed look at locations in Wales but this time it’s Penzance where Bergerac TV actor John Nettles has become an icon, venerated with a bronze statue in the town square. Jennifer ponders her life as she strolls through beautiful Morrab Gardens.

+Jasper Fforde will be in North Cornwall for the Book Festival 24-25 September 2022+

I think Royal pomp and circumstance take a bit of a pounding in this Dragonslayer plot, so the unscheduled appearance of Molly the Troll is a zany twist. As Jennifer says “I can’t think of much that isn’t weird about all this.” The wizard Great Zambini says “Bigger and bolder than anything you can imagine” and he’s right. Jennifer knows a reconnoitre is needed so she and the dragons set off on a dangerous mission with devastating results and further repercussions.

Great quotes emerge from The Great Troll War.

For instance the soulless sorcerer Mighty Shandar outlines his evil plan “A conscience is as much a barrier to knowledge as biology is to eternal life.”

But he doesn’t hear these words:

“Shandar knows that while utter ruthlessness is a useful skill for taking power,” said Mother Zenobia, head of the Sisters of the Lobster Orphanage, “it’s overrated when it comes to keeping power… it’s amazing how quickly subjects tire of their tyrant once the mass murder begins.”

The Great Troll War by Jasper Fforde
Last Dragonslayer Series

The Great Troll War is the ingenious fourth and final book in The Last Dragonslayer series promoted at young adult readers but I believe it sits nicely in that unique niche reserved for novels devoured by all age groups. Those interested in a retro-present-day twist on believability, tweaking the norm and perhaps even glimpsing into the future while grounded in the everyday.

Find out the truth about the orphanage and Jennifer’s absentee parents, what role buttons play, and how not to recruit warriors. Oh, yes, stay away from creepy Hollow Men. I loved the chunks of humour and lightbulb moments as strategies are worked out amid the ever-present whiff of disaster and universal annihilation.

At the heart of The Great Troll War Jasper Fforde has written a relatable fantasy sci-fi story about the power of friendship and trust, with strong messages on clear-thinking and using available knowledge to work out the best, most logical and kindest way to end a war before it starts.

Jennifer certainly has a tough job.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

———————————

The Last Dragonslayer synopsis for the series below:

Dragon image not on bookcover © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

The Last Dragonslayer (2010)
In which we meet Jennifer Strange, learn about Kazam and a Dragon is despatched but not without magnificent events that lead on to a Big Magic.

The Song of the Quarkbeast (2011)
The King wants to control magic and use it for his own ends, but Jennifer and Kazam will not let that happen, and we learn what may happen if Quarkbeasts collide.

The Eye of Zoltar (2013)
Jennifer goes on what is emphatically not a quest in the Cambrian Empire. She finds the mysterious Eye of Zoltar and also learns a thing or two about Jeopardy Tourism.

The Great Troll War (2021)
A ramshackle band of humans hold out against the Troll invaders led by Jennifer Strange. An evil mastermind is plotting a dastardly plan, and all seems hopeless. Or is it?

Special Features section on the website has details about each book, places to order it, and a host of extra information. None of Jasper Fforde’s books have a chapter 13. You can read more on his website: FAQ

Addendum: I often recommend Jasper Fforde’s books (one reviewed for Reading Wales #dewithon) and have always admired his inventive out-there writing style. Try the series Thursday Next or Nursery Crimes, or one of his stand-alone novels like The Constant Rabbit. GBW.

Nominate your Favourite Old Fossil

Dinosaur fantasy sequence taken in garden © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

That doesn’t mean your grandfather!

Some of the nominees are dinosaurs. My family has always been fascinated by dinosaurs. From books, movies, kids series to figurines, they have loomed large in our home for many years. Now Queenslanders of all ages have the opportunity to help choose the 10th official State emblem, a fossil—it doesn’t have to be a dinosaur.

Choosing a Fossil Emblem

There are 12 fossil candidates lined up for the honour of being our State’s newest emblem. “Did you know in the Early Cretaceous Period, inland seas covered much of Outback Queensland? This means that Queensland has some of the most exciting fossil museums, dinosaur trails and discovery centres in the world, including the internationally renowned fossil sites of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area.

“Outback Queensland towns like Hughenden, Richmond and Winton are on Australia’s Dinosaur Trail, and many other Outback areas such as Eromanga, Eulo and Quilpie regularly attract fossil hunters and dinosaur lovers.”

All Shapes and Sizes

I am surprised that as well as featuring large prehistoric creatures, the endearing platypus is on the list, and Lovellea wintonensis, the oldest known permineralised fossil flower (which dinosaurs munched on).

Select your preference for Queensland’s newest fossil emblem—

Visit the website
View the illustrations
Read the history
Click a million years in the making!

Nominations close Sunday 10 July 2022

https://campaigns.premiers.qld.gov.au/fossilemblem/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Fossil Diamantinasaurus matildae – Sauropod bones from a billabong https://campaigns.premiers.qld.gov.au/fossilemblem/

Postscript: I m-i-g-h-t have voted for a dinosaur…

Concurrently Reading Four Books

Concurrently reading in May 2022 © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2022

Many people read more than one book at a time and I have been doing this for several years. If one book is slow or doesn’t capture my immediate interest, I switch to another one. Plots and characters never seem to get confused because I usually read different genres.

And I always like to finish a book!

Watch out for a special blog post for my 100th Book Review. This milestone took me by surprise. I have many more reviews on Goodreads but I personalise my blog post reviews.

Have a quick look at Fantastic Fiction, my favourite go-to resource:

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/f/jasper-fforde/great-troll-war.htm

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/margaret-hickey/cutters-end.htm

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/w/h-g-wells/invisible-man.htm

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/val-mcdermid/1979.htm

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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