Over a barrel

Ideas Kaboom!

The idea of creative writing is plastic. It’s a vast global business, it’s a singular remote activity, it’s digital and ancient, it’s free and expensive, it’s a past time and a career, it’s a legacy and aspiration, you can study it, you don’t need to, it takes myriad forms, it’s individual and there are societies, groups, and collaborators, with boundless measures of success and of failure.

Whatever happens to the sector, or industry, or arts tax policy area under global trade deals or government funding arrangements, and multinational corporations, writers are always over a barrel because it’s a passion. There will be writers who write, regardless of the remoteness of a fair reward, and despite of changes mooted by Australia’s Productivity Commission to limit copyright to a measly 15 years post-publication.

Instead of spending a year dead for tax purposes, I could live here for copyright purposes.

Instead of spending a year dead for tax purposes, I could live here for writing copyright purposes.

It’s the world

Globalisation and digital technology mean my potential audience is the world, but it also means I’m competing to be read not only with all the fish swimming in Australia’s pond, but with the schools of fish in the global ocean of publishing opportunities. And then my government wants me not to own my work because it’s a ‘hobby’? Screw you Productivity Commission. If you can protect Hollywood with the TPP, surely you can protect the likes of me?

Depiction of a writer based on 15 year copyright laws.

Projection of an Australian writer based on 15 year copyright laws.

With potential copyright changes I may benefit when buying cheaper books, but little publishers and conglomerate offices located here will suddenly have to compete with the world without the market protections companies are afforded in other territories. While Australia can compete in terms of expertise, professionalism, training, technology and efficiency, it simply can’t on price. Because Australians like things such as living wages and fair conditions. Even authors. #justsaying

Let’s say it’s looking even worse if you, like me, want to be published by an Australian publisher. Who will buy my book if overseas publishers can flood the Australian market with X Overseas Book made at and sold for half the cost of books edited and published here? I’m going to have to be insta-reality TV-famous to overcome price points.

Work the system

Without a system that ensures writers can make (adequate or any) money, fewer books will be written. And, I posit, they will be of lesser quality as the industry infrastructure around writers disappears. And it is disappearing. There are those who are actively making writing less professional. They are defunding publications, professional bodies, courses, scholarships and prizes, which are exactly what helps writers carve out a proper and even mildly sustainable career in a fully fledged industry. This is important too, because without writers, Australian editors, publishers and sales people, reviewers, designers, and booksellers and the people cleaning the businesses and selling them wine no longer have jobs either.

Many authors work with their writing stuffed into the crevices of time in between everything else because it’s the only way to pay for it until that magical day it pays for itself. Some writers never see that day and for some, that’s ok, it’s the balance they need. It doesn’t work for all though. A hope that it maybe possible to write books for a living must be available. I need to bring attention to this idea:

It shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to make money from something people want to buy. 

If your book sucks and no one buys it, fair enough. But if it’s good, and people buy it, or even if it sucks and people buy it, the author needs something in exchange, like for example, hard, cashy currency. To pay the gorram bills and to eat.

Furthermore, what these changes do is silo full-time writing into a niche occupation for the independently wealthy or the fully supported. If you’re lucky to have the money or rich enough spouse that’s great, but that’s one demographic in an Australia with many. Literature’s cup should be filled from as many streams as possible. It tastes better that way.

Outsource moi?

Who wants to be responsible for killing off an entire industry? Remember what removing market interventions did to apparel manufacturing in Australia? Yep, there virtually is none now. Sure clothing is cheaper, but it’s also shoddier since we shipped most of the making of stuff to China. While we have done that with printing, you can’t sit down sweatshop workers in Guangzhou to write Australian novels, stories and poetry.

The model we need to look at is France. Yes I know. But they protect their language and culture ferociously. It’s why French films get made, it’s why there are French books and a rich literary industry. It’s also why you can’t call Australian sparking white wine champagne. Our culture is just as valuable, and rarer. There are less Australians, and like any rare creature, we need protection, perhaps a kind of zoo, for our unique stories to survive.

Answers?

I could invite crowd funding, but I’m not famous and don’t yet have a big enough worthy idea. I could try Patreon, which seems more sustainable in that money comes in over a longer time period, like pay, but again, I remain a lil fish, not Amanda Palmer. And if we all have to do this there is charity fatigue. Why support me, people will argue, when they can fund the next book by Helen Garner or Christos Tsiolkas or whoever else with long and proven track records, awards, and reasonably famous names.

Rant over

While I rail at aspects of the literary world that remain, at times, exploitative of writers, there’s a place for publishers, editors and authors working together for mutual benefit. The system needs reform, and is piecemeal now, but it ought not be broken in the name of a free market ideology no other book market operates under.

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Admiration x 3

I’m not into certain kinds of inspiration. I’m not on Pintrest for the words across artist landscapes or landscaped bodies encouraging me to be all I can be.

I’m not a Just Do It person.

In fact if you instruct me to Just Do It, I won’t. Probably. I’m contrary and often, resistant. Sometimes I’m resistant to being contrary. I’m working on the resistant issue, but I refuse to be contrite about being contrary. It’s my modus operandi. Um, did I made a haiku? That felt very haiku.

A tale of woe is as likely to prompt me to respond with a story or a picture as much as a happy picture of puppies in flowers cavorting. No, I’m wrong, woe is far more likely to motivate me to attempt something creative. But not all the time, because remember, contrary.

Because I had to find something to put here.

I had to find something to put here.

So in the spirit of sharing positivity, here are three people whose work makes me want to make mine better.  Although I have interacted with all three slightly, in this tiny Australian corner of the arty/literary internet ocean, they have not sought out my recommendations. My opinions are offered and sincere, nonetheless.

 

  • I’ve read the first pages of Anna Spargo-Ryan’s novel The Paper House (out soon). It is jaw droppingly good and made me want to weep for the story it tells and the perfection of its prose. And for me too, since I can’t even approach writing like this, let alone imitate it. But we each have our burdens and writing like me is mine. But this writing gives me hope.

 

  • Aware that I am diffident about my own efforts, Omar Sakr’s poetry is a revelation. It makes me happy that it is currently enjoying widespread acclaim in places such as Meanjin and Cordite, as it should. There is not enough acclaim for poetry, or poets for that matter.

 

  • There is solace to be found in the work of Tony Single, whose art and musings are poignant and pointed. I would say more, but go visit his sites to discover oodles of aha moments.

Enjoy.

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Sometimes, a flurry

While waiting to hear back from editors and opportunities, I’ve been submitting stories again. Often writing works like that. A lot of nothing but waiting, or a lot of nothing but editing, or a lot of waiting while submitting. There’s even a lot of writing, in the appropriate moments. It’s cyclical.

Hopes of being published, more believable than a platypus.

Actual chance of being published: more likely than a platypus today.

So, I’m at that point where I’ve learned some big things didn’t happen like I wanted them to. Which is the way of the publishing world. However, in the mean time, other great things did happen. A couple of posts ago, I mentioned stories published in The Stray Branch and also Heather.  Today, in further good news, I now have a micro fiction piece accepted to come out in August in a different publication. I’ll keep you updated for the details of its imminent arrival in due course.

But yay, hey?

Lesson one: this year is four times better than last year, if talking about acceptances.

Lesson two: good news is what comes of checking the spam folder regularly. As well as spam.

Lesson three: It’s been a tough week and this has helped. But to be fair, this kind of news always helps.

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Entertaining traumas

Some stories remain big in my memory, because of the effect they had on me when I was young. I’ve written about the first story I ever read, The Little Match Girl, and yes, I’ll never forget it. But there were others. I had recurring nightmares after seeing Lost in the Desert, also known as Dirkie, and called by some The Passion of the Dirkie for what the central character (not to mention his dog) goes through. That is, prolonged agony heaped upon agony.

I’m not even sure the circumstances or how old I was when saw Lost in the Desert. It was probably as a mid day movie when I was off school sick, but I was haunted by it. Apart from some select scenes though, I had to read a summary to know where it was set and when it was made and even how it ended because I’d blocked all of that out. For good reasons.

It’s an old film, I’ve seen bits of it again just to check and while it looks dated, it’s still traumatic. It’s the kind of film you’d let your offspring see if you don’t like them much. It turns out its Wikipedia page has a section dedicated to how this film messed up every kid who saw it. So yeah.

A girl side saddle on a white horse is entirely different to The Black Stallion.

A woman drummer side-saddle on a prancing white horse is entirely different to The Black Stallion.

In a similar vein is the Australian YA novel, To the Wild Sky (1967) by Ivan Southall, and also its sequel. The hall marks of my favourite Southall works are: psychological pain, physical danger and kids cut off from adult help, so they too messed me up. However, To the Wild Sky was probably the effective as it was a bit like an Australian Lord of the Flies. This is despite Ash Road being more aligned with my personal experience (of humongous bush fires threatening my home).

Best-worst

The best-worst trauma, if I may, was seeing The Black Stallion. I’m not sure when exactly, but then and every time since (including as recently as today), I find the film breathtaking in its cinematography and painful in the extreme. The boat sinking! As others have pointed out The Black Stallion Returns also is full of boy and horse vs world trauma. All is forgiven though, for the vision of Alec and The Black dancing on the beach in Sardinia.

Storm Boy was exactly like this, except less clearly Medieval.

Storm Boy, by Colin Thiele, (book and film) is a story about the bond between, (this time) a boy and his pelican, Mr Percival. So. Many. Tears. Probably more than with the magical The Snow Goose written by, let’s say the out-dated Paul Gallico. Both explore the pointlessness of violence and defiance of societal expectation. Both will make you cry and want to retire to an isolated coast to contemplate the awfulness of human beings as you shiver alone in your hand-built hut with views of the shore.

If I can detect themes here, they’re abandonment and isolation. Kids find themselves alone, bar an Arabian horse or terrier or bird, and each must work out how to survive and then, how to get back home and (spoiler alert) even if they can get back home.

So-called adventures change the kids, who form special bonds, which are sweet, but they break their hearts. And ours. So I recommend these, in addition to therapy if you or your kid have recurring nightmares.

Beware these below

Beware below

Worst-worst

What I endured with no choice was a semester of nuclear war/accident themed books and films in high school. I was older, so was having less nightmares, but more angst. The stories didn’t help. I don’t recall the titles of the books, but that’s because they were eclipsed by the worst-worst experience – Threads. Do not see this. Especially if you want kids. Just. Never. Don’t. Even. No.

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Finding out what we lost

Humans are very good at destroying things. Just look at the stark bones of the Great Barrier Reef.  Bleached, it could end up being the largest thing visible from space that was once alive.

Yet, it’s almost too large to comprehend, which is ironic, given it is made of microbes. Our human brains don’t really understand scale. We say that man is the measure of all things, but really, what we do is measure all things in our terms and not everything fits.

It’s the same with climate change; to some it’s the mere weather of a day or a life time. All this leads me to think about destruction and scale, but also lost things. I might be channelling my childhood awe of the Indiana Jones films and King Solomon’s Mines, but there’s the romance of mysteries to be solved. There’s the call to adventure, the finding and understanding. The theft and re-appropriation in the name of colonial scholarship. Actually, no, that’s not romantic. Put the stone down, Indy.

Anyway. I just saw Monuments Men. It’s not a perfect film, but I felt it: the lives sacrificed amid the stupid and vile destruction. Coincidently, I came across and am now reading Stuart Kelly’s The Book of Lost Books.

Have you seen this man? Missing since 1939.

Have you seen this youth? Missing from Poland since 1939.

Confronted with how little survives of the past, I consider how remarkable it is that any ephemeral physical item, be it a book or a painting, lasts beyond a life time or two. I accept accidents and random unintended consequences. These will occur to the work of my grandmother, and my mother and me like they have to countless others. Paintings will fade. Drawings will be scribbled over and thrown out. Writings will float away on broken links and undecipherable drives. Clay will shatter and hopefully it will only happen when I’m no longer here to be concerned about it. Yet, if something is passed on, that’s good. Even if it’s just a Leaf by Niggle.

Tiny Jar. One of the my favourite items & one of the oldest at the National Gallery of Victoria.  From Ur, during the Akkadian period.  

But deliberate destruction is something else. World War II, the attacks in Syria and Iraq and under the Taliban in Afghanistan are calculated cruelty. In destroying cultural artefacts, these abhorrent groups want to undo our (and I say our deliberately) shared humanity. These groups can’t abide that.

The remains of the past show the humanness of our ancestors.  Their remains are made in our own scale and thus make the long years behind this now, real.

They show too, how alike we are, even in the varied efforts of our long-lost relatives to create, because we still create. They made jars. Dammit we make jars.

We destroy too. Still. But even in the face of destruction, we continue to create.

These items, rare and precious, communicate, now and forever while they are known, the notion that individuals and groups can leave something of themselves to make a mark on those who come later. Nazis and those of their ilk don’t want any past to contaminate whatever future they plan, but art, and music and history exist and persists and thus lets them know: they too shall pass. Terrorist groups who blow up ancient temples won’t last nearly as long as the temples they attacked did. The persistence of archaeology demonstrates their mortality. I mean not just of themselves, but of their goals and plans.

I was going to argue that no ideology has outlasted Göbekli Tepe, but that’s not true, as I’m sure members of the world’s oldest continuing culture can testify. But Göbekli tells us almost no ideology can last that long, and more importantly that we’re not as different to the people of 10th – 8th millennium BCE as we think we are. We who obsess over YouTube kittens and sit around rock gardens, a bit like those who carved in stone the likeness of animals.

So yes, I lament the losses to deliberate destruction, because it is a human cost. It costs the lives of the people who protect these items. In addition, the motivation to destroy art sees killed those who make it; it attempts to nullify the will to understand others; and it undermines the efforts of scholars, archivists and conservationists to preserve our past. In short, it makes us less who we are and the world more ugly.

As ugly as the Pacific without the Great Barrier Reef.

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Heroes here & there

Somewhere else in super hero films. Because the world is not America.

Batman vs Superman, is a battle between Metropolis and Gotham. It’s like a haughty hipster New York vs a brooding, damaged Jersey, kinda. Until the main characters realise they’re on the same side, it’s like Great Gatsby, but with capes and more money.

But the real somewhere else in BvsS was the hot and dusty ‘Nairomi.’ I laughed out loud at that. It was meant to evoke ‘Nairobi’, but it highlighted ‘stupid’. It took me out of the film and for those minutes we were there I couldn’t take it seriously. That and the ‘Desert Bat’ sequence left me thinking the writers just put ‘insert tropy African/Middle Eastern war zone’ on the script and left it at that. I don’t even remember the ‘local bad guy.’

The other ‘Other’ place in Dawn of Justice, was Mexico where Super Man is all wind-blown and heroic and worshipped with supplicants holding up their hands. So. Bad. It felt like stock footage of missionaries taking their religiosity to whoever they assumed the poor, uneducated masses were. Messianic, colonialist even, definitely condescending and no.

So Super Man's in the Outback, but before he can Super Sense the flora dust from the Kryptonite Mine blows up and he dies.

Superman’s in the Outback, but before he Super Sense’s the flora, dust from the Kryptonite Mine blows over. 

I imagine Super Man rocking up somewhere in ‘Outback’ Australia. He lands, one knee bent, head bowed, in a whirl of dust and noise. A picture of nobility, until the flies gather around and he waves them way. A dog raises its head from the shade of a spindly shrub, before it settles, bored. In the front bar of the local pub, a FIFO miner on a sickie and some older locals turn from their lemon, lime and bitters, so cool the condensation beads on their schooners, before they get back to the last day of a test cricket match with shrugs. The bar staff languidly washing glasses – just another tourist completely lacking in appropriate clothing and supplies for the region. Out the window they can see he doesn’t even have a hat and it’s midday, and too hot and bright for super-hero-dom.

But I digress.

In ‘stark’ contrast we have Captain America: Civil War where places become central to the plot, not just backdrops. Wakanda is a more acceptable location than Nairomi. This is because firstly, it’s not just scenery, as we meet characters from there who become central to resolving the plot, and part of the long, long back story for Steve Rogers and the Starks. Black Panther has an arc and a mission and a home that are significant, purposeful and even relatable. His goals, his home and story are all interrelated, as they should be, and for an introduction his story was satisfying, even if a lil obvious. I was worried, though. Introducing new characters can either work, or can be given short shrift with little back story and no arc, like say, Wonder Woman in BvsS.

The other place is Siberia, because this is a sequel to the Winter Soldier and stuff needs resolving. And it works. While the extended cold war is over, each of the avengers recognises its legacies are not.

As in almost all of the Iron Man films and also the Avengers, Stark’s military industrial complex legacy comes back to bite him once more in Civil War, this time, through events based in Sarkovia and also Wakanda. Again, place functions as an emotional driver of the plot for the central villain and the likes of Wanda and Black Panther too.

This is included as an example of the Worst Owl ever. He's got a nose!

This is the Worst Owl Ever. He’s got a nose! Writers & artists need to make the locals from their locations believable. 

In the first Iron Man film the other location is Afghanistan. It’s more in the spirit of a realist action military story but it’s more crucial to the plot than ‘Nairomi’ is for BvsS. Afghanistan is where Tony Stark sees the results of his actions and it’s also the locale of his physical transformation and inspiration to work for peace.

The advice is, where ever you put your characters, make the place meaningful for them as well as central to the plot. Otherwise you too may end up in Nairomi.

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Here Be A Story

Some days it’s me and the pixels, typing things and making stuff up. On some rare days, it’s me celebrating some good news. Today is that day. Yes, indeed, it’s that time again everybody, when I get an electronic communiqué to inform me a lil thing I wrote has found its home in the world and it’s ready. Ready for the world to see it. Thus, I thought I would let the world know too. Seems fair, doesn’t it?

Y is for yay yay yay yay yay, I've had a story published.

Y is for yay yay yay yay yay, I’ve had a story published!

 

Should you wish to read my newly published short story, entitled Vena Cava, (because why not?) please visit the new online journal and its very first edition here via this link Heather. I dare ya. I double dare ya, to misquote Kiefer in Flatliners in a totally unrelated way.

Thanks and enjoy.

EDIT: I have since discovered that an entirely different story was republished in the current edition of The Stray Branch. Note to self to check all email folders more thoroughly and regularly. Double happiness.

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