Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake

My heart goes out to all those affected by this terrible disaster. I'm lucky that I have no family there but I do have friends and I, like everyone else, am scouring the news reports and Facebook to see if they are affected. The Earth seems to have gone crazy just now.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Library Crisis in the UK

I've been watching the protests surrounding the enormous cuts in government spending in the UK with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach. This is not anything to do with the political colour of the UK government - I don't live there so that is irrelevant as far as I'm concerned - and everything to do with the increasingly strident calls in many parts of the world that put a monetary value on government services.

Yes, there was a major financial crisis and many nations are still struggling with the aftermath and governments need to find ways of cutting spending to deal with the situation. That is a given. What is disturbing me is where these cuts are being made.

In the UK among sensible decisions there have been others that, in my opinion, are counter productive. Increasing student fees was one. A nation that encourages higher education is one that in the future will have an educated, innovative society, which will in turn create employment and financial stability. Closing doors to those who cannot afford to pay for education means that many who have the ability will not be able to develop their skills. This is a waste of resources that no nation can justify. What wise government wouldn't want to exploit all the ability its constituents have? Seems counter productive to me.

Another strange decision is the funding cuts to libraries, many of which now face closure. The argument to justify this is confusing. Apparently libraries are expensive and everyone now has access to the internet so libraries are no longer necessary. The flaws in this are obvious. Apart from the fact that everyone does not have access to the internet - not everyone has a computer or can afford internet access - libraries provide services beyond just storing a lot of books. Yes, you can google just about anything. Unfortunately there is no way to be sure of the quality of that information and, in many cases, once you move to research papers and similar sources the information is not free. All you will get is an abstract - if you're lucky - or the title and a few words from the beginning of the paper. If you want to read the whole you will have to pay a fee - so not available to all.

Libraries have librarians - and despite what we see of their work - they do much more than just put books in the right order on the shelves, check out books and collect fines. A good librarian has a wide knowledge of what is on the shelves and where else you can find it if it is not in their library. The internet cannot give this sort of information.

We need libraries - and now more than ever. Libraries are no longer book collections. They stock information in media of many kinds - have done for decades - and they promote reading, one of the most valuable skills anyone can have. My children joined the local library as babies -yes, they were catered for at that age. As three and four year olds they went to Story Time where librarians read to them and gave them activities to do that sprang from the stories. They borrowed books even at that age and had them read to them until they could read them themselves. Now, as adults, they still have enquiring minds. I have to wonder whether this would have been so if they had not been encouraged as young children. The library opened opportunities to them I could never have provided otherwise. Financially it would have been impossible.

Beyond that, libraries provide services to the disabled - large print books for the visually impaired being one area, the elderly - books are taken to those who cannot access the library, and those with limited finances. There is no way I could possibly read the number of books I do if I had to buy them and I'm sure there are many in my position. They also, in many countries, provide an additional income flow to authors, through Public Lending Rights payments. The internet does not and cannot provide these services.

I am truly alarmed at the prospect of a decline in libraries - and it seems that many in the UK are similarly alarmed. They are doing all they can, in a wide range of innovative ways, to draw attention to the problem. You can see some of them here, where poet, Katy Evans-Bush, tells us what libraries mean and have meant to her, and, for an Australian response on the importance of libraries to us all, here, where Tansy Rayner Roberts talks about her local library. I wish the UK protesters luck because it seems to me that this insidious attack is spreading. Everywhere knowledge is, on the one hand, more widely available than ever before but, on the other, being closed off.

I referred in a post a while back to the comment attributed to Winston Churchill during World War II. In an attempt to save money his Finance Minister reputedly suggested that funding to the arts be cut. The response was 'Then what are we fighting for?' In my opinion, this is just as appropriately applied to things like cuts that make knowledge less accessible.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Strong Women

There's a great series of posts going up on Mary Victoria's blog. She has a whole bunch of authors posting as guest bloggers on writing strong women. So far there are blogs by Nicole Murphy, Gillian Polack, Glenda Larke, Kim Falconer and Tim Jones with more to come. The posts are fascinating and so are the discussions in the comments. Why not have a look?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Perth Bushfire Disaster

Seventy two homes destroyed, more than thirty damaged. Miraculously no lives were lost - and how did this happen? In part, according to media reports, it was due to someone deciding to use an angle grinder in the open, despite a total fire ban (which includes using machinery). As angle grinders give off a shower of sparks while they cut through metal, these set fire to the surrounding area. There is little comprehension of how even a small spark can set fire dry grasses. Add in strong winds such as we had over the weekend in Perth and even one spark is a recipe for disaster.

This is indicative of the lack of understanding of the danger of fire in the community. We are increasingly a suburban society and people don't have the experience with fire of previous generations. Our homes are for the most part surrounded by well-watered and maintained gardens and for many a backyard barbecue doesn't involve a fire but gas, in house cooking is with gas or electricity and we are increasingly abandoning wood fires for alternative heating. So for most people fires, if they have any experience of them, are small and easily controlled.

For where total fire bans are in place and what you can and cannot do when a total fire ban is in place in Western Australia go to the FESA website.

Swancon Short Story Competition

The details of the Swancon Short Story Competition are out. Go here to find out how to enter. There's lots more information on the website too.

Monday, February 07, 2011

KSP Speculative Fiction Awards 2011

The KSP Speculative Fiction Awards 2011 are open. All Australian residents are eligible to enter and the prizes are pretty good too - in the Open section $600 for first, $300 for second and $175 for third and there are prizes for young writers too. Any form of Speculative fiction is acceptable so, if you have a speculative short story sitting around, why not have a look at the entry conditions on the KSP Writers Centre website. Entry forms are available there too.

And Now We Have...

fires in the hills surrounding Perth. In a firestorm that started yesterday at least 41 homes have been destroyed so far and the fires are still raging. This is scary - and strange because, where I live on the coast, I can't even see smoke on the horizon but there's a faint smell of smoke and a slight brassiness in the air betraying its presence.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Egoboo WA Interview with Chris Lynch

Today I interview my Clarion South mate, Chris Lynch of Tangled Bank Press, over on the Egoboo WA blog about his anthology The Tangled Bank which is to be launched on Darwin Day, 12 February 2011. Call in and see what he has to say.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

And Just When You Think the Weather Can't Get Worse

Flash floods accompanying severe thunderstorms are hitting Melbourne and surrounds while Perth is experiencing a drought. Sydneysiders, on the other hand, are in the middle of a heatwave. And it's not only happening in Australia. There are massive snowfalls in the US. Is the Earth trying to tell us something?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Poor Australia.

For those of you who do not live in Australia, it's hard to imagine the magnitude of the natural disasters that have happened here in the last two months. Flooding in the Gascoyne area of Western Australia, twice in a month, was followed by massive floods in Queensland inundating an enormous area of southern Queensland and including a devastating flash flood in the Lockyer Valley and serious flooding in Brisbane. Northern New South Wales also experienced severe flooding, fortunately not on the scale of Queensland. Just as the water began to recede in the north flooding began in Victoria where what has been described as an inland sea is still moving and inundating huge areas and there was local flooding in several parts of Tasmania. While this was going on bushfires caused serious damage just south of Perth in Western Australia and a few days ago storms cut through the central wheatbelt in Western Australia damaging homes and farms while an errant tropical cyclone raced along the west coast, threatening but fortunately delivering little damage. Now we have Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 Tropical Cyclone with winds up to 295 kmph, (as a comparison think of Hurricane Katrina where winds reached 281 kmph) which hit the north eastern coast of Queensland last night causing enormous damage to crops and although it is now downgraded to a severe tropical low pressure system as it pushes inland it is still bringing strong winds and rain and with that the potential of more flooding.

Among all this devastation there have been relatively few deaths - although any are too many - and this is largely due to the efficiency and preparedness of our emergency services. Yes, there were mistakes, and yes, in some instances it could have been done better but generally the various government and volunteer agencies have performed well in difficult circumstance, especially when compared to the way some governments in other countries have handled their own disasters.

We have a long way to go still and the cumulative after effects of what has happened are going to impact on every Australian for a long time. Many areas that have been devastated are major suppliers of our fresh fruit and vegetables and beef growers are also affected. Prices will inevitably go up but we will survive.

In the meantime we should remember those who risked their lives and made a terrible time better. Thank you to all who have done so much.