Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Know the Feeling

This OK! Magazine Australia video of two Sulphur crested cockatoos with very different tastes in music came up on my Facebook newsfeed today via my friend Lyn. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reading and Children

I was fortunate to grow up in a house where there were always books - some were given to us for birthdays or Christmas, others were borrowed from the local free lending library. We were very lucky to have that library close by because at the time there were only a handful of lending libraries and most of them charged a borrowing fee. As children we were only allowed to borrow two books a fortnight (adults got to borrow four, two fiction and two non fiction if I remember correctly.) which, as far as I was concerned, was not enough - but it was a good deal better than nothing. You were also stuck with the children's section until you were fourteen which, for a fast and prolific reader like me, was ridiculous. Bear in mind that I had taught myself to read long before I went to school and as a result I was reading above my age level. Fortunately for me my father, who could be very persuasive, managed to convince the librarian that I should be given access to the adult section from the age of twelve.

I suspect I was supposed to be supervised but if my parents were checking up, and, looking back and piecing together things I overheard, I have no doubt that they were, I wasn't aware of it at the time. This gave me a wonderful sense of freedom and discovery, something had been already fed by the household collection of reference books. There was Richards Topical Encyclopedia - an endless joy of history, geography and basic science, not to forget the wonder of Volume 14 which held Greek and Roman mythology (somewhat bowdlerized fortunately given what I learned about this later), as well as nursery rhymes and fairy stories, fables and folk tales and a smattering of other mythology from all over the world. Then there were all the other leisure activities ranging from games and jokes and riddles to magic tricks and much, much more. I was so sad when I found my parents had discarded it in a book cull at some time. I had a look on the net to make sure I had the name right and discovered I was by no means the only one for whom this volume was a treasure trove. There are even copies available on eBay and Amazon albeit at prices I can't afford.

Then we had a huge Websters Dictionary that was too heavy for me to pick up. When I ran out of other reading matter I would drag it from its home on the bottom shelf of the book case and lie on the floor with it just reading words and their meanings.  I'll let you in on a secret here. Dictionaries and thesauruses still delight me. Ask me to look up a word and you may not see me again for half an hour. Weird? Maybe but it certainly improves your vocabulary. As well we had several large atlases which were full of much more fascinating information than just maps.

So I was lucky, encouraged to indulge my love of learning new things and my joy in reading. And now I have ended up writing speculative fiction. I wonder sometimes if my interest in such things was primed by these books or whether I gravitated to them because of my natural inclination. I guess it's likely it was a combination of both and I'm grateful however it happened.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


While I was thinking about my post about the Karrinyup Writers Club I was reminded of just how vital having a support group who offer sensitive but thorough critiquing is for a writer. It can be hard to take sometimes when your precious work is being shredded before your eyes but it is invaluable in honing a story or poem.

Personally, if I ask for a crit of course I really want to hear if the reader likes it, but more importantly, I want to know if they get what I'm saying and if they would want to read it in print. I appreciate grammar corrections and so on but it's whether it works as a story that's most vital. I don't mind if the reader picks faults but I do mind if they don't give me reasons for what they say. Personal taste isn't really a useful reason for slamming something so if that's all a critiquer has to offer I'm not going to take any notice. But, if they tell me there's a fault in the structure or a character is unconvincing and why, I will certainly pay attention.

The thing is critiquing is always personal to a degree. We all have our likes and dislikes and obviously this will influence how we read a piece but we should be able to rise above this and use our analytical processes as well. The other things I always expect are politeness, honesty and a degree of kindness. This doesn't mean telling me this piece is wonderful - I'm not silly enough to believe everything I write is perfect - but you can point out what works and doesn't work without being offensive.

When I give writing workshops on how to critique I always tell my students that I've never yet read a piece which doesn't have at least one positive point even if the bulk is a total disaster. That positive aspect should be acknowledged and then the rest can be analysed sympathetically. If I start a crit by saying something like the idea is interesting or provocative (assuming it is, of course) then I can move on to what doesn't work for me and why. It's quite reasonable to say that I'm not the target market for it but that doesn't disqualify me from commenting on the way the story is put together, for instance.

The other thing for a writer to remember is that a critique is only one person's opinion and you don't have to agree with it. That said, I've never yet had a crit that I haven't learned something from. I have a kind of mantra when I send something out for a crit for when it comes back. It is that if one person makes a comment I should look at it carefully and decide whether I agree with it or not. If two people make similar comments alarm bells should start to ring and I need to put it away for a while then come back and reassess, but if more than two agree, no matter how much I love it, they are probably right. In that case I put it aside and work on something completely different and then come back and reread the comments before I do a complete rewrite.

I'm fairly unusual, I suspect, because I really like having my work critted. It certainly can shake your confidence and be painful but the gain is worth the pain.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

NASA Emissions Video

This stunningly beautiful video animation shows the movement of airborne aerosols, both natural and man made emissions, around the Earth from September 1, 2006 to April 10, 2007 and some of the effects. While it may be lovely, its accompanying message is frightening because it show how what humanity does anywhere in the world can have unintended impacts elsewhere even affecting climate. Have a look here and see what you think.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Karrinyup Writers Club

Yesterday I did a marathon. No, not a running marathon - I can barely walk at the moment let alone run - a writing marathon. I love these sessions for the inspiration they bring and my friend Lyn was organising it on behalf of the Karrinyup Writers Club where I have been a member for twenty one years. Wow! That's a long time, isn't it.

I owe so much to this group of writers who on one hand fearlessly critique and on the other offer encouragement. We rejoice in other's successes and console when the inevitable rejections land and dump on our precious literary babies. In my time as a member I've been part of running competitions for writers, celebrated when my fellows have won competitions or had their books published and had my own successes celebrated in turn. I can't emphasise enough how valuable a support group like this is to a writer. They lift you up when you are down - and, let's face it, writing involves a lot of downs - and their encouragement keeps you going. I'm so grateful that my first writing teacher, Pam Steenbergen, introduced me to this group. I've grown as a writer because of my time as a member.

Karrinyup Writers Club has just had its thirtieth anniversary, which is a quite incredible achievement in longevity for such an organisation and it has much to do with how it was set up. The constitution restricts full members to twenty who are expected to attend regularly - meetings are held once a week for three hours - while those who have been full members but are unable to keep up such a commitment can become associates, attending when they can. This is means members have to be committed - always a good thing. Full members come and go, of course, but it's an indication of the value of the Club that there are members of much longer standing than me.

Happy anniversary, Karrinyup Writers.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

So today

it was time to have my biennial mammogram. This is one of those I really wish I didn't have to do this but I'd be silly not to things - and unless you get some sort of perverse enjoyment in having a your sensitive part of your body wedged tightly between two boards I'm pretty sure it's something no woman look forward to. But like other preventive medical investigations I think it's worth enduring it.

Why? Well, in the last three years four women of my circle of family and friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer. If you widen it out to my acquaintances there are another five that I know of and there will be others who have yet to be diagnosed or don't even suspect they may have the disease. That's chilling, isn't it.

The good thing is that of those diagnosed all are surviving, largely due to early detection. It hasn't been plain sailing for them all, though. Some have complications caused by the treatment and none of them are yet past the five year cancer free mark when they are regarded as cured but at least they have a reasonable chance now.

Given these figures I think I'd be foolish not to have regular mammograms, especially as here in Australia all women fifty or over can have a free mammogram every two years at special facilities staffed by women radiographers. I won't deny it can hurt a bit - particularly if you are well-endowed. Still it's only for a few seconds and, compared to cancer and the treatment for involved, it's nothing so I'll be back again in two years time, grateful for the opportunity even if I'm gritting my teeth.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bangkok Bombing

We woke this morning to the news that there had been a bomb set off in a Hindu temple in Bangkok. This sent shivers through us because we have family living there and we had no idea of how close they were or even if they had been caught up in it. We were fortunate. We had a message from them to say that they were fine. The temple is about 10 minutes from where they live and, although they walk by it nearly every day, they were safely at home. The explosion was like loud thunder, they said, and initially they thought it was the beginning of a storm.

This all brought back memories of when we had sat waiting for Virgo to contact us after the 2005 London bombings and we were very grateful that this time we were able to be contacted quickly. I've spent much of the morning relaying the message to other family members since several are technophobes and don't have the internet connected let alone Facebook.

We're the lucky ones, of course. Our family is safe but my heart goes out to all those who have lost family or been injured. What possible purpose can this sort of attack have other than to create fear? And how anyone can justify the murder and maiming of those who have no part in whatever struggle these people are involved in is beyond me. Yes, I do understand that sometimes - well, often - the innocent suffer in a war, but, no matter whether you agree with a war or not, there is a difference in attacking one another as part of an armed conflict and planting a bomb in a city where people are peacefully going about their daily business. That is disgusting and abhorrent and anyone who does such a thing, in my opinion, lacks basic humanity.

The whole thing so often comes down to intolerance. My belief is right and you have to believe what I do and if you don't, I'll make you suffer until you do. This is crazy, people. Why can't we all accept that, unless a belief causes actual - as opposed to perceived - harm to others, we can live and let live?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gender Matters

or is this how to get your novel published? If this link is anything to go by the answer is to start by being a man.

We've all heard of women who opted to use a male or androgynous pseudonym or only the initials of their first name or names because they (or their agents or publishers) believed that they would be taken more seriously if they were not known to be women and sadly the link at the beginning of this post seems to confirm it. I find it depressing that a bias (which I'm sure is based in culture and certainly not intentional) still exists and I'm not suggesting this unconscious discrimination only happens in publishing, of course. It happens across the board. This is just the most recent example I've come across.

There's nothing particularly new about this in the book industry, of course. It's been well known for years that you just have to look at the lists of so-called important books put out for all genres other than romance to see that the gender imbalance is enormous. Look at these examples - this one which appeared in Business Insider Australia and doesn't include one woman or this one which has only three women authors listed out of fifty. I'm not suggesting any of these books aren't excellent - they clearly are - and as always such choices reflect the view of those who compile them but why would you not include at least one of C J Cherryh's award winning novels or Margaret Atwood's multi award winning The Handmaid's Tale or one of Nancy Kress's or Connie Willis's books to mention only a few?

The good thing is that slowly but surely in speculative fiction - my preferred genre - women are being acknowledged more and more in the major awards. Sadly, there are those who see this as an assault on the purity of what speculative fiction should be instead of celebrating the fact that we are reaching equality. I don't want to give the way certain groups attempted to manipulate the Hugo Awards this year any coverage here - I and many others have already wasted far too much time on it - but if you Google Sad Puppies you can find out for yourself what happened and see an example of what happens when things go too far.

Why is this important? Because I'd expect that most reasonable folk, in the developed world at least, would want today's young women and their daughters to be able to expect equality in all aspects of their lives.  Unfortunately, this is is still lacking in so many areas of the world and not only in places where extremists like the Taliban and ISIS refuse to allow women any independence or control over their lives. US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has demonstrated that lack of respect only this week when he said this in response to questions about misogynistic remarks he had made previously.

That world I dreamed of as a young woman when we would all be respected and treated equally irrespective of gender still seems to be quite a way off.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

I'm Sorry

I didn't realise how long it had been since I blogged. It's been very hectic around here because I decided it was time to address a few things that needed doing and, as always happens, one thing leads to another. At least I've been productive even if it is not the sort of effort that has much to show for it - at least so far.

To make up for my neglect I give you some links.

A mention of this man came up on my Facebook Newsfeed today. These and these are the work of Johnny Clasper, a UK stonemason and sculptor. Among other techniques he uses dry stone walling and how he manages to make some of his structures without using any bonding agent amazes me.

Next someone put up some photos of miniature donkeys. Oh the cuteness. It led me to these and this. You can really use a team of them to pull a wagon?

Then, while I was researching wildcats - a long story - I found this YouTube video of a Pallas cat investigating a wildlife researcher's camera. The Pallas cat or manul is a small wild cat native to the steppes and mountains of Central China and Mongolia and this video gives more information about them.