Archive for the ‘Women of the Gobi’ Category

Oh dear, locked in the lavatory

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Last weekend I was interviewed on Radio National. I had to go to the ABC’s Southbank studio here in Melbourne and sit in the Tardis and answer some easy questions about Women of the Gobi. But it nearly didn’t happen.

I arrived compulsively early, as is my wont (7.40am when I was told 8.15, if you must know), and asked the tech guy to point me towards the toilet. I had to pass through a glass door with a warning sign that said the door was locked between 7pm and 7am, which obviously wasn’t going to be a problem. I went through and found the loos and, well, you know. Then I tried to go back out through the door. It was locked. There was no-one around on either side. I banged on the door. Nothing. I was locked in the dunny at the ABC.

Eventually I turned on my phone (ignoring notices about how it would interfere with radio equipment) and called Directory Assistance, who put me through to the ABC’s Sydney office, who in turn patched me through to the security guard who was sitting just metres away from me.

He thought it was a great joke.

Whereas I was nervous enough about the interview anyway, so I was hyperventilating by now.

I don’t think any of my friends listen to Radio National, or get up before midday on Saturday for that matter, but a few of their mums heard the interview. Ah the oldies, they’re my biggest fans.

Tonight I’m talking about author/editor relationships at the Victorian Writers Centre – which is why instead of preparing a talk I’m procrastinating by mucking around on Facebook and updating here…


Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

In the six months since Women of the Gobi was published, I’ve spoken at my book launch and at a couple of writers festivals, and had one radio interview (Julie McCrossin for Qantas in-flight radio – she was lovely), and recently I addressed the senior assembly at Strathcona, the girl’s school I attended for the last two years of high school.

Guess which was the scariest experience, by far?

Teenage girls are terrifying. And none of them were even born when I was last there.

Before I did the talk, I asked a few friends if they remembered being addressed by ‘old girls’ any time when they were at school, and my friend Bec told me a story that turned my blood cold. A former student talked to her Year 12 class about her life as a fashion model, and how she’d chucked it in to set up some worthy project in the third world, feeding orphans and suchlike.

Afterwards the only thing anyone said was ‘She was a model? She’s not that pretty.’

So there I was with a bunch of teenagers at 8.30 in the morning on a cold winter’s day, what an ideal audience. I thought I’d try to win them over with a few laughs, but I had absolutely no idea what teenage girls would find funny. I was up on the stage with a few teachers sitting behind me, and I could hear them laugh at my jokes, but I could hardly raise a titter from the girls, even when I cracked a killer line about Celine Dion. I don’t think the girls knew who she was.

Lucky them.

At the end of assembly the school captain presented me with a Strathcona mug. I was more excited about this than you might imagine, because it was the very first free thing I’d got as a result of being a published author. Swag!


I went in to Lonely Planet to do some work later in the day, and I took my new mug up to the cafe and boasted about it to Pete the barrista while he poured a perfect long black into it. He looked at the gold rim. ‘Nice of them to give you a mug you can’t put in the dishwasher or microwave,’ he observed.

Listen to me!

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

I got a cool package in the mail the other day: Women of the Gobi on seven CDs, produced by Louis Braille Audio and read by an actress called Melissa Chambers. So if you can’t read or you’ve got a nine-hour drive coming up, you can listen to the whole book. Go on, I challenge you.

Melissa has done a great job, from what I’ve listened to (I haven’t had a spare nine hours yet). Her pronunciation of Chinese names is way better than mine, and she even does all the accents – American, Chinese, a kind of modified posh English for all the quotes from the Trio’s books. She does my brother Jack in a drawling, Aussie-bloke voice which is very funny, even if it’s nothing like his real accent.

Copyright issues notwithstanding, I might try to make MP3s of a few choice excerpts and put them up here (I particularly want to share the way Melissa elegantly reads the line ‘The speakers at the front of the bus blasted the most popular song in China ever, Celine Dion’s fucking ‘My Heart Will Go On’.”). By which, of course, I mean I’ll pester Chris to do it. Stay tuned.

(Added later: I think that was the only swear-word in the whole book. Someone recently emailed my publisher to say that it needed to be removed from the next edition, as if it was a printing accident or something – he had liked me up until then, but that line destroyed his sympathy for me. Obviously he’s never had to listen to endless muzak versions of Celine Dion.)


Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Two reviews so far for Women of the Gobi – one in the Age and one on the Travelbeat website. Both positive (I wouldn’t be posting if they weren’t, would I?). Also, the Amazon link is finally up.
(And yes, the photo of me patting Simpson’s Donkey is still coming. It’s on Bec’s camera, and she’s been too busy coordinating the arts centre’s side of Melbourne’s Make Poverty History concert to recharge the camera. I suppose ending world poverty is more important than my holiday snaps. Although she didn’t get to meet Bono.)

Trio of Xinjiang cooks

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I have already been criticised, and no doubt will be again by reviewers, for writing a lot about food in Women of the Gobi. But the women whose route I followed across northwest China also wrote about their diet, probably because it was so monotonous. In the 1920s, when Mildred, Eva and Fransesca were travelling the Silk Road on a donkey cart, they lived off fresh noodles mixed with dried chilli, the same oil they used to grease the cart wheels, and any green desert herbs the carter might pick up along the road.

Last year, in the markets of Xinjiang oasis towns, I discovered that oily, chilli-flavoured noodles with a few miscellaneous vegetables were still standard fare. Of course there were masses of juicy kebabs to go alongside the noodles. These three men ran a stall in the Hami market that served up classic Xinjiang food; tasty and filling, but not a lot of emphasis on presentation.

The first guy pulls and slices the noodles…

Xinjiang chef (2 of3)

The second guy fries up the veggies…

Xinjiang chef (1 of 3)

And the third bakes flatbread inside a dirty old oil drum.

Xinjiang chef (3 of 3)

Yum yum.

Women of the Gobi news

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

I actually have a hard copy of the book in my hands! Before it arrived I thought I wouldn’t even want to look at it – I’d be so scared of finding typos. But now I can’t stop flipping back and forth through it and lovingly stroking the cover… and I’ve only found one typo.

The Reader’s Feast website has info up about the October 19 launch, and Pluto Press already has advance copies for sale. No list yet of shops that will stock it, but any bookshop in Australia should be able to order it in after October 1 – Pan McMillan is doing the distribution.

My excitement is tempered only by the fact that my life currently revolves around (a) making sure Prague hotel names are capitalised correctly in the index of the new LP guide, and (b) picking up puppy poop.

I take it all back

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Following my whinge about linkage a few posts back, not only have many lovely people linked to me, but the Museum of Dust has even featured me, using Jack’s great photo of a lizard we found in the sand dunes outside Dunhuang. Thanks Incognita!

Women of the Gobi news! Date of release now October 1, launch at Reader’s Feast on October 19 – stay tuned for more details.

Cover story

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

OK, the book. Women of the Gobi is a travelogue/biography in which I travel to China in the footsteps of three English women and their adopted Mongolian daughter, Topsy. The sisters Eva and Francesca French, and Mildred Cable, were missionaries who ran a girls’ school in Shanxi for a couple of decades until 1922, when they loaded up the mules and headed northwest. They based themselves in Jiuquan, northern Gansu province, and crossed the Gobi desert on a Bible-laden donkey-cart five time between 1923 and 1936. They were almost celebrities in their day, and wrote best-sellers that are all out of print now.

Last year I travelled the same route with my brother, and when I got home I wrote about a book about it. When you’re trying to finish a book you don’t think so hard about issues like “what’s going to be on the cover?”, but the publisher did ask me if I had any ideas. I told them I imagined something in the style of a 1930s travel poster, or perhaps a communist propaganda poster; flat colours with something anachronistic in it – maybe someone on a camel would be playing on a Game Boy or using a laptop computer. I gave the publisher some mocked-up images that John Bleaney very kindly put together for me, including this image (I like that I’m wearing a solar topee):

Gobi cover idea
But you know, these things go through commitees and get vetted by sales reps and so on. So what we ended up with was a stock photo of some camels on sand dunes, with the title across the top. It was OK. (One rejected cover idea had a beautiful young Chinese woman looking wistfully into the distance; I thought it was pretty uncool to put this on the cover of a book about wrinkly English women, written by a tubby white Australian woman.)

And then, I’m told, someone else read my final manuscript and decided to have another go at the cover. We ended up with this (I don’t think it’s big enough to read the back cover, but if you can, the typo has been fixed!):

Book cover

I’m pretty happy with it. A couple of people have asked why Eva’s head is cut off, but I like the idea of a fragment of a picture, that you have to work to find the missing pieces. Which is kind of what I did.

Update: I should add that most authors get no say whatsoever when it comes to cover art. So cheers to my publisher for giving me some input.

Piles of kebabs

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

About a week ago, my first book went to the printer. It’s called Women of the Gobi, a title that my publisher chose after I couldn’t come up with anything he liked better. I thought it would be a relief to finally be rid of the manuscript, but now I’m waking up in the middle of the night worrying about all the things that might be wrong with it, and it’s too late for any changes. I figure a blog is much less permanent than a book, and therefore less stressful.
Soon I’ll post a bit about the book, and you can be sure that as soon as there’s an Amazon link, I’ll have it up here. For now, check out pictures of last year’s trip to China that formed the basis of the book. Looking at the mounds of skewered sheep (and anything else that can be skewered) at the Urumqi night market is making me dribble into my keyboard. (There’s a publicity photo too, with my various blemishes artfully Photoshopped – thanks Dave!)

kebab stand