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?

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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 .edu.au or .gov.au 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.)

 


Why It’s A Good Idea To Read Book 1 First

Yesterday our daughter and I were sitting down having coffee with my parents. Dad’s always been a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, as are both of our kids.

It was recently our son’s birthday, and since I knew that he didn’t have a paperback set of The Hunger Games books, we decided to give him a boxed set for his birthday. My parents also thought that our son would like some books, so our daughter provided (or thought she’d provided) my Dad with a list of suitable books, finishing up by carefully saying “And don’t get him The Hunger Games, because Mum and Dad have already got them.” Sadly, Grandad wasn’t wearing his hearing aids…

Fortunately, Dad was really excited to tell me that he’d purchased Catching Fire and Mockingly for our son, (he hadn’t been able to find The Hunger Games) and I was able to explain that we’d already bought them, and in fact that neatly wrapped present on the table, was actually them. Our daughter suggested that “You really need to wear your hearing aids Grandad!” Mum and Dad then supplied our son with a different present.

Being a fan of Sci-fi and Fantasy, Dad then decided he’d read the two he’d bought, so he began The Hunger Games trilogy by reading Catching Fire. At the age of 81, and still culturally accustomed to somewhat stereotypical genderised roles, it took about five chapters for Dad to realise that Katniss wasn’t a boy (she was hunting!), and that she and Gale weren’t gay.

At that point I nearly spat my latte across the table. After we’d recovered from the ensuing hilarity, our daughter suggested that reading Book 1 would probably have helped set the scene a little more thoroughly. I found it hilarious that he hadn’t turned a hair at the idea of two male characters having a relationship, but couldn’t quite get his head around the idea of a girl hunting – despite the fact that his own daughter (me) has spent half her life fire fighting and jumping off cliffs attached to ropes.

So, my advice? Read Book 1 first. :)


Speaking And Writing In My Own Voice

As the weather hots up and the month wears on, I’ve been continuing along on my blog tour with Bewitching Book Tours. It’s been a busy few weeks, with interviews, spotlights, top tens (chocolate!) and guest blog posts.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about stuff and it seems to be the time of year when writers talk about writing – perhaps as a result of being under the influence of Nanowrimo. I read a great piece by Janis Hill today which made me think a little bit more about the way we all write.

I’m Australian, as Janis is, and one of the issues that Australians have is being taken seriously when we write in our own voice. If you’re from another country, you might be wondering what I’m talking about, so I thought I’d explain it a bit.

Part of it’s spelling, part of it’s colloquialisms, and part of it’s where we set our writing.

If you’re not from Australia, you might not realise that we spell ‘realise’ and equalise and recognise with an ‘s’ and in Australia that’s correct spelling. Colour is spelt with a ‘u’ in it, just as honour is. All of us who’ve published or have been published using Australian spelling have had comments about incorrect spelling in reviews. I tend to laugh them off – it’s not my problem, just a reviewer’s ignorance – but it’s annoying, and there’s a sense that if you don’t use ‘z’s (said zed, not zee here) instead of ‘s’s or take out the ‘u’s you won’t be taken seriously as a writer.

If we set our stories in a recognisably Australian setting, some people don’t like it. If we use Australian colloquialisms, some readers become annoyed, and grump that our metaphors and slang aren’t understandable. Perhaps they aren’t, but if you’re from Australia, reading literature from other countries, you have to put up with that kind of stuff all the time. The shoe is on the metaphorical other foot if you like.

As a kid, I remember reading Nancy Drew and wondering what ‘mules’ and ‘bangs’ were. I knew that mules were some kind of footwear (and not a donkey/horse hybrid) from the context, and that bangs had something to do with hair, but I had no idea what the specifics were, because there was no internet then and I couldn’t look it up and no-one I knew had any idea. It was a mystery for many years.

As a kid growing up in a country that went metric in the early seventies, I had to resort to conversion charts when measurements  were provided in feet, inches, miles and occasionally fathoms.

We also say things like ‘one hundred and ninety-nine’ not ‘one hundred ninety-nine’ which takes a lot of getting used to when you keep encountering that missing ‘and.’ Mathematics is shortened to ‘maths’ here, not ‘math’ and then there’s the different word use. I wear thongs on my feet but I understand that those from the US wear them elsewhere. In NZ, they call thongs ‘flip-flops’ and what we call an esky, they call a chilly bin. (And because I’m married to an ex-Kiwi, I can say that they call them ‘chully buns’ when they’re speaking out loud.)

They seem like small things, but they’re not really. They’re part of our voice and our style and our culture, and they’re just as valid as anyone else’s. I’d expect to read about a chilly bin in a Kiwi’s story, an esky in mine, and an icebox if the writer was from the US. Each should be considered just as valid as the other, when written in the right context by the right author.

Maybe I’m having a bit of a whinge, but I figure that this is my blog and I can whinge if I feel like it :)

The next time you pick up a book and you think the author has dodgy spelling, check out where they come from, and if their country isn’t yours, you may well learn that their spelling is correct in their own country. If they use an expression that you’re not familiar with, look it up, learn something new, and enjoy discovering a new culture. Enjoy reading in a new voice.

PS. Before I went to post this, WordPress grumped at me because I said ‘whinge,’ ‘esky,’ ‘chilly bin,’ ‘chully bin’ and ‘zed.’


What a Busy Blog Touring Week!

The first week of my blog tour is now over. There have been interviews and spotlights, and I’ve been writing frantically to make sure I’m organised for this week’s events. Many thanks to all the bloggers involved, and especially from Roxanne Rhoads from Bewitching Book Tours.

This week I’ll be at:

November 10 Guest blog
Roxanne’s Realm
November 11 Spotlight
Cassandra M’s Place
November 12 Top Ten List
Darkest Cravings
November 13 Spotlight
Fantasy Book Lane
November 14 Interview
Author Karen Swart
Apart from that, I’ve been participating in Freshly Squeezed Reads P1Blitz, which means I’ve been writing critiques for 17 first manuscript pages. There’ll be a twitter party next Sunday morning once all the critiques have been through moderation. Critiques have been written by ‘Industry Pros,’ entrants and YA and teen readers. I’d encourage you all to wander on over and have a read of the entries – there are some truly fabulous first pages, and I’m hoping that there are complete manuscripts attached to a few of them, because I really want to find out what happens!
Anyway, I’d love for you to pop on over to any of the bloggers above and have a look at what they’re up to, and even read the interviews, spotlights, excerpts and giveaways!

Interview at Freshly Squeezed Reads!

Pop on over to Freshly Squeezed and you can read an interview with me :)


Weather

Today is the hottest day this Spring so far. According to the internet, it hit 39 degrees (celcius) about 25km away. We’re usually just a little hotter, so I’m guessing that we may have been about 40 degrees here. And it’s only October.

We’ve done hot. For years we lived in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia, so we really know what hot is. One year, we arrived back in our little town, 300km inland from the coast on the 28th of December, and it was 48 degrees. (118 degrees for those of you still using Fahrenheit). It was 40 degrees every day until March. It was the hottest, driest summer we’d ever experienced in our sixteen years in the Pilbara.

Maybe that’s why I like winter so much. Now that we live the Hunter Valley in NSW, we experience all four seasons each year – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. In the Pilbara it was Summer and Winter. Winter lasted about six weeks and on either side of winter was about six weeks of absolute perfection. The only problem was the lack of rain.

Why am I writing about weather? Well today was hot, so I got thinking. When I built the world of Frontier, one of the features was the weather. The enormous storms of Frontier were based on our experiences of cyclones in the Pilbara. It was one of those moments when ‘write what you know’ was a good plan – I can describe the experience of cyclonic winds because I’ve sat through a real cyclone inside a house, watching the windows bend (a somewhat frightening experience) and the roof lift as the wind gusted and the rain blew horizontally.

Weather shapes our experiences and our lives. The daily temperature determines what we wear, and how we build, and what we do. It determines what we can grow and what leisure activities we indulge in. It shapes our world and our shorelines, and makes our travel perilous. It’s an almighty force.

At the moment I’m writing another story, based in space. So far weather hasn’t featured, because everything so far has taken place inside a spaceship. It’s sort of weird, and of course I’ve never been inside a spaceship except in my imagination, so this time I’m not ‘writing what I know’ but making pretty well everything up. We’ll see how that goes…

Anyway, it’s still hot, and the whole week is forecast to be hot. I’m hoping it’s not a hint of true summer – which doesn’t arrive for another six weeks. Winter – come back!


Dr Who Musings

I”ve been a Dr Who fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, we’d watch an episode every week day evening from Monday to Thursday on the ABC. The first doctor I remember clearly was Patrick Troughton – the Dr with the recorder stuck in the Tardis console. I vaguely remember William Hartnell, and did get to know him later during repeats, but it was the end of Patrick Troughton’s tenure that led me into watching Jon Pertwee in all his subsequent adventures and confirmed my enthusiasm for the series.

I remember waiting with baited breath for the familiar theme to begin pouring out of the television speakers and then the swirling pattern of greys would begin to herald the opening credits. (We only had black and white TV in those days.)

We’d go from adventure to adventure with The Doctor and his companions, and wander off to exotic world after exotic world meeting new cultures and sometimes being scared of them.

With Sarah Jane and Tom Baker, we watched as the Daleks were born, and I remember thinking about the potential paradoxes of time travel for the first time. I was slightly freaked out by the Mistfall when The Doctor first met Adric, and then saddened when Adric died. I enjoyed the intrigue of the Doctor’s encounters with The Master, and the search for The Key of Time when he first met Romana.

Leela was one of my favourite companions – she didn’t scream, which I considered a huge plus, and was very prone to waving her knife around.

As I was watching tonight’s episode with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, I was marvelling at the longevity of the series, which has even survived a hiatus and reimagining.

I really like Capaldi’s Doctor. His portrayal reminds me very much of Jon Pertwee – his age and alien qualities are evident in his mannerisms and comments, and there are hints of the way Christopher Eccleston played The Doctor. (I’ve always wished he’d had more than one season.) Obviously the script is a large part of this, however I really like the way he doesn’t mince words. There’s such a mixture of irritation, anger and vulnerability in this doctor that I’m intrigued, and can’t wait to watch each episode.

I think it’s the universal themes that Dr Who explores that keeps the audience hungering for more. Some episodes are just pure fun, but more often than not, The Doctor and his companions are faced with moral and ethical dilemmas, and sometimes the choices are not clear cut. Underlying all of this however, is the inherent nobility of the character – an angry and sad character at times, yet always a character who is willing to self sacrifice for the greater good, a part of the character that sometimes alienates his companions.

It seems to be taken for granted that Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara Oswald) will be leaving the series shortly. I wasn’t initially fond of her character when she first appeared with Matt Smith, but this latest series has developed her character much more fully, and I’m really enjoying her interactions with Peter Capaldi. I suspect (hope) that her leaving episode will be an absolute classic, but it’s really nice to see a character develop her own life, separate to The Doctor, during the season.


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