Spelling Bees

When I was in third class, we had a spelling bee each week, which I enjoyed immensely.

Ninety-six of us children (no exaggeration, I swear!) stood around the edge of the classroom nervously waiting to begin. Because the room was so long – two rooms, with the concertina-type wooden partition folded back – we couldn’t hear from one end to the other. Sister Xavier stood in the middle and Missy moved around the circle to be sure we each heard our words properly.

Sister gave us one word each in turn and, if we spelt it correctly, we remained standing and waited for our next challenge. If we were incorrect, we sat in our usual seat, and so it went on until the winner was the only one standing.

I loved spelling and did well in these exercises. I was often one of the last few spellers, then one day I was one of the last two. Sister Xavier said the word ‘business’ and I spelt it ‘biseness’. I was disappointed, but proud to be so close to the top of such a big class. The next week, I was again one of two still standing when the other girl spelt her word incorrectly. I went to sit down, thinking I’d won.

‘Stay there’, Sister said, and she gave me another word. I spelt it correctly and again began to move towards my seat.

‘We’ll keep going’, Sister said, ‘until you make a mistake’. She continued to pummel me with words, and the more difficult they got the more determined I was to not make a mistake.

The class was on high alert. The words kept coming and I kept spelling them.

‘I give up’, she said, and turned to walk to the front of the room. Then she turned back, ‘I’ve got one more for you’, she said. ‘If you get this one right, you can have an early mark.’

An early mark didn’t help me much because I had to wait for the bus, but I was baited. Then came the word, ‘incomprehensibility’. I had never heard it, let alone know what it meant or how to spell it.

I swallowed hard, and told myself to go slowly and spell one syllable at a time. That hadn’t worked with ‘business’, but it might with this word – it was the only strategy I had, and this was about more than getting out of school early.

‘in-com-pre-hen-sib-il-ity’, I said in measured tones. Sister Xavier saluted, and there was a collective cheer. I left the classroom to wait alone at the bus stop to the sound of clapping and foot-stomping led by the two teachers. I knew the principal wouldn’t be happy with my teachers for allowing the commotion, and would be livid if she knew they were involved.

As shy as I was, this was one of the highlights of my school days…


What words hold significance for you? Why?

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Next Blog ~ School Frustrations And Triumphs

Library Visits And Other Curiosities

My childhood was a world without computers, television, videos and DVDs. With few books in our home, I had a thirst for stories. I longed to visit the town library, and dreamed of the books that were waiting there for me… but getting those books wasn’t so easy.

The library was one room, which seemed huge to me. It was upstairs in the School Of Arts building in the main street. On Fridays, when my mother took me to help her with the weekly shopping, I’d step through the front door into the stairwell in the hope of breathing in the scent of the conglomeration of old books. I looked up the stairs lustfully, knowing the aroma would be stronger and the books more real if only I could rush up and into the room.

Mum’s voice brought me back to reality. ‘Come on, Kate. We can’t get the pram up there.’ There was never a suggestion of leaving the pram downstairs, because ‘someone might steal it’. And Mum couldn’t wait with the pram while I went alone, because in the library ‘children must be accompanied by an adult at all times’.

My only other option for getting up those stairs and into the room of words, was to convince my father to take me on Saturday mornings. This posed another difficulty, because he followed the horse races and was afraid of missing useful information if he took his ear from the radio while scratchings were being announced. Besides, he saw library books as a distraction from the more important school books. On the rare occasions I managed to coerce him to take me, he paced just inside the room signaling to me to hurry. Mostly, I didn’t get to choose books – I just grabbed the first four I saw, regardless of their appropriateness or my interest, for fear of running out of time and missing out altogether.

I read these books regardless of what they were – over and over again in the first couple of days – and then waited patiently for the next possible library visit. I was disappointed when the books were returned while I was at school, because I knew there was no intention to take me to select more at any time soon.

I wasn’t allowed to read the magazines my mother scrimped and saved to buy, and remember only glimpsing Grandma’s magazines on the one occasion she took me into her usually out-of-bounds sunroom. We sat on two stacks of the magazines, while she flicked through the top few from the third stack, looking for a recipe to cook for dinner. I felt special, like I’d been led into a secret passage, and will cherish that memory until the day I die.

The other source of intrigue for us children was the old traveller’s trunk, which housed Mum’s treasures. Among these were her assignment books from high school and teachers’ college. This trunk was rarely opened and only ever by Mum. Then we watched in awe and sat on our hands to avoid succumbing to the temptation to touch the sacred pages. As a young student, I was fascinated by the idea of my mother as a child in school uniform and then later as a teacher. She was so different from the nuns who taught me, even though one of them was her second cousin.

Do you remember your first visit to a library?

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Next Blog ~ Spelling Bees

My Mother’s Precious Little Book

One small book beckoned to me from my mother’s bookcase, and she occasionally let me read it under strict supervision. There was no lazing in the sun on the verandah with this book of children’s rhyming poetry, a treasure from her childhood or her teaching days perhaps.

When I asked her if I could take it to school to show my friends, the answer was an unequivocal ‘No’. I left it a while and asked again. Another negative answer and I was too afraid to ask a third time, but the desire grew stronger. In a moment of madness, I slipped it in my school bag and rushed to the bus stop praying she wouldn’t notice it missing.

While the teacher was writing on the blackboard, I put the book on the desk between me and the friend who sat next to me, and started to turn the pages to show her the beautiful verses within. A word or one of the little sketches grabbed her attention, and she reached out to stop me from going on. In a split second the page was ripped from the edge to the staple in the centre.

Heat rose in my cheeks and there was the sting of tears, but my friend appeared to be pleased with herself. After school I realised why – for weeks she’d wanted me to walk home with her instead of going on the bus, and this episode with Mum’s book gave her the means to make that happen. The threat was there as soon as we were released from the classroom. ‘If you don’t’, she said, ‘I’ll tell on you about the book.’

My fate was sealed. We went straight home so I wouldn’t be late, but we were so busy running and laughing we didn’t give time another thought. We waved to each other and I skipped down the path to the front door. I quickly returned the poetry book to its home, making sure to tuck it under other books so it wouldn’t draw attention. Then I waltzed into the kitchen and opened the ice-chest looking for cool water.

‘You’re early’, Mum said, and I stiffened as though the cold air escaping from the huge blocks of ice had frozen me.

‘Bus was early’, I lied. I jerked back into action and scurried from the room without a drink.

When my father arrived home, there was whispering in the kitchen. Then he appeared in my bedroom doorway, a dark frown furrowed into his face.

‘I’ve done my homework’, I said cheerily, hoping to mollify him.

He moved slightly. ‘But you lied to your mother about the bus’, he said.

It was then that I saw the belt in his hand and knew there would be buckle bruises on my legs the next day.

My favourite book wasn’t mentioned and I kept away from it from that day onward. I often wondered if Mum worked out what I’d done and saved me from another whack with the belt by staying silent, or if she was blissfully ignorant of the book’s horror trip to school that day.

The last time I visited her at home before she died, she handed me the book. ‘You may as well have this’, she said.

The cover and some of the pages were missing, and it was tattered and discoloured. Overcome, I looked up at her.

‘Kids’, she said. ‘I should have given it to you when you wanted to take it to school that time.’ There was a knowing tone in her voice.

I managed to get out, ‘You knew?’

‘Of course I knew…’ She patted my arm and left me to my thoughts.

I wanted to go after her, to ask which kids she meant, but something held me back.

The remains of the book are beside me as I write. It’s more than fifty years since the day that first page was torn and the book still holds the same charm for me as it did then.


What book was special in your childhood?

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Next Blog ~ Library Visits and Other Curiosities

Elusive Books In Childhood

Books were scarce in my childhood. I don’t remember having stories read to me as a toddler, or owning any books myself in the earlier years. At first, I thought this was because reading wasn’t valued, but that wasn’t entirely the case. The fact is that money was also scant, so there wasn’t much opportunity to bring books into our home.

My mother was an ex-teacher who craved books. When I was in primary school, she joined a mail-order book club and purchased one book each month for about three years. She had one small bookcase, and now, as an adult, I realise she cancelled her subscription when the shelves were full.

Her books regularly enticed me to sit on the cold linoleum in the alcove between the hallway and the bathroom, reading the spines and wishing I was old enough to understand the stories on their pages. I revered the royal colours with embossed gold writing, and their solid presence. My grandmother’s books drew me to them in the same way when we visited her.

My childhood reading was largely restricted to occasional library books when I was able to get someone to take me to select them, and the comics in the Sunday newspapers. My desire to read was so great that, when I had access to these books and comics, I’d lie in the sun on the back verandah for hours and read them over and over.

One morning when I was about eight, I took my parents a cup of tea before they were up and about. I sat on the edge of their bed, inhaling the warmth of a togetherness that was rare in our household. The stillness shifted when Mum said, ‘Kate, hop up and get that shoebox from the top of the cupboard for me.’ I dragged a chair in from the sleep-out and then collected an old newspaper from the laundry where it lay waiting to light the kitchen stove or the fire under the copper. I covered the seat of the wooden chair with the paper and stepped up onto it to reach for the box. A headline caught my eye and I was lost to everything else.

I don’t remember what I was reading about, but after a while Mum said, ‘Come on Kate. I want to look in the box before I get up.’

I wrenched myself away from the article and realised I had my arms folded against the wardrobe with the top of my head pushing into them, and I’d been reading the news spread between my feet on the chair. I grabbed the box and handed it to Mum.

Hope flooded my chest when she said to Dad, ‘We ought to get her some books to read.’

‘Books?’ he said. ‘Reading stories won’t get her anywhere. She’s got her school books. They’ll teach her sums and spelling… that’s all she needs.’

The subject was closed… the magic broken… my hopes dashed.

Years later, another bookcase appeared in the lounge room. It housed a set of World Book Encyclopedia for the younger children. Dad acquired these books through his new part-time role as salesman for the company, but they were too late to satisfy my childhood thirst for reading material and knowledge.

When my grandmother died, her bookcase became the third one in my parents’ home. It soon overflowed as Mum’s ‘library’ grew with birthday and Christmas gifts from all of us, to make up for the years she’d managed with just a few books.


Were books scarce or abundant in your childhood?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…


Next Blog ~ My Mother’s Precious Little Book

The Writer’s Journey

This website is the culmination of years of writing, teaching and other writing activities. Here you will find evidence of my journey so far and witness my writing future unfold.

I invite you to visit often to share my passion for the written word. Enjoy the gems I spread here for you – writing tips, techniques and challenges, and my blog The Writer’s Journey… where I’ll explore various aspects of writing to hopefully enrich your writing experience as well as mine.

Come, take this writer’s journey with me!

Serving The Writer’s Apprenticeship

The writer’s journey is like moving up through the ranks of any profession. Whatever our chosen field, we all need to serve our apprenticeship; to put in the hard yards before we reach our goal… and by the time we do, the desired end result shifts.

With the time it takes us to get to that point, the possibilities have expanded – either because we’ve developed or because there have been new discoveries in the arena in which we operate, or both. Either way, we are drawn in and carried along, just as a well-written story hooks readers and entices them on the journey of discovery with the main character.

Many of us remember our parents’ message that ‘In my day, it didn’t matter if you were the boss’ son, you started at the bottom – sweeping the floor, making coffee, running errands – and you stayed there until it was deemed you were ready to tackle the next rung of the ladder’.

I still remember my father’s eyes, bright with the pride of delivering such a life creed. Back then I wondered if there was a way to circumnavigate the drudgery and take the ladder three steps at a time, but like most people I’ve realised the wisdom in my father’s doctrine.

To become a mother, I first had to be a child, develop through trial and error, learn to learn from my mistakes, and discover my own principles to pass on to my children. Before I became a retailer, I had to learn the mechanics of business management, the pitfalls and pleasures of human resources, how to assess market needs, and cultivate my intuitive approach to customer service. To own the titles of counsellor, therapist and community manager, I had to study, do on-the-job training, volunteer to work in the field and change my world view by integrating the principles.

Each of these threads of my life created further possibilities. Motherhood led to being a grandmother, and more recently a great-grandmother, and in the future there will no doubt be great-great-grandchildren. My retailing experience led to the publication of my knitting pattern designs, improved communication skills, and the management side of community management. The path through the helping professions helped me understand myself and others, deal with personal issues and be effective in the community side of community management.

Against the backdrop of these careers, I’ve been serving my apprenticeship as a writer – gradually building the skills, insights, techniques, experience and writing credits necessary to launch into that longed-for and sought-after goal of recognition as a renowned author.

The benefits of my other careers have enriched this foundation and given me a strong base to leap forward into the next phase. Along the way, I’ve shared my accumulated knowledge and other resources with students and fellow-writers… in the hope of enriching both their work and mine.

I have no doubt that the possibilities will keep coming while ever I continue to strive for that next goal, like the young apprentice of yesteryear who my father so respected – the one who would have experienced every role in the company before he reached the top.

The only difference between my story and the one my father told is that in his world it was ideal to have one job for the duration of your working life, whereas in my world changing careers and doing freelance work allowed me to build on my varied experience and enabled me to expand my writing career.

It’s been tough running two careers in parallel, but that is the sacrifice many of us make so we can indulge our passions… and I do believe that the best way forward is to reach for the next rung on the ladder, learn all elements of the trade, enjoy the journey, and be ready for the next challenge – even if this is sometimes also a complete surprise.

Welcome to my new writing home!

This website is the culmination of years of writing and associated activities. My passion for the written word began in childhood and has been integral to my existence as I’ve journeyed to, and lived in, five different areas of New South Wales, before my recent arrival on the Far South Coast.

When I was eight, I wrote my first book – one copy only – about a dog and his friends, and the mischief they stirred. In a household with no money to spare, writing paper for my masterpiece was scarce; so I scrounged discarded cattle identification forms from my father’s office. I used a home-made glue mixture of flour and water to stick these together face to face. This made them stiff enough and hid the printed lines and squares. Then I searched the laundry cupboard for string and tied these thicker pages together, encased in cardboard from the back of my mother’s almost empty writing pad. I covered my creation with brown paper and pasted a cartoon picture of three puppies on the front.

The creativity and tenacity I displayed in the production of that little book were far greater than in the story itself… but I knew then I would be a writer. That tenacity survives today, only now it is focussed on the writing.

I have truly come home, bringing my work together on this site and in my first-ever dedicated writing room, where there is a beautiful Bega Valley view from my window. The undulating hills, ever-changing with the seasons and the shifting shades of the sun’s reflection, constantly remind me why my paternal great-great-grandparents chose to settle in this area when they migrated to Australia in 1851.

Yes, I have come home in many ways… and I invite you to share this part of my writing journey. I hope you will visit my writing home often and enjoy the gems I spread here for you – writing tips, techniques and challenges, and this blog The Writer’s Journey… where I will explore various aspects of writing to hopefully enrich your writing experience as well as mine.