Category Archives: 200 words

When is an Autobiography a Memoir?

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words

I’ve read a heap of biographies: the subjects as diverse as Aristotle Onassis, John Lennon and the delightful ‘Dame Edna Everage’ (does ‘she’ count?), as well as a good pile of autobiographies and memoirs.
Whilst a biography is what it is, I sometimes find it hard to differentiate between autobiography and memoir.  
A memoir is like a vignette plucked from the fullness of a life, or even a series of vignettes (Angela’s Ashes is a well-known memoir but I would cite Kay Summersby Morgan’s Past Forgetting as an equally good [completely different] example).  Conversely, an autobiography is generally a sketch of a whole life up to the time of writing (such as Christiaan Barnard’s One Life).
Some people believe autobiographies to be scholarly whereas a memoir might be considered more entertaining.
But why?
Well, the short answer is, I think, Voice (yes, with a capital V).  One of my friends – a wonderful writer herself – suggests humour and insight as two qualities that make a good Memoir and I believe these traits best show themselves through the author’s Voice.
Here’s a conundrum then.  The ‘autobiography of…the thirty-seventh president of the United States’ is titled The Memoirs of Richard Nixon.
Go figure.

The answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary…yclept means ‘having the name of’.


Filed under 200 words, Writing

The Nightmare that is Shopping

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words

I spent five hours in a shopping centre yesterday and I have a few things to get off my chest.

  1.  Isn’t it time Just Jeans changed its name?  When they opened, however many eons ago that was, I think they really did sell ‘just’ jeans.  These days, they’ve got tops and dresses and shirts and all sorts of apparel.  Could they be ‘Jeans and heaps of other Stuff’ or ‘Apparel [including jeans]’?
  2. Do all shoe-makers (Diana Ferrari excepted) think that everyone who wears a size nine-and-a-half or above really wants to draw attention to their feet by flopping around in unflattering boats in boring colours?
  3. Can shop assistants half my age, please stop calling me ‘darling’ or ‘dear’?  Even people I know don’t get away with that without ducking a slap.
  4. On that same note…when did we start using Ma’am?  If I want to hear that sort of nonsense, I’ll go shopping in New York if its all the same to you.
  5. Once you’ve said hello and offered your assistance, please continue on with your business.  I’m sure you have plenty to do and I know where to find you if I need help. Cheers.

The answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary…Xylocarp is a fruit.

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Filed under 200 words, General Interest

The Plush Velvet Lining of Clouds

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words.

As an author, it is sometimes disheartening to visit bookstores, ready to introduce yourself and offer to sign some books or assist in promoting your book, only to find it isn’t stocked.

Some of my favourite people work in bookstores: most of them are passionate about books and eager to ‘order the book in’.  But there is something rather special about just stumbling upon one’s ‘pride and joy’.

To add confusion to my situation… due to a mix-up in the very early publication stages, some book stores have my name as Karen LEE-THOMPSON instead of Karen lee THOMPSON so friends occasionally report that my book is not in store as, naturally, they look under T.  I am now discovering that it is often to be found half-way through in the Ls.

I have published articles as Karenlee Thompson and I’m thinking adopting it again (my husband calls me Karenlee).

Sometimes it’s frustrating and disheartening (especially if, like me, you’re still on promotional L-plates), but when I saw this shot of ‘my baby’ nestled comfortably between the hilariously funny Kathy Lette and the sexily erudite Tobsha Learner, I was buoyed once more. 

So that’s the plush velvet lining behind today’s cloud.

The answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary…WICKIUP is a hut made of brushwood.


Filed under 200 words

Give me an S! Give me a Z! What will it be?

A Weekly Series of Riffs in 200 Words

When our American neighbours reach for a ‘Z’, we Aussies generally fancy the ‘S’.  However, my trusty [Collins English] dictionary (circa late last century) has a few exceptions.

When I follow the dictionary (in the manner I was taught to use it), I believe Editors think I am insane.  Working on the assumption that because my dictionary was ‘English’ and OLD (so old that its spine is broken, the pages are discoloured and some are ripped), I purchased a brand spanking new ‘Collins Concise Australian Dictionary’ but I remain unenlightened.

 Here are some examples to show you how I use my dictionary:-

  • realize or realise (Because ‘ize’ comes first and there is no listing on its own under realise then, the listing would tell me that the correct spelling is ‘ize’).
  • fantasize or fantasise (same as the above example – I would opt for ‘ize’)

Has dictionary use changed over the years?  Am I being pedantic? Or was I taught incorrectly? Does the first word represent the ‘preferred’ or ‘more correct’ spelling?

I’m betwixt and between, at sixes and sevens, between a rock and a hard place. 

The answer to Friday’s fictionary dictionary…VAIR is fur used to trim robes in the middle ages.


Filed under 200 words, Writing

Bookcovers: The Good…the Bad…and the Ugly

A Weekly Series of Riffs in 200 Words

I am currently fascinated by book covers.

I remember making suggestions for the cover of 8 States of Catastrophe which the publishers summarily dismissed on the grounds that they know what’s best.  Quite right too.

Browsing through one of my shelves this morning, I’ve chosen some of my favourites.

The Good:  Dorothy Hewett’s The Toucher cover is sexy and inviting.

The Obvious: Lorian Hemingway (she of the famous grandfather) has a girl walking into the river on the cover of Walking into the River but it works.

The Bad: White Mischief by James Fox has a movie still trading on stars but, with its dappled side strip, it has not dated well. 

The slightly boring: Paulo Coelho’s Like the Flowing River. Sun-dappled leaves sound okay but the colour is wishy-washy and the pink block on the back seems like an after-thought.

The Ugly: Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers because a cavernous nostril is never attractive.

The Best: at the moment (because I’m re-reading it and it mesmerises me every time I pick it up), Kate Grenville’s Dark Places which is graced by George Lambert’s oil ‘Chesham Street’.

Chosen from just one shelf so I’ll no doubt post on this subject again.

The answer to Friday’s fictionary dictionary…UHLAN is a lancer in the Polish army.

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Filed under 200 words, Writing

The Passion of Larry King

A Weekly Series of Riffs in 200 Words

I’m currently reading Larry King’s autobiography My Remarkable Journey and his passion and daring as a young man strike me as extraordinary.

All Larry ever wanted to do was to be on radio and watch baseball.  In his passion for baseball, he’d round up his friends so early in the morning that they’d be heckling the officials to open the gates long before the game started. 

And in his passion for radio he listened to it, practiced it and made his own luck by making himself the best choice available at any given time.

Larry’s passion inevitably morphed into television and braces (after a gambling detour courtesy of early successes and a truck-load of money) and there’s nothing lily-livered in his dedication to either.

I was passionate as a young person too.  Fairly bursting with it.  But I was passionate about too many things: boys, fashion, movies, popular music, shoes, parties, champagne…and the list goes on.

It seems only in the last decade or so that I have honed my skills enough to concentrate on the thing I truly love and my writing is all the better for it.

That’s why I often refer to myself as a late bloomer.

THE ANSWER TO FRIDAY’S FICTIONARY DICTIONARY… Sciamachy is a fight with an imaginary enemy.


Filed under 200 words

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

A Weekly Series of Riffs in 200 Words

If you could invite just five authors to your dinner party, who would be getting one of your coveted gold-embossed cards?
I wouldn’t want a table full of seriousness so I’d go for an eclectic mix.

Peruvian-born Isabel Allende, for example, with her 12 honorary doctorates and over fifty awards, would bring a touch of beauty and class and might tell us about being fired as a translator when she started altering fairy-tale endings.  

I think I’d seat Melbournian Christos Tsiolkas next to the American novelist Kaye Gibbons.  I’d hope for a bit of dirty-grunge talk from Tsiolkas and I’d sit opposite so I could lip-read if he mutters under his breath. Gibbons is here because she wrote one of my favourite books Charms for the Easy Life.  

On the opposite side of the table would be Jasper Fforde for a touch of ADD-like mischievousness (and he’s easy on the eye). 

Down the other end of the table, I’d seat Les Murray because what’s a dinner party without a spot of poetry?  Some of my friends are groaning but that’s just because they haven’t had the pleasure of studying Murray’s masterpieces.  Anyway, they are not invited. 

Who would you invite?

The Answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary
A Nymphalid is a Butterfly



Filed under 200 words, Writing

Cacoethes scribendi

Now that I’ve alerted you all to ANZ LitLovers, I thought I should put up my standard Sunday post.

A weekly series of riffs in 200 Words
Cacoethes Scribendi…I just love the way the Latin phrase rolls off the tongue. It means an insatiable urge [or itch] to write. Thought it might make for a great Website or Blog title, with a nod to Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr who penned poetically that even if everyone wrote until “all the pens and paper were used up/and the huge inkstand was an empty cup/Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink/call for more pens, more paper, and more ink”.
I soon discovered that, of course, there are plenty who have gone before me.  The interestingly named UK librarian and blogger Pandora has appropriated it.  As has LA-based Olivia Allin. Olivia appears to have gone so far as to have the phrase tattooed on her wrist. Malaysian political science lecturer Christopher Chong Eu Choong uses the title on his blog where he writes on a wide range of issues. There are many others: seminary students, lawyers, mothers.  
I have been told that the powerful American writer and poet Charles Bukowski wrote a short story or poem (or is it a poetic short story?) titled Cacoethes Scribendi.  I haven’t managed to locate a copy but I will keep searching.  Help appreciated.


Filed under 200 words, Writing

200: Happy and haphazardly heading home

A Weekly Series of Riffs in 200 words

We are on the Gold Coast for a sleep-over with our favourite people – Number One Son and the ‘Pretend Daughter’ – after a fabulous seven days in Fiji.

Being big fans of capital A Adventure and neither of us finding relaxation a natural state, it was a daunting prospect to set off together to  a tiny country that doesn’t boast a huge ‘To do’ list.

But we went with it because it fit the budget and the time-frame and we knew we needed to force ourselves to rest.

I had a few computer withdrawal symptoms, relieved somewhat by my leather-bound journal and the usual stash of pens but, all in all, this relaxation caper is not so hard to deal with.

I snorkelled until my skin was pale and wrinkled and then laid on the massage table to have it soothed and re-plumped.  I walked on the beach for hours and sat in the fork of a tree writing poetry.

 Tennis, a daytrip to Suva, canoes and kava.  Pace was slow, stress was low and, if your budget is tight and time is minimal, it’s an ideal holiday destination.

Way too much food!

Noticing a lack of pics?…what happens in Fiji stays in Fiji

The Answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary

Lallation is…a speech defect.


Filed under 200 words

200: When I’m Sixty-Four

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

As my partner and I mark our thirty-first wedding anniversary, I’m reminded of the 1966 Beatles Classic, purportedly written by Paul McCartney when he was just sixteen.

Young Paul McCartney

We’re nowhere near sixty-four yet but wedding anniversaries – like birthdays – are another way of reminding ourselves that Old Father Time continues his steady march (which is why I usually prefer to ignore such occasions).

The reason for mentioning it now is that, if you are reading these 200 words, it’s because I’ve escaped from my seven-day diet of snorkelling, beachwalking and  reading, to find a computer, click on the draft button and press ‘publish’.  And that will be the full extent of my computer interaction, as I lap us some much needed R&R in Fiji.

I could be facetious and say it’s typical of a man to worry about who would feed him when he’s sixty-four (you’d think he might have learnt how to feed himself) but I would never stoop so low as to have such a crack, would I?

Now excuse me: I’ sure I have a husband, a tray of fresh fruit and a masseuse waiting.  Bula!

The answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary
Kobold is…a mischievous household sprite

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