World Gone Mad

I’m sure everyone knows what happened in Paris yesterday, but I woke up this morning, wandered over to my social media sites and was struck by the chaotic mess of opinions.

Facebook was covered in French flags. Twitter was awash with contrasting opinion, and the news feeds were full of doom and gloom.

I took a while to scroll through the opinions of my social media friends and followers, was somewhat disturbed by some of what I read, and then headed off to church. The thoughts have been percolating since.

Here’s some of the headlines of the things I read this morning on social media:

The quote from Mike Baird over the Sydney Opera House isn’t a Mike Baird Quote, but one from the Bible. It comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It’s one of my favourite parts of the Bible, and is well worth reading in context. For a Christian it reminds us that no matter what might happen in the world, through the actions of man, that there is always hope, and that one day there will be a better place. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a Christian, but that I only blog intermittently about it. When I saw the meme and the image and the quote, I wondered if many would recognise the words, and whether they’d end up attributed to Mike Baird in popular culture as a result. (Maybe that’s a bit of cynicism popping out in me.)

More than anything, today I’ve struggled with the fact that people are using this dreadful act to push their own agendas, and that the world seems to be ignoring the fact that these kinds of events are happening everywhere, not just places like Paris.

Another friend on Facebook posted this today:


It came from here.

To me, no matter whether you’re a praying person or not, it says more than any of the other things I’ve posted. It reminds us that we are all human beings. That we are all people. It reminds us that just because we live in a particular part of the world, that we shouldn’t only be upset when people we consider similar to ourselves are targeted by terrorists. It reminds us that there are those who walk every day in places where terror reigns – and that some of those are unable to escape it.

As I sit here, comfortably ensconced in my lounge chair, typing away in my rural Australian town, I am in no danger. Or perhaps I should rephrase that. I am in no danger, just as those who died or were injured in Paris yesterday were in no danger. That attack, like those other high profile attacks, has jerked some of the western world out of its comfort zone, and into a place of mild uncertainty. Those people yesterday probably lived very similar lives to me. Yesterday’s attacks demonstrated that it can happen anywhere, anytime.

Maybe it will raise the profile of the problems of other parts of the world where it happens much more often, but it may not. Today, I’m reminding myself that the enormous refugee crisis we’re currently seeing is driven by people desperate to leave places where yesterday’s attack is commonplace. If that happened regularly in my little town, I’d be leaving too.

I was also thinking about the temptation to blame those who profess to be Muslims. Clearly, judging by the social media I’ve seen, many people do. But then I thought about other conflicts. I’ve just done a bit of reading about antisemitism and Nazism. You see, it struck me that in the nineteen thirties and forties, Germany was considered to be a ‘Christian’ country. Yet Nazism arose under Adolf Hitler. As a result, we had World War 2. (Clearly that’s a bit simplistic, but I’m not a historian.)

Do we routinely blame Christians for Nazism? I’ve found a fascinating document called the Dabru Emet. Here’s a quote from it:

“Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out. Too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews. Other Christians did not protest sufficiently against these atrocities. But Nazism itself was not an inevitable outcome of Christianity. If the Nazi extermination of the Jews had been fully successful, it would have turned its murderous rage more directly to Christians. We recognize with gratitude those Christians who risked or sacrificed their lives to save Jews during the Nazi regime. With that in mind, we encourage the continuation of recent efforts in Christian theology to repudiate unequivocally contempt of Judaism and the Jewish people. We applaud those Christians who reject this teaching of contempt, and we do not blame them for the sins committed by their ancestors.”

Clearly, the vast majority of the world does not see Nazism as a Christian thing. Even those most affected by the Holocaust do not either. Consequently, why should we view the hideous atrocities of Isis as those of Muslims as a whole?

Certainly, those individuals and organisations who perpetrate such dreadful things should be condemned, however, blanket condemnation for one group of people is completely inappropriate, even if those who perform such dreadful acts say that they profess the same faith.

I am a Christian, but I am not one of those who claim to be of my faith, while choosing to spew hatred against those who do not share their beliefs. I do believe that Jesus, who healed lepers, socialised with the outcasts of his day, and even healed the hated invader, would rather have me love those who believe differently.

I’ll end with a quote from the book of Matthew, Chapter 5 verses 43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Thinking About All Kinds of Stuff

There are some weeks when I just think a lot. This week I’ve been thinking about all kinds of things. A lot of them have been Halloween related – for several reasons. The first reason is that I have a short story in the anthology The Cat the Crow and the Cauldron which is by a group of authors who befriended each other online. Clearly it’s Halloween themed, and as it’s free, it’s been picked up by a lot of people, and has attracted a number of rather nice reviews.

Roast Pumpkin, my short story, tells Anna’s story. She was forced to move to the US from Australia by her parents (work!) and is experiencing her first Halloween – and ends up with more of an out-of-this-world adventure than she bargained for.

Secondly, I live in Australia, and until recently, Halloween has been a non-event here, with most people ignoring it. Due to what I’d describe as the power of commercialism, combined with a more connected world, Halloween is now in every shopping centre and major retail outlet, and has now made its way to pretty well every corner of Australia.

I have pagan friends who celebrate Halloween (you can check out Janis’ blog post here) as part of their yearly celebrations, much as Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter, and there are others who have chosen to hop on board the traditions brought here from other countries. We are a multicultural society.

I have mixed feelings about Halloween. As a kid, I grew up in a culture that didn’t celebrate Halloween or Valentine’s Day at all. In fact, I remember looking them up in an encyclopaedia (yes, I am that old) to find out what they were, after reading a Nancy Drew or Three Investigators book. (Or it may have been the Peanuts cartoons.) For my overseas readers, you’ll probably be incredulous that I had to do that, but it might put into perspective why various Australians feel very differently about the 31st of October.

You see, I’ve been following the local community Facebook pages having ‘discussions’ about whether kids should trick-or-treat, and whether we should be opting in or opting out. I live in a rural town in New South Wales, Australia. It’s not particularly large, or even particularly small (you can drive across the town in ten minutes) but there’s about 16,000 or so people living here. The community Facebook pages have had a variety of comments left on them over the last week or two.

One began something like “If you’re not going to want trick-or-treaters, leave a note on the door.” A discussion ensued. It was full of the “It’s not an Australian holiday!!!!!!!” and “I just want my kids to have fun” extremes. Elsewhere I’ve had friends post about the evils of Halloween (as in spiritual evils) and others posting about celebrating Samhain, which is celebrated between summer and winter, while of course it’s currently between winter and summer here. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about,  look up what Beltane and Samhain are.)

My personal opinion is that if people wish to celebrate Halloween, by all means let them do so. Having said that, I don’t believe that I need to ‘opt out’ of it, as it’s not a well founded cultural or traditional celebration (yet) in this country. It’s probably more about people ‘opting in’ and indicating in some fashion that they have done so. I also have mixed feelings about taking your kids to knock on the doors of perfect strangers, looking for lollies…

Having said all of that, if my neighbours had wished to celebrate Halloween, I would probably have wandered over to admire their decorations, just as I admire Christmas decorations. At this point, it’s still quite polarising here in Australia, so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

I’ve also been thinking about being a nerd/geek. Clearly I like science fiction and fantasy, but a confession: I like Halo. Ever since our youngest son introduced me to the first Xbox game, I’ve liked it, and of course Halo 5 came out this week. Needless to say, I played Halo today. Apart from shooting aliens, Halo has a great story, which I’ve followed not only in the games, but I confess to having read a couple of Halo books. I also confess to playing Runescape. :)

I also like talking about Star Wars, Dr Who, Pern, The Stormlight Archive, YA Dystopia, Stargate, Marvel Movies and I’ve recently become addicted to both Teen Wolf and Orphan Black.

I am clearly a nerd, or a geek, or whatever combination of the two you’d like to subscribe to. (I just looked the definitions up and they seem to be poorly defined.)

In the end, the one thing that all of the above have in common is stories. Stories are powerful. They enthral us, teach us, and provide hours of enjoyment. I’m reminded each time I read one, play one, or watch one, that stories remind us of hope, humanity and the idea that how it is, isn’t how it always has to be.

Stories are powerful. For as long as humanity has been around, we’ve told stories. We’ve used them to maintain our histories and our traditions, to illustrate faith and science, and for pure enjoyment. They are, in every way, wonderful, and I’m very happy that my own storytelling has made people happy.

The New Star Wars Movie

I’m really looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars Movie. I was twelve when the first Star Wars movie was released. I remember going to the theatre with my brother, who was seven at the time, and being astounded by the special effects, and the sheer hugeness of what I was seeing on the screen.

When those first lines ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away…’ rolled across the screen, and that astounding music began to play, I was hooked. I sat there mesmerised, enthralled, and completely swept up in the story that was holding me spellbound in the theatre. Some of you who are younger are probably giggling at the idea that Star Wars: A New Hope was ever the highest pinnacle of science fiction theatre.

As an adult, I can now re-watch the movie and see the flaws in the story, the sometimes lacklustre acting, and the special effects that now seem dated and rudimentary. However I still enjoy it, and still remember that first time I saw it. Of course, we all waited with bated breath for the sequels, and I saw Return of the Jedi at least three times – once from the front row, where I had to turn my head to watch Darth Vader stalk across the screen.

When our kids were small, The Phantom Menace aired. We went along to the theatre with great anticipation, and once again, the special effects were amazingly memorable, and the story intriguing. There were a couple of down points – Anakin Skywalker, midichlorians and the comic relief. The Attack of the Clones followed, and then The Revenge of the Sith. Although it was good to see how George Lucas envisaged the rise of Darth Vader from Anakin Skywalker, there were clearly some issues with the both the story line, the screen play, and the acting. (Put it this way, Hayden Christenson is not one of my favourite actors, and some of dialogue still makes me cringe.)

One thing that stood out through all of the movies was the music. I loved the first film’s score, and still do. And in the newer three movies, it was wonderful to hear how the composer had woven Darth Vader’s theme music into Anakin’s theme.

No matter what you think about Star Wars as a franchise, or some of the individual bits and pieces of any of the movies, something about the story intrigues people. There’s the bones of a good story in there. In some ways it’s an eternal story – that of good versus evil, dark versus light, and the triumph of love over hate.

I watched the new trailer recently, and it looks as if there could be a really good story coming up in ‘The Force Awakens.’ There were enough hints in the trailer that the story might be complex and satisfying. I know many fans have been apprehensive about the transfer from Lucas Arts to Disney, and the memes have certainly abounded.

I write science fiction adventure, and the new film could give the written equivalent a bit of a leg up. Or not, depending on how it all works out. One of the good things about movies is the ability of the visual art to penetrate into every household. I think it’s possible that people who wouldn’t normally read science fiction might actually consider it after enjoying Star Wars. The key of course is whether the written science fiction they pick lives up to the thing they’ve watched.

I hang around on Goodreads a lot, and on several of the Science Fiction groups there’s a lot of passion about the type of science fiction that certain readers consider ‘valid.’ Some only like ‘hard’ sci-fi, and others only like space opera, or military sci-fi. Some consider that if it’s modern, it isn’t good, while others consider that if it’s an old classic it’s a disaster.

As far as I’m concerned, as long as the story’s good, I’m happy. I don’t really care whether it’s hard, soft, opera, military, or cyberpunk, but I do care that it has a plot, a story, and engaging characters. I don’t care if someone else doesn’t think it’s ‘valid’ under their definition of valid. I figure that if it’s fictional, generally has some form of ‘space’ in it, or some connection to space or the future, then that’s probably good enough.

Anyway, I seem to have rambled off a bit. So where am I up to? Right, Star Wars. I’m looking forward to the next instalment. I’ll be listening hard to hear what the composer’s done with the iconic themes, and I’ll be hoping for a great story.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on writing. I’m currently two thirds done on a disease-in-space conspiracy thing, three chapters into a fantasy (YA), have a variety of short stories under my belt, and recently woke up from a really good dream that I’m going to turn into a story. Just have to figure out the rest of the plot.

A Slightly Belated Post and a New Release.

I’ve been a little absent from my blog for the last few weeks. Firstly there was the Scone Literary Long Weekend, which you can read about in the post below, which I reblogged from Kaz Delaney’s site, and then the worst thing that can happen to a writer happened. (Well, maybe not, but I think it was pretty bad.)

My computer died.

Not just a tiny little hiccough of illness, but complete and utter death. The grey screen (I have a MacBook Pro) of death with the flashing folder with the question mark struck terror into my soul.

First thoughts: “When did I last backup?”

“Did that backup actually work?”

“Maybe it didn’t work and I’ll have lost it all!


Rapidly followed by, “Oh no! What if it’s totally and utterly dead? What if I need a new laptop? And how much will it cost to fix?”

This year has been the year of disasters for us. So far the body count goes something like this. New dishwasher. New hot water system. New brakes for the car. Medical bills for everyone. Flooded bathroom, bedroom and spare room. And now computer death.

You can imagine the pain our bank account has felt this year. My husband and I sat down and looked at each other, and both of us decided that it would be really nice to be able to put something into the bank account rather than taking it out, some day in the future.

Fortunately Apple was very nice to me, and replaced my hard drive for free, despite the laptop being out of warranty. Something about customer satisfaction, they said. That works for me! So now, after restoring everything from backup, checking that all the important things were still there, and working my way through seven hundred (yes, 700!) emails, I am now back up and running. (No pun intended!)

During my disconnected time, I realised how much I’m accustomed to being connected. I still had my phone, but replying to an email on a phone is very awkward, at least for me.

And of course, while I was disconnected, a group of author friends and myself published a Halloween Anthology. It’s called The Cat the Crow and the Cauldron and is free on Amazon. My story is called Roast Pumpkin. So, with no further ado, here’s the cover art, and the link. Pop on over and pick it up!

Screenshot 2015-10-20 13.38.52

The Cat the Crow and the Cauldron on Amazon

Feelin’ the Heat in Downtown Scone and looking for Agatha Christie


A great weekend at the Scone Literary Long Weekend!

Originally posted on Kaz Delaney:

  Scone lit fest logo

The state was experiencing a heatwave but in the 150 year old church, now the home of the Scone Arts & Crafts, with its 60cm thick stone walls, there was barely a bead of sweat in sight.

Graeme Simsion, Moi, Anne Buist Graeme Simsion, Moi, Anne Buist

The old church was almost to capacity as folk from the Upper Hunter & surrounds gathered to hear from guests and locals alike. I was privileged to be one of those invited guests  – along with Phillip Adams, Graeme Simsion, Samantha Turnbull, Ged Gillmore, Anne Buist & Nick Brasch.2015-10-03 11.53.38

Outside where we gathered for lunch we forgot the heat and just allowed ourselves to be swept up in the amazing garden setting. Honestly, I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie novel! The old English cottage garden, the sweeping trees that shaded us, the bees buzzing lazily, the jugs of lemon infused chilled water, the easy chairs and…

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Writing in 2015 (So far)

It’s been a year of writing lots of stuff so far. This year seems to have been my year of having too many ideas – although I’m yet to be convinced that having too many ideas is actually a problem if you’re a writer.

Earlier this year, Frontier Resistance (Book 2 in the Frontier Series) was released in paperback format. I finished writing Frontier Defiant (Book 3), and it’s now gone through its first round of edits. It’s officially the end of the trilogy, but I’m finding that my mind keeps returning to Frontier, so at some point I may write some more Frontier stories.

In addition I’ve also written approximately two thirds of a new novel – this one set primarily in space, and about twenty percent of another YA novel, this time a fantasy. I seem to be having idea after idea after idea, every one of them initiating a great desire to write them down immediately. I’ve compromised by writing their beginnings so that I don’t forget them, so in addition to the aforementioned stories, I’ve written the beginnings of a middle grade fantasy and a middle grade science fiction story. Consequently I now have four new, completely different, stories sitting on my laptop screaming for attention.

Then I began writing short form, just because I’ve really been enjoying reading them. Earlier this year, I went to the NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction festival. There was a great panel on short stories, full of accomplished authors, and one of the things I took away from it, was that there’s a huge difference between writing long and short form. For me this has been true in theory and in practice.

This year, one of my short stories found a home. It’ll be published in the Novascapes 2 Anthology later this year, or early next year, and another one has made the second round for another anthology. I’m still waiting to hear about that one, but that’s OK – you learn to be patient when you’re a writer. I’ve also had a number of rejections for another couple. Some of the rejections have returned with feedback, which I’ve found extremely helpful.

One of the reasons it’s been so helpful, is that twice now the feedback’s essentially said the same thing – namely that I write my short stories like the beginnings of novels. Apparently the readers generally like the stories, however I clearly haven’t mastered the art of completing a story in short form particularly well. The first time I received feedback like that, I was sort of pleased, mainly because I’d been playing around with the character to see if she’d be good to write a whole novel with. The second time (different story), I realised that the idea I’d had might possibly be good for a whole novel, although I’d really like to make the story work in short form, partly because I want to master short story writing, and partly because I think a few more edits might sort it out. (And I really, really like the idea.)

The whole hope/rejection cycle is an interesting one, though. You think you’ve done a good job, but your story might not be the right fit, or maybe it works better inside your head than on your page, and you’re waiting, and then it’s either elation or, “OK, time to rewrite.”

Another thing that I took home from the Spec Fic Festival was that sometimes a short story just has to find the right home. That appears to be the case for the Novascapes one. Having said that, it’s had several re-writes and several re-imaginings along the way. Each time I put a story away for a while, it helps me look at it with fresh eyes, and I’m much more able to see the flaws in my original work. Some of it’s because I’m growing (or so I hope) as a writer, and some of it’s because distance helps me to be more objective. It also helps me to see what I actually wrote, and not what I thought I wrote…

I was also part of a self published anthology earlier this year – May the Fourth: A Collection Across Time and Space, and I’ll have another story published in another self published anthology in mid October. We’re a collection of writers who’ve met online. We began our May the Fourth stories from the same first line. This time around we’ve worked on a Halloween theme – rather challenging for an Australian who doesn’t do the Halloween thing. I had to really think about that one!

Anyway, I’m in the middle of yet another short story, so I’d probably better get back to it, before I watch Dr Who this evening and fold the washing. (Much less fun than either writing or watching TV!)

Hypocrisy Apparently Rules

I’m sitting here in my chair, after just reading a news article entitled Tony Abbott says Australia will accept more Syria refugees but within current intake...

The news this week has been full of images and stories about the enormous humanitarian crisis involving refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East – primarily Syria. The stories have been fuelled by the images of little Aylan Kurdi, so tragically drowned when his boat sank.

The humanitarian crisis isn’t new, but the images of that one child seem to have galvanised many countries to action, and have struck deep into the hearts of many who may have been distanced from the realities and horrors faced by many asylum seekers.

As I read the headline, and the story that I quoted above, I felt ill, and ashamed. I live in a wonderful, wealthy country, that has somehow turned its back on the poor, the desperate, and the vulnerable, and instead places them in detention for years, ships them offshore to hideous living conditions, and then attempts to justify it by suggesting that lives have been saved.

The article states: This afternoon the Prime Minister told a press conference he was moved by the images of Aylan, and was prepared to lift the percentage of refugees Australia takes from Syria.

But he said the increase will not mean Australia’s overall yearly intake of refugees, which stands at 13,750, will go up.

Clearly the PM wasn’t moved very much, despite what he said, as the death of a young man on Manus Island last year certainly didn’t spur him to action, and more recently neither did the fate of the young asylum seeker who was moved from Brisbane to Darwin detention centre not long before she was due to finish her year twelve schooling.

To say I’m disgusted is an understatement. To say I’m frustrated is also an understatement. Another article quotes the PM saying “We can only do this because of the success we’ve already had in stopping the boats.” At this point I just want to scream. We have a paltry intake of refugees, we’ve reduced our foreign aid budget, and now the government is attempting to roll popular opinion by pretending to be generous, simply because the tide of public opinion seems to be gathering momentum.

Suffice it to say that I’m looking forward to the next federal election. I’m hoping more of my fellow Australians will also be voting with an eye to compassion and integrity.

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 :)


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 or 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 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…

2015-08-13 13.45.59

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.


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