Author: Penni Russon
Today is my first workshop and the numbers are bigger than expected – 30 students from three schools. I am a little worried about holding their attention but when Patrick the tour manager checks on us they are gratifyingly silent, scribbling furiously. The results of their labour are moving and surprising, for me and their teachers. They are building characters out of words, literally filling in the features on blank die-cut figures. In the place of hair one girl writes: her mind is filled with cropped thoughts. Another girl’s ears listen for birdsong. A boy writes a beautiful piece about a girl who is almost an adult and builds her body from a song: the first verse of Stairway to Heaven. It’s a poetic piece of appropriation. We are, after all, the sum of our influences.
In our talk Simmone and I are frank and honest about the use of sexuality in our books. We talk about empowerment and body ownership, and later in the toilets two teachers are enthusiastic in their thanks. ‘It’s so important for them to hear,’ they say. ‘Especially the girls.’ I’ve always thought that as well as English classes or library session, schools should get authors in to talk to Health Ed groups. After all we spend a lot of time thinking about the choices we made, and what forces shaped our own identities growing up.
The last talk, on imagination, is fascinating. Simmone chairs and has Michael and I thinking about the form and substance of imagination and the power of stories. It’s a fascinating territory and my mind is already jumping ahead to tomorrow’s session when I have the chair and get to grill them.
Between workshops and talks and the conversations in between I snatch a breath and a bite to eat. It is a relief when it’s over but sad too – the day has been electric, the crowds bustling, the response overwhelmingly positive.
We break out and hit the road to Portland. We talk. I listen to music on my phone, Long Ride by The Audreys seems fitting as green fields travel past. Houses dot along the road. We stop in Colac and hit the op shop. And more driving. Through small towns where houses cluster together companionable but barely a soul to be seen as rain starts spotting on the windscreen. Through Warrnambool and of course we talk about Paul Jennings, famous children’s author local to the area. We reverently exchange kid lit folklore about his PLR/ELR (lending rights, an annual payment for authors based on public and educational library holdings of our books). We glimpse the ocean.
In Port Fairy I tell Simmone of an early visit to the town, where my now husband put a shell on my finger and asked me to marry him.
We arrive in Portland and now here I am, blogging this instead of watching a show about childbirth that seems to be on every channel. Ghost of my future, haunting me. Both in Geelong and here kindly women have given me directions to the hospital. I receive looks of horror and sympathy when I say 12 weeks to go. When this happens I feel I am the caricature of a pregnant woman, and I feel slightly miffed too – I’m not looking for sympathy, actually I love being pregnant. Perhaps it’s time to start saying, ‘oh, this week or next, I can’t quite recall.’