An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Author Christine M Knight's Blog

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Does reading play a role in shaping young women?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reading introduces girls and young women to worlds and the possibilities of life outside the world they actually live in. It teaches them they do not have to be defined by their circumstance but can rise above it.

Quality fiction and non-fiction about strong women show readers what women are really capable of and also portray the diversity of womankind. By strong female characters, I don’t mean physically strong but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.

Strong female characters have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined. They have the ability to act independently, to make their own choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences.

Reading about the diverse experiences portrayed in quality fiction and nonfiction also counterbalances the questionable values and images being promoted in many of today’s television shows, movies, and music videos that target teens and young adults. Those questionable values and images represent a narrow and false image of the people, cultures, and the world that we live in. Literature and quality nonfiction make it clear that it’s who you are on inside and not your shape, size or skin colour that counts. 

Reading also develops skills that assist girls and women to succeed. Reading and studying both require persistence and an ability to sustain focus and read for long times.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Do celebrities have a right to privacy?

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Overseas readers, please be aware that I use the British system of spelling.

The right to privacy refers to a person’s right to have a private space, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property or having private matters in the person's life staying private. The right to privacy also refers to the right a person has to control the degree of access by others to a person’s private domain.

For most celebrities (not those associated with reality shows), celebrity status was a by-product of the person’s success. It was not the person’s primary goal. Instead the person was focused on achieving goals and longevity in a career and gaining recognition for a talent or achievement. Celebrity status is something that famous people are confronted with and have to learn to manage.

This topic is complex and there are three aspects to it: freedom from scrutiny versus a right to privacy, the media myth, the impact on the audience and in turn on society. 

Many people confuse freedom from scrutiny with a right to privacy. We are all subject to passing scrutiny when we’re out in public whether we are conscious of it or not. We observe others and are observed ourselves in turn. Sometimes as part of that scrutiny, we make judgements about who or what we see around us. It’s part of being situationally aware which is increasingly important nowadays. Similarly, we are subject to scrutiny by speed cameras when we travel on public roads and by CTV cameras in shopping malls and other public places. That scrutiny doesn’t mean a person’s privacy has been invaded though.

If you are a celebrity, there is a high probability that a greater percentage of people will be interested in you than they are in a passer-by. It is unrealistic for any celebrity to expect not to be observed and scrutinised when the celebrity is out in public but in a private capacity.

Given the high tech features of mobile phones (I believe Americans call them cell phones) and the ease with which people upload into social media nowadays, everyone has the potential to be a roving reporter. It is natural for fans to want to snap a discrete photo of a celebrity from a distance to record the experience and to share it with friends. In such circumstances, there isn’t any invasion of the celebrity’s privacy.

The second aspect of this topic centres on the myth and argument that celebrities forfeit their privacy once they develop public persona. Whether we realise it or not, we all have a public persona – the face and identity we choose to show to people outside of our homes. Our job – be it a trash collector or an entertainment industry star – is not a valid reason for others to deny our right to privacy. 

Of course, in the entertainment industry and politics, celebrities and the media need one another. Like all healthy associations, it should be a symbiotic relationship where there is a mutual benefit, not a parasitic relationship where one exploits and benefits at the expense of the other.

There isn't any valid reason for a celebrity to be treated as an expendable commodity, someone to be exploited and then discarded when exploitation is no longer possible. Certainly there isn’t valid justification for the exploitation of the dark or embarrassing moments of that person or that person’s family life.

The third aspect of this topic is the threat posed to civilised society when we accept the right of others to invade a person’s privacy. When people discuss the right to privacy, they mostly do so from the celebrity or media’s perspective. Few people stop to think about the impact on the audience. That impact is negative and supports the growth of a destructive culture.

The culture supports making money from ‘stolen’ moments in a celebrity’s private life and the writing of take-down articles. It appeals to baser human instincts within the composers as well as the audience. It is a culture that is unable to celebrate success and that lacks generosity of spirit. That culture threatens society because it shifts our reference points for what is acceptable and unacceptable. That culture endorses predatory behaviour that causes tragedy such as the death of Princess Diana.

You may say in response to this article that there are celebrities who behave badly and do so knowing they have a public audience. Surely, they have lost the right to privacy.

That does of course happen. A certain celebrity who shared compromising pictures of himself through Twitter and Instagram comes to mind. In that instant, the celebrity has surrendered the right to privacy for that act in that situation, however, the celebrity has not renounced the right to privacy for the rest of that person’s life.

The actions of the rude, crude, and uncivilised in social media are not reasons to publicise such behaviour. When the press pick up on that type of behaviour and promote it widely, they are contributing to a shift in societal values and the development of a spectator sport. That spectator sport is very similar to rubber necking and to the blood sport fascination associated with gladiatorial games in Ancient Rome. It is strongly reminiscent of the society in the capitol of Panem as portrayed in Hunger Games. If mainstream media does not pick up on social media sharing, a tweet is lost in the blink of an eye because a tsunami of information is now shared through social media.

If we want to sustain a civilised society, we have to consider the people who are impacted by widely publicised poor behaviour – the audience. Public exposure to questionable behaviour inadvertently sets a new code of behaviour because it implies it is acceptable and so establishes it as the norm.

Think for a moment about the way obscenity such as f***! has infiltrated the  language in everyday situations in a diverse cross section of society. Through constant exposure to it via film, music, and television, people have unconsciously absorbed the values implied by the use of that obscenity. The impact of that exposure on an audience is similar to the impact of subliminal messages. The impact is huge. Teenagers now use the word liberally and often without realising the word is offensive to many.

Even the most unlikely people, when in similar conflict situations to those shown in the mass media, find themselves uttering the expletive. A thinking person stops, aghast that she or he has reacted in that way, and questions the response and makes a conscious decision to reject the use of such expletives in the future. The unthinking person doesn’t even blink and in doing so endorses the behaviour, establishing it as a normal response and modelling it to the immediate audience as a normal reaction in stress.

As Lieutenant General David Morrison, former Chief of the Australian Army, said in June 2013, 'The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.'  I will go one step further. The behaviours we mirror and model in everyday life are the behaviours we condone in society.  

The right to privacy is an important right of citizens in a democratic and free world. We have a right to have a private space where we feel safe, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property and to expect the private matters of our lives to remain private. We have a right to control the degree of access by others to anything in our private domain. The right to such privacy is very different from freedom from surveillance. Since 9/11 and the rise of terrorism, there has been a genuine need for surveillance to ensure public safety and societal security - a totally different blog and discussion.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

How important are male role models in shaping what girls and young women value?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

International readers please note that Christine uses the British spelling system.

Male role models are critical in shaping what girls and women value and what they reject. Girls and young women learn how to interact in a variety of situations from the male role models in their lives just as they do their female role models. What men appear to value influences how a young woman shapes herself, her behaviour, and her aspirations. So men have an extraordinarily strong influence over what girls and young women value just as the entertainment industry does. That is why the Robin Thicke  / Miley Cyrus 2013 performance brought such criticism.

A diverse range of male and female role models is important in the life of a child and teenager. Why? Male and female role models demonstrate the codes of interaction and the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It is a major contributing factor in learning how to form positive relationships: personal, emotional, workplace and career.  It is crucial to long term well-being for a young person to learn how to belong to the world in which that person lives.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Looking outside the box for role models for girls

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Recently, Taylor Swift said she looks to no one – at least in her own industry – as a role model. During a Time magazine interview, she wondered with open embarrassment what her grandchildren would think if she behaved public more like her peers, such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, exposing herself and selling her image through her body.

Taylor Swift has a point. Girls and women mirror what they admire and adopt the values of their role models. I always keep this in mind as a storyteller as I explore the many roles women play throughout their lives, their choices, and assumptions that shape how they behave.

To provide better role models for tweenies and teens, we need to think about who their role models are. We often think of role models as people with outstanding qualities or with high public profiles such as music or movie stars, sportsmen, and the like, but we all function as role models. In particular, parents and family members are powerful role models during childhood.  Indeed, girls form their understanding and expectations of male and female roles and how to interact with the other gender from what they observe and learn within the family unit. In my debut novel, 'In and Out of Step', I explore the far reaching ramifications of childhood role models on Cassie Sleight and Mavis Mills.

Children, teenagers, and even adults learn through observing and modelling others. We first see this with small children at play. From their earliest years, children learn how to interact in a variety of settings and situations by observing the people around them and seeing the reaction to a variety of behaviours. It is from this observation that children identify and then learn about what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity, makes them a target and so on.  

The influence of parents and family leaders as role models appears to lessen as a child nears and goes through adolescence. This change is a reflection of an adolescent’s journey to adulthood, the move toward independence, and driving need to develop her/his own identity.  At this stage, tweens and teens not only have a wider situational awareness than they did as children, but they also mix with many more people of different age groups in an ever increasing range of situations and settings.

Adult readers, I’m sure, will have memories of their own journeys through adolescence, the widening circle of influences on them, the swirling emotions and the conflicts that arose as they sought to establish their own respective identities. They'll also be aware that, as part of the journey to independence, the lens through which teens and young adults view their parents and family leaders changes.

In order to provide better role models, we need to realize that there are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. So it is important that we demonstrate through action and lifestyle the values that we hold dear and want our children to consider modelling.  Importantly, we need to consider and scrutinize the values actively and passively modelled by the world at large. We need to initiate discussion with our children about that world to better help them understand it and develop discernment. If that dialogue is established early enough, it will continue in the difficult years of adolescence. That doesn’t mean adolescents will accept or adopt their parents’ perspective, but a childhood of conditioned response means that perspective is taken under consideration by teens even though the immediate response could appear to reject it.    

Related to the journey to independence is the strong genetic drive to belong. In order to belong, tweens and teens need to be in step with the day's culture and so they look to leaders in that culture. That culture is driven by the entertainment industry, including magazines.  

As adolescents grow up, they often try on different role models just as they try on different styles of clothing and experiment with fashion styles. They’ll walk a mile or two wearing that role and make decisions about its suitability for them. They look for what roles fit comfortably into their lives, what helps them fit in and be liked. All the time, adolescents observe and gauge the reactions it brings. If it brings unwanted reactions or doesn’t achieve what they seek, they change because being liked and accepted is part of belonging. Importantly, girls change role models and adapt their behaviour as they grow into womanhood and evolve. If you are a teen music, film or television star, your evolution is reported as a series of mistakes rather than role play experimentation. Those mistakes may result in notoriety and an unhealthy cycle of behaviour that interferes with real growth.

Tweens and teens are highly impressionable. They are vulnerable to the culture of the day. Those years are a time when they experience everything on a much higher emotional level – ask any mother if this is not so. As adults, we need to be situationally aware of that culture and its embedded messages.

We appear to live in an era that is intolerant of diversity among women, an era where being sexy and being a particular size and shape and having a youthful appearance is more important than anything else. An era where real women are airbrushed, photo shopped, and manufactured to represent a commercial image that denies the reality and diversity of womankind. An era where material culture is promoted and sold directly and indirectly. In the entertainment and other image preoccupied industries, it doesn’t seem to matter that cosmetic chemical and surgical intervention to halt the aging process makes people a parody of youth rather than youthful. The embedded messages to tweens and teens is one that devalues aging and reduces a person’s value to how well the person fulfills the stereotype – a narrow external image that is driven by commercial motivation and that reduces women to objects. Objectification supports a culture of misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace and in public. Given the denial of female diversity and the rising trend to objectification, it isn't surprising depression for tweens and teens is on the rise.

In order to counter this, we need to see and hear about strong, confident and inspirational real women from all walks of life regardless of whether or not they fit the stereotype. We need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value of diversity as well as a person’s talents, traits, qualities, and achievements.  Longevity is a gift not a curse and should be celebrated. As part of that celebration, we should talk about and celebrate the diverse roles that women have played in history including how they have contributed to shaping the world. 

Images of women sold in magazines and shown on television have a huge impact on the target audience, tween and teens especially so, moreso than a pop diva or pop dio (the male equivalent of diva). While the audience and written content of magazines may differ, there is an alarming similarity in the images selected to represent women. Those images box women into a narrow category (beauty and desirability being ranked as important) with little attention to any woman's intelligence, talents, inner qualities, admirable traits, achievements, or how she positively contributes to society. The focus is on material culture instead, and women are repeatedly told that their personal fit is a simple matter of purchase.

Our bodies are merely the vehicle in which we travel though life. The body does not represent the sum total of any woman's value. It is important that women of all ages have this reinforced to them especially by magazines and shows that purport to be for women and run by women. As a society, we need to see and hear about more women who are content to be their age at every stage and valued because they are so.

Increasingly, images of women in magazines and on television represent myths and propaganda that shape our culture, influence attitudes toward women, and alter what we as a society accept and value.Television shows do the same thing. For instance, there are lots of action TV series and movies that have tiny women in high heels with martial arts skills giving as much violence as they get. Such shows mislead and potentially put young women in danger because they are misled into thinking they could defend themselves or even overpower a stronger man. The men’s world boxing championships have weight divisions for a very good reason. A champion lightweight boxer cannot overpower a heavyweight. By showing women in such violent situations, the shows are shifting our view on what is acceptable. It could be seen as a covert way of condoning violence against women. It covertly undermines the white ribbon campaign whose slogan is Say No! to violence against women.

As a society we need to challenge misrepresentations of what is heroic in women and encourage girls to look outside the box for heroines. Heroic women are strong women. I don’t mean physically strong (although some women are) but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.

Strong women have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. Love and romance in the real world is very different from the romance genre. Strong women enjoy love on their own terms and actively avoid being treated as objects and discarded due to an expiry of a use-by-date. Truly strong women have the ability to act independently, to make their own wise, well-considered choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences and make decisions with their own good and the welfare of others in mind. Such women draw affection, love, and importantly respect.

 As a society we need to encourage story tellers, journalists, the media, and workplaces to value diversity, and portray and represent the beauty, strength and diversity of womankind in all of its forms. My novels do this.

Consider also reading

 The lyrics 'Take It Off' also deal with this issue.

'Take It Off' features in 'Song Bird' and is sung by two fictional characters - singing sensation Nikki Mills and international rock star, Rick Brody. 'Song Bird' is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other online sellers, and many bookstores in the USA.

If you wish to comment, please send me your comment through the contact page. I've had to close my blog for direct comments because of spam.

Note to international readers. An Australian, I use the British spelling system.    


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Friday, March 20, 2015

BELONGING: PART A - The Quest to Belong

Friday, March 20, 2015

This blog entry is an excerpt from BELONGING: A RELATED TEXT COMPANION to 'IN AND OUT OF STEP', on sale through Amazon.

Focus:     the protagonist - Cassie Sleight

Techniques:     third person narration, characterization, context (place and situation), metaphor, dialogue, flashback scenes, plot action, choice of language

    From the first page of the novel, the author signals, through third person narration, that the protagonist is in the role of observer (page 3) and distanced from the world and people around her. The reader sees what Cassie observes and shares her perspective of the worlds that she is entering: the high school setting, the Madison House community, and the wider township. This discussion will focus on Cassie's quest to belong in the school setting.
    From the outset of the school plot, it is clear that the protagonist, Cassie Sleight, a championship dancer, does not see herself as a high school teacher and feels that she does not belong to the teaching profession.
    As a coping strategy (a strategic process) to help her overcome her feeling of being an outsider, she chose to reframe her view of the world she was entering by likening her finding a place in that world to the dance floor and a 'form of dance' - metaphoric thinking. That coping strategy gave her confidence in dealing with a new environment because it focused on similarities rather than differences in her old and new world. In addition, she also saw the means to inclusion as a matter of wearing the right costume and knowing the steps of the dance. The author uses the extended metaphor of dance to represent Cassie's coping strategies.

    After locking the car door, she looked down at her clothing: a simple white shirt, a flowing denim skirt, and her favourite black shoes. She looked the part. All she had to do was be it.

    Teaching is another form of dance, she thought, a simple matter of learning the steps and getting in time to the rhythm of school life. I can do this. (page 4)

    Cassie's sense of being an outsider is exacerbated by the attitudes and values of the community that she seeks to join. On the first day of the school year, male students reinforce that she does not belong in the male world of the English faculty to which she is headed.

    The stairs leading into the English block were congested with students.
    ‘Excuse me, would you mind moving so I can get through?’
    ‘You in the right place, Miss? This is the English block entrance. The Home Economics stairs are over there and the Music and Art are near the main office.’
    ‘I know. Now, would you mind moving?’
    Legs moved and an aisle appeared amidst the sea of bodies.
    Halfway up the stairs, she heard snatches of adolescent conversation.
    ‘Geez! Tail bait in English, again!’
    ‘Fun and games ahead, boys.’
    ‘How long do you reckon this one will last?’
    (page 24)

    A sinister note is established through dialogue when the boys make reference to 'fun and games ahead' and 'How long will this one last?' The question emphasizes the outsider status of women teachers in the English faculty.

    Cassie's outsider status is further reinforced by the behaviour of the men of the English faculty when they arrive that day.
    The men, when they arrived, were noisy. They acknowledged Cassie’s shy greeting but then ignored her. Camped in clusters around the centre table, their conversations interlaced and centred on cars, women, and the coming year’s football team. Feeling overwhelmed, Cassie withdrew to the window again. She found being ignored comforting. It gave her time to learn about the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers. (page 25-26)
    While the men's behaviour reinforced Cassie's outsider status, narration emphasized her role as observer of the action. This scene also shows that exclusion is not always a negative experience. Feeling overwhelmed by the new experience, Cassie found 'being ignored comforting'. It gave her the opportunity 'to observe the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers.'
    Cassie's first term experience in the school shows that belonging is not a matter of having a desk within a staffroom (a physical place) or a class allocation (a role within the community).
    A sense of belonging requires shared values,  behaviours, and culture - behavioural notions (an insight). A number of behaviours within the adult workplace contributed to Cassie's feelings of exclusion. Disrespect for her personal space made her feel physically uncomfortable in the staffroom.
    Focusing now on her workspace, Cassie saw the discard of crates and some of her things on the floor and under the table. Gesturing at her things on the floor Cassie said, ‘Didn’t anyone notice this or did you all just step over it? I don’t care what this table used to be, it’s my work station now!’ The denial of her ownership of her faculty working space by her male colleagues emphasized their view that she did not belong there. (pages 74-75)
    Failure of the adult community in which she worked to share corporate knowledge and to provide collegiate support exacerbated the problems she experienced in the classroom and heightened her feeling that she did not belong (insights). A person's emotional response to the behaviours in the world in which she/he lives and or works is another factor that shapes whether of not a person feels alienated or belongs.  
    Added to this, it appeared that there was an underlying agenda within management to force Cassie and the other women to leave. Management's failure to provide adequate professional orientation put her at a distinct disadvantage within the faculty and the classroom. She did not understand how the discipline process, the marking process, or the established codes of interaction worked. She also didn't know the etiquette of dealing with management or the interaction necessary to get things done. This set her up for conflict and confrontation with management. The insight is that if the community doesn't accept you, then you cannot belong. If you don't understand the codes of interaction or 'the rules of operation' then you cannot be accepted.   

   Therefore, knowledge of a place as well as knowledge of the social and cultural forces operating within a place play an important part in a person’s struggle to belong especially when there are conflicting values and attitudes.

    Lack of knowledge and lack of understanding also shape how an outsider views the community and, at times, accepts isolation as a means (strategy) to deal with it.

    ‘You need to surface for air a lot more than you do. Bonds in the staff room are as important as control in your classes.’
    ‘I’m not comfortable in here.’
    ‘And you never will be unless you make the effort, Cassie.’ (page 55)

    In the classroom, Cassie's outsider status is empathized by the non-compliant behaviour of her students. That behaviour denied her her role as teacher, the person in charge. She was made to feel an outsider.(page 41) This made her feel defeated and excluded. The author's:
•    description of her reaction 'Slumped against the classroom wall' symbolizes her temporary defeat
•    use of metaphor 'feeling like dust on a shelf' symbolizes her feeling of irrelevancy and being out of place
•    inclusion of Cassie's subtext shows the coping strategy that she used to deal with her sense of alienation  and emphasized Cassie's sense of alienation within the classroom.

    Summing up, Cassie found herself confronted by a range of unexpected issues in her new workplace. Tacit resistance to the inclusion of the women teachers in what had been one of the last bastions of male supremacy at Keimera High was a major barrier to her finding acceptance and her place within the faculty team and in the classroom. The cramped physical conditions in the staffroom (setting), the hostile behaviours of her male colleagues (characterisation), the related withdrawal of collegiate support and corporate knowledge about workplace practice (aspects of characterisation), rioting students in her classes (setting), evidenced her alienation and exclusion.

    The author shows that the barriers to Cassie's acceptance in the workplace and the related adversities that she faced were fundamental to her role change from observer of life to participant in it (insight).
    So, what did Cassie do to overcome those barriers?

    Overwhelmed by the foreignness of the setting, the lack of acceptance in the workplace, and without the option of returning home, she persevered at working for change despite feeling isolated and, at times, sickened by her situation. At work, she prioritised the obstacles before her, with survival in the classroom as the foremost obstacle to overcome. She then adopted a trial and error approach to problem solving in the classroom. She shelved everything else for the 'too hard basket' and avoided contact with the men at the heart of other issues. Solutions to her classroom predicament were not found readily.

    During this challenging time, Cassie found relief from the compounding trauma of her workplace predicament through the familiar ritual of everyday life outside the workplace and the developing connections with the people in her personal and social worlds as well as in the weekly phone contact with her parents. This sustained her in her struggle.

Excerpt 1
    She saw little of her male colleagues beyond the blur of the rush (to and from class). Samantha (another teacher) shared a wry comment whenever they passed, usually eliciting an unexpected laugh. Rajes, serene in her progress, always took time for encouragement. (p45)

Excerpt 2
    In the tradition of generations before them, George and Minna Madison (her landlords) had afternoon tea on the front verandah in the summer months. For Cassie, it was a period of respite from her workday stresses. (page 47)
    Cassie made progress in her quest to belong only after she stopped being an observer of her workplace and when she sought to overcome the difficulties she faced there. As a result of dealing with the challenges confronting her, Cassie changed her way of thinking about and seeing the opposition to and exclusion of her. When she recast her students as individuals rather than as a wall of resistance (metaphor) or as a group of people who outnumbered her, she made headway in gaining control and claiming her place as a teacher. The author used wall here as it represents an impassable barrier. In the case of her classes, Cassie's mindset had been one of the barriers to her making satisfactory connections with her students.     

    Similarly, Cassie's mindset was a barrier to her 'fitting into' the faculty team. It was only when Cassie recast her male colleagues' persistent encroachment on her workspace as random acts of thoughtlessness that she found the strength to be assertive and stake her claim. By rejecting a paradigm where the men were cast as powerful aggressors in her world, she also stopped seeing herself as a victim and as powerless. Gaining inclusion within the faculty team did not solve the complications and challenges in Cassie's life: work, social and personal, but it did provide a sense of security and empowerment.

    Those changes in mindset caused a change in Cassie's super objective (the motivating force behind her actions). At the start of the novel, Cassie's super objective was the need to find 'a safe harbour' (page 162). That super objective had led to her emotional shutdown after a significant trauma in her mid teens and was revealed through flashback scenes. Her 'safe harbour' objective led to her becoming a shadow of her former self.

    As the plot action progresses and as she dealt with the issues and people in her new world, Cassie's understanding of herself developed. She realised that she had previously withdrawn from life and had assumed the role of observer and become a wallflower.

    In rejecting the roles of observer and wallflower, Cassie re-engaged with life. The re-engagement is reflected by:
•    her search for ways in which to gain control of her rioting classes,
•    her standing up to Coachman (her boss),
•    her standing up the men of the faculty who denied her claim to a staff room workspace,
•    her direct rejection the sexually harassing behaviours of some of the men in the faculty and demand that she be treated appropriately,
•    her lobbying of Coachman and demand that he deal with student accusations of sexual harassment by Talbut,
•    her insistence that Van der Huffen cease being an outsider during his friend's crisis and provide the support that Selton needed during the latter's personal crisis and loss (Chapter 25, pages 253-260),
•    her return to the dance floor and later to dance competition, and
•    her attempts to provide support Samantha Smith after the rape and re-engage her in life (Chapter 41).

     The author used the wallflower metaphor to represent Cassie's growth in self-knowledge. Cassie realised she would only find her 'safe harbour' if she put aside her fears and participated in life and the varied forms of relationship to which she could belong rather than withdrawing from life and accepting isolation or alienation - a significant insight into herself and life. It was through re-engaging with life as demonstrated by assertiveness that she ultimately found a place where she belonged. (insight)

    At the same time, the other women teachers' predicament, which mirrored Cassie's experiences in the workplace, triggered a change in the behaviour of the men. It became evident to some of the men that the covert strategy to deny acceptance of the women was unfair and could not continue. A grudging respect for the women evolved and some collegiate support followed culminating in some of the men saying 'this is not on'. (Chapter 19 starting page 187) Familiarity and respect that comes from perseverance are factors in gaining acceptance and inclusion.

Insight: It was only when Cassie rejected the role of outsider, stopped being a passive observer, and actively participated in the world around her that she found her place and achieved her sense of belonging.

Note: The author used parallel and contrasting subplots that dealt with Cassie's and other characters' experiences at Madison House and the school to explore further aspects of belonging and to extend on insights into her themes, including the concept of belonging.

You can buy a paperback or eBook copy of BELONGING RELATED TEXT COMPANION through

You can buy a paperback or eBook copy  'In and out of Step' from any bookseller online. The Book Depository has free shipping.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Q and A for fans

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Growing up, were you an avid reader? If so, what did you read?

Yes, I've always loved reading. Books have functioned as portals into other worlds for me. I've always been drawn to novels that explored the times, culture, and values in which a story was set.  

The 'Heidi' stories made a significant impression on me in my pre-teen years. In particular, the comfort that Heidi drew from the soft chorus of the alpine trees in her most vulnerable moments when she moved into her grandfather's house. That impression was so strong that many years later, I looked for a rural property bordered by confirs. It was the deciding factor for me when my husband and I purchased land north of Canberra, 

As a teenager, I loved Jane Austen's novels, not because I saw them as romances, but because her stories looked at the world from the female perspective. Her novels explored the challenges that women faced in her society then as well as the changing attitudes to relationships. I think Austen would be upset to know many people nowadays had reduced her novels to simple romances. They represent so much more than that.

I also enjoyed writers like Elizabeth Gaskell and the three Bronte sisters. Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was another favourite. In each case, it was the world the stories were anchored in that interested me. I also read all of Agatha Christie's novels.

In my late teens, I was enlightened and inspired by authors such as Mark Twain, Leon Urus, John Steinbeck, and Hemingway. Their stories were firmly grounded in the historical, social, religious, and economic circumstances of the times they wrote about. 

Reading helped me comprehend the world.

What did you read as an adult?

I loved quality fantasy fiction by authors such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Brooks, and Raymond E Feist. I was fascinated by science fiction stories as told by Issac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, and Frank Herbert. 

I loved James Clavell's novels - he wrote superb stories. 'Shogun' is a favourite. I loved the way Clavell positioned his readers to view Japan from the changing perspective of his central character, John Blackthorne. Half-way through that novel, if I'd been able to speak Japanese, I would have stopped speaking English. The female heroine in 'Shogun' is truly memorable. 

Clavell had a huge influence on me as a writer. In my stories, I also position readers to see the world through one or more character's eyes. By doing so, I make it possible for the reader to feel life from that character's perspective. That makes the impact of conflicts powerful.

I was attracted to all of those stories because the authors wrote about ideas, values, and the world their characters inhabited. Stories like that can be read more than once. 

I am also a huge fan of the TV series 'Castle' and have all the novels that were spin-offs from that series. Although those books were fun to read, they lacked the substance that I normally look for and enjoy in novels.

Have you ever had a favourite bookshop?

As a child and teenager, I did. My father used to take my brother, sister and me to David Jones at Parramatta once a fortnight (2 weeks) on Saturday mornings. My mother worked in retail - Rockmans at Cabramatta - and it was Dad's job to entertain us and keep us out of mischief.

We used to sit on the floor in the book department section of the store, browsing the first chapters of books, deliberating on which ones we'd ask Dad to buy.  Although money was in short supply in those years and we didn't have much, we did have access to books.

Dad let us buy two - three books each on the proviso that we had to read them over the two week period and then talk to him about the stories, ideas, and values in them before the next trip to David Jones. In many ways, my father had difficulty relating to his children but he did share many precious moments with us through a shared love of reading and storytelling. 

Those days are wonderful memories. I'd sit cross-legged on the floor in the book section, a book open on my lap, and disappear into new worlds. The shop assistants didn't fuss about us reading their books beyond talking to us about how to hold a book and turn pages. They actively encouraged a love of reading. When business was slow, they would chat to us about the stories they loved and thought we'd enjoy.


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Sunday, February 01, 2015

'Song Bird' excerpt - Chapter 1

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The stretched limousine slowed as the chauffeur looked for the entrance into the designated parking area at Sydney International Airport Terminal — the QANTAS end.

“Wow!” Zoey Blake absorbed the long stretch of fans squeezed into a cordoned off area that extended beyond the taxi rank. Fans also lined the carpark side of the road. Many of them held placards with WELCOME BACK TO OZ painted on them. Bemused travellers filed in tolerant humour past the exuberant fans. Taxis came and went. “Did you ever think Nikki Mills would get this big?”

“I don’t want Mummy to be famous.” Dan Mills had not understood that Zoey’s reference had been to his mother’s group, The Nikki Mills Band. At ten years old, he was significantly taller than he had been when his mother had left seven months earlier for her band’s first European tour. Like many Australian children approaching puberty, his once blonde hair was darkening. Athletically fit, Dan sported a tan despite diligently repeated applications of sunscreen by family members over the years.

Eighteen year-old Zoey replied, “You want Nikki home more, don’t you? Being famous means the band does stadium gigs and travels less than when they were building their fan base.” She no longer favoured the Kogal fashion of her mid-teens. She now dressed street-savvy: a narrow brimmed trendy hat, a fitted white T-shirt with green trim on the hem bands, snug jeans with a studded belt, and the latest fashion heels. She accessorized with a number of thick wristbands, wristwatch, and beaded bracelets.

As the limousine passed through the raised boom at the entry to the car park, Marg Mills, Dan’s grandmother, added, “Zoey is right, Dan; the more famous your mother gets, the bigger the breaks between her tours and the more time at home. Life can only get better for you both.”

Her husband, Trevor, huffed in disagreement. He worried about his daughter, his grandson, and their future given the so-called golden road she followed in the rock ‘n roll industry, well-known for its indulgence in sex and drugs. Trevor believed everything he read and heard in the media. It was widely reported that the musician’s road was paved with addictions, broken relationships, 
extravagance, and bad financial management. That truth was so fixed in his thoughts that he feared his daughter’s career would lead to her ruin.

Marg’s censure reflected in her face when she stared at her husband.

“What? I didn’t say nothin’.”

“Just as well, Trev’.” While Marg worried about the glitter and gloss associated with fame and the risks involved in her daughter’s pursuit of ever-greater success, this was not the place to say so. Their concerns had been raised, discussed, and the subject closed when Nikki had said, “Don’t worry about the risks in this business, Mum. Don’t worry about me.” Marg did though but accepted the subject had been closed.

After the limousine parked, a newly appointed publicist, Isra Haq — a fashionably dressed, slender Muslim woman of Indian ancestry — opened the car door. She wore a gold patterned, loosely worn headscarf, dark glasses with a dramatic frame, a tailored hip-length brown jacket over a cream shirt, and brown slacks. Her makeup was minimal and her lips a bold red. 

“Mr and Mrs Mills? Such a pleasure to meet Nikki’s parents.”

A short distance from them, security guards held back fans who had grouped there in the hope of making contact with individual members of the band after they had left the terminal.

The publicist checked her leather compendium. “I presume this is Dan and, of course, you must be Zoey.”

Zoey smiled at her. “Deduction is obviously your strong suit.” She indicated the stretched Hummer parked next to their limousine. “Is that the other car hired to take the band home?”

“It is. The band with Mrs O’Brien and you will travel in the Hummer.”

“Can I transfer my suitcase before we go into the airport? I’ve been staying with the Mills since the holidays started.”

The drivers of the respective cars moved into action as Zoey finished.

The publicist said, “You’re at boarding school in the Southern Highlands, right?”

“Not for much longer; this is my final year.” 

“You’re leaving before you complete Year 12?” 

“No, I’m in Year 12.”

“Oh, you look younger.” The publicist then spoke to the group. “Shall we head off to Arrivals?”

The group moved forward as Marg spoke to Dan. “Hold Zoey’s hand, Dan.”

“Gran, do I have to? I’m too big to hold hands!”

“You’re right, Dan, but today you will. It’s too crowded. I don’t want you gettin’ lost.”

“Can’t I just promise to stay next to her?”

Marg hesitated.


Zoey said, “Dan's pretty responsible, Aunty Marg. If he says he’ll stick close, then he will.”

Reluctantly, Marg agreed. “I’m relyin’ on you, Zoey, to keep him close.”

With affable efficiency, the publicist led the way into the terminal. “So many more fans than I’d hoped. Mr Doyle will be thrilled! We have great media coverage: Nine, Eight, Seven, Ten, and the ABC as well as the newspapers! You can’t buy press like that, and I’ve organised the perfect spot for a touching reunion.”

“Hang on,” Trevor Mills said, stopping. His group came to a halt. “You can put a cork in that idea. You’re not goin’ to exploit a private family moment.”

Surprised, the publicist turned to Trevor. “But I thought you wanted to greet Nikki in the reception area as soon as she left the Customs Hall? Surely, you expected this to be a media event when we supplied the chauffeur and organised the rendezvous. Mrs O’Brien has been most obliging and already done an interview for Channel Eight’s Daybreak team.” Sarah O’Brien was the wife of the guitarist in The Nikki Mills Band.

Trevor looked at his wife who reflected his confounded expression.

Zoey spoke for them. “Unless Nikki has cleared these arrangements, it’s not on.”

The publicist looked at her watch. “We need to get there now, or you’ll miss Nikki’s arrival completely.”

The group did not move.

“Okay, I’ll work something out.” The publicist hurried forward, aware that her time-critical plan now worked against her. Why hasn’t anyone explained the importance of the publicity show to them? It’s too late to organise the VIP room. How can I make this work? Looking back over her shoulder, she was relieved to see this particular train was back on track.

The Mills’ party followed.

Passing through the terminal’s automatic double doors, the Mills and Zoey came to a standstill. Not only could they not move forward, they were gobsmacked.

A squeeze of select fans positioned behind waist-high barricades raised the hubbub significantly in the Arrivals area. Exiting travellers, after clearing the Customs Hall, flowed down a narrow path into Arrivals, met their welcome parties, added baggage trolleys to the congestion, and converged into a single lane that moved like Sydney traffic in a peak-hour jam.

The automatic doors opened and closed behind the Mills; traffic backed up. Zoey reached for Dan’s hand.


“Okay.” Zoey let go of his hand.

Hired security guards on the lookout for the publicist cleared a path for her party. The publicity machine took over.

*    *    *    *

The Nikki Mills Band exited the Customs Hall midstream in the flow of people. In the time they had been away, the look of the band had changed. It was not so much what they wore but the ultra-cool attitude they projected. The men wore sneakers, jeans, solid colour Tees, and carried jackets. Usually clean-shaven, they all wore a patina of stubble that day. As the men exited Customs and took in the glare, Jack Carter and Steve Mason donned sunglasses.

With her hair styled à la Cleopatra, Susie Blake wore black high heels, piano striped jeans, a black T-shirt, and carried a black military style jacket slung over her shoulder. She favoured a collection of bracelets.

Nikki Mills was the standout in a structured Armani red leather jacket, a vintage white top paired with a black polka dot cream mini skirt, and red high heels. A naturally beautiful woman with a magnetic personality, she had let her long black hair down that morning. Her body was shapely though not overweight. Like her band, she was fit.

Fans roared at the sight of the band members.

Nikki looked back to see who was behind her. The only people she recognised were her entourage.

Jack absorbed the banners and understood the scene first. “Nikki, this is for us.” He crossed to a bevy of teenagers clamouring for his attention and autograph. Ahead of him, the other two men in the band did likewise.

“No!” was all Nikki could say, her thoughts of family temporarily vanished.

Susie Blake, the drummer, stood briefly next to her. “You didn’t expect this? How could you not given the mobs of fans we drew overseas? I certainly did.” Laughing, she crossed to a group of young men going to outrageous lengths to attract her to them. Her dream had become her reality.

“Nikki! Nikki! Nikki!” Fans competed with one another for her attention.

Looking for her family as she moved forward, Nikki brushed a line of outreached hands in her progress. Amidst the flash of amateur and professional cameras, Nikki saw her parents, son, and Zoey.

Dan rushed to his mother, hugging her around the waist. Aware of the media interest, Nikki returned Dan’s embrace while trying to shield him from reporters’ eyes. Her hair fell forward and masked her face from public view. Her words to Dan centred on matters of the heart.

Close on Dan’s heels, Sarah O’Brien, dressed in soft appealing green hues, rushed to her husband. 

Tony locked her in a very public display of passion, apparently indifferent to the press and bystanders. Nikki watched Sarah with Tony and, for a moment, envied her.

Nikki was a passionate woman. For years, she had focused her desire on achieving a better life for herself and her son. Although she had succeeded, she remained unsatisfied. Nikki longed for love of the adult kind, at the very least a meaningful relationship. Was there an easy path to that destination, one that did not take time away from Dan, or compromise her career and independence?

The Mills and Zoey joined Nikki and Dan, as did Susie Blake. With Dan attached to her, Nikki hugged each parent, her father first. 

Susie embraced Zoey as much as her daughter would let her in such a public venue. “I didn’t expect to see you here, Zoey. Can you afford the time off from study? When are your exams?”

“Mum! It’s the October school holidays. Besides, I know my stuff backwards. It’s just low-key revision from now on. I’ve missed you!”

“Oh, I thought … never mind, I’ve missed you too.”

The publicist, eager to harvest the fruit from this carefully planned event, enjoyed the press’ interest in what was an unusual story of a single mother triumphing against the odds in the music industry. “Nikki, I’ve booked a media room because of demand. We’ll head there next. The press are very interested in The Babes-in-the-Bath tour and why the British and European press dubbed it so.”

Nikki laughed. “You heard about that over here?”

“The Sotheby’s auction and the story behind the tour tag has the media intrigued.”


“I’d be a poor publicist indeed if I didn’t make the most of such a golden opportunity.”

“Then we’ll be happy to tell the whole story.”

“Now if you, Dan, and the group will follow my assistant, I’ll round up Jack and Steve. We thought some shots of you reunited with Dan—”

“No, I’m not exploiting my child.”

“But, Mummy, I want to stay with you.” 

Peeved, the publicist said, “But—”

“There are no buts about it.” Nikki flicked a grateful smile at Zoey who soothed Dan with an undertone explanation. Nikki looked apologetically at her parents before speaking to the publicist. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Isra Haq. I’m the senior publicist for The Harbourside Agency.” 

“Good to meet you, Ms Haq. I assume there is a private anteroom where our families can wait during the interview. Perhaps you could organise some food and drink for them as well? I know Mum and Dad won’t have had breakfast yet, and I doubt Dan has; it’s too early for them.” Nikki focused on her father. “Dad, later when the crowd has left, could you collect my baggage and get it to your car? I am sorry about this delay. Here’s the—”

The publicist intervened. “I’ve got the baggage collection covered, Nikki. The chauffeur will oversee its collection.”


“Mr Doyle saw the wisdom in my suggestion to provide one given your parents are country people unused to city traffic or the airport circus. It will make visiting his office after the media interview easier as well. No parking hassles.”

Aware of her travel-dishevelled state, Nikki said, “I hadn’t planned on meeting anyone today let alone being in a media interview. I intended going straight home. Have a good look at me; I’m not dressed for it. Can’t you reschedule both?”

“I can’t do that.”

Nikki frowned.

“We have to take advantage of this media opportunity now. I can’t reschedule Mr Doyle either; he pays the bills and calls the shots. I do have a make-up artist ready though.”

“Not a stylist and a change of clothes for us?”

“No, our line is that this was a spontaneous fan-based response, and we just took advantage of it on the day. The crumpled look is the look we want.”

Nikki responded, “If I’d known about the meeting with Doyle, we could’ve showered in the QANTAS lounge facilities before we came through Customs.”

“But that would’ve worked against the spin of this morning being a spontaneous happening, wouldn’t it? The fans drew the media and the need for a media interview grew out of that and that led to me being here.”

“How spontaneous was it really?”

“As spontaneous as any such gathering can be. Look, I know you’re unhappy about the way today is playing out, but doesn’t the fact that you flew back Business Class compensate?”

“So that’s the reason? We thought it was because the tour was such a success.”

“I’m not privy to Mr Doyle’s reasons.”

“Yet, you linked our mode of travel to the media circus unfolding here.”

“I’m just trying to see the glass as half full, that’s all. … The media room is this way.”

*    *    *    *

The Harbourside Agency occupied a premier location in Darling Harbour southwest of the Harbour Bridge. The agency occupied floors in one of the greenest buildings in Sydney. The building was an innovative and ecologically sustainable facility, a reflection of growing national concern about climate warming. Natural light filtered into the building through a panelled automated roof that tracked the sun and shade. Huge expanses of double glazed windows provided views of Cockle Bay to the west and the harbour to the north while maintaining energy efficiency. Solar chimneys expelled 
hot air and drew in cooler sea air. The interior walls transitioned subtly from blue to green. Furnishings were elegant yet functional. 

Nikki always felt the tranquillity of the building whenever she entered it. That day was no different. After her entourage entered Doyle’s agency offices, a polished receptionist ushered them into a spacious lounge where a sumptuous morning tea was set out stylishly.

The publicist excused herself.

“Will you look at that view!” Trevor Mills said. “This place must cost a bundle!”

Nikki crossed to her father and spoke softly to him. “Dad, try not to look so impressed. It puts me at a business disadvantage.”

“Oh, right. I need to act like this is run-of-the-mill stuff, eh, Mavis?” He chuckled, pleased with his subtle witticism.

Nikki smiled at her father’s attempted pun. “Dad, have you forgotten you agreed to call me Nikki in business situations?”

“We both had, love,” Marg said. “Trev’, doesn’t this look a gastronomic delight? So much more appetisin’ than that airport food. I wonder if we should wait for Mr Doyle.”

Trevor answered, “Wait would be the right thing. It looks more like a gastronomic nightmare given all that gluten and dairy.”

Doyle’s elegant personal assistant glided into the lounge area followed by the publicist. The assistant spoke to Nikki. “Miss Mills, Isra Haq has explained your desire to freshen up before the meeting. I’ve discussed your request with Mr Doyle. He’s happy to wait.”

“That’s very kind, but I don’t want to waste his time. He must have a busy day.”

“He does, very busy, but he’s more than happy to give you time to freshen up. Besides, his sister has popped in without an appointment. London to Sydney is such a long flight. Staff here appreciate how terrible travel grunge feels. Our shower facilities have a full complement of hair and make-up products. I can organise a fresh change of clothes from the Harbourside shopping centre if 
you can’t access your luggage.”

“Thank you.” Nikki consulted with Susie before adding, “If someone could buy us jeans and a T-shirt each, sizes 10 and 12 respectively, we’d appreciate it. Fellas?”

Jack answered for them, “Yeah, we’ll have a shower and change as well. We’re a one-size-fits-all group, regular, thirty-four waists, large Tees. We haven’t had time to get local currency yet so—”

The personal assistant replied, “No worries. The agency usually takes care of this sort of thing.” She left.

Nikki spoke to the publicist, “Thank you.”

“I hope it compensates in part for not giving you a heads up before you returned to Oz.”

*    *    *    *

Avril Doyle, sartorially elegant and beautiful, perched on the edge of her brother’s office desk. “Why not, Shaun? What good is it having a brother in the music industry with so many connections if he won’t do you a teeny favour, especially when it’s for his only sister’s wedding?”

From the comfort of his leather chair, Doyle looked up at her, an unusual experience for him given he was significantly taller. His face was symmetrical, lean with a well-defined bone structure, expressive brown eyes, and dark hair. His sister was a classic beauty. They shared a strong family resemblance although he opted for a quiet, understated casual look that nonetheless spoke money and success.

“You’re confusing my clients with wedding singers. It’d be an insult to ask any of them to perform at your wedding, a wedding the old man hasn’t consented to as yet, or are you prepared to forgo inheritance and go for love alone instead?”

“I’ll bring Daddy around. I’m not sure how yet, but I will. His preoccupation with bloodlines and breeding is absurd!”

“I agree, but it’s a consequence of his passion for race horses and his decades old dream of winning the Melbourne Cup. It might help if you enlisted Gran.”

“Do you think she’ll like Gavin?”

“No, he’s not her cut of man. For that matter, I don’t understand what you see in him either.”

“The heart wants what it wants.” Avril stood. “What I want is essentially the same as we did when we were kids — a close-knit, demonstrative family. Have you forgotten?”

The question triggered a memory from his childhood. He remembered the sleeting cold rain of that winter’s day and the bleak chill of indifference. That day had been a milestone in his young life.

Other nine-year-old kids on his soccer team streamed off the field to their supportive parents who came in different sizes and doses of affection. His grandmother’s chauffeur, having returned from a warm café in Bowral, waited at the Range Rover. 

Shaun walked from the field, noticing the small differences among families and seeing how they belonged to a larger pattern. His family did not fit into that pattern. That day marked his growth from reaction to introspection and action, and the start of his campaign to initiate the change he wanted within his own family.


“I haven’t forgotten.”

“Well, with Gavin, I can have that family. He grew up in that family.”

“And if you’re made to choose?”

“I’ll call Daddy’s bluff, but if push comes to shove, I’ll go with my man if it comes to that. It won’t though. Gran wouldn’t stand for it.”

Doyle’s phone rang. He rerouted the call to his personal assistant.

“I’d best be off, Shaun. On my way in your PA stressed you had a ‘very busy day’. You coming down to Moss Vale for the family weekend?”

“I hadn’t planned on it.”

“I’m officially introducing Gavin as my fiancé so I’ll need your support.” Avril glanced at Doyle’s photographic collection symmetrically aligned on the wall as Doyle walked her to his office door. “That’s new.” She crossed to examine the framed photographs. “Oh my God! Shaun, you’re the anonymous buyer from that Sotheby’s Art Auction that made the headlines!” She considered each of the four photographs carefully. “You paid an outrageous amount for them!”

Doyle recalled the heat of the bidding and his unexpected determination that he had to possess those photographs.

“Both women look hot! Are they?” Avril turned on her heel and looked critically at her brother. “Are you interested in one or both of them? I would not be surprised if it were both. You have such a harem!”

“Tsk, tsk. Where are your morals? I’m not interested in either woman. My agency manages them though, and it seemed like a prudent marketing strategy at the time. I expect you to maintain my anonymity.” A private man, Doyle sought publicity for others, not himself. He did not buy the favour of others.

“I’m no blabber-mouth, well … not since I grew up. Your secret is safe; I promise not to use it as leverage to get my way. Well, I’ve places to be and money to spend.” On impulse, Avril hugged him. “You are the best brother a girl could ever wish for. You’ve two weeks to rearrange any conflicting plans for that weekend. I know you won’t disappoint me.”

As the lift descended, it occurred to Avril that her brother’s explanation did not quite ring true. Maybe it was the reason for him bidding at the auction, but it did not explain him engaging in a bidding war that was the talk of Fleet Street and the Australian media. Which of the women was he interested in?


Want to know what happens next? 


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Take It off - A Song from SONG BIRD

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'Take it Off' is a song developed by Christine M Knight for her novel 'SONG BIRD'.  In that novel, the lyrics and music are the outcome of a collaboration between Nikki Mills (the protagonist) and Rick Brody (rock star).

When the song was produced, the song title changed to 'Masque'. The word masque refers to the elaborate decorative masks worn at costume balls where ritual and role were entrenched in past centuries in Italy. The word is relevant to the manufactured images of performers in the music industry and the challenges some performers face in being real in relationships.

I’ve lived life 
As a masquerade
Defined by roles
I have played.
I’ve been a shape shifter
The person 
Others expected 
Me to be.

Take off the mask
Farewell the double face.
You don’t have to pretend
With me.
I know the fear of being real.
When you are true
To yourself
You can be true to me. 

Strip it off.
Let it fall away.
Turn desire into
Heat and fire.
Strip it off. 
Let it fall away.
Touch and taste

Barefoot, naked,
Disguises shed,
In our natural states,
We can live
Without the masks
That bar love
You can be true
To yourself and me. 

Strip it off.
Let it fall away.
Turn desire into
Heat and fire.
Strip it off. 
Let it fall away.
Touch and taste

Get down and be real with me. (repeated)





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Thursday, December 11, 2014

'IN AND OUT OF STEP' excerpt

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Overseas readers, please note that Christine M Knight uses the British spelling system.
Chapter 1
As she drove south from Sydney, Cassie Sleight wondered, How many people make decisions based on the emotion of the moment? Fed up with her impossible situation, when she had seen a means of escape the year before, she had taken it. Ticking the box anywhere in New South Wales on her application, she had left it to chance where she ended up in the approaching Bicentennial year. Cassie hoped now that she would not regret acting on that impulse.

With her view framed by her car window, Cassie turned off the highway toward Keimera. The road still glistened from the night rain. Tall, Norfolk pines marked the boundary of the harbour park on her left. A long string of shops stretched down the street on her right. Cabbage tree palms grew out of the footpath every few yards and shaded the shopping strip. Purple and white agapanthus bobbed in the morning breeze at street corners. There wasn’t any sign in the town of the drought that gripped the hinterland.

Uplifted by the beauty of the township, Cassie drove slowly past the pink Federation post office, looking for a sign to the school, and then turned right toward the foothills. The street leading to the school was typical of coastal country towns. It was wide with a row of trees creating pools of shade down the centre.

Little of the school was visible from where Cassie parked. In fact, the place looked deserted. Aware that it was almost though it was, in the rear-vision mirror. She settled her dark hair, hating the way the curl had tightened with the humidity. Not for her, the big hairstyles currently in vogue. 

After locking the car door, Cassie looked down at her clothing: a simple white shirt, a flowing denim skirt, and her favourite black shoes. She looked the part. All she had to do was be it. Teaching is another form of dance, she thought, a simple matter of learning the steps and getting in time to the rhythm of school life. I can do this.

With her footsteps echoing in the school driveway, Cassie looked for signage. She found a portable blackboard with ambiguous writing where the driveway opened into the main quadrangle.

Double doors? Which ones? There’re lots, Cassie thought, scanning the area. It was then that she noticed the assembly dais much like the one used at her old high school. Given the conformity of school layouts, Cassie assumed that reception was in the far left corner obscured by the dais.She was right. Pausing to visualise a confident entrance, she took a deep breath and pushed the opaque glass doors.

Inside, people stumbled, domino like, into one another. 'Hey, watch it!’ protested a number of voices.


A man in jeans and a blue striped shirt near Cassie rubbed his shoulder while the dowdy woman next to him complained about the damage to her shoe and toes. Cassie looked at the crowd. Many of them wore variations of denim though a number had opted for beige or brown shorts, socks, and sports shirts. Had the school population grown in size or was there a big turnover in staff?

‘Excuse me,’ Cassie said, her path blocked. ‘I need to get to the reception desk.’ Nothing happened. ‘Excuse me,’ Cassie spoke louder and tapped the shoulder of the man in front of her.

He turned and looked at her. His, ‘Do I know you?’ unnerved her.

‘No … I’d just like to get through, please.’

Other eyes now focused on Cassie. She felt her cheeks quivering, swelling, reddening but knew it was mostly an illusion. When she was twelve, she had actually consulted a mirror and discovered that what others saw had little to do with her sense of self when under stress. Ignoring the speaker, she edged her way through to the centre glass cubicle and willed the red to subside.

The grey-haired receptionist, apparently deaf, took her details.

‘Why hasn’t that old mare been pastured?’ It was a male speaking from somewhere nearby. Cassie looked at the receptionist. She obviously had not heard.

‘I had to tell her four times!’ the speaker continued.

Registration completed, Cassie waited, wedged between a pipe of a man and a barrel of a woman. Neither was inclined to talk. She glanced around the small room, looking for a friendly face or for someone who felt as lost and unsure as she did. Unsuccessful, she worked for self-possession through distraction.

Looking at her shoes, Cassie realised shoes were the only remaining link to her life as a dancer. Was that why she loved them? That day’s shoes were from Spain and Flamenco in style. She loved the filigree lacework over the toes. The ratio between heel, arch, and ball was perfect.

A booming male voice read out three names, ‘Chandran, Smith, Sleight.’

The crowd parted like the Red Sea allowing two women to enter the office to the right of the receptionist but it closed on Cassie. Exasperated by the deafness of the people in her path, she resorted to tapping, edging, and finally vigorously elbowing a route.

Stepping into the office, signed as Deputy Principal, she saw a man in the centre of the room. His dark hair was slick. His manner oozed authority. She assumed he was the Deputy Principal but soon realised her error.

The Deputy sat behind a paper-littered desk. His face resembled that of a basset hound, and he seemed small com- pared to the man before him. Cassie suppressed a smile when she heard the Deputy addressed as Mr Barker. Unfortunate name, she thought.

Cassie studied the two other women. They formed a sharp contrast to one another: a middle-aged Indian with beautifully coiffured hair and wearing a green sari, and a peroxide blonde whose dress hugged her full figure.

The Deputy Principal spoke, ‘I assume you’re Mrs Chandran.’

Rajes Chandran graciously inclined her head.

‘I’m afraid that’s where my powers of deduction end. Which of you is Sam Smith?’

‘I am,’ said the blonde, ‘but I prefer to be called Samantha.’ ‘I see that you were a mobile teacher for six months at Wollongong. But you’re a local though, right?’ 

‘Yes. Wollongong was a long commute.’

‘Hopefully, your probation paperwork will arrive in the fullness of time. And as for you, m’ dear,’ the Deputy now spoke to Cassie, ‘years of education equip me to deduce that you are Cassandra Sleight.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Cassie replied, missing the attempt at humour. ‘You realise that your probation is for a year? Keith Coachman here is Head of English and History and your immediate supervisor. Apart from whole-of-school staff meetings, I’ll have little to do with you apart from leave forms. You see Keith for everything else. I hope your stay with us is a long one, ladies. Unlike other faculties, Keith seems to have problems holding onto his female staff.’

‘A matter of professional dedication. Literary subjects involve a lot more work and can’t just be taught from a text book.’ Coachman was dressed in a khaki suit, white shirt, and bow tie. ‘Your orientation material, ladies, is upstairs.’

‘And how many men does your department boast?’ Rajes asked.

‘Eleven.’ Coachman directed his next comment at the Deputy. ‘I had hoped repeated requests for a larger staff room would’ve been approved for this year.’ He looked intensely at the Deputy. ‘I’d like to tell the men we’re moving in before classes resume.’

‘Oh … I thought … the Boss decided that classroom pressures are too great. You’ll have to stay put.’

‘They won’t like that especially with three girls to cram in. We’re not sardines you know. At this rate, we might even start behaving like lemmings!’

‘Not my decision; take it up with the Boss.’ The Deputy Principal, sensitive to the potential for confrontation, shifted the papers on his desk.
Coachman weighed up the wisdom of a skirmish.

‘On your way out, Keith,’ the Deputy said without looking up, ‘tell Jim I’m ready to see his new Science staff. I’ll see you noon at the executive meeting.’

‘Twelve?’ Coachman’s voice had an unexpected edge to it. ‘I thought the meeting was at ten. Is it still in the Boss’ office?’

‘No, um …’ The Deputy Principal’s face flushed. Coachman’s brow beetled. 

‘Another of Rhonda’s stuff ups?’

The Deputy hurried on, ‘Oh well, I guess she’s been pretty flat out down here. The venue has been changed to Home Ec. Kitchen 3. The Boss has decided to keep the Inner Sanctum clear of meetings this year. Don’t forget to send Jim in with his new science staff.’

The Deputy shifted the papers on his desk again. Cassie looked at Keith Coachman. Something was happening here. She did not understand what.

Coachman suppressed his quip, swept past the women, and headed toward his domain. The women followed in brisk pursuit.

The rest of the day was a blur of information and a muddle of impressions.

During the drive to the boarding house, Cassie sifted through the day’s images. The staff room was cramped and hot. The men were a defensive pack obviously resentful of female intrusion. The English Head appeared to be a control freak. The identities of her colleagues were a jumble. Overwhelmed by the number of names she would have to learn, she did the maths: five classes times thirty students. God! That is one hundred and fifty names to know and identities to work out. Eleven men in the faculty, not to mention the rest of the staff! How will I ever remember them all?

Chapter 2

‘Tea, George?’ Minna Madison sat in a large wicker cane chair. She was a small woman who liked to think of herself as plump rather then overweight. Plump suggested an attractive, soft ripeness of the figure like in Rubens’ paintings. George, her husband, thought of her as having a Mae West figure without the ‘Come up and see me sometime’ attitude. Minna loved life and everything in it.

Politically active since her twenties and on the local council as an independent, Minna had been the mayor for a number of years until the party machine ousted her through a series of unfounded accusations. Her regular, insightful articles written for the local newspaper extended her influence in the community, adding to the other aldermen’s resentment. By contrast, her role as Branch President of the local Country Women’s Association had been unchallenged and lengthy.

‘I’m fine with this one, love,’ George replied. ‘I don’t like the chances of those rock fishermen if their bait is what I think it is.’ He had thinning grey hair and the characteristic oversized beer belly common among many older Australian males. He sat in a squatter’s chair, binoculars glued to his face. 

‘I’m worried that we haven’t heard from Mike, George. Tell me again what you said to him.’

‘I can’t remember the exact words, Min.’ 

‘Don’t expect you to. Just the salient points.’

‘I told him about the vacancy at the newspaper but left it to him to see the advantages compared to labouring.’ George returned to his scrutiny of the anglers, moving to the southern end of the verandah.

Minna leant back in her chair and chewed her right thumbnail in contemplation. George had said so much less than she had wanted. With Mike, less was better. She knew that now.

It had taken Michael’s unannounced departure north to teach her that. He’d left in anger and inflicted six months of sleepless nights and anguished days on them because his whereabouts were unknown. In the three years that followed, they saw him a mere handful of times. Minna felt the alienation in each courteous visit from him. Mike held her at a football oval’s distance but not so George. His failure to understand her feelings strained the marriage.

‘Min, one of them has caught something. A bloody snapper! Bigger than a politician’s ego.’

Dimly registering George’s conversation, Minna’s thoughts were fixed on the past. Clever, athletic, and very social, Michael had been headstrong as a sixteen year old. He was restless when left to his own resources and always wanted to be out-and-about.

Minna’s arguments with Michael mostly stemmed from what she thought of as misused time. She felt study had to be a priority. He was capable of being school dux. He should be dux. He would not be if football, dancing, and his mates continued to distract him. The scenes between them had been loud, emotional, and hurtful. Michael would not be steered. Needing defense, he had used knowledge of his parents’ relationship problems as a weapon against his mother.

George had stood by mute, which Michael interpreted as censure of Minna. George’s silence had infuriated her, as did its effect on Mike. She had fought battles on two fronts and lost. The loss added to the rift between husband and wife that both masked with talk about the inconsequential and mundane.

Rattling around the expanse of the house, they had tried to cope with its sudden emptiness, each in their own way. George found comfort in increased workload while Minna turned her energies outward into the community. The only positive that Minna saw in her son’s abrupt departure was the severing of his relationship with Kate Denford.

‘Min, you’re not listening to me!’

‘I am. Something about a fish being landed. I’m glad some- one got what they were fishing for.’


Upset, Minna said, ‘I need my sunnies. Won’t be a tick.’ Would she ever get over that grief, she wondered as she entered the house. She had hoped Michael would return with George the week before, and with that return, her hope for reconciliation be realised. Now, she thought, it might never happen.

Aware of his wife’s upset, George wondered what he hadn’t said.

On her return, Minna was again in control. ‘And how was your day?’

‘I’ve been wondering lately if the real killer of the elderly is boredom. Fishing, bowling, and relaxing aren’t what I’d thought they’d be. What do other old men do with their lives once they retire?’

‘You’re not old. It takes time to adjust to changed circum- stances.’ She felt her emotions bubbling just below the surface and tried to cover them by pouring another cup of tea.

‘Not for me, thanks. What I lack is a sense of purpose. Reasons to get up in the morning. You’ve got them. I need them.’ George stood. ‘Want a hand with the washing up before I go down to the pub, love?’

‘No, thanks, I’ve some council work to do first. This will hold until the dinner wash up.’

‘Righto. Dinner at seven?’ ‘Yes.’

Minna watched George saunter across the expanse of lawn at the front of the house. There wasn’t any point trying to help him. An ideas man, he prided himself on finding solutions often before a problem presented. It was for that reason that they had taken in boarders after Michael’s departure.

With land rates in Keimera spiralling upwards and worried that their income would expire before they did, George had persuaded Minna to rent rooms in their sprawling home, build up their nest egg, and enhance George’s potential superannuation payout. Three of the four vacancies had filled quickly. The house again echoed with the clod of adult feet and the chatter of young people, distracting the Madisons from their son’s absence.

On his way into town, George realised that his marriage had foundered on daily ritual and the pressures of life. They had been dry-docked, and he had not realised it until his retirement the year before. Since then, he had analysed his marriage, determined what was wanting, and how to refit it. The repair to the hull, all things going well, would be that

Chapter 3

Rounding the final curve
leading to Pipers Point, Cassie caught her breath at the sight. Madison House, a white two-storey colonial mansion, dominated the crest of the peninsula and was the only house visible.

Pulling over, Cassie reread the directions on a small piece of paper that had bookmarked the street directory.

The reality of Madison House was far different from her expectation of a small family home with a room to let. It was obvious even to Cassie’s uninformed eye that the house was his- torically significant and represented something of the former pastoral glory of the region. Why would someone who lived in a house like this rent rooms? As a child, she had wondered what life in such a house was like. Now she would find out.

Cassie looked back down the road before she pulled out. The view was fantastic with uninterrupted views of the town’s harbour, its marina, and the southern coastline.

The driveway snaked up to the rear of the house, past two acres of terraced gardens that swept down to the cliffs. A large shed that at one time had housed tractors and other farm equipment now housed a car. To the right stood a garage.

Pebbles crunched under foot as Cassie walked toward the back verandah. A number of doors opened onto it. Unsure as to which door to knock at, she hesitated.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Flame

Thursday, November 13, 2014

As part of the writing process for 'SONG BIRD', I write lyrics that focus on key character relationships. 'The Flame’ deals with one of those relationships. The scene below is from the novel.

The world-wide  launch date for 'SONG BIRD' is 2nd February 2015. My publisher has advise me that it will be available for pre-order through all online sellers and can be ordered through bookstores from 15th January 2015. You  need to tell your local bookseller it is POD.

I once thought 
Love was pure desire 
A hunger, fever,  
An appetite on fire, 
Consuming lovers 
That came my way. 
Relationships would 
Blaze and fade.
VERSE 2 - WOMAN (variation in melody)
Once I thought, 
Love was like breath, 
Something we were preset 
To feel and express. 
Seduced by a masquerade, 
I got burned and learned, 
Actions, not the serenade, 
Love's truth confirms. 

I know now
Love's an eternal                                    
It burns brightly
On the darkest 
It fills my heart, 
Soul, my mind.
So profound, 
It can’t be denied.
Love forgives.
It accepts.
Love knows
The wonder
In wonderful. 

Steadfast and constant,                        
Loyal, true
That’s what I’ll be
On life’s road with you.
When things ‘re tough 
You can depend on me.      
You hold my heart
For eternity.  

I know now
Love's an eternal                                    
It burns brightly
On the darkest 
It fills my heart, 
Soul, my mind.
So profound, 
It can’t be denied.
Love forgives.
It accepts.
Love knows
The wonder
In wonderful.

© Christine M Knight

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The Month's Posts


      Wednesday, October 10, 2018

      Reflection on 'In and Out of Step'

      Wednesday, October 10, 2018

      Set between 1988-1990, In and Out of Step’s thesis picks-up on a period of significant change in Australian social and cultural history which mirror the wider western world. The novel reflects the popular perceptions of the era and explores reaction to changing roles and values, the relationship between generations, gender dynamics, and power in society through contrasting character perspectives.  

      The novel charts Cassie Sleight's (rhymes with slate) and her generation’s journeys in new and uncharted territory in their relationships: personal, social, and work after the second wave of the women’s movement.

      Life forces the women in my novels to reassess what they are doing, how they are doing it, and to evaluate who they are and want to be.

      Through Cassie’s experiences, the reader is entertained and provoked to consider the perceptions held and dualities of women’s roles in western society. That may suggest that this is a non-fiction work masquerading as fiction. However, this aspect is firmly set in the external world of the story and Cassie’s experiences.

      In and Out of Step explores:

      • how identity and relationships are shaped by the way gender operates and gender differences
      • how place—geography, attitudes, values, and culture—shape people’s lives and actions
      • the culture that supports and promotes sexual harassment in the workforce and social spheres
      • changing perceptions of gender roles
      • adapting to change in oneself and the wider world
      • the personal, social, and workplace influences that contribute to change.

      My novelsIn and Out of Step, Life Song, Song Bird portray the diverse and changing realities of women in the time the novels are set: 1980-1990, 1996-1998, 2000-2002.  The stories are anchored in the social and historical context of each period.

      Read more

      Saturday, August 12, 2017

      Life Song - a story of metamorphosis

      Saturday, August 12, 2017

      Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel.  Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey. 

      At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of  the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.

      At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.

      'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'

      Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.

      The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.

      Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.

      I recommend you listen to two songs from that novel: Sunshine Days and Life Song (A Vision Splendid) to get a feel for this story.

      There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.

      As part of your journey in reading this blog,  I suggest you listen to Move On.  In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.

      Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song


      Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it.  The Keimera Series is an opus.

      Keimera does not in any way allude to chimeraa monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.

      If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby.  Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.

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      Sunday, June 25, 2017

      The story behind my song 'The Flame'

      Sunday, June 25, 2017

      'The Flame' features in my novel ‘Song Bird’. In the novel, it is sung by rock legend Rick Brody who serenades Nikki Mills (the central character in the novel). In real life, it was sung by Funnie Williams and Thanapat Yarchartoen (aka Film). I produced the song through Karma Sound Studios in Thailand.

      BACKSTORY TO 'THE FLAME' - The Singer or the Song?

      In ‘Song Bird’ and its prequel 'Life Song', Nikki Mills - the Girl from Oz - is a survivor of domestic violence. Once an innocent, she believed the very convincing serenade of her first significant love, Terry Kikby. Long before Nikki met Rick, his song 'The Flame' resonated with her.  She believed that Rick's songs really expressed his own ideas and values.

      Having been at the top of the music industry for sixteen years, Rick finds his music is dropping in the charts. Defined by his 'bad boy' image, he has lost sight of his real self. Consequently,  his music has lost its connection with his fan base. Interested in Nikki as a woman as much as in her skill as a lyricist, Rick collaborates with Nikki on a new album. 

      Flattered by Rick's interest in her and impressed by 'The Flame', Nikki embarks on a relationship with him.  A subplot in the novel explores the ramifications of that decision.  Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had?  Will Nikki be hurt or healed by the relationship with him?  The answers are found in my novel 'Song Bird'. 

      Readers of this blog may also find the pop rock song 'Masque' and interesting insight into Rick and Nikki's relationship issues.

      I currently have 8 songs on CD Baby and iTunes. You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. Online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

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    • Media article about Christine's music


      Christine's rock song 'Masque' featured in an article on Marquix TV ( and Avastar (
    • As engaging as Bohemian Rhapsody


      Are you tired of dark narratives on TV, in the cinema, and on the news? Then escape into the world of 'Life Song' and 'Song Bird' , available on Amazon and other major online sellers. Th..
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      Thank you for visiting Christine M Knight's website. She is not only an author of wonderful novels but also a song composer and producer.. We ask you to help Christine's music cross over to comm..

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