Ups and Downs and All Kinds of Stuff

My blog feels a bit neglected at the moment, so my apologies for not updating for a couple of weeks. I usually post every Sunday night. Over the last few weeks our family has been rather busy. We’ve had the kids go back to Uni, my sister visit from the UK, Dad had an angiogram and Mum’s just had spinal surgery. The road between the Upper Hunter and Newcastle has been well used. We seem to have been driving here there and everywhere.

I’ve been flat out writing several things at once, and editing another, and trying very hard to make sure that I finally make up my mind about which one of the three things I really want to write that I’ll concentrate on.

I’m currently vacillating between ‘Disease in Space with Conspiracies,’ Slipping Bra Straps and Alien Invasions,’ and ‘Teen Girl Who Survives a Disaster When the Underworld Invades Australia.’ Every now and then I also contemplate ‘Talking Wombat on the Foot of the Bed.’ Can you tell that titles are a secondary consideration at this point? I have quite a lot of two of them written, and both the other two have first chapters because I wanted to play around with the characters and see whether I really like them.

The problem is, I really like them all. As normal, I’ve been running the early drafts of all of them past our daughter, and she tells me she’s leaning towards Disease in Space. I value her input as a reader, because that’s what she is – a voracious reader.

I’m also currently involved in the Freshly Squeezed Reads C1 Blitz, where writers submit the first chapter of their manuscript for critique. The earlybird first chapters went out to a panel of young adult readers recently and they critiqued them as part of the Digital Writers Festival. You can find their (very candid) thoughts here. It’s well worth spending the two hours listening to what they really thought about the strengths and weakness of the first chapters. They were articulate, thoughtful and generally blunt.

In other news, I received an email last week to say that one of my short stories has been accepted for an anthology. I’m really pleased about that. It’s a story that I’ve worked and reworked over a fair few years. Once all the bits and pieces are finalised, I’ll put up all the details.

Next week I plan to get back to less rambling and more focused writing – hopefully life will slow down a bit. It might.

Beginnings Are a Delicate Time (Or how to make sure your first chapter doesn’t crash and burn.)

There’s a quote from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ that seems appropriate right now. “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

If you’ve ever written a novel, you’ll know that the first chapter is something to agonise over – to get right. Some months ago, I wrote a post about getting the first page of the first chapter right – and if you’ve read it, you’ll know that I learnt about it the hard way.

In many ways, I’ve learnt about the whole of the first chapter the hard way as well, and I’m writing this in the hope that you won’t have to.

The first chapter is a huge part of your story. After the blurb/cover/title gets a prospective reader to take a look at your book, the first chapter is the make or break moment that keeps the reader from putting the story down and never experiencing the full greatness of your fabulous creation.

So, to the important points.

  1. A Killer First Line: It has to drag the reader into the whole first paragraph, and then onto the rest of the first chapter. Make it memorable. Make it not a cliche.
  2. Make it gripping: A Character Who Isn’t Going To Be a Minor Role: If you’re going to a lot of effort to drag the reader into the story, don’t make them love a character who isn’t going to hang around or be the focus of the story. If you do, you’ll probably find the reader discarding your book about the time they realise that the character they’ve come to love isn’t important.
  3. Much Showing: If you’re not sure what the difference is between showing and telling, stop right now and find out. Head off here and have a quick read. Make sure your reader is swept up in what your character is doing, and not reading a list of what they’ve had for dinner, or how many buttons their shirt has. (Unless of course they’re magic buttons, and the loss of one is about to end the universe.)
  4. Something Has to Happen: If you’re going to show something, it needs to be something important – something with direct bearing on the rest of the story, or at least demonstrates some of your character’s crucial conflicts.
  5. Pace It Well: To keep someone reading, they have to want to know what happens next. For some people, pacing seems almost instinctive, while others have to work at it. Your first chapter sets the tone for the rest of your story. If you start out glacially slow, your reader may not last until all the action starts. If you start with an enormous blast, and then stutter in the middle of the story, your reader might give up in despair, feeling cheated. They key to good pacing is to start out as you mean to continue, providing your reader with incentive to keep flipping the pages, desperate to find out what happens.
  6. Most of All, Know Where You’re Going At the End: Your first chapter needs to go somewhere and not fizzle out vaguely. It needs to lead into the next one.

Back to the quote “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.” It is delicate sometimes, it is difficult and it’s often a balancing act, but more than anything, getting that first chapter right means the reader reads the rest of your story, gets to know your characters and is ensnared by the world you’ve created for them.

If you’d like to head on over to Freshly Squeezed Reads, you’ll find some other great posts on first chapters. While you’re there, check on the #C1Blitz competition.

Australia Day

Tomorrow is Australia Day. I always have mixed feelings about Australia Day. It commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the official beginning of the European Settlement in Australia. It’s our National holiday – the one when we celebrate being Australian, and all things Australian. It’s full of beach, prawns, lamb (courtesy of clever marketing by the lamb board), flags and barbecues, and lots of people having fun together.

It has other connotations however. Some of our Indigenous Australians refer to the holiday as ‘Invasion Day.’ If you’d like to read more about their reasons, this link will take you to an excellent article on the SBS site, which discusses the very real reasons that many indigenous Australians feel very differently about this day, and find it difficult to celebrate. I find myself agreeing with them, and wonder if a different day, celebrating a different beginning – Federation perhaps – might be a better option.

We are now a multicultural nation, made of people from all over our world, all living on the driest continent in the world, living under an elected government, and sharing a unique lifestyle in a wonderfully diverse country.

My mixed feelings are generated in some part by the concept of ‘Invasion Day,’ but having said that, I see nothing wrong about Australians celebrating Australia at all – as long as we do it together.

Some other bits of me struggle with the rise of overt patriotism. If you’re reading this blog from another country, you’re probably wondering what I mean. While Australians are very proud to be Australian, we have a long history of not expressing our pride by clutching our chests, waving flags or singing our National Anthem (or even knowing the words). My generation and my parent’s one have been notoriously restrained in expressing our nationalism overtly. Of course we do cheer our sporting heroes loudly, but that’s because it’s sport, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

We can be aggressively smug about our dangerous wildlife, our ability to cope with heat, and nearly everyone regularly observes Anzac Day with vigour and enthusiasm. We enjoy the myth of the ‘Bronzed Aussie’ and our outback heritage while living mainly in cities around the edge of our dry continent. We look upon those who don’t know all the words to ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘You’re The Voice‘with some derision, and always sing the choruses loudly. But that’s OK, because that’s culture and not patriotism.

Patriotism happens when people place their hands over their hearts when they sing their national anthems and look upon their flags with tears in their eyes. We do sing our national anthem, but fortunately usually only the first verse, or on very special occasions we sing the third one as well. Fortunately we’ve completely ditched the second, fourth and fifth verses in the modern anthem – they’re highly embarrassing. If you really want to, you can check them out here.

I’ve watched with some embarrassment as overt patriotism has slowly grown, because although it’s OK to be passionate about sport and music, it’s weird to be passionate about being Australian, and as Australia Day approaches, nowadays some people put Australian flags up in their front yards, others attach them to their cars, and there’s an explosion of green and gold (our national colours) all over the place. That’s OK, though, I can cope with that.

In every shire there’ll be Australia Day ceremonies where a few people will become Australian citizens and awards for Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year and other such nicenesses are presented. There will usually be a special guest who speaks and we sing the anthem. (First verse only.) That’s also OK.

But sadly, along with the flags and the clothing, there’s been an increase of what I’d call ‘Ugly Patriotism.’ It’s the kind of patriotism where flags are worn around backs as their wearers stagger around drunk and abusive, yelling “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy…” or some other much nastier slogan. It echoes across our town in drunken shouts, and cars pumping bass, as they drive past flailing their flags while more drunks lean precariously out of the car windows screaming incoherently and aggressively. This is what I struggle with. The idea that being Australian is to be a drunk yobbo. The idea that to be an Australian is to celebrate an inability to speak coherently, and flourish an Australian flag in order to do so.

More and more, there’s a group of Australians who celebrate things we shouldn’t be proud of – alcohol abuse, racism, and ‘stopping the boats.’ That kind of thing makes me ashamed to be Australian, and not even slightly proud.

So tomorrow I’ll celebrate Australia Day with mixed feelings. I am proud to be Australian – proud of our resilience, our ability to stick together when things get tough, and proud of our generosity when the chips are down. I will remember our indigenous people, and think about those we have incarcerated on Manus Island, and contemplate the future, hoping that we’ll get beyond the Aussie yobbo image as something to be celebrated. (And as I press the button to publish this post, I am now resigned to be called out as Un-Australian.)

Growing Up In An Uncertain World

It seems that every time I put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) lately, there’s been another tragedy. As a result of this week’s tumultuous events in France, I’ve been reflecting on my childhood, and the fears and issues that loomed large in my mind as a teen and a pre-teen.

Being born in the mid sixties, I grew up during the cold war, and in a time when the Vietnam War was still a huge presence in the media and in politics. Although I was a child at the time, I remember thinking quite deeply about those things.

Intermittently we’d hear about left wing extremism, and the occasional terrorist attack, which in my memory seems to have been an aircraft hijacking, somewhere far, far away from Australia. We worried more about the implications of nuclear war – the possibility that the world might literally end, in a nasty, lingering, horrible way. We read post apocalyptic books, like Neville Shute’s ‘On The Beach’ or watched ‘The China Syndrome’ which just reinforced our horror of the potential for radiation poisoning.

This week, I reflected that this generation probably hasn’t worried nearly as much as mine about nuclear war. I suspect they think more about the random terror event. Whether it’s Martin Bryant in Tasmania, the Bali Bombings, 9/11, Anders Breivik, the London bombings, the Boston Marathon bomb, Martin Place or this week’s attack in France, their short lives have been peppered with the blood of innocents spilled all over the internet and the television media.

As I wrote that list, I kept thinking of yet another event to add to it. Just today I woke to the news of a ten year old suicide bomber – my mind almost refused to process the idea of someone’s precious ten year old deliberately blowing herself up for some kind of ideology. Reports suggest she didn’t know what she was carrying. We may never know. I can’t imagine either of our kids even contemplating something like that at the same age – but they have grown up in an environment of first world privilege.

My generation has seen great evil, but also great good. We saw the Berlin Wall come down in 1989 – and we saw the end of The Cold War. We’ve seen the rise of globalism, with all that’s good and bad amongst it.

This week several people have expressed their concern about travelling as event after event seems to have exploded before our eyes. My response? Don’t let it change your life. Extremism only wins if it makes people fearful enough to change their lives and avoid things they might otherwise have done.

The other side of the issue that I’ve seen on the rise is the ‘They should all be got rid of’ people. It doesn’t matter what race, faith or ethnicity the terrorists are, or what they’ve done, some people suggest that all people who profess the same religion, came from the same country, or subscribe to anything different to the speaker should be kicked out of the country or forced to change their faith.

This isn’t helpful. It’s racist, it’s hateful, and it’s vindictive. While it’s normal and appropriate to feel angry with the individual perpetrators of acts of terror, it’s not appropriate, nor is it fitting or seemly (to use somewhat archaic terms) to expand that to blameless individuals who happen to share the same ethnicity.

In my mind, we should be much better than that. Sure, there’s bad in the world, but we don’t have to multiply it by behaving badly ourselves.

It is an uncertain world, but it’s a world that still has much to celebrate. We can celebrate the human spirit triumphing over adversity and look to making the future a better place. By doing that, we don’t bow to fear, or surrender to hatred.

Fires, Fires, and More Fires

It’s that time of year again. When the northern hemisphere snuggles into winter clothes and lights their fires to keep warm, here in Australia we begin putting them out. It’s bushfire season. As I write, there have been dreadful fires in South Australia and Victoria, and I’ve been watching my sister-in-law’s Facebook feed about a fire near her house in Western Australia.

We live in the Upper Hunter NSW, and at this point in time we have no fire issues at all. It’s hot, though. This week’s forecast goes: 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 37. (For all of you who haven’t quite made it into metric or celsius, that’s a range from 91 degrees to 100.4 degrees.)

Fire is a fact of life in Australia. I grew up in a semi rural area in the Hills on the outskirts of Perth. Summer was a combination of melting bitumen and smoke on the wind. In Spring, as soon as it was dry enough, we burnt off. Burning off was part of the normal preparation for summer. We’d pick an appropriate day, when the weather was suitable to make sure that the boundaries of our property were well burnt, so that any approaching fire would be stopped at the boundary.

Around the house was tidied up, and we made sure that there was very limited fuel available for any ember attacks. When new people moved in, all the neighbours made sure they knew how to burn off, and usually helped them the first year. The local vollies (volunteer fire fighters) began doing controlled burns in spring as well, preparing the area for summer.

Even with all of that, the hill opposite our house would burn every few years, and my sister and I would watch the glowing hillside for half the night, knowing that our Dad was guiding the firies up the tracks to access the area. When I was slightly older, my brother and I ran huge bins of water through the bush to refill the mobile backpacks. We were very fit in those days.

When I moved north into the Pilbara in my early twenties, one of the first things i did was to join the local volunteer brigade. I became a firefighter. I was fortunate to meet my husband in that fire brigade. (That might be a good subject for another post.) We fought fires for years – house fires, vehicle fires, and scrub and bushfires. We chased firebugs and dodged wind shifts. We learnt how to back burn using a drip torch in two parallel lines, and spent hours with fire rakes.

And over all of it, there was the smell of smoke and ash, the glowering plumes of smoke, and the red glow on the horizon. That red glow is almost indescribable. No matter the hour, when there’s enough smoke, the sky darkens to an ominous tint, and the horizon glows. Spiralling smoke and plumes of ash drift on the wind and the air is laden with the smell of burning eucalyptus or spinifex.

A bushfire smells like itself. For me, it’s one of the smells of the Australian summer, but it’s also the smell of sadness, fear, and urgency.

Years ago, I was part of a group escorting an American film crew into a National Park in the Pilbara. It was spring, and we’d had a lot of early, unseasonal rain. We were the only people in the park. The rangers decided it was an optimal time to do a few controlled burns. (Spinifex burns even when it’s green.)

We were in a campground on one side of a gorge, and the controlled burn was a fair way away on the other side of the gorge. There was a lot of smoke. The producer took me aside and and said, “If it gets closer, we’ll have to run for it!” We were camped at that point in the middle of a red dirt camping area about two hundred metres across. There were a few trees and a lot of dirt and rock. There was no vegetation on the ground. I replied, “Well, no, we’re pretty safe here, but if it got really out of control, and the fire jumped the gorge against the wind, we’d just put the cars in the middle of the dirt and sit inside them until it went over and away.” He said, “Really?” and I replied, “Well it’s a controlled burn, and we’d be perfectly safe with that much dirt around us.” He looked at me like I was mad and said, “You Australians have a very casual attitude towards fire,” and then walked off.

It wasn’t a casual attitude, but it was an Australian attitude, and one borne of much experience. (And trust in the park rangers who were very good at controlled burns.)

Of course a controlled burn is completely different to what’s been going on in South Australia, and in the last few years during the Black Saturday Fires and the Ash Wednesday fires. Those fires have been and are dreadfully dangerous, and no-one should take them casually.

I have an app on my phone that’s called ‘Fires Near Me’ – something no Australian should be without. It tells me where the fires are, how severe they are, and what I should be doing. We’ve taught our kids what to do in a fire, and we know that leaving early when there’s a warning is essential unless you have dedicated fire fighting equipment and systems on your property.

Tonight my thoughts are with our South Australian and Victorian friends. We hope and pray that the fire situation doesn’t worsen in the next few days when the heat increases again.

The End of 2014 and the Writing Year Ahead

As I sit here, buried under the cat (The cat MUST sit on me every time I write, and because it’s hot he’s extra cuddly) typing away, I’m pondering the past year.

I’m sure nearly every blogger in the world will write a retrospective post, and to a certain extent, so am I this year. On Christmas morning I was reflecting on the contrasts so evident in our world. It’s been a tragic year for so many. Here in Australia we’ve finished the year off with a siege in Martin Place, and south-east Asia has now seen the disappearance of the third aircraft of the year.

We live such sheltered lives here in Australia. Although we have crime, just like any place in the world, compared to many other places, we’re relatively untouched by gun crime and political motivate violence, which makes events such as the Martin Place siege even more shocking.

Our population is small compared to our land mass, and our continent is the driest on earth, which means that the vast majority of our people live around the edge, and primarily in our cities. A small population makes disasters even closer to home for much of the populace. As the events unfolded in Martin Place, I was struck by how immediate the whole thing felt. Our youngest studies not far from there, and I was grateful that he was home from Uni, and not locked down on his campus.

As we were reminded of the Boxing Day Tsunami, just a couple of days ago, I thought about the Bali bombings, the MH370 disaster, the shooting down of MH17, the current missing Air Asia flight and the ongoing Ebola epidemic in Africa. It seems as if 2014 has been characterised by enormous sadness and loss. There are ongoing wars in the Middle East, and conflict in Eastern Europe. My own country has a policy on Asylum seekers that shames me deeply.

Conversely, there have been some shining moments of the goodness of humanity. The #Illridewithyou hashtag was one here in Australia, demonstrating that out of darkness can come a drawing together of the community. Shortly after, a muslim bride laid her bouquet at the floral memorial, to the spontaneous applause of onlookers. We heard stories of miraculous survival from survivors of the Boxing Day Tsunami, and were able to rejoice with them, despite the memories of sadness.

I think that perspective is something we all need to consider. While disaster can strike at any moment, the human spirit often triumphs over adversity. Our stories are full of good defeating evil, people triumphing over dreadful circumstances, and love conquering all. Humanity seems born to hope.

My personal belief system reinforces this. It tells me that out of darkness there will be light. That sadness will give way to joy, and hope is the driver behind it all.

When I write, I hope to bring joy to people. That doesn’t mean that there will be no disasters in my stories – that wouldn’t be true to life in general, and certainly wouldn’t reflect the real world in any way, shape, or form, but I love stories of triumph over adversity, despite loss and grief. My favourite stories are those that offer hope despite the darkness and despite the grief. There’s a satisfaction in reading such a story. They make you laugh, cry, seethe and rejoice, and leave you wanting to know more about the characters and their lives.

I’ve written the final part of the Frontier Trilogy now, and I’ve begun several new stories, playing with a variety of characters. I sent a couple of the early short stories away to anthologies, just to see what might happen. One I received back with the comment “This feels like the beginning of a larger story.” I wasn’t unhappy with that at all, as it was, tentatively, the beginning of another book. The other made it through a couple of rounds but didn’t quite make it into the final cut for the anthology. Again, I wasn’t unhappy. That’s submission for you – sometimes stuff gets picked up and sometimes it doesn’t, and if it was good enough to get through the first couple of cuts then I feel that it’s done well.

I’m also about 25,000 words into another story – one completely different to the Frontier Trilogy, which should be full of political intrigue and action – if I get it right. I’m experimenting with using Scrivenor to write and compile it.

The new year is beckoning. I’m looking forward to what it might bring. Who knows what might happen? It’s a whole, new, wonderful year stretching ahead, full of the best and worst that man might do. At this point, I’m choosing to focus on the best.

When Peace Is Shattered.

It’s the time of year when everyone posts about Christmas. I was thinking I’d do the same thing, but then I decided that I’d be a bit different and post about something else.

There’s been a lot of stuff happening this year. For the first time, my husband and I have been ‘empty nesters’ – parents of university age young adults, who have moved away for the majority of the year to study. Now they’ve come home for the summer break.

We’d become quite used to washing about three times a week, not needing to use the dishwasher daily, the house staying tidy, and a lot of peaceful quietness.

The kids have been home for about a month now, and the washing machine seems to be going several times every day, the dishwasher has just given up the ghost in protest, and the quiet that was is now shattered at least once a day by the drum kit, the marimba or the sounds of singing.

The gigabyte allowance for the internet has taken a bashing, the food bill has escalated, and someone keeps drinking all the milk.

Am I whinging? Not at all, just ‘adjusting’ I think, or perhaps readjusting is a better word. Readjusting to having the (adult) kids home again. It’s lovely (mostly) to hear all the music happening, and the interesting conversations over the advent calendar and card games. The pets are happy because their people are home, and we’re all looking forward to Christmas and the weather is heating up and we’ve had our first trip out to the dam to kayak and windsurf.

It’s lovely to have them home, but it’s a funny thing at the same time. They’re adults. Yes, we still have behaviour rules for when they’re home, but their comings and goings are entirely up to them. There aren’t any curfews, they’re of legal drinking age, and they both have driver’s licences. We’re adjusting to being a family of adults – not a family with teenage kids.

I like it. I remember when they were born, and every time they grew a bit older, I’d think “This is just the best age!” I’d say it every time they did something cute, or beautiful, or just plain clever. I’m still saying it. This morning at church as part of the music team, I was singing with our daughter – she was singing melody and I was singing harmony – and our son was drumming. It was lovely. “This is the best age!” I was thinking.

Our peace may have been shattered, but each time our kids come home I’m reminded of how much we love them. Families change as kids grow up, but they’re still families – just families entering a different stage – and they’re still great.

Thoughts on the Sydney Siege.

It’s hard to write what I’m really feeling tonight. Thirty six hours ago a gunman took hostages in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place in Sydney, and about seventeen hours later, the gunman and two hostages died.

By all accounts, the gunman was a nutter with a previous record of violence and the two hostages performed acts of heroism.

For most of the siege and even now, the reasons behind the siege are unknown, or simply haven’t been made public. There has been a lot of speculation, and a lot of commentary on social media and the media in general.

I’ve seen the best of Australia and, sadly from a few, the worst. Our media (for the most part) have been restrained, respectful and helpful. Commentators have (mostly) stayed away from wild speculation. Friends (except for the very odd one) on Facebook and Twitter have focused on national unity and rising above divisive behaviour.

The #illridewithyou hashtag on Twitter is a fabulous demonstration of the good that social media can do. I sat stunned last night, alternately watching the feeds of #illridewithyou and #sydneysiege, feeling proud of my fellow Australians.

You see, the thing a terrorist wants most to do is to create terror, division and instability. They want their actions to overwhelm the victims and the country in which their acts take place – whether they’re working alone or in a group.

There are Australians who will choose to allow this isolated incident to fuel their hatred of everything muslim, but I was encouraged almost more than I can express, to see the determination of the majority of my fellow Australians to deliberately promote unity in the face of this dreadful act.

There’s a song that I love that symbolises this country probably better than just about anything else. It’s called ‘I Am Australian’ and was written by Bruce Woodley. It’s times like this that I wish it was our national anthem. The words remind us that we are all Australian, no matter our background. I am, you are, we are Australian. #illridewithyou

Click here to listen to it.

I’m sitting here after a week of thunderstorms and intermittent rain, enjoying a cool breeze coming through the door next to me, and watching a program on Mercy Ships. On the program, the ship has docked at the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the statistics being flung around are almost unbelievable.

I’m struck by how fortunate we are to live in Australia, and how the universal healthcare system we have here is so easy to take for granted. We can opt into private health cover if we wish, and many do, but no-one is turned away if they need health care in Australia.

As I type, I’m watching a small child with an enormous bilateral valgus – very bowed legs – stagger his way towards the ship. And then I’m seeing several more children with similar deformities struggling into the ship. They progress to surgery, and I’m sure we’ll see what the outcomes are by the end of the program.

The program is focusing on some of the Australian volunteers on Mercy Ships who are helping to change people’s lives. There’s an engineer, a surgeon, a paediatric nurse, and a variety of other people, all making a huge difference, one life at a time.

There are more smiling faces than I can count. Smiles from both patients and staff, and a message of hope and healing that is very much changing the lives of many.

It’s a great program to watch at this time of year as Christmas approaches, because it tells of hope, which for me, is the entire message of Christmas.

In contrast, the program is bracketed by a series of commercials, and the first one is about the new series of My Kitchen Rules. I’m struck by that contrast – we can have a program all about cooking decadent food, while others in our world struggle for the basics of life and healthcare, and I’m feeling slightly ashamed of our first world issues.

Food for thought perhaps?

Continue reading

Stuff On The Internet

Like myself, you’ve probably spent the last few years being bombarded with all kinds of online information. As a writer, I’ve wandered through free sites that have offered some excellent tips on improving my writing skills, and I’ve also been offered the ‘opportunity’ to purchase all kinds of revolutionary marketing services and all of the ‘secrets’ that will turn me into a bestselling author overnight.

At the same time, I see my Facebook and twitter feed filling up with health advice, life advice, and every possible permutation of every conspiracy theory ever invented by man. Not to mention the parenting tips.

It’s a minefield out there.

How do we all figure out what’s real and what’s not? That’s possibly the most difficult question of all. Some of my Facebook friends have been bombing everyone’s newsfeed with ‘articles’ on alternative health from one particular site over the last few weeks (which is what brought this particular subject to the forefront in my mind). It’s like they’ve all been infected with a sudden zeal to spread the word, so they’re doing it by ‘liking’ every new post on this particular site and ‘sharing’ it.

Out of interest today, our daughter and I decided to have a look at the page and see what was on there. It was there that I learnt that the best way to sort out my cramps (if I had any) was to infest my bed with corks, or possibly a bar of soap. As a physio, I’d suggest gently stretching the affected limb…

There was also a lady who posted a picture of her infant’s legs, covered with angry looking skin lesions. Two hundred and seventy four replies later, there were sixty-six different remedies suggested, including a bleach bath and using her own urine, and multiple suggestions to take the child off dairy, soy, gluten, sugar, no milk but eat cheese, do drink milk but only goat’s milk, no, not goat’s milk, only camel milk, no cow’s milk is OK, but only raw cow’s milk, eat sauerkraut, feed her coconut oil and…and…and…  I’m guessing the lady’s head was buzzing with all the helpful advice.

So how do we make sense of all of that? The best answer is that individually we probably can’t. The internet is a boon – it’s a place where we can look for information about pretty well anything, but without a background in the appropriate field of study, we’re not qualified to provide advice or evaluate some of the information in a way that allows us to make good choices. As I’ve said, I’m a physio (for those in the US, that’s physical therapist), so I’m pretty good at figuring out what your musculoskeletal issues are. I can even pick up what we refer to as ‘red flags’ during and assessment and urge you to seek further assistance from your doctor to assess them, but I have my own professional limits.

I cannot fix an aeroplane, or advise you on cancer treatment, or even repair my bicycle (there’s a story to that which involves the purchase of a new one), because I’m not an expert in those areas and I don’t have the appropriate training or background knowledge.

I can look at a writing or publishing website and make some deductions, however. If the spelling’s all over the place and the grammar’s incorrect, I’m not going to look much further than the front page. If the site can’t get it’s own editing right, it’s certainly not going to be a place I look for help with my own. If another writer asks me what I think about that site, then I’ll point out the deficiencies and warn them off.

I’m also pretty good at looking at health related sites. If what the site suggests doesn’t fit with known physiological parameters and basic chemistry, then I won’t be looking any further there either. And no, I won’t be putting either corks or soap in our bed, even if either my husband or myself suddenly began to experience leg cramps. (The posters of the above neglected to mention the mechanism behind the cork and soap therapy, and nothing I know about physiology suggests any mechanism at all.)

So what does the average lay person do? How do they find their way through the internet minefield of information? There’s a couple of options. For health related information, I encourage people to look for the extension or if they live in Australia. Usually education or government sites have evidence based information that’s backed up by research and fact. For writing information, I encourage people to look at their State Writers Centre, the Australian Society of Authors, or reputable publishers (not vanity) and agents.

I reckon that the best comment I can make on the subject, is that there’s a reason we have experts in every field. We can’t possibly know everything, so we should respect those experts and listen to them when we’re looking at complicated subjects like health, keeping aeroplanes in the sky, fixing bicycles, writing correctly, or even learning to juggle. (A clown once explained it to me, but I wasn’t very good, but her explanation allowed our sixteen year old son to begin juggling three balls within about twenty minutes.)



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