Writing in Place

I’ve just come back from Bali. It was baking hot and dry as old chips as my mum would say. I tried to ask the resort gardener to hose off the pebbles between the outdoor area and the pool but he couldn’t comprehend why I wanted this done. I gave up and we both smiled and said thank you multiple times.

This kind of thing makes me shake my fist at my Duolingo Indonesian lessons. I don’t need to know how to ask if someone’s brother in law has a good job in Jakarta. I need to know how to say tolong cuci jalannya or bisakah kita minta empat koktail lagi.

  • images taken in Bali. A Ganesha (elephant god) statue, rice fields, a woman's feet with a pool in the background, an altar at Mexicola, Green rice padis with blue sky above

Two current works in progress are set in Bali. One is the novel length telling of my story How I Got This Tattoo (You can read this story here.) and on my last visit I gathered ideas about settings and tourist attractions. I spend a lot of time in Bali but I rarely do touristy stuff and I want to populate Donna’s wish list for her Bali Bin Fire 40th Blowout. I found a tattoo shop with a sign out the front that said ‘Yes, of course it hurts,’ which will be perfect for Michelle to stumble into one morning after a huge bender.

I found a fantastic resort for Beatrice to move into when she quits her job for the second time in the other work in progress. We booked into a traditional resort in Kuta for just 8 hours as we had a midnight flight home. It was a really basic resort but it allowed us to really enjoy our last day in Bali. The staff were bemused that we would pay $50 and not stay the night but there’s no luggage storage at I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport and we could enjoy the pool and take a shower before heading to the airport.

If you’re in Bali and you have a late flight, have a look at Masainn. It’s old-school Bali on Poppies Lane, surrounded by cheap spas and warungs where you can grab a Nasi Goreng and a beer for under five bucks and imagine it’s 1999 again.

Here’s a taster of the How I got this Tattoo novel.


‘I can’t go to Bali.’

I hold my hand out for the wet tea towel. Eric drapes it over my hand, a confused expression on his face, and I hang it in front of the still-warm oven. Squeals of children’s laughter float up from the backyard. Our three and the two kids from next-door making enough noise to wake the residents of the cemetery over the back fence.

‘Why not?’ Eric says.

He isn’t challenging me. He sounds like he genuinely doesn’t understand why I won’t up-end my life for the sister who hadn’t spoken to me in years.

‘What do you mean, why not? Just… Because.’ Nothing more comes to mind, but I resent that I feel the need to justify myself.

Because is not a full sentence,’ Eric says. It’s something I say all the time to the kids.

‘It is when you’re a mum.’

‘Bullshit,’ he says.

That is not a full sentence,’ I say in my best snarky voice. ‘You’re lucky Gemma’s not up here. That word would have cost you a dollar.’

‘A dollar well-spent. Yeah, she’s obsessed with swear words.’ We both smile at the thought of our bossy little girl. It warms my heart. He’s a great dad, even if he was a lousy husband. ‘Bullshit is a full sentence. No, it’s a paragraph.’

I follow him out onto the deck and watch the kids bounce around of the trampoline. Normally, five kids on the trampoline is a recipe for chaos but the big kids are bouncing softly on their backsides while little Maddie stands, grinning, in the middle of the mat on unsteady podgy legs.

‘Is it terrible that I don’t want to go?’

I feel bad when I think of the letter I got from Donna. A beautiful old-fashioned handwritten letter inviting me to plan her fortieth birthday party. The notepaper was all creamy elegance, and scented. It would give me such pleasure to spend this time with you… It was almost as though she hadn’t completely ignored my existence for years.

‘I don’t know any of her friends.’

‘You mentioned she’s still friends with Cerise?’ He pulls a face and I shudder theatrically. He was in their year at school.

‘She had such a crush on you,’ I tease.

Eric leans on the railing, head shaking in denial. ‘She was such a piece of work. Surely, she’s matured a bit since school.’

‘Donna thinks all men are like her dickhead husband. Ex-husband.’ I correct myself. ‘That makes me sad. I mean, you weren’t exactly husband of the year but…’

He looks at me and nods. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. We’ve been over it a thousand times. I try to think of something to say. A witty retort to make him laugh, but my brain stopped working during the last half of my shift. I know Eric is one of the good guys.

‘I’ll take time off work. It’ll be fun.’

I tune back in aware that he’s making some kind of plan.


‘It’s only a week, right?’

‘What are you talking about?’

He grins at me.

‘I’ll take a week off work while you go and have a girly week in Bali. It’s the least I can do.’

I stare at him.

‘It’ll be fun,’ he repeats.

‘Fun? Have you met our kids? That oldest one is a danger to herself and the community. And today Daniel was riding a scooter and said to one of the kids at kindy, “get on, you’re my ride or die.” He’s five, Eric.’

He laughs.

‘See, I think that’s fun.’

I roll my eyes.

‘And Gemma’s obsessed with the rules. It’s very boring. She had a go at Dad last week for not recycling his soft plastics.’

He laughs.

‘You can’t take time off now. You just got a promotion. What’ll the boss say?’

‘All the more reason to ask for a week off before I throw myself into it.’

I look down at the kids again. I’m trying to think of a really good reason why I shouldn’t go to Bali. A solid excuse that I can trot out right now, but also one that will work with Donna. I’d already tried I’m a single mum, but apparently Mum had already told her how hands on Eric and his parents are.

 ‘You’ve lost weight,’ I say with a combination of genuine concern and a desire to change the subject.

‘I’m okay.’ He smiles and shrugs. ‘Miss your cooking.’

Should have thought of that before…

He looks away and I don’t say anything further. I thought Donna was just unlucky, but neither of us seems capable of holding down a relationship.

‘Anyway, I reckon you should go to Donna’s party.’

I let out a tremendous sigh. Far more dramatic than I had originally intended. ‘It’s not about just going to Bali. She wants me to organise everything. Even though…’ I stop for a moment, thinking of the letter that detailed everything she has already booked and planned.


‘She basically organised it all. Booked the accommodation. She’s got this great long list of things she wants to do. And she said she’s already paid for everything.’

He snorts and shakes his head. ‘That sounds like a no-brainer to me, Shell. Why wouldn’t you want to go on an all-expenses paid holiday to Bali with your sister?’