Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Clarion Blast!

Well it's certainly more than just a success. My Clarion South mate, Jason Fischer, air guitarist and writer of many fantastic (I use the word advisedly) stories, is the winner of the second quarter of this year's Writers of the Future. Can't say I'm surprised. Jason has an incredible imagination and the ability to morph what initially seem outrageous ideas into stories that haunt you long after you read them. On top of that he is a really nice guy. Way to go, Jason.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wish I could Think This Quickly.

Via Glenda Larke's Tropic Temper. Have a read of this post on this. Warning coarse language here.

I'm not much for bad language in general - just don't listen if I happen to hit my thumb with a hammer - but this woman has used it absolutely appropriately. She is quite simply wonderful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Death of a Whale.

Yesterday a juvenile humpback whale beached itself at City Beach, a popular Perth beach. It was a seven metre long male believed to be about eighteen months old. The wildlife officers who were monitoring said it appeared it had been attacked by a killer whale. Because of its bulk and where it was wallowing in the shallows it was not possible to tow it out to sea and it couldn't be approached close enough to be euthanised. It died early today.

I didn't go to see it but I did see it on television. To me it was as heartbreaking as watching a half grown kitten or puppy suffering. It was so obviously young, frightened and in pain. I wished very much that we could have helped it but the truth was even if it had been towed out to see it probably wouldn't have survived given its injuries.

It was a sunny Spring day in Perth yesterday, enticing many people to the beaches and a small crowd had been drawn to the whale. They stood respectfully for the most part, awed and sorrowful. No-one could help but everyone was touched by it.

Coincidentally last night's Australian Story on Channel Two was about two scientists who some years ago discovered a major humpback breeding ground in Camden Sound on the Kimberley coast. They kept quiet about it except among their peers so the whales would remain undisturbed and have been studying the whales there ever since. The young humpback may well have been one of those born in the sound. He was returning to feed in the Antarctic for the summer as part of the whales' annual migration when he came to grief.

And the reason this breeding ground is now in the news? The State Government has decided that James Price Point, approximately 50 kms south of Camden Sound, is its preferred site to place a large scale industrial development for processing natural gas from the Browse Basin into LNG for export. Not surprisingly there is considerable opposition for environmental reasons and the whales' safety is only part of it. The government says it's the best site and the whales will be fine. They swim past industrial sites all the time apparently with no problems. Hmmmm. And the scientific basis for that is available where?

There is still to be an environmental assessment done but I wonder, given the little we know about whales, how even with the best will, such an assessment will be made. A hundred years ago we thought asbestos was safe to use and an environmental assessment would have accepted that - not from malice or ineptitude, but from ignorance.

The Wilderness Society has some interesting things to say about this plan.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Yesterday. Grey skies, rain sheeting down. We pull up next to an apparently deserted factory unit. On its veranda a black and white border collie, curled up against the cold, wakes, lifts its head, ears pricked, and stares hopefully out to where a bright yellow tennis ball lies in a puddle. Tail begins to wag. "Please?". I felt so guilty as it realised I wasn't getting out (I sent Pisces in instead) but as we drove off I spotted a car around the side of the building which made me feel a little better.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I Think it's Spring

Well actually it really is Spring here in Australia. It's been Spring for nearly eight days. It just hasn't seemed much like it until today. But today - today was glorious. Blue skies, sunny, warm (well to be truthful warmish). What more could you ask.

There is one thing I could ask for now I think about it. I could be headed north where the wildflowers are in bloom. It's a long time since I've done that and this is a particularly spectacular year in a State where the wildflowers are always stunningly beautiful. The problem is, of course, that when for the first time in years Pisces is not working, he is recuperating from an operation and in no condition to go anywhere. Wouldn't you just know it!

When Sagittarius was two, heading inland to the Goldfields and just beyond Southern Cross we came across a vast patchwork of everlastings in full bloom - pink, white and yellow, hectare after hectare. Sagittarius raced headlong into the flowers, all but disappearing. All we could see was the top of a little blond head as he ran in circles. That's where I want to be now - there or somewhere south of Geraldton - just drinking in the glory of it.

The thing about the wildflower season in Western Australia is that as you drive along the highways and byways even in the hills just out of the city the verges are a mass of flowers. Rich blue leschenaultia so bright it almost hurts your eyes, scarlet kennedia, golden buttercups, hazy mauve-pink myrtle bushes, tangles of purple hardenbergia, enamel blue star of Bethlehem, sculptural red and green kangaroo paws and those are just some of the stand outs. If you get out to look a little closer you'll find the shyer folk - the orchids (spider orchids, pink ladies, donkey and cowslip orchids), pea flowered egg and bacon with delicate whites, pinks, soft blues, yellows and mauves. There's not so many now in the city but the nature reserves and national parks still offer rewards for those who wander in them.

It brings back memories of when I was a child and my family was one of the earliest to move into what was then outer suburban Scarborough. It was almost semi rural in fact, its main claim to fame the holiday flats and houses that dotted parts of the beach front of Scarborough Beach, one of the best surf beaches near Perth. There were still farms around us and periodically the cows from the local dairy farm would wander up the street chomping any tasty shoots from the garden. They were especially fond of new rose growth as I recall.

More important though was that directly opposite was bush, wild and beautiful. We were lucky enough to grow up in safer times and Mum would pack my brother and me lunch and give us a drink and we would go and picnic and wander among the orchids and other delights. Picking was forbidden but in truth we had no desire to. They were so plentiful it was like walking in an amazing garden. Sadly all that area is now covered in housing, the farms are long gone and Scarborough is just another beach side suburb - although it is still one of the best surf beaches.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Anne Fine

I found a reference to this on Margo Lanagan's blog. Anne Fine, a recent Children's Laurate in the UK, answered a question by an audience member on the effect of gritty realism in books on children at a writers' festival. Melvin Burgess, a fellow panellist, describes what happened. Have a look at the Recent Comments section as well. It's interesting.

It all got me thinking about the kind of books I read as a child and whether modern writers have gone too far. You know, I don't think so. I was, as I've said before, a precocious reader often reading well above my age but I was also reading Enid Blyton and similar authors and enjoying them.

When I look back it's no wonder I turned into a speculative fiction writer. These stories were about as divorced from my reality as they could get. As I remember them they were about kids at boarding schools, kids who went off on holiday unsupervised, kids who were able to resolve cases involving criminals and spies without ever getting hurt, kids who were left home alone for a variety of reasons and took care of themselves without anyone interfering. They solved mysteries ranging from who was stealing the chocolate biscuits out of the Upper Sixth's common room to rescuing princesses held captive by evil archdukes and always ended up happily ever after with the making of vast amounts of toffee, the answer to everything.

Whether or not I learned anything else useful I'm certain of one thing - that they didn't teach me how to live in the real world. If anything it left me with a quite unrealistic belief in what the world was like once I had to go out there. When I later became a school librarian a new wave of books was emerging and they started to look at real life, a very good thing in my opinion. There were, and still are, feel good and humourous books available and there should be but that doesn't mean we should ignore the reality of life. Not every child will be mature enough to cope with gritty realism but that is where parents should acknowledge their responsibility in supervising what their children read. Pre-teen reading should be monitored but once you get past that age group they should be being prepared for the world where they will have to make their own way.

What they see depicted on television and on the internet is, in my opinion, far more dangerous than what is written in books in shaping how young folk view their world. At least in books the reader has to apply their imagination but in the media it is all laid out for them. In the last three days television dramas have provided me with - during prime time viewing when most adolescents are watching - seven murders, a kidnapping and a number of violent physical attacks. News programmes have shown me the London 2005 bombings, scenes from the Twin Towers attack, violence in various countries, a suspected murder suicide involving a man and two children, a girl kidnapped and held as a sex slave for 18 years and various other brutalities. There was much more that I don't recall the details of. Children and young adults see all this and no-one raises an eye brow. In fact they are often asked to comment on news stories at school - but read it in a book and the world goes haywire.

Let's be sensible here. Books are not the enemy. They are only a depiction of our society and if we want to protect our children we have to give them the skills to live in that society.