Smoke In Our Eyes.

Two years ago, it was my town threatened by bushfires. It was my community losing homes, livestock, and family farms. Now, it feels as though half the country is burning, or has already burnt down.

The horrific and disastrous bushfires this summer have triggered so many feelings and memories. I remember how gut-wrenchingly awful it was then, and cannot comprehend the exponential scale of the current catastrophe my country is experiencing. 

I took this picture today. Even hundreds of miles from the fires, western Victoria is blanketed by a pall of smoke. 

Like then, I have friends who have lost everything except the few things they managed to take with them as they evacuated. My heart breaks for them, but I am so incredibly thankful they got out when they did. 

I feel so useless. It seems as much as one donates and supports and cries and prays for an end to the fires, it never feels like enough. 

Add a few layers of grief, empathy, and occasional despair, and you get something of an idea about how many Australians are feeling at this point. 

I wrote this poem, and a number of others, in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires of 2018. It seems an appropriate poem to post at a point where a large proportion  of eastern Australia is either on fire, has burnt, or is blanketed in acrid smoke. 

It is a recollection of an actual conversation among locals in my town back in March 2018, and bears witness to the resilience and the empathy of Australians in the face of adversity. 

This poem is included in ‘Smoke and Shadows’.
All profits from the sale of this book between January 1 and June 30 are being donated to ongoing bushfire relief.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

There are many things I have learned to do again, albeit differently, since my spinal surgery 15 months ago. 

It seems, however, that stairs are still my nemesis. I can manage one or two steps if I go slowly and carefully but, as I discovered tonight, walking up a whole flight of stairs still causes me significant pain. 

We went out for dinner with friends, who had booked at a first floor restaurant that had no elevator. It did, however, have a beautiful circular staircase. 
Beautiful… and an enormous challenge.

I went very slowly, but by the fifth or sixth stair my lower back was screaming. Before I got to the top, I could feel the sciatic pain in my butt and staring to extend down my legs. I couldn’t stay there, so I had to either keep going or go back down. Slower still, and even more carefully, I made it to the top.

The first thing I did was hit my friends up for whatever analgesics they had. One had ibuprofen, the other had paracetamol. I took both, as my doctors have instructed me to do when I need to. I also chose not to sit until my meal was delivered, even though standing up in a large room of diners made me feel very self-conscious.  

It didn’t help that some people were quite obvious about the way they looked at me – and all I was doing was standing up. Once again, it reminded me of how much harder it must be for those whose differences or disabilities are more obviously noticeable.  

Dinner was delicious, but as soon as I had finished, I stood up again. We took the rear door out of the pub, as it opened onto the driveway. Even through it was quite a slope, it was still easier than the stairs. 

It’s disappointing that the establishment had not been more thoughtful about accessibility. An assumption that everyone who visits is able-bodied enough to use the stairs is ignorant at best. Perhaps if there were a “disabled access” sign pointing to the rear of the building, I might have been able to enjoy my meal and the great company without either kind of discomfort. I cannot imagine I am the only person who would benefit from that, 

And, if you’re ever out for dinner and there’s someone standing up for most of the evening, or doing anything else out of the ordinary, just know they have their reasons and be kind enough to pretend you haven’t noticed.

It’s Official: I’m A Book Lover

I didn’t need this quiz to tell me I’m a book lover, and it certainly won’t come as any surprise to seasoned readers of this blog. 

Still, it’s a fun quiz that highlights the fun things about loving great books. 

For the record, there were three things on this list that i didn’t check off. 

I haven’t missed a bus or train stop because I’ve been engrossed in a book in at least 30 years, simply because public transport isn’t really a thing  where I live. 

I haven’t joined, or thought about joining a book club, because my experience tells me that  I like different books than most people. The minute I joined, they’d choose for us all to read some soppy romance or militant women’s fiction, and I’d have to fake my own death to escape. It really is a better choice to just leave them to it. 

If you want to know what books I enjoy, follow my Book Squirrel blog for reviews and recommendations! 

Book Squirrel is also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The Miracle of A River Otter

Photo by WordyNerdBird. All rights reserved.

This wonderful post from April Stace echoes many of my own thoughts and feelings about the state of the world we live in. It also features otters, which are among my favourite creatures in the world… so I felt compelled to share it.

Thank you, April, for your insights.

April Stace

The darkest point of the year is when we start preparing for the sun.

This is the simple truth, embedded in many earth-based forms of spirituality and religion (which most modern world religion retain, at least in their practices.) It is when the earth seems frozen that we start to think about planting seeds; it is when light and warmth are scarce that we celebrate the light and warmth in our homes, our communities, our families, our spirits.

There have been years, a decade or more, in my life when I have felt the coming of winter darkness as a threat. I have entered the season with great trepidation, anti-depressants in hand, always feeling that the autumn was just a time of watching the life be drained from flora and fauna, watching a death descend that might just get me this year as well.

Lou, Luke and I spent a…

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New Year… Same Old Me

Yesterday I mentioned that I was not at all sorry to see the end of the year.

Still, I admit to feeling uncomfortable with the number of “new year, new me” posts on social media in the past 24 hours. 

New year? Undoubtedly. New beginnings? Sure. 

But I am not a “new me”. 
I am the same old me: the one who survived the trauma, grew stronger through it, and resolved to keep going. 
I am the me who worked hard for every one of my achievements: nobody else was ever going to do it for me. 
I am the me who stood tall in the face of false friends and two-faced people, and then walked away and slammed the door on them for good.
I am the me who refused to be intimidated by those who don’t understand me… the me who will not be ashamed of who and what I am.
I am the me who embraces creativity, individuality, and difference… and encourages others to do the same. 
I am the me who encourages young people to choose kindness and reject hate. 

Those are all good things. Powerful things. Brave things. 
I have earned them, and I will own them. 

I’m not perfect. I still have things to learn and growth to accomplish. 
But those who would prefer a different, more comfortable, easier-to-live-with me? They can go and boil their heads, because that’s not going to happen. 

As The Year Ends

Like any year, 2019 had some great moments and some wonderful memorable have been made. 

Among my favourite memories are performing in Monty Python’s Spamalot! with the amazing Camperdown Theatre Company, weekend escapes camping by the beach with our closest friends, my bestie and I kidnapping each other and running away for a day or two at a time, and my own production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor TM Dreamcoat. I had three new books published, and am very proud of each of them. 


I am incredibly thankful for good friends, for those who believe in me, and for the encouragement I have received from both friends and strangers. I am blessed to be loved as fully and enthusiastically as I am. 

The past year has also left some scars that, while they may fade with time, will never truly heal. I do not wish to dwell on those, especially here. Even so, I will say in no uncertain terms — and not for the first time — that cancer, chronic illness, liars, backstabbers, and two-faced people can all improve the world by disappearing and not coming back. 

Here’s to closing the door on what has passed, and welcoming new beginnings and opportunities in the year ahead! 



The Christmas Truce of 1914

The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce is one that has always fascinated me and saddened me at the same time.

I know they were all fighting for their country, and most of them were fighting for something they believed in, but it must have been strange if not incredibly difficult to go back to war and shooting at the men they’d befriended the day before.

Thanks to Jill Dennison for this excellent post.

Filosofa's Word

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops fighting in World War I sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum…

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Is The Novel Dead?

The title of this blogpost caught my attention this morning.

“What?” I thought. “How could anyone think that?”

For me, the novel is most certainly not dead. There is still nothing as wonderful as escaping into a book and finding myself immersed in its setting, caught up in its action and carried away by the story.

Short stories and novellas are fabulous when life is busy, because I can achieve those escapes in the time I have available. But when time to read is more plentiful, a good novel is a marvellous thing.

The novel will never be dead as long as there are great books to read. I’m fairly confident that, given the quality of the new books I have been reading, it’s not likely to be happening in the foreseeable future.

And on that note, I take exception to the original writer’s suggestion that self-published books are rubbish, and therefore partly to blame for the demise of the popularity of reading. Blame the obsession with screens of whatever size, and with the Internet and social media, and I’ll gladly concur, but leave Indie authors out of it. As I’ve said plenty of times before, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant self-published books, and I’ve read – or attempted to read – some tragically bad traditionally published ones. Let each book stand or fall on its own merits, I say.

I feel sorrow for any reader who is so disillusioned by their reading that they believe the novel is a thing of the past. More than likely, they have simply been reading the wrong books.

If you’re interested in great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel.

Richie Billing

A couple weeks ago, an article by writer Damien Walter grabbed my wandering attention. The title: I STOPPED READING NOVELS LAST YEAR. I THINK YOU DID TOO.

I was curious. So I had a read and discovered that Walter is a professional book reviewer, even had a regular sci-fi column for The Guardian. He’s experienced and well-respected and fed up of the novel.

Why?

For Water, the novel lost its magic. It no longer has the same magical feel as it did when he was a kid, “spending afternoons at the local library, selecting books as though I was selecting magical portals to step through. Then I would rush home and lose myself in the magic for hours, days at a time.”

Walter recognises the influences modern-day phenomenons have had on us. Here are some of my favourite quotes from his piece. I’d recommend reading in full too. He’s an…

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Helpful Tips on How to Research Your Novel

Like Tyson Adams, I’m a writer and I’m very happy to be labelled a nerd. I’m also a History teacher, so I understand the value of research.

That value is never, ever so clear as when reading a book that is poorly researched and presents events or settings that are inconsistent with what one knows to be the truth.

Tyson makes some very good points about research here, but for me, the crucial point is believability. Our readers have to be able to accept what we write as not only conceivable, but also credible.

Tyson Adams

I’m just going to say it: I’m comfortable with the label of nerd.

More specifically, I’m a Nerdius scientifica.

Being a nerd is more accepted nowadays, what with our bulging brains and chiselled knowledge. And the reality is that us nerds have a lot to offer, like research skills.

Writing requires a lot of research and writers generally fall into two categories in this regard: those who need to learn how to research, and those who took up writing to justify those dodgy topics they’ve researched. This post will hopefully help the former. But if anyone does want to know how much slack rope you need to hang someone correctly from your homemade gallows, I have a spreadsheet calculator for you.

I stole am reblogging a post from Writer’s Digest with a few of my own comments.

Ernest Hemingway said writers should develop a built-in bullshit detector. I imagine one…

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The Most Beautiful Reading Experiences

More than a year ago, I began my book review of Eric Tanafon’s fabulous historical paranormal fantasy novel ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ with this paragraph: “Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.” 

There is something incredibly magical about that moment when a writer’s words take my breath away. It doesn’t happened as often as one might like, but it has happened to me twice in the space of a week. 

Once was when reading Cortney Pearson’s steampunk mystery ’The Perilous In-Between’. The second was when reading Bridget Collins’ historical fantasy novel ’The Binding’. 

All three books are exquisitely written, full of incredible imagery, rich and imaginative world building, and powerful writing that make the reader’s emotions and mind soar. 

Proudly, two of those books are by independent authors, published without the support of big traditional publishing houses and the budgets that the other enjoys. But if you picked up all three, and read them, you’d be pushed to know which was which if you were using the quality of writing or production as your yardstick.  You’d only know by looking for a publisher’s imprint. 

It is true that there are some rubbish books produced by independent authors who don’t bother having their work edited, proofread or produced properly. It is also true that there are also some rubbish books published traditionally. I’ve picked up a few books in my time that have, in all honesty, made me wonder exactly how they got published at all. Other people may think they are wonderful — and they are welcome to them. 

And that is exactly my point. What makes a book ‘brilliant’ is highly subjective, and people will have many and varied reasons for the choices they make. Even so, the assumption that traditionally published books are of superior quality is becoming less and less valid as time goes on. 

It’s fair to say that independent publishing has come a very long way, and the industry has become quite proficient in setting and achieving very high standards. 

If you’re not reading Indie authors, you’re missing out on both discovering some incredible talent and reading some brilliant books. 

For great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram