Hugo Awards Fallout

I’ve been watching the Hugo Awards Twitter Feed with avid interest today. In a previous post I wrote about my frustration with some of the nominated stories, and of course there’s the massive controversy over slate voting.

Twitter has been going off today (it’s today in Australia, just to clarify things) with #HugoAwards trending vigorously. There have been fans just wandering along in the tweeter feed for the ride, while others have been stating in no uncertain terms what they think about the awards, or, this year, the non-awards.

This year was my first year voting in the Hugo Awards. I have no issue with saying that the controversy was what made me get my act together and pay my supporting membership so that I could do so. (And I also wanted to vote for Helsinki – Yay, because I’ll be going!) You see, it was only this year that I realised that the Hugos were voted upon by the fan base. I know, that’s ridiculous, but for whatever reason, I thought that they were voted upon by a panel of some kind, made up of Sci-fi luminaries and literary critics. Anyway, I wanted to have my finger in the pie, so as a result of the controversy, I finally figured out that I was an eligible voter, so I paid my money, read and voted.

As I wrote in my previous post, I was frustrated – frustrated by the lack of quality in a number of the nominations, and frustrated that what I thought would be the pinnacle of Speculative Fiction, clearly wasn’t – or clearly wasn’t, in my opinion. Consequently I voted as I thought was appropriate, as I’m sure, did many others.

And, yes, I did vote ‘No Award’ at least once – not for any political ideology, but simply because I didn’t like any of the entries. I didn’t vote ‘No Award’ in all categories, or even most of them but I did want to make sure that I was voting honestly. I’ve recently been enjoying Ticonderoga PublicationsHear Me Roar anthology. It’s excellent, and honestly, the short stories in that anthology (in my opinion) leave many of this year’s Hugo nominees for dead. (My apologies to the nominated authors, but I clearly have different tastes than the nominations in some of the categories.)

I suppose it’s been a wake up call for me in a lot of ways. Next year I’ll nominate stories I’ve loved (the stuff I like to read, which may not be the stuff you read) and hopefully many others will also, and hopefully some of my favourites will make the short lists.

More than anything, I’m hoping that Speculative Fiction fans all over the world will continue to read widely, and nominate their favourites, not because of any political ideology, but because they’re great stories and wonderful pieces of writing. We’re obviously a pretty diverse bunch, and what I like, may not at all be what someone else likes – and that’s OK. In my opinion, fan based awards should go to the writers who have connected best with the fans – someone whose writing leaves their readers wanting more and makes them say “Wow!”

When I wander back through past Hugo novel nominees, it’s like meeting old friends and revisiting past moments of reading bliss. Not every year has had a nominee that I’ve read, but in some years, I would have been hard-pressed to know which story to vote for, because I loved them all. (And now of course, I wish I’d had the nouse to figure it all out and vote back then.)

The Twitter feed is continuing to be heated as I write. The saddest thing about this year’s awards is the probability that some writers who should have made it to the short lists didn’t as a result of slate voting, and that the authors who were nominated in categories that had ‘No Award’ win are probably feeling pretty awful right now. Some of them will be wondering if it was their writing, or if they were downed by factional voting. We’ll never know. Consequently, this year may well go down as a complete farce.

I sincerely hope that people look at the Hugo Awards and remind themselves (or like me, discover) that they’re fan based awards, and that purchasing that $US40 supporting membership allows you to nominate and then vote. I think that’s pretty empowering myself. Just make sure your say is about the stories and the writing, and not the political stuff. That’s how fan awards should work.

If you want to know who won this year’s Hugos, then click here. 

But on a happier note, congratulations to all the winners, and if I might be allowed to be slightly parochial, especially to the Galactica Suburbia podcast crew (Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)) who won best Fancast :)


Natural

This afternoon I decided to bake a loaf of bread. We often bake bread, so it’s nothing particularly unusual, but as I was tipping in the flax seeds and the sunflower seeds, I was struck by the label on the sunflower seed packet. It said (in big letters) Natural Sunflower Kernels. It struck me as hilarious, and I got the giggles.

They’re sunflower kernels – why wouldn’t they be natural? Did I expect them to be made of plastic, perhaps? Or created by some form of alchemical magic? What else did the supermarket think I’d expect to find inside the packet?

I got to thinking about it, wondering why something that comes from a plant had to have the label ‘natural’ attached to it, and then was struck, once again, by the sheer quantity of ‘natural’ stuff all over the internet. Every day, my Facebook feed has several posts proclaiming the wonderfulness of ‘natural’ posted by a variety of friends. Usually those posts proclaim that whatever it is, is ‘chemical free’ as well as being natural. Clearly some of the labelling is about marketing.

I’m a health professional with a science degree. With any science degree comes a basic (in my case it is basic) understanding of chemistry. With even a basic understanding of chemistry, comes the knowledge that everything is made of chemicals, which means that absolutely nothing in life (including life) is chemical free.

When I drink water, I’m chugging down the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. When I sprinkle salt on something, I’m putting the chemical sodium chloride on it. I had a look around the internet to see what sunflower kernels (not seeds, but kernels after you’ve taken off the husk) were made of. They’re made of all kinds of stuff. If you click here you can find lists of all the things in sunflower kernels – and they include things like ammonia, lysine and phenylalanine – probably not something you think of when you eat them.

Then I began to think about other stuff I’ve seen on the net – the things that suggest that the food you like to eat is full of scary sounding stuff, and not ‘natural’ at all. Of course, if you have any kind of science background, you should be able to understand that ‘the dose makes the poison.’ That is, anything is poisonous in the right amounts. (Like water – drink 6L in an hour and you’ll probably die.) And clearly, if you take the example of my sunflower kernels, which I quite like to eat as a snack – I’m not actually scoffing large quantities of ammonia when I eat them – they just contain ammonia as part of their make up in a quantity (dose) that’s completely fine. There is probably a toxic dose of sunflower seeds, but it’s probably pretty big. (A bit like water’s.)

The other thing that strikes me when people talk about natural, is of all the things that are natural that are clearly dangerous for us, even in very small quantities, but that promoters of ‘natural’ seem to ignore when they’re promoting their stuff. Things like cyanide, or arsenic, for example. They’re completely natural – that is, they occur in nature – yet pretty well everyone would say something like “I’d never eat anything containing cyanide!”

Except that we do. The other thing I see coming past on my Facebook feed is the alternative health posts. A recent one I’ve seen around all over the place, is about apricot kernels being a ‘natural’ cure for cancer. Apart from the fact that they aren’t a cure for cancer, there have been several cases of cyanide poisoning related to people eating them. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has this to say about them: FSANZ advises that it is unsafe for adults to eat more than three raw apricot kernels per day. Children should not eat any.’ Click the above hyperlink to read more.

So what do we do? How do we find our way through the maze of stuff out there (or even here!) in the world of the internet?

I always like to check reputable sites. I use .gov.au or .edu.au extensions, or I search journal articles. However, I have a science degree, so I’ve learned about study design and how to assess it, and I have access to a multitude of journals through my professional association. Some stuff I know – because it’s my field of expertise, but there’s other stuff that I wouldn’t have a clue about, so I have to figure it out. That means trusting professionals. Professionals in the relevant fields who can interpret the raw data and describe it in words I can understand.

If it’s a medication, my pharmacist or GP are the people I talk to. If it’s something to do with animal science, I chat to a vet, or our daughter, who’s nearing the end of her own degree in that subject. If it’s food, I can look at the relevant government site, and if it’s a ‘cancer cure’ the http://iheard.com.au site is excellent. You can even submit your own questions.

There are some people who might say things like “But the government never tells the truth, you can’t trust a government site.” or “But you can’t trust doctors, they just spout what the pharmaceutical companies tell them.” (That’s one I’ve seen a lot on the internet.) Well, I’m a physio. I went to university too, and as a mainstream health professional, I learnt anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and clinical reasoning, along with critical thinking and study design, just like doctors do, and was taught by people who were diligently researching ways to improve the health and wellbeing of other people. Some of them were doctors, some physiotherapists, and others had relevant degrees in their own specialities.

They weren’t hogtied by an enormous pharmaceutical conspiracy at all, just normal human beings, and at some point, we have to trust someone. Having said that, we also have to pick the right people. For myself, I choose professionals and experts, not someone who read something on the internet and then posted it because it sounded like it should be reposted. I like to look at the sources of those posts as well. If the author isn’t a respected expert, or doesn’t have the relevant qualifications, or if their references (if they have any) don’t check out as being from reputable sites, then I view them with grave suspicion.

If the author has their own online store containing books, (often written by themselves), products that promise miracles along with other stuff, I regard them as even more suspicious, particularly if their views are not representative of the general scientific consensus.

And as I’ve come to the end of my post, I’ve realised that I’ve left the bread rising. (Yet another complex chemical reaction!)  I’d better go and see if it’s climbed completely out of the tin…

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Reading Is Like A Smorgasbord

I’m in quite a number of groups on both Facebook and Goodreads. Some are writers groups, others are genre specific. I write speculative fiction, currently science fiction, and I’ve been pondering the myriad of sub-genres in the world of speculative fiction and the place of YA in current speculative fiction reading and writing.

There are many passionate readers and writers of speculative fiction around, and many of them have strong opinions about what is and what isn’t included in their preferred sub-genre. The overarching term ‘Speculative Fiction’ embraces Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal Romance, Steam Punk, Hard Science Fiction, Space Opera, Space Adventure, Epic Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction and Military Science Fiction, and then we add YA to the mix just to top it all off.

I personally, like to think about speculative fiction as primarily stuff that isn’t what is, but what could be, were we in an alternate reality or future setting. It’s the worlds of the imagination and the worlds of the possible and impossible future.

One of the groups I’m in has been attempting to define what they think Space Opera is. Some of the posters have very strongly held views, which include things that must be evident in the story, and things that must not.

Another group has been discussing the pros and cons of the current popularity of YA speculative fiction. I’m always interested to hear peoples’ thoughts on YA spec fic, because that’s primarily what I write. One of the things I find most fascinating are the people who deride or downplay YA as simplistic and full of easily understood language, so that as one poster put it, “that people whose literacy is more marginal can actually read the book.”

I have to say that I find this kind of comment much more a comment about how little the poster understands about YA literature. I love YA stories – quite unashamedly. Of course, there are simplistic stories in every genre, and YA is no exception. But there are writers in every genre who also use simpler word choices, or sentence structures, or less complex plots, but it doesn’t necessarily make their work less worth reading.

There are some readers and some writers, who count as less, anything that isn’t their favoured style or genre. Once again, I often find that those who hold such strong views, often demonstrate their own ignorance of other forms of literature. While something might not be your personal preference, it doesn’t necessarily make it less clever or less worthy.

Young Adult stories are often beautifully written. Many YA authors have a masterful command of language and nuance, as well as a wonderful ability to tell a good story. At the recent NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction Festival, a panel of some of Australia’s best YA Spec Fic writers discussed this very subject.

One of the authors commented that teenagers are often very discerning, and that they’re a very demanding audience to write for. They read books to read a compelling story, and although a writer might use beautiful, lyrical language, if there’s no story, they won’t read on.

Adults also like YA (like me), and my opinion is that they read it because of the story, and the fact that it deals with eternal and important themes. Add the world building of speculative fiction, and you have a smorgasbord of wonderful story, full of memorable characters and exotic creatures ready to dive into.

I suppose that part of what I’m trying to say is that each story should be judged on its own merits, and not prejudged on genre or style. I’ve found over the years that I like a lot of stuff, from literary fiction right through to the odd bit of light and fluffy chick lit. It depends very much on what I’m feeling like at the time, what I enjoy reading. Certainly my favourite books are usually in the realms of speculative fiction, but it doesn’t preclude me reading other things.

As someone once said, if there’s nothing else, I’ll read the back of the cereal packet.


NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction Festival

I headed off to the NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction Festival yesterday. It was a chilly morning when we left the Upper Hunter at around 5am, but we made good time, and arrived just before the registration time of 9am. It’s always a bit of a guessing game travelling to Sydney from here. On a good day, we’ll hit Sydney about two and a half hours after we leave home, but you never really know whether there’ll be slow traffic, accidents or some kind of disaster awaiting you along the way that will slow you down.

Yesterday we managed a brekkie stop and a coffee stop and still had heaps of time. Nice.

The day was a smorgasbord of Australian speculative fiction writers and topics. Just lovely. Although speculative fiction is actually mainstream nowadays in terms of movies and television shows (think any superhero movie, Game of Thrones and Dr Who), we writers and readers of spec fic still manage to garner the odd weird look when we confess to reading it, or, even worse, actually write it.

When I told people last year that I was off to a science fiction convention, I scored a pile of slightly worried expressions, usually followed up with “And do you…dress up?” couched in hesitant tones. I’ve become quite hardened to it now, and just smile and say “Not me, actually, it’s not required at all.” But of course I do write those strange stories full of aliens and other weird stuff.

Anyway, back to the important stuff.

I started the day with a lovely panel full of Australian notables (Garth Nix, Trudi Canavan, Kate Forsyth, Isobelle Carmody and James Bradley), which was chaired very efficiently and very entertainingly  by Cat Sparks, who also organised the entire event. They talked about their first professionally published pieces, embarrassing moments, and what it’s actually like succeeding as Australian Authors.

It was very heartening to hear the different stories about the rocky road of being a published author. (Even great authors have suffered through multiple rejections.) Their embarrassing stories involved undone flies, falling over in the opera house, losing award cheques, and signing queues of zero.

The take home messages were:

  • Finish something. You can’t be published unless you’ve actually got something complete.
  • Day jobs and writing work well. It isn’t necessary to be a full time writer to achieve success.
  • Quality is essential.
  • Read lots and write lots.
  • Be brave.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Write another book.

The second panel I attended asked the question about whether science fiction can save the future. There was quite a bit of variability in the panellist’s (Bruce McCabe, Marianne de Pierres, Joanne Anderton, Stephanie Lai and Keith Stevenson) perspectives, and the discussion did get a little sidetracked at times, however there were some really important and pertinent things to consider.

  • You never know if something you write might inspire someone to invent/achieve/become something/one.
  • Writing a lecture isn’t the same as writing a story. Readers don’t want a moral essay.
  • Characters can explore issues by being themselves in the story, and discussing the big questions.
  • Science fiction is fiction, but some stuff must be plausible. Do your research.
  • Labels help connect the writer to the right audience – not what is and isn’t ‘correct’ Sci-fi.

The short speculative fiction panel was next. It included Cat Sparks, Keith Stevenson, Ian McHugh, Thoraiya Dyer and Tehani Wessely. It was a fascinating look inside short fiction publishing, from both the publisher’s and the writer’s perspectives. This was one of my favourite panels in a day of wonderful panels.

  • Short and long form stories require different technique, and they are quite different. (Something I’ve been thinking about this year, because for some reason I’ve been writing short stories interspersed between my novel writing and editing.)
  • There are a huge variety of places to find, read and sell short stories to.
  • Payment can be very variable. (Or non-existent, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.)
  • Short stories can give you a track record for a publisher.
  • Short stories allow you to use the power of suggestion for world building – your reader has an imagination.
  • It can be harder to write a great short story than a crap novel.
  • Being Australian might be a good thing, or might not be. It depends – two authors had very different experiences.
  • Torches may not translate to US audiences :) (I snicker every time I think about this – but I suspect it says more about the US reader than the Australian Writer.)
  • The Australian voice is important – don’t water it down.
  • Australian writers often submit much higher quality work than their international colleagues.
  • Don’t forget to submit your published works to competitions (or remind your publisher to do so.)
  • There are online tools to help you decide where to submit your short stories. Check out this link, this one and this one.

Lunch provided me with a lovely discussion about the Bechdel Test in the freezing cold wind, and then we all headed back inside for more spec fic goodness.

Everybody Loves YA was the next panel I attended. It was yet another great panel, with such wonderful writers as Isobelle Carmody, Richard Harland, Marianne de Pierres, Garth Nix and Amie Kaufman all contributing words of wisdom.

  • Marianne de Pierres: YA has offered me a chance to rewrite events of my (young) life.
  • Garth Nix: Story is King. YA is a genre that celebrates storytelling & so it wins readers.
  • Isobelle Carmody: no wonder YA is so popular – who wants to be an adult when we see what adults have done to our world.
  • YA often has great ideals – something sorely needed in our current world.
  • Amie Kaufmann: YA is the literature of transformation. And we’re all going through transformations, all the time.
  • Richard Harland: coming-of-age stories are universal & time-honoured. YA fantasy mixes this with tales of the imagination.
  • Marianne de Pierres: YA readers have inbuilt bullshit detector so authenticity of voice is crucial.
  • Garth Nix: genres are sales tools to help book find its best initial audience – not inescapable ghettos.
  • Children’s and YA have an extra level of gatekeepers, which means more restrictions on content (language/sex/violence etc).
  • Having a book banned is not a bad thing. In fact enthusiastically banned can be very helpful.

I then moved on to a Kaffeeklatsch with Marianne De Pierres. She’s a writer I’ve only just discovered, and really like. Her advice during the Kaffeeklatsch was excellent.

  • The agent pool in Australia is so small, consider looking for one overseas. (But don’t forget sites such as Preditors and Eidtors to vet someone.)
  • Sci-fi is currently hard to sell. Consider approaching Sci-fi publishers directly without an agent.
  • Writing is a career for stubborn people.
  • Treasure a partner who appreciates that writing is a job, and a valid career option. Make sure your loved ones understand how important writing is to you. This can be difficult. (Made me appreciate my husband even more.)

The day was capped off with the last panel: What’s Hot and What’s Not. It featured Joel Naoum (Momentum), Rochelle Fernandez (HarperCollins), Tehani Wessely (FableCroft), Alison Green (Pantera Press), and Liz Gryzb (Ticonderoga Publications). and was once again chaired by Cat Sparks. There were so many great things to take away from this panel.

  • There are more opportunities than ever before for writers to be published. BUT this makes for a very crowded marketplace, with new authors struggling to be heard.
  • The consensus of the panel was that editing is essential, and that both large and small press offers this. Large publishing offers a machine behind the author, but small press may offer more love.
  • Read the Submission Guidelines. (I feel as if I should write this in all caps, it was mentioned so often.)
  • A synopsis is not a blurb.
  • Don’t forget to attach your manuscript to your submission. (Apparently this is quite common.)
  • Don’t submit in bright pink, 60 point font. Or comic sans.
  • Momentum takes submissions on Monday, Harper Collins on Wednesdays, Bloomsbury via the UK portal, and Fablecroft has open submissions periods. Panterra likes full manuscripts. Read the submission Guidelines.
  • A good hook is essential, as is a great opening page.
  • Mention prizes and publications in your covering letter, but don’t make it enormous. Don’t worry about having a less than massive social media following – you don’t actually need to mention it.
  • If you have a social media presence think before you post.
  • No publisher cares how old you are.
  • Don’t submit illustrations with your manuscript. (Unless it’s a picture book and the publisher specifically wants them.) Even if you’re a wonderful artist.

The day finished with wine and more chatting. I met some lovely people, had a great time, and learnt heaps. Thanks to the NSW Writers Centre and Cat Sparks for such a great day.


Injustice

This last week I’ve seen something I never thought to see, enacted into law in Australia.

In the last few years, the two major political parties in Australia have, in subsequent governments, increasingly penalised asylum seekers and refugees who arrive on boats. They’ve sent them to Nauru, Manus Island, and placed them in long term detention in Australia. Conditions in some of those places have been reported as dreadful, and in some cases abusive. There are significant issues with long term detention, particularly for children.

On the 1st of July, the new Borderforce Act came into force, and as a result, doctors and other workers at detention face up to two years imprisonment, should they speak out against conditions in the detention centres, or speak to journalists about what they might have seen or experienced in the detention centres.

I’m a physiotherapist. Like all other registered health professionals in Australia, I subscribe to my profession’s code of conduct, must fulfil the requirements of the registration board, and in addition, mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect is legislated in all states and territories in Australia.

This means that if, in the course of my professional client/patient contact, I believe that a child is being neglected or abused, I must report it to the relevant authorities.

The new Borderforce Act puts into doubt the legality of doing just that. A group of Australian Doctors has protested against this, vowing that they will not be silenced should they see human rights abuses occurring to this in detention.

Today I’m feeling disheartened about the increasingly harsh measures enacted by our government. Australia is meant to be the place that gives the underdog, the battler, and those escaping from oppression a fair go, not the place that imprisons them, and sends them into further peril.

Where is the justice? What drives the issues? How can our government choose to treat people that way? How can they enact legislation – the legislation had bipartisan support, so it was the two major parties, not just the current government – that sends children and babies into inadequate conditions, and then muzzles health professionals from speaking out against abuse?

All I can think is that they hope to gain some political points from it. But at what cost? The sanity and lives of those escaping persecution? The moral and ethical dilemmas now to be faced by health professionals and other detention centre workers? The possible imprisonment of those same people, who are only doing their jobs to the best of their ability?

I really don’t understand how they can sleep at night. And I call them to account. I, too, choose to stand with those doctors and other professionals who will not be bullied by the fear of imprisonment. I may never work in a detention centre, but I am at least with them in spirit. I’m looking forward to hearing from my local federal member’s reply to my recent email on the subject. I sent it about a week ago. Perhaps he doesn’t think it’s important.

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Frustrated

It’s been a frustrating week. This year, for the first time, I purchased a supporting membership to World Con. For those of you who might not be into science fiction and fantasy, World Con happens every year, somewhere in the world, and is the place where the Hugo Awards are awarded, and much science fiction and fantasy stuff happens.

I’ve been attending Australian Cons for the last couple of years, and really wish I’d known about them earlier – because they’re a lot of fun, and really interesting. Fairly obviously, given that I write Science Fiction and Fantasy, I love reading and watching it. Anyway, I thought I’d get involved.

Up until recently, I’d thought that the Hugo Awards were awarded by some kind of special panel of Spec Fic judges. Then I learnt that they’re actually fan nominated and fan voted. I discovered this partly because of the controversy around this year’s nominations. It’s pretty hard to find a non-partisan article on this controversy, but if you stick ‘Hugo Awards 2015’ into Google, you’ll find plenty of stuff to read about it.

One of the major reasons that I bought a supporting membership was because I wanted to be able to vote in the selection process for the 2017 World Con (Go Helsinki! – I’m hoping to be there!) and of course the Hugo Packet came with the membership – so this year I’m going to vote.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working my way through the packet – which is what Hugo voters get in case they haven’t read the appropriate nominations. (I might add that I’m a prolific reader of Spec Fic, but there’s so much stuff to read, that I just don’t have enough time to read it all, so a lot of the stuff in the packet is quite new to me.)

The title of this post is ‘Frustrated.’ And I am. I’ve read quite a few Hugo nominees and winners over the many years I’ve been reading Spec Fic, and I’ve enjoyed pretty well all of it in all its varied forms. But this lot? I’m struggling through a lot of it. I’ve read all the short stories and novelettes and most of the novellas. Ho hum. Sigh. Honestly….sigh….

As an early career writer myself, I appreciate good writing. I also know that I don’t always get it right, but I really thought Hugo nominees would have it down pat. Nope. Or at least not this lot. Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent stories, and some of them are decently written, but so far, the vast majority are not exciting me at all. And as far as a couple of them go, they’re not well written at all.

I do have to thank the Hugo Packet for introducing me to Ms Marvel, though. I will actively go out and find more of her. (Apart from Phantom comics, I haven’t really read a lot of graphic novels.) In the meantime, I will continue to slog through the rest of the packet, hoping to find a gem here and there. Then I shall vote accordingly. On the upside, I’m feeling pretty happy about some of my own short stories right now….


The Stigma of Mental Health Issues

Recently I saw a post on Facebook that said “When cancer takes a life we blame cancer. Depression is a disease. Don’t blame the victim for losing the fight.”

I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. Partly because mental illness has touched our family, and partly because I’ve just submitted a story to the Defying Doomsday Anthology. Obviously I have no idea if my story’s good enough, or if it’s what they’re looking for, but I’m glad I’ve written it, because it made me attempt to hop inside the head of someone suffering from social anxiety and claustrophobia.

I found myself breathless, as I wrote about panic attacks, and almost nauseous as I wrote about the terror of being inside a confined space. I don’t suffer from mental illness myself, but I did run the content of what I wrote past someone who does.

Sufferers of mental illness often don’t talk about their issues. They don’t discuss them because of the looks, the stares and the sudden backing away of friends and family who don’t ‘get it.’ At the same time they feel alone, and isolated, because often when they do have a problem, or struggle with depression, they face rejection, rather than compassion.

It seems that we can deal with physical injury much more easily than illness that affects the mind.

We deal with what we can see, better than what we don’t understand, or perhaps don’t want to understand.

In my non-writing work I’m a physio. I see people in splints, casts and on crutches every day, but I also see those with lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, dizziness and chronic pain issues such as CRPS. Those people also suffer from the stigma of something with no visible signs. Once people have had a non-visible injury themselves, they’re much more likely to be sympathetic to fellow sufferers.

So, should we all experience mental illness in order to become sympathetic? Of course not. However, we should all realise that the sufferer of depression, bipolar, anxiety, OCD, PTSD etc has no choice about the matter. It’s not something that they planned  on having ‘just for funsies.’

Like anyone who has an injury or illness that impacts their day to day activities, sufferers of mental illness are still people. No-one tells cancer patients just to ‘suck up and cope with’ the side effects of their chemo, or those with MS to just ‘get on with it’- they offer them sympathy, support, and the occasional meal. They also treat them as normal human beings.

Watching someone you live struggle with mental illness is awful. When you begin to understand how difficult it is, how frustrating it is, all you want to do is make it go away – and you can’t. You have to sit and watch them struggle through medication changes, watch them drag themselves determinedly out of bed each day, and not be able to alleviate it by any kind of thought, word or deed.

You can cook the odd meal, and you can hug if it’s the right moment for hugging, but you can’t wave a magic wand and fix it, no matter how much you want to.

What you can do, is remember that they’re a human being – a human being with a chronic illness, just like anyone else. You can treat them normally, retain your relationship, and be there. You can even try and understand and accept that mental illness happens – to about thirty percent of us.

Imagine how it might be if people didn’t feel they had to hide it, or pretend that it didn’t exist. If you think that’s nuts, then imagine how a cancer sufferer might feel if they felt they had to pretend that they didn’t have cancer, and pretend that the  debilitating side effects of surgery, chemo or radiotherapy didn’t exist. Put yourself in their shoes and think about it.

If you’re fortunate enough to not have experienced mental illness, don’t ignore those who have. Remember that they’re people too. Remember that they often feel alienated from everyone else for fear of what they might think. Remember that it could be you.

And if it is you, and you’re ignoring it – please don’t. Seek help at Beyond Blue or The Black Dog Institute.


Back from Continuum 11 (Southern Skies)

I missed blog posting last week as I was at Continuum – Melbourne’s Speculative Fiction Convention. It was a great weekend, catching up with people I met last year, and being on panels and attending panels.

Cons are great fun. My biggest problem is making sure I don’t panel myself to death. I love hearing from the fascinating, intelligent people who share their knowledge and passions. Sunday I panelled from go to whoa, and nearly did my head in, so I eventually told myself to head off to bed, and I even listened and went!

I was fortunate enough to participate in three panels – Weedy Seadragon (all about Australian wildlife that might be great in spec fic), Remove or Explain (looking at classic spec fic and discussing problematic views such as racism, classism and sexism), and Separating the Art from the Artist (what do you do when your favourite author espouses views you don’t agree with or proves to have feet of clay). It was a lot of fun, and we had some great discussions.

I’m always impressed with the sheer breadth of knowledge at these events. So many fantastic authors give of their time and experience, and so many fans have such a depth of knowledge about so many spec fic things that it’s like being at an enormous smorgasbord.

The guests of honour this year were RJ Anderson, and Tansy Rayner Roberts.who both made memorable guest of honour speeches. There were several tears shed during Rebecca’s speech, and many crowns worn during Tansy’s. They are remarkable, eloquent women, whose writing I greatly enjoy. I hadn’t read any of Rebecca’s until a couple of weeks ago, when I picked up Ultraviolet. I loved it. I’ve read several of Tansy’s now – and particularly like her Creature Court Trilogy.

Of course I had to purchase a couple of books, or three, or four…so I grabbed Ultraviolet and its sequel, Quicksilver, for our daughter, and grabbed myself the Ticonderoga anthology Hear Me Roar, and Redback by Lindy Cameron which I’m currently in the middle of and enjoying very much.

Then there were the market stalls, but because I was very restrained, having already purchased four books, and World Con supporting membership, and a pre-bid supporters thingy for New Zealand’s bid for World Con 2020, I restricted myself to one small, but beautiful, necklace from Michelle at One Small Duck for our daughter.

Enough of my purchases! This is a very self indulgent post!

On a very nice note, however, my husband thinks that we should go to World Con at some point shortly. I didn’t even have to marshall any arguments as to why it might be a good idea, as he loves to travel. So here’s hoping Helsinki gets the bid, and we can head off to Finland in 2017!


Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.    

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy     

and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This was part of the reading at church this morning, and the basis of the sermon. I’m a Christian, which is not necessarily a popular thing to be these days, particularly if you have an online presence. This is an understandable thing, as the things most people see in the media are the failings of the wider Christian community – and these failings have often been dreadful.

It seems that every time I look at the news, or check out some of my favourite online forums, I see the awful things done by those claiming to represent the God of the Bible. In many cases, those awful things have been covered up and denied, leaving countless other human beings hurting, depressed, and damaged.

I was particularly struck by this morning’s reading, because it reminded me of all of the things that so often human beings, not only Christians, get wrong. To act Justly. To love Mercy. To walk Humbly with our God.

To act justly requires several things. It requires that in our own lives, we admit to wrongdoing, repent, and accept the consequences of our own actions. When we consider others, it often requires self sacrifice, unselfishness, and action on behalf of those who may be less able than ourselves. It also means that where we see injustice, we should oppose it.

To love mercy, again requires self sacrifice and unselfishness, and to view the lives of others through a lens of compassion, not condemnation, and to forgive freely those who have wronged us.

To walk humbly with our God, clearly depends on your view of faith. For Christians it means that self-agrandizment should never be an option – something that seems to have suffered in recent years, and to live the words of Jesus.

Here in Australia, there’s a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Sadly, one of the things we see most often as the dreadful stories unfold, is repeated cover ups, repeated lies, and a refusal to accept the consequences of actions. And sadly, the cover ups and lies are often from those who claim that they are men and women of God. It grieves me deeply that those who claim the name ‘Christian’ have done, and continue to do, despicable things.

Add to that a Prime Minister who again claims to be a Christian, yet whose government is responsible for the most dreadful asylum seeker policies. They clearly contravene human rights, and again place children at risk of abuse. And all done in the name of fear, and its power over the electorate.

This morning as I read the words from Micah 6, I was struck by the sheer amount of awfulness done in the name of God. It isn’t done by God – it’s done by selfish, sinful, human, people. For those of you reading this, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to call themselves a Christian in the light of the evil often done ‘in the name’ of God. I suppose it comes down to this. What Jesus says, what the Bible teaches, and what human beings do, are often different things. The God of the Bible says “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…” Jesus himself said “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

None of us are perfect, sadly, but those who have done evil need to acknowledge that they did the evil and accept the consequences. The organisations that were complicit, and hid what their wrongdoers did, need to do the same thing. Moving a paedophile around just to avoid admitting someone was one, only allowed the person to continue doing what they’d always done. It didn’t, and doesn’t, stop the damage. To continue to cover up the lies, leads to more damage, and doesn’t help the victims in any way, shape or form.

Today I’m saddened by the actions of some of those who call themselves Christians. I’m saddened that they refuse to take responsibility, apologise, and acknowledge the victims. In fact, as a Christian, myself, I call upon them to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God – and not just say the words, but live them, and live their consequences. To those who look at the media face of some Christians, all I can say is, look beyond the human face, and look at the words of Jesus instead.


Choices

I’ve been a bit slack with this blog recently – mainly a matter of life getting in the way of everything else, but I’ve been thinking quite a bit, which is what I do.

There’s a lot going on in the world. We’ve had floods here in Australia, and there’s been the devastation of the Nepal earthquakes, we’ve more young people seduced into the world of extremist terrorism, and the news is full of sadness, disaster and destruction. Part of it is the instantaneous nature of the internet. Nowadays we hear about things immediately, via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where once we had to await reporting by a news service.

I’m often struck by the impact that choice makes on our lives. Years ago my husband and I did a parenting course. One of the early tenets of that course was about choices, and that a large part of parenting was about bringing your kids up so that eventually they’re able to make their own choices about life – and do it well. It’s probably one of the biggest worries for any parent. While your kids are at home, you have a huge say in many of their choices. Obviously, as they grow older, you give them more and more freedom, until eventually, by the time they leave home for university or work, they’re making all of their own choices.

I’m sure that most of us have at least the odd sleepless night praying and hoping that our kids are making wise choices. There’s a lot of stuff to make choices about. Some things are relatively simple – clothes, food, which bus to catch – but others are much more complicated. We’re all confronted with moral and ethical choices about what we should do in certain situations.

One of the things I’ve learnt over the years is that a choice is never made in isolation. Our lives can be very self focused. We often think about what a choice will mean for ourselves individually, but not necessarily for those around us. This is one of the hardest things to do, I suspect. Human beings are, by nature, self centred. Sometimes maturity brings with it a more all encompassing point of view. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I think we often forget that our choices can have far reaching ramifications. I think we’re often so caught up in ourselves, that we don’t think about the wider community, or we choose to ignore it.

This week there’s been a large focus on domestic violence here in Australia – and rightly so. In NSW (my home state) there are four hundred instances of domestic violence each day. This year, we’ve already seen 34 Australian women killed as a result of domestic violence this year. Although there are men who are victims of domestic violence, the vast majority of victims are women. What drives this?

Human beings can make choices. We can choose to drink, choose to remain ignorant, and choose to behave in certain ways. Some time ago I wrote a blog piece on the sexual harassment of young women in public places, and the sense of entitlement that some young men appear to have in regard to a young woman’s body. Somewhere along the way, these young men have chosen to believe that they have a right to do as they wish, no matter whether the young woman wants them to.

I wonder if this then translates into their intimate relationships? What happens when their partner disagrees with them? What happens is she says she’s tired and doesn’t want to have sex tonight? Does that sense of entitlement, amply demonstrated at a pub or club, spill over into the intimate relationship? Domestic violence is on the rise, and something is fuelling it. We’re theoretically in an enlightened age of gender equality, yet more and more we see signs that perhaps not all is as it should be.

Intimate partner violence is a choice. It has enormous ramifications upon not only the victimised spouse, but the entire family, and it then spills over into the community. We see damaged kids, who are then often educationally disadvantaged, socially disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged. More often than not, the cycle repeats itself in a devastating self defeating circle of despair.

I’m fortunate enough to have married a man who is everything I could ever want in a partner, and my parents celebrated fifty years of very happy marriage last year. I have no intimate experience of domestic violence, and I’m thankful for that, but my heart aches for those trapped in damaging relationships, and for those whose choices have led them down the path of violence.

What’s the answer? I don’t know precisely – I wish I did. I do know that it’s enormously important to encourage people to think – to think about their choices, and both the short and long term effects of them. The thing that I come back to time and time again, is that it’s always a choice. Bad choices are usually made out of selfishness and self focus. They’re usually about instant gratification and instantaneous short term reward. Good choices are often harder, because they involve self sacrifice, patience, and forethought. When our selfish desires are placed in the context of long term outcomes, sometimes it puts things in perspective. When children are taught to think ahead, to reason, and to look at right and wrong, and how they’d like to be treated themselves, sometimes they make better choices.

We can only hope.


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