Getting There.

SG cooked breakfast on the one-hob camping stove and we did the dishes in the bathroom sink. The kitchen is still a month off arriving and the TV is balancing on a bedside table. But the dining room, with its two chairs and outdoors table has been painted the colour of a Santorini sunrise and the matching ‘feature wall’ in the living room glows in the afternoon sun. Lights have been installed, the guest bathroom has a mirror and the study has acquired a new piece of work out equipment and now appears to be 90% home gym, 10% my home office. It’s getting there, our new home. In three weeks, it will be on the receiving end of everything I have collected in my 14 months here (and all the cups and mugs I keep buying because it soothes my feelings of apartment-helping impotency, being so far away). Then will come the furniture shop binges, the delivery of SG’s Monster Couch and bit by bit, we will settle in. New town, new jobs, new home.

I finally made it into the centre of Weiden last weekend. We live but a five minute trot from the shopping stretch and a seven minute stroll from the Altstadt. Which isn’t a hugely uncommon feature of an apartment in a town the size of Weiden. It was freezing, the sky was high and a brilliant blue, and I took about 700 photos of, as SG gently pointed out when I asked him to send them to me, ‘basically the same things but from a slightly different angle.’

But the town centre is cute. It is colourful and quaint and old, with a teeny Rathaus and plenty of cafes framing the cobbled platz. In the summer, the place must come alive with long wooden benches outside the restaurant and the late-setting sun warming the shiny stones. Sitting in The Black Bean, I said to SG, ‘I can do this. I can live here.’

And I will. In three weeks.

The Love Project

I love words. I love stories. I love books. I love writing. I love creating opportunities for other writers. I love creating projects that enable me to wade even further into the English language and all its possibilities. I love the enthusiasm, vibrancy and voice of Sandi Sieger. And all of this love has been funneled into a new project, a Love Project. This new project, O&S Publishing, named for myself and Sandi and for its global, ‘overseas’ nature, is all about creating quality e-books and helping writers along the way. It is designed as both an informative, resourceful writer’s hub and an e-publishing platform, producing e-books for readers who are hungry for fresh, new voices.

Below is a little bit more about. If it sounds like your bag, visit the site, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

It started, of course, with an idea. Quite a humble one, really. We wanted to gather together a handful of top notch writers and have them write a short story in the style of one of their key literary influences. The idea being to publish an anthology that was as much a homage to previous and enduring greatness as a display of undervalued talent. We duly gathered the writers, they duly wrote their stories and then something happened. A bigger idea took seed.

What if we didn’t stop at just one anthology? What if this anthology was just the beginning, the launch of something ongoing, innovative and nurturing? So we asked ourselves, over a flurry of across-the-seas emails – what can we do in order to be able to continually publish collections and titles? Create a publishing platform, naturally. And make it elecontric – everyone has an iSomething or a Kindle or a laptop. Publishing electronically would give us full control over each title – and would make the reach of each title so much further – e-books that can be accessed from India to Italy, Australia to America.

Fantastic. Wonderful. Perfect. Let’s do it.

But what if, we asked ourselves, what if that platform could also act as a hub for writers and readers alike? A place where one can not only buy brilliant, quality titles from original voices, but also read author interviews, industry news and expert advice. Where hungry readers could follow writing and publishing journeys? What if our publishing platform could act as a warm, cosy, inviting bookshop and provide the communal, shared atmosphere of a cafe? What if, what if.

So we did it. Or, perhaps better put, we are in the process of doing it. We aim to build a an e-library of quality literature from writers we believe in. Alongside publishing these titles – at a rate that reflects time, effort and quality, so not a particularly speedy one – we will feature interviews with writers, tips and advice, literary happenings around the globe and a blog that tracks each title’s progress.

We hope you are along for the ride.

Schönes Nürnberg

A few photos of this beautiful, beautiful city.

The view from the train, on our way from Weiden to Nürnberg.
A little village we passed.
The beginnings of what will be a lot more ice.
Just before the entrance to the castle.
A little snippet of the view from the castle.
Yes that's us in the reflection. No we didn't eat the entire window. Yes we wanted to.
Another beautiful building.
Just another German sweet shop.

Once Upon a Time …

… in a land of cake and snow, two Australians, one pale of skin and hair, the other with chocolate locks and lovely white teeth, froze. It happened on a bright, brisk and sunny day in the North Western German city of Münster. It was a crisp -6 degrees as the pair hopped on a train bound for the South Eastern city of Nürnberg and already their cheeks were flushed and fingertips without feeling. As the hours passed, the two pals ate chips and gazed out the windows. The flat, neat, green landscape of Nord-Rhine Westphalia slowly gave way to the hilly forrests of Franconia and the neatly ploughed fields turned white beneath their blankets of snow. Several stations lay between them and their destination, and several minutes were spent jogging up and down on the spot to return feeling to extremities as they waited for connecting trains. But they knew it was to be a solid journey – they were, after all, crossing the country.

It was dark and nearly six hours later when the train pulled into Nürnberg. They were ferried to Weiden, an hour east of Nürnberg, by a Nordic looking man by the name of SG and, because it was late and nothing was open, dined at Burger King. Both slept soundly that night – they had to, another journey awaited them and little did they know, the East Wind had a touch more frost in store and a belly full of ice.

The following day dawned bright, blue and -18 degrees. The friends were heading back to Nürnberg, where the pale one had to speak to people about work and where both had to explore a hitherto unexplored city. They revelled in the kindness of Weiden station’s staff, 2€ coffees from the splendid station bakery and boarded a train to one of Germany’s oldest, most historical cities. On the way, they passed vast snow fields, little red roofed villages nestled in valleys and gullies, frozen lakes with children skating atop the glinting, slippery surface and, unless their eyes were playing tricks on them, Little Red Riding Hood weaving her way through the snow carpeted Frankenwald with her basket of lebkuchen and apples. It was magical. The pals were enchanted.

But it was so cold. So cold their breath turned to ice, their noses went pink and then a deep red and the pale one began running around in circles on Nürnberg station screaming ‘this is like putting parrot fish in the Baltic Sea.’ The cold froze their ability to think, it pierced their mittens and snuck beneath their coats. It bit their faces and gnawed at their legs. They found the tourist information and breathed at the lady ‘it is unbelievably cold’ as she handed them a map. Eventually, after demanding a cab for the 200m walk, the chocolate haired one managed to convince her friend they could walk it and they found the pale one’s first interview location. The chocolate-haired one skipped over a stone bridge to a heated Starbucks, where she hid out until the pale one had finished.

Afterwards, once huge mugs of coffee, sample hot chocolates and a large bagel had been consumed, they rugged up and, sticking to the sunny side of the big cobbled street, began to explore Nürnberg. It was stone captivating. It was beautiful. It was every adjective and superlative rolled into one. It was bridges and icy streams, Medieval houses, antique shops and markets, bakeries and cafes, churches and polished stone streets. And, looking out over everything, sitting broodily atop its domain, the magnificent, 12th century Nürnberg castle. They walked to the top of it, through the cold, stone archways, and gazed out over the city of ginger cake, toys and tiny little sausages stuffed into bread rolls. They breathed it in and felt their lungs turn to ice beneath the wintry blue sky.

Although it was cold and although the friends had to run into shops every five minutes to thaw out and although they had to avail of several cafes and a gluhwein stall to pour hot liquid down their icy throats, it was a magical day in a magical city. Darkness fell and the time came to go back to the tiny town of Weiden. They boarded the train cold, tired and hungry, back to where SG was waiting to ferry them to a restaurant for their goodbye dinner. There they ate baked camenbert and plate-sized schnitzels and drank a bottle of German wine. With full bellies and pink cheeks, they rolled home and into bed, where they slept happily for the evening after.

The End

Photos coming soon …

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27 – Surprisingly Fantastic

The night before my 27th birthday, a funny little feeling that something was up began to niggle. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something in the air.  Walking home from an impromptu post-work German session with Silke, I idly looked for SG’S car, wondering if the niggling feeling something was up, was him coming up from Bavaria to surprise me for my birthday (who would have thought it, there is a romantic in me). No car behind our apartment building, but a light on in my bedroom. The niggling increased when I rounded the corner and found my flatmate standing outside our building, looking up at the kitchen window. I asked her what she was doing and she said her boyfriend had bumped into someone’s car whilst parking and then bolted up the stairs ahead of me, clattering about, talking loudly. Said boyfriend was standing in our apartment looking suitably annoyed and holding his phone and my bedroom light was no longer on. I looked at both of them warily and proceeded to my, now dark, bedroom.

In my dark bedroom, I spied a strange bag in my room. It looked vaguely familiar and atop it sat an English book that wasn’t mine. And, the classic giveaway, my bed had been made. I asked my bedroom walls why my bed was made and then I asked my flatmate, who was hovering in my doorway, whose bag was in my room and she said, ‘oh it belongs to a friend of mine who just arrived …’ and as she said this, she performed a sort of dance move and drew back to reveal … one of my best friends from back home, arms outstretched, yelling, naturally, ‘surprise!’

Now, I am a terrible person to surprise. I discovered this last year when my flatmate pulled the first of her Extreme Stealth Surprises by helping Tammy conspire to fly into Münster from Dublin and surprise me in my local pub for my 26th birthday. Far from shrieking, Hollywood style, and leaping into Tammy’s arms, so we could both jump up and down together, I went bright red and sat there like a stoned toad, mouth agape, eyes flooding, whimpering, ‘what are you doing here?’ Eventually Tammy had to say, ‘can you at least act like you know me so people stop thinking I am a major creep.’ It’s not that I wasn’t thrilled – it was that I was too thrilled and obviously, when I am that level of thrilled, disbelief takes over and I can’t move.

When Dee, who I haven’t seen for nearly twenty months, ran into my bedroom, despite my subconscious niggling, despite knowing something was brewing, I had what could have constituted a minor heart attack. I knew something was up – but Dee flying in from Sydney? I sat down. I stood back up. I went bright red. My breathing went funny. I whimpered. I screeched. It was completely, again, un-Hollywood and mildly scary and Dee had to ask me, genuinely, if I was alright. I was. I was just too thrilled to speak.  I was blindsided. Flabbergasted. And completely overcome by the sheer amount of love, kindness and generosity it takes to plan a surprise visit of that size, by those on both sides of the globe.

Subsequently (despite coming down with a beastly flu type thing in the middle of  my birthday dinner and losing my voice) Dee and I talked rapid-fire for three days straight over kettles of tea and bottles of wine. We skipped through Münster, drank tea and ate cake in one of the city’s sweetest cafes, drank wine at a window seat in a wine bar in Kuhviertl, ate schnitzel at Das Blau Haus and picked over every single detail of the past twenty months we have been living on opposite sides of the world. And then, because it was Friday and because enough red wine had not yet been consumed and there were still moments to dissect and stories to tell, my flatmate suggested we convene at a local haunt for a glass of wine. A couch was found, wine was poured and we got down to business, picking and pulling at stories we had each hitherto only read about in emails.

Halfway through our second glasses, my flatmate’s boyfriend walked in and behind him, casually, SG. SG who, for the past six weeks had been telling me he had to work on the weekend of my birthday party. SG who, once Dee’s plans were cemented, joined forces with the other three conspirators and hatched Surprise #2, the surprise that, after 2 months of planning (them) and 2 months of being blissfully unaware, (me) drew us all together – the best friend over from Sydney, the boyfriend up from Bavaria and my beaming flatmate and her beaming boyfriend. And me, the luckiest girl in the world. And that, dear readers, was how I turned 27.

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Kicking the Dictionary

One of the most marvellous things about teaching and learning a language is that both processes are quite often extremely and unintentionally funny. Ponder, for a moment, the potential hilarity of my own tendency to confuse the German words for ‘grape’ and ‘pigeon’ (traube and taube) ‘boot’ and ‘pen’ (stiefel and stift) and cake and kitchen (kuchen and küche). Or the German tendency to pronounce each and every letter in an English word, as one would do in German. Suddenly words like ‘clothes’ and ‘attitude’ and ‘knife’ take on a whole new flair. I almost feel bad cutting through the flamboyance of ‘k-neef-eh’ with the flat, somewhat boring, ‘n-ih-f.’

Little things like there being no differentiation between a married Frau Hambrett and an unmarried Frau Hambrett, means I get called Mrs a lot. Yesterday I was even called Mrs Hamster, which was a magnificent collision of my oft-misinterpreted surname and the lack of ‘Miss’ or ‘Ms’ in German.

Last night, during a class with a Spanish student of mine, let’s call him J, we laughed like drains for the entire 90 minutes. This is largely because, due to fatigue, J’s Spanish accent was wildly thick and he was quite unable to say the word ‘zone’ without sounding like Antonio Banderas. Every time he said ‘zooooorrrrrhn’ I started laughing and he said ‘why you lath’ and I would laugh some more. It was mildly unprofessional and I am usually very restrained when my students speak of their childrens, or things coming out of TVs or of ‘putting off their trousers’ after a hard day’s work, but J has an excellent sense of humour, and soon we were laughing together at Antonio Banderas, the Spanish, French and Italians. ‘When the French speak English,’ J said, ‘it is truly terrible. It is like they are kicking the dictionary.’

Learning a language is exactly like kicking the dictionary. Putting a language on the floor and booting it around, so words and meanings fly out and rub shoulders when they shouldn’t, wreaking havoc on meaning.  Sometimes the results are stupendous and original, because, often, as one scrambles for the best word, in the heat of the conversational moment, the most simple, direct route is best. Hence my class describing a woman the other day as having ‘canyons all over her face’ instead of, perhaps, ‘deep wrinkles’ or ‘notable crows feet’. And often translating one’s own idiom directly, rather than searching for an appropriate alternative, is less time consuming and allows the conversation to continue flowing – which is why the same poor woman with canyons all over her face, was also accused of looking like an old box.

Sometimes tiny omissions – like an ‘e’ – result in nonsensical claims like ‘I can’t breath’ or using the wrong pronoun makes you far too familiar and bordering on rude (I have since stopped attempting to translate ‘you too’ into ‘du auch’ and thus insulting people when they wish me a good day, by being far too presumptive and casual). Often verbs with similar-but-not-quite-the-same meanings get confused and a lot of ‘renting’ goes on, when it should be ‘lending’ – SG often rents things to people – or SG provides running commentary on the process of ‘watching for a parking lot’ instead of looking for a parking spot.

The only good thing about it all is we are all in the same boat, kicking the dictionary together. Thank God languages are generally sturdy creatures and the damage is (not always) irreparable. And by the way boat in German is ‘das Boot’ and ship is ‘das Schiff’ which, when I am having a particularly bad day, I also get confused with pen and boot. And that is the English boot, not the German boot.

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Australia: The World’s Misunderstood Teenager

The other day someone asked me if Australians are patriotic. In and of itself that is a loaded question and I made some sort of strange ‘yyyeeeaaaahnooooo’ noise which swiftly ended when the second part of the question was posed, ‘to England or to Australia?’  I was quick to assure the lovely man that we display little patriotism to England, despite the Union Jack on our flag, despite the fact we voted against becoming a republic and despite the fact half the bloody country will spend a year in London at some point, and that in fact there exists an age old rivalry between us and the United Kingdom. I didn’t delve any further, because it was not the time or place to embark on a lengthy monologue about it all, but I have been mulling over the question for a while. There is but one take home message in this well-intentioned but completely bizarre question and that is a take home message I encounter time and time again in Europe, and that is – no one really gets Australia.

That’s fine. We are very young, very far away and are largely known for two things 1) our unconventional start as a Western nation 2) our unconventional flaura and fauna. In between grappling with the idea of England sending boatloads of (petty) thieves to a vast, unknown land at the bottom of the globe (and establishing, in an extremely short amount of time, a thriving nation) and an enormous marsupial that bounces and keeps its baby in a pocket, there is little space to attempt to come to grips with the Australian culture. To be fair, Australians themselves have difficulties defining what this culture is – we simply inhabit it, identify with some or most of its complex, woven facets and fail miserably when trying to present ourselves to the world.

I blame several things. Paul Hogan – you have no idea how many people say ‘that’s not a knife’ to me, sometimes in the most obscure of ways simply because they are so desperate to reference it – Australian Tourism for its bizarre penchant for embarrassing campaigns in which people wear a lot of shorts and hiking boots and hats, and us. We tend to shoot ourselves in the foot because a) we aren’t fully comfortable with who we are and therefore what image to present to the rest of the world b) we love telling stories, regardless of the amount of truth they contain. So what happens is we end up fulfilling the world’s expectation of us, by sitting around in shorts and thongs, telling outrageous stories about snakes and spiders with a thick, exaggerated accent for effect because, well, it’s just easier than being serious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the rest of the world walks away from the experience with all assumptions truly confirmed – we are friendly, funny, talkative and routinely wrestle venomous snakes.

What we fail to explain comprehensively are the finer details of a truly wonderful, rich, complex culture that has formed in the most unique social, environmental and historical circumstances. Of an ever evolving identity that, despite its constant evolution, despite its youth, despite the constant debates that surround it, really does have a strong foundation, built on commonalities, shared histories and shared values. We have an indigenous history and we have a white history. We have a strong immigration history. And these disparate, varied, unusual collective histories have combined to produce a unique shared culture. We have a shared way of speaking, a shared way of interacting with each other, a shared sense of humour and lack of pretension. A shared openness, a shared stubbornness. A shared sense of adventure. A shared social code. A shared love and awareness of, reliance on and respect for the outdoors. We are commonly afforded and commonly expect a shared freedom to be heard, to express. We have a shared understanding of what it does and can mean to live in Australia and to be an Australian.

But we cannot expect the rest of the world to understand that, if we don’t tell them.

I love a good snake/spider story and I derive a sick amount of pleasure from telling wide-eyed Europeans about the presence of sharks in our waters (having never actually seen a shark, or experienced a shark alarm or anything remotely shark-related) and what they say the best way to evade a crocodile is (despite never actually having seen a crocodile outside of a zoo). As a beach lover who wears thongs and routinely says ‘no worries’, I play into many a stereotype and for the most part, that’s fine. Because stereotype or no stereotype I am a beach lover who wears thongs and says no worries and enjoys a venomous snake story.

But I also love, and make a concerted effort to do so, explaining what we are also about, beyond the crocs (animals, not shoes) and kangaroos. I want the rest of the world – or at least the people I meet – to understand my culture like I do. Or at least, at the very least, to know that we do have  our own, collective culture, despite our youth, despite how un-serious and casual we claim to be about it, and it’s an interesting, complex one that – despite how unfashionable it is to say this – we are quite and quietly proud of.

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