This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been


  • Possession by A.S. Byatt
  • Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan.

WRITING Overheard… At Pambula markets 


  • The Sydney Maritime Museum with my class.
  • The 36th Merimbula Jazz Festival with jazz pals Sui-Sui and Alessandro.

LISTENING to a whole lot of Jazz.

SEWING 1920s style headdresses and lining them with felt to make them more comfortable for our dancers.

WARMING up again in the beautiful winter sunshine on the Sapphire coast.

On listening

By Vita Forest



Lately, I’ve been thinking about listening.  It’s wonderful to read to yourself and flick back and forth in a story, rereading, flashing back, controlling the pace.  But there is something lovely about being read to.  About having the opportunity to listen.

School has started again, with a new school year, and a new set of little people to teach.  This time of the year is exhausting and a trifle stressful for all concerned.  The kids are getting to know me, I am getting to know them, and we are all getting to know the new 2016 “things”.   So it’s nice to take some time out to listen to a story.  There is something immediately calming about pulling out a book and reading it aloud.  Last year, some of my major fidgetters and fretters would crawl closer, hug their knees and become quiet and calm, soothed by Harry Potter’s latest adventures, or by their desire to hear just how Matilda was going to outwit Miss Trunchbull.  This year, we have started with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which immediately got their attention with its promise of bears, wolves and wild cats…

While working on the good ship Possession in the holidays, I reminded my own children about how, when they were quite small, I used to read them one of A.S. Byatt’s fairy tales included in that novel.  I reminded them of summer holidays lying three across in a tent and how I read The Glass Coffin to them again and again and again.  Their eyes wide and their bodies still, as they listened to the story of the little tailor, who ventured into a dark forest and met an unusual household who offered him a magical gift.

You have chosen not with prudence, but with daring.  The key is the key to an adventure, if you will go in search of it.”

Lucy pulled out the book and curled up in a corner, now able to read the words herself that before she had only listened to.  (Max remembered the story without needing a refresher – he is older, after all).  Now Lucy reads to me.  As I cook, or sip my tea after dinner.  It is luxurious to be read to, to not always have to do the reading.

And in the holidays, I was reading (to myself) Anthony Doer’s All the light we cannot see where a brother and sister in an orphanage in Germany are enthralled by voices on the radio, and stopping to listen to Radio National while I worked on my boat building, and everything intersected and made meaning.  I listened alone while the kids were at their Dad’s, but I was not alone because the voice on the radio was company, was an intimate presence in my ear.  A soothing presence, like the French gentleman’s radio programs, flying through the air, all the way to a tiny attic in Germany.

I remember hearing about a couple who read books aloud to each other.  Sharing entire novels, taking turns listening and reading.  A way of spending time together, connecting. And I remember too, my lovely friend Mardi, who created an organisation in the U.S. to encourage adults to read to children.  She was invited to speak about her project to the inmates of a prison and was concerned about what she could possibly say to those people with whom she had little in common.  But she ended up sharing with them that reading to someone else was a way of bonding, of showing that you care, of connecting.  These incarcerated men got that, and looked forward to reading to their own children as a way of building a relationship.

And last weekend, my kids and I came across a series of radio stories as we drove to the beach and spent some time discovering the joys of a quirky tale read by a fabulous actor interspersed with sound effects.  When Max was a newborn, I discovered Margaret Throsby‘s interviews on Classic FM, listening in to conversations with artists, writers, scientists and educators, in my sleep-deprived, house-bound new-mother state. A few years later, Max and Lucy and I stayed in the car long after we had reached our destination, until her interview with Monty Roberts the horse whisperer ended.  So enthralled were we.

It’s a primal thing, listening to a good story.  Have you listened to anything wonderful lately?


Boat building

By Vita Forest


Boat building

One of my very favourite books is Possession by A.S. Byatt.  It is a great woolly novel following two literary scholars as they try to uncover the mysterious connection between two Victorian poets.  The time frames flick back and forth, the relationships are compared and contrasted, the narrative moves along through poems, letters, diary entries, multiple points of views and even fairy tales.

It is a challenging book to read, but I am one of those people who doesn’t skip the poetry, who reads every word.  I know it will be worth it.  I know I will discover something new.  And I know it will last me through a trip away, when packing space is limited and I can only take one book (not a great fan of electronic versions people).

Needless to say, my original copy is faded, stained and now shedding pages.  The edges of the pages are yellowing as if it is a book from a previous century, which is kind of apt really.  But the state of that book has been bothering me, the vessel now distracts from the words…

Until Christmas Day.

One of my holiday projects is to make an Ann Wood Paper mache ship.  I purchased her instructions last year and it has been on my list of Delightful Things to Do…  Prior to Christmas, I had got the ball rolling and carefully cut out the cardboard pattern pieces for the hull of the ship (using old brown postage packages) and was about to move onto the paper mache phase.  Ann Wood uses newspaper for the outer-most layer and part of the charm is seeing the text wrapping over the surface of the hull.

Anyway, on Christmas Day I spent part of the day at my parents’ place, and a part of that in the Community room of their Over-55s apartment block with a bunch of other residents.  My sister Briony and I were browsing the large bookshelves full of double layers of pre-loved, discarded books and somehow we started to sort them.  Those oldies really like (or perhaps really don’t like – these books had been “gifted” to the community room after all) books of the crime genre.  We sorted books into “Crime” and “Non-crime” and then grouped them alphabetically by author.  We had an amused audience, one of whom (Bruce) was the oracle of whether an unknown book was “Crime” or “Non-crime”.  We worked steadily for some time, and in between making towering piles of books on the table and stacking them in some semblance of order on the book shelves, I found – a practically new copy of Possession…

It ended up being “gifted” to me…  Payment for services rendered, you might say.

So, it got me thinking about what I could do with my old copy.

As you may have guessed from the photo, its pages have now been carefully scoured for favourite lines and scenes and descriptions, and these have been lifted out with scissors, (which  seems somewhat sacrilegious, but still, I did it).  I then spent an enjoyable time collaging the lines onto the galleon, running quotations together, juxtaposing past with present, fairy tale with diary.  (There were even lines about sleeping in ships and fierce storms over the ocean).  It all made new sense as I swathed lines around and around the hull.

The hull is now drying, newly lacquered in my laundry, away from cats (particularly Isaboe who likes to chew cardboard).  It is a slow, painstaking process, boat building, but no doubt there will be more missives from the voyage.