Sunday, April 29, 2012

Write What You Know

This is crap advice. Don’t do this.

Because what if you want to write about wombats who live in marshmallow towers on Jupiter? Chances are you won’t have a lot of practical experience in the area of marsupial-marshmallow space colonisation. That’s a specialist field.

Wombats. Taking over the universe after nap time.

And here’s the other thing: you know more than you think. Because some themes are universal. There’s that whole common humanity thing, that whole questioning-our-existence-and-looking-for-our-place thing. There are questions that people have asked since the beginning of sentient existence. We asked them when we were figuring out how to make fire, and we’re still asking them today. And, five hundred years from now as we gaze on the pink and white marshmallow towers of Jupiter and listen to the plaintive mating calls of the space wombats echoing in the night, we’ll still be asking those exact same questions.

Don’t write what you know. Or, don’t write just what you know.

Take risks. Use your imagination. Write what the hell you want to write.


What writing advice do you think we should ignore? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anzac Day

The 25th of April is Anzac Day, a day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that commemorates the Gallipoli landings in 1915 of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Or, these guys: 

This is an old family photograph. One of these guys is probably a relation, but since the photo isn't marked, I don't know which one. I just hope they let the kangaroo go before they got on the boat. 

Somewhere I have a telegram advising of a relative's death. Somewhere, I've got a picture of his grave. He was 19. I've also got a letter, written in pencil and complete with misspellings, that tells his brother the story the telegram didn't: a shell exploded, he was buried, and it was probably painless. I couldn't find those. There are others, postcards and letters, family anecdotes and a "Have you heard from Douglas?" dated a month after he was killed. I found this though: 

I found this in an old wallet full of newspaper clippings that my great uncle Harry had saved. It's full of cuttings from the Second World War, with headlines like Fewer War Dead Than Last Time, and poems about Ypres and the Somme. All neatly cut out and folded, and tucked away meticulously in an old leather wallet that's now falling apart with age. 

When I was small I used to think the wallet belonged to Charles Hogg, and that Harry got because he died. I used to search it, wide-eyed, for bloodstains, for something to get me close to the enormity of war, for something to make me understand. 

Of course there was nothing. And of course wars still surpass all understanding. So we stand in front of a cenotaph, we listen to the Last Post and watch the sun come up, and, even if we don't know -- we can't know -- we pause a while for thought.

I'll end with one of the most extraordinary tributes written by a military leader about his fallen enemies, and wonder if many other countries would have been as gracious as Turkey. This is from the memorial on Anzac Beach at Gallipoli: 

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.

- Mustafa Kemal Ataturk


If you're interested to learn more about the origins and traditions of Anzac Day, check out the Australian War Memorial

If you want to make the biscuits, check out one of my older posts

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I still hate you, RIBIT

I hate RIBIT. 

RIBIT was a Grade Eight reading program, and possibly the worst acronym ever: Reading in Bed. It's Terrific! I think it was a statewide program, maybe even national.It was so cheerfully enthusiastic I hated it instinctively.They gave you a bunch of forms with a manic frog on the front, and you wrote down all the books you read. There was a special trolley in the Goondiwindi State High School library for the RIBIT books. There was also a special trolley for the GRIN (Great Reading in Nine) books. God. But what do you expect from a school that has a sheep framed by some wheat as its crest? 

I hated RIBIT because I was already a reader. It took me about a month to realise that expectations at that school were so damn low that none of the teachers really believed I'd read eight or nine books a week. I got sick of the raised eyebrows when I handed my forms in, and the jokey little "Yeah, okay, eight books...I'll sign it, but I know it isn't true" looks, so I started to lie about the number of books I had read. Just one this week, sir, when you could knock one over at lunchtime if it was particularly puerile. And most of them were. I don't know where they found those books for the RIBIT program, but for a kid who had first got stuck into adult books at around age ten, they were godawful. 

I know that RIBIT was probably great for those kids who were suited to that reading level. For the rest of us though, it was sheer torture. We trailed around the other shelves in the library, desperately wanting to read something else, only to have the RIBIT trolley rolled out again.

RIBIT didn't encourage me to read more. It encouraged me to do something I'd never done before: refuse to read. Most of those books were more than terrible. They were patronising. They treated me like an idiot. 

Never, ever, ever treat your audience like an idiot. Not even if your audience goes to a school that, at the time, was rated as the second-worst performing school in the state. Readers, particularly young readers, need to be challenged. 

This fantastic rant by David Mitchell is mainly about TV, but the point remains the same:

Ah, formal education. Stifling creativity since 106 BC. 
Did school ruin the love for you as well? 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Drop the knife, Ernest, and nobody has to get hurt

Okay, confession time. When I was a kid, I thought this was what writers were: 

All the cool kids - Paris, 1920s
I wanted to hang out in Paris and be artistic and nihilistic and all the other tics. Except maybe syphilitic. The downside, of course, is that I didn't want to die of a combination of alcohol poisoning, consumption, and a knife fight with Ernest Hemingway. 

The other part of me -- the sensible part that tells me to get up, go to work, and to keep my shoes on in public -- knows that this was only ever a dumb cliche, and come on, would I really like living like that? I don't even like the taste of absinthe. And I do like my house, my job, and most of my grown up responsibilities. I like having a steady pay cheque and health insurance. (I'm looking around nervously as I write this. I'm expecting angry, teenage wanna-be-goth me to appear out of nowhere and punch me in the face. You know what? She's an idiot, and she's grounded. Again.) 

Absinthe is disgusting, but the spoons are fabulous.
I want to buy these.
I don't know why the cliche of the beret-wearing absinthe-quaffing VD-riddled writer is so pervasive (and attractive, come to think of it). I mean, I never worry that I didn't grow up to be an astronaut, or a vet, or a Roman emperor. No, I let those go as I realised I didn't have American citizenship, high enough marks in high school science, and a sex change and a time machine. 

So I think I'll keep tapping away at my keyboard thanks, and concentrate on the actual writing part of writing, and not the being-a-self-important-wanker part. Because, when the time comes, I reckon I can wing that. 

Teenage me is still in there somewhere. 

This writing thing? Is it everything you thought it would be? 
Or, what do you want to be when you grow up? 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Some shocking news

Did you know there are people out there who don’t use their imaginations?

These people get through every moment of every day without asking a single “What if?” question. They sit through meetings at work thinking of things like sports teams and celebrity breakups and who will win Masterchef. Some of them might even be thinking about work. I know, right? These people walk among us.


They could be building worlds. They could be setting up all their plot points like dominos, just waiting to bring the whole thing crashing down again. They could be living and dying, but they’re paying attention to words that somehow don’t mean anything, like stakeholders and outcomes and paradigm shifts.

These people do well at work. They are often focused and unaccountably motivated. They don't really ponder the inherent absurdity of  existence and, frankly, it shows. They're not even a tiny bit nihilistic, and hardly ever worry about how they don't understand the theory of relativity. It's all relative, they might say, but how can they know for sure?   

I worry about these people. I do. I want them to suddenly burst out laughing in the middle of someone else's Serious Talk because they thought of something random and unrelated. I want them wonder what would happen if Ice-nine was real and gravity wasn't. I want them, when they board up our windows at work because of the noise from the construction site next door, to understand why I felt plastering the place with these were necessary: 

If I can't see out the windows, there had better be a damn good reason for it. Because I might have the attention span of a goldfish, but at least it’s never boring in my head. How are things in your head? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

They're Baaaack...

It’s been a while since one of these posts:

Possums. Excuse my involuntary twitch, but possums!

I knew about Johnny Rotten. I mean, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s breaking in every night when he’s gotten so damned clumsy about it. I think it’s my right to leave Tupperware containers on my kitchen bench. He thinks it’s his right to play skittles with them. But that’s okay. He’s just annoyed because he can’t get to the bread and bananas.


Sidenote: my mother bought me this hot pink plastic picnic basket. It doesn’t exactly complement my blue kitchen, so while I’m not winning in the style stakes, I’ve still got the edge in the I-Have-Banana stakes.

So on Monday evening, at about 9 pm as I was running between a birthday party and work, I stopped in at home to pick up my dinner and my laptop. Something Wasn’t Right. Not the neighbours having a drunken screaming match in the street -- that’s normal. Not the bat that almost took my head off as I opened my gate -- slightly less normal, but not unprecedented. No, it was something else. There were Noises in my house.

I opened the door. Nothing. Except the dog, who was looking slightly more sheepish than usual, and the cats, who were looking the same as always: contemptuous. Whatever. I have opposable thumbs. They can bite me. (Which they do.)

It all seemed okay. I got my stuff together for work. I caught up on Words with Friends. I ate my last Easter egg. Then I went into the bathroom and turned the light on. And saw this:

Aargh! My clean towels! 

But also, awwww...

I have left a banana outside in the hope that while I’m at work they find their way back through the shutters. Otherwise I’ll have no choice but to domesticate them.


Also, since I’ve run out of Sex Pistols to name my possums after, any suggestions for mum and baby? 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hello there you, and you, and you. Not you.

I’ve talked before about my love for words, and my love for Bislama, which is the language spoken in Vanuatu. It is a type of pidgin English, and comes from the French beche-de-mer meaning "sea cucumber". Because, in the early days, that was all the white people wanted to talk about. For the same reason, in Papua New Guinea the pidgin English is called Tok Pisin, which is kind of an evolution of “talk business”.

It’s sometimes tempting to look at languages like Bislama and Tok Pisin as simplistic languages or a form of bastardised English, but that’s not the case. Certainly they are utilitarian languages, but they have their own complex rules. In fact, common to all Melanesian languages is something called the dual set pronoun. I wish we it had in English.

Let’s look at the pronoun “you”.  How boring is that? More importantly, how do you know who I’m talking about? It could be anyone who’s not me. Know what would be really handy? A pronoun that differentiates between you (just yourself there), you (a pair of you) and you (a group of you). Check this out:

yu - just you 

yutufala - the two of you

yufala - a group of you

I am also fond of us
yumi - all of you as well as me
Here is a list of awesome Bislama words where the English root is evident:

bigmaot - a boastful person
draon - to sink
bol - testicle
etkwek - earthquake
brekfas - breakfast
nambawan - excellent
fiksimap - to repair
puskat - cat
toktok - discussion
longwe - some distance away


Do you have any favourite foreign words or phrases? 

All of these words are found in Evri samtin yu wantem save long Bislama be yu fraet tumas blong askem, by Darrel Tryon. You can buy it at Amazon, but it would be much more fun to go to Vila and get a copy there. 

Monday, April 2, 2012


In fun news, Mark at The DM’s Screen has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award. Normally it looks like this:

But I’m stealing the one Mark made because it’s all kinds of awesome:

First, I need to tell you seven random things about myself. Here they are: 

1. I am allergic to an antibiotic called Keflex. I took it once and the next thing I know I was in hospital, my skin was bright red and I wasn't wearing pants. (When the burning ants crawled over my scalp it seemed like a good idea to have a cool shower. Sadly the ambulance officers refused to go back for my pants.) When doctors ask me if I’m allergic to anything I always tell them “Kevlar” because I can’t remember the name of it. I had to look up Wikipedia to find out the name of it for this post. On Wikipedia it says: “An allergic reaction to this medicine is unlikely.” Fuck you, Wikipedia. 

2. Because of a peculiarity in the Papua New Guinea schooling system, I started Grade 1 when I was four. Eventually, this meant I started university when I was 16. People looked at me like I was a child prodigy for about a week. Then they met me.

3.  I used to bunk off from school and go to university with my sister. Worst truant ever. Also, Kath’s theology professor was so absent-minded he thought I was in the class and was concerned when I didn’t show up for the exam. Two years later, I showed up for the exam.

4. Thanks to work experience with a vet, I know what the inside of a cat looks like. Pink and squishy. 

5.  I have never read Moby Dick. But I saw the Futurama episode based on it, so I think I’ve got a handle on the major themes.

6. I only bought a house because I wanted a dog. In the same vein, I only went to university because I didn’t want a job. I am secretly not a grown up at all.

7. I have watched the sun come up from the edge of an active volcano. Just wow.   

 Yasur on Tanna, Vanuatu. Go there. 

Here are the rules for the Versatile Blogger Award: 

1.             Nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
2.             In the same post add the Versatile Blogger Award
3.             In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you with a link back to their blog site.
4.             In the same post add seven random facts/pieces of information about yourself.
5.             In the same post, include this set of rules.
6.             Inform each blogger of their nomination for the reward with a post in their comments section on their respective blogs.

Instead of nominating 15 bloggers, I'll be cheating, and here's why: 

You're all versatile, and awesome, and funny and creative and talented. 
If you want this award, please take it, and share the love. 


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