The forest cabin:

My current sanctuary of a home, tucked away in a mountain, had been my writing studio for several years. I used to stay there a few days at a time. It was the ideal hideout, but I also used to wonder if people were right when they said that humans just weren’t meant to live in rainforests. No person who has holed up in one for a whole monsoon season can doubt that, they would say. But I did come to doubt it, and still do. Over the previous few months, as I lugged my swag on the other side of the world, it had become clear to me that the studio would henceforth be my full time address. I would drink with the flies, as they say, though I would never really be alone in that moist, tropical Arcadia, teeming with life as it was. Like [my cassowary neighbor], I was the type of animal that liked rain.

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A dangerous friendship:

In spite of our history, there remained a stubborn affinity between Tryvet and myself. At present there were practical reasons why we didn’t go our separate ways, and indeed, why I hadn’t kicked his ass from Wongabel to Wollongong. But I could not have begun to imagine, at this time, the turmoil which he would soon be stirring up for me – drawing into a mad and gathering maelstrom even my client Bia, my neighbor Farmer Dobson, the wife of a former Prime Minister, The U.S. Senate, Australian ABC television, a distinguished Australian diplomat, a murderous five-star general and the innocent non-human residents of Cassowary Hill. Buy the book.

Rainforest fecundity

Before “Cassowary Hill” became its official title, Jack satirically experimented with typical names of English country houses: “Briar Court,” “Arden Woods,” “The Brambles” – and for a while even ironically called his place “Tryvet’s Triffids”, in reference to the terrifying advance of malevolent vegetation in John Wyndham’s horror novel. Fecundity in nature can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Such is the awesome fertility of vegetation in the wet tropics, unceasingly seeking to reclaim and repossess. Yet it’s easily matched by the thousands of insect species that thrive in that environment – by the collective vigor and rapacity with which the communities of running, crawling, squirming, burrowing, or flying creatures will colonize, inhabit, dismantle, or devour a rotting log, the corpse of an animal, or in some cases even an injured but still-living host. Buy the book.

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Sunset Kiss
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A foreshadowing observation

I recalled being told by a seasoned memsahib and relic of the colonial era, that British society in far-flung, hot, steamy cities (she being a veteran of both Mombasa and Singapore) had been a pressure cooker for “an improper amount” of extramarital goings-on. This begged certain questions. For example, why did she assume that these people’s rates of infidelity were less improper when they were back in England, where their libidinous pursuits weren’t distinguishable from those of the general community? Or what exactly was it that she attributed to the effect of those far-flung cities – temptations encouraged by isolation and sultry nights; or inordinate quantities of alcohol consumed in a thirsty climate; or the irresistible influence of local cultures that lacked proper restraints; or hormone levels peaked by spicy food and a lack of cold showers? The generation of Britishers and other Westerners we knew in Suva had not been raised in a puritanical era, and I could detect no signs, in our Fijian expatriate circle, of carnal activity that was any more or less frenetic than anywhere else. Liaisons were made and broken off at the normal rate. I certainly noted that Emjay was an attractive woman, as I imagine did every man there. Buy the book.

Retro party with lingering effects

At one particularly noteworthy party, when we were still a young family, our place rocked to the theme of Whackos of Wongabel – a freaky sixties night. Among a hundred guests, there seemed to be a few John Lennons, Janis Joplins, Stoners, and Deadheads floating under strings of colored lights among the eucalypts. The air was heady from incense, spliffs, and bongs, and the strains of harmonica and auto-harp. It was a tropical Haight-Ashbury-under-the-stars, and nobody cared if it was a cliché. Jack was there as a whiskered, spaced-out Sergeant Pepper, with an old scarlet mess-kit tunic and bell bottom jeans – a convert from fire power to flower power. But I was too stoned to pay attention, and there was more than one couple that came away from our carnival night rearranged. Buy the book.

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Photo by Michal Zacharzewski at

The dying adulterer

I wondered how I would feel when the doctor told me that Mr. Tryvet had died in the night. I had wild thoughts about death – that it didn’t matter when Jack died, or Paulette for that matter, or myself. In each of these cases there would have been a certain convenience. Imagine if the two of them had died when their plane crashed into a mountainside on their way to Weipa (now that I knew Jack sometimes accompanied the doctor on her official trips into the Cape), how would I have felt about that? In a similar vein, it would have been much the same if their flight to Montreal had been blown up by terrorists. Paulette had made that trip for her father’s funeral. One wondered whether Jack was numbered among those in the cortège. What would the good Catholic Lebasques have made of that? Buy the book.

The ghostwriter’s client

She wanted me to write the whole story but she was resistant to even my gentlest questions about its tragic climax. In our two initial sessions (as our days at Ocean Beach were to be followed by another in New York though neither of us knew it yet), the enigma of this woman became gradually more intriguing to me, and at the same time more frustrating. I felt that the more I saw of her the less I could believe that we would ever come to grips with what mattered most. Yet it was in one sense a welcome challenge, because today’s standard urban mythology of the golden path to fame and success can be a hackneyed story, however spiced with the expected detours into fashionable drugs, kinky sex and conspicuous consumption – tedious stuff for the ghostwriter. Buy the book.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo
Central Park
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Renewing an acquaintance

A visitor’s perspective on a strange city can be swiftly recast by the work of a skilled and sensitive guide. Thus in 36 hours my attitude toward Emjay’s city evolved from ambivalence to admiration. An odd couple, it might have been supposed by anyone noticing or overhearing us as we ambled in Central Park, say, between poignant Strawberry Fields and the eerily familiar but lovely Bow Bridge, or queued for concert tickets at the Beacon Theatre; we were in fact two slightly bemused persons open to whatever renewed affinity and shared enthusiasms might transpire. Buy the book.

A friend’s house

The edge of Dartmoor was an odd location for a John Nash house, with its Italianate balustrading and many-windowed loggias, but though the Loverings’ Devon roots were deep, centuries ago a Peruzzi bride had brought with her a great deal of the Florentine family’s banking money. It was said that her forebears had kept up Devonian connections ever since the days when Italian investors bankrolled a burgeoning West Country wool industry. Hence The Villa, incongruously girt with sheep farms and Dartmoor dry-stone walls, and perched above a hamlet of thatch-roofed and lime-finished cottages. Buy the book.

By William M. Connolley. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by vivekchugh at

A London idyll

These passengers of the Pea Green Boat wandered arm in arm along the Embankment, into Shaftesbury Avenue theatres, Lord Nelson’s hectares of pigeons, Charing Cross Road bookshops and antiquaries, the Albert Hall, in fact wherever their canoodling noses led them; and as they returned each night to Portman Square, they sang to the stars above. In every sense they ate their quince with Lear’s runcible spoon. The beautiful pussycat and her elegant fowl even caught a train to Brighton on one dreamy day, where they lay on the pebble beach, and watched the merry-go-round go round, found and exchanged antique keepsakes from The Lanes and finally

…hand in hand
on the edge of the sand,
they danced by the light of the moon,
the moon, the moon.
They danced by the light of the moon.

Buy the book.

Violence in East Timor – inflicted by clients of the USA

“One of his family’s farm workers came from a village that was wiped out,” [recounted Vinod Pradip.] “He said that TNI soldiers arrived at the village rather angry and frustrated because they had been unsuccessful in a recent hunt for Fretilin suspects. They slaughtered everyone they found, young and old, male and female, all of them unarmed. The worker had been away at his job, and when he returned home he found his village empty. The details are almost beyond belief.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there were about sixty people in the village, and most of them had witnessed the soldiers pillaging their houses. The villagers were roped up and laid out in a field. Then their living bodies were crushed into the ground by the bulldozer that had been brought to bury their corpses. That happened in 1983.”

These were hellish stories, but Vinod clearly had no intention of sparing me the facts [about my client’s murdered boyfriend].

Buy the book.

By Gunnery Sgt. Jennifer Antoine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons