For the next week or so, the illustrator Ben Wood and I will be doing a series of creative exercises to celebrate the publication of our book The Wattle Tree. Each day we spend half an hour responding to a theme; I’ll post the results here on the site.


Today’s theme was “The Porcelain Girl”. Ben’s response is above. Here’s what I came up with:


Nanna and Poppo had a big glass-fronted cabinet, and in it Nanna kept her porcelain girls. It was meant as a showcase for precious things, this cabinet, but what I remember is the great looming piece of furniture, not its contents.

Nanna and Poppo lived in their kitchen. There was a big glass-topped kitchen table, an orange Formica cabinet that held all the plates, a small TV mounted between two windows, their collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books crammed onto two small shelves.

The glass-fronted cabinet was in the formal dining room. We ate in there rarely; birthdays, mostly. There was carpet on the floor and drapes that fell in thick folds to mute the light coming from the window. It was a controlled environment.

The cabinet suited it; it was the Formica cabinet’s sober cousin. The inside of the cabinet was backed with mirrors, set up so the pretty things inside could regard themselves. There were lights too that came on at the press of a switch; with the mirrors and lights, the porcelain girls on their glass shelves seemed to occupy a different, fragile realm, the cabinet its stern guarantor.

I used to stand there, flicking the lights on and off. It was like the porcelain girls were dancing.