Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Don’t Forget the Barcode

Scenario goes like this: enter shopper with a list in hand and a worried expression. The supermarket shelves are lined with all kinds of products. It’s impossible to tell one from the other. It’s impossible to tell which one is on the list.

Conversation on mobile phone goes like this: ‘Umm, darling, there are too many here. Which one did you want? Wait, I’ll take a photo.’

Scenario goes like this: shopper takes a photo and sends it to their darling. Shopper calls back. Shopper has a close look at the products, picking some up and putting them back while holding the phone to their ear. Shopper smiles. Shopper selects product.

Just like the problem faced by our shopper, publishers are often overwhelmed with the supply and variety of manuscripts. So what makes one manuscript stand out from the others? According to Michael Bollen from Wakefield Press it will be well written and presented, meet the needs of the publisher’s list, but above all it will engender a visceral response. It will make the publisher think:
‘I love this’
‘I know how to talk about it’
‘It pins me to the page.’

If you can’t pin your manuscript to the publisher’s list, don’t despair. You could always consider self publishing. In the digital age, Michael’s advice here is practical, ‘Don’t forget the barcode’ !

Thursday, 25 September 2014


(or how becoming a writer is just like walking onto the MCG )

I realised I was committed to my writing when I agreed to attend the HARDCOPY program scheduled on the same weekend as the AFL Grand Final. But as I asked myself, ‘What would Buddy do?’ the parallels between these two great events suddenly crystallised.

Buddy Franklin and the Sydney Swans checked in their luggage and travelled to Melbourne today in preparation for the big weekend. I checked I had a notebook and a pen, then worked out how to catch the bus to Ainslie. On Saturday, while Hawthorn and Sydney are getting ready for the kick-off, my writing skills will be getting a kick along with the session on digital publishing.  When Buddy is making connections with the footy, I’ll be learning about connections in the publishing industry. The fourth quarter will be ticking its way to the final siren as I try to hand-ball a serious question to the panel in the final session of the day.

So while Buddy takes a deep breath and dreams about walking onto the MCG, I’ll take a deep breath and dream about the day my manuscript becomes a novel.    

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: The Signature of All Things

When Alma Whittaker was born in Pennsylvania in 1800, her father ‘did not mind that the infant was not a boy, nor that it was not pretty’.  Thus Alma’s journey to understand herself, the form of natural things, and her place in the world began.

Defying the maxim that a woman’s place was in the home, Alma’s love of botany saw her story intertwined with that of Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace and the European age of naval and scientific exploration.

Alma was fascinated by those metaphors for human society, mosses, whose achingly slow growth she maps. She was also enthralled by orchids, drawn so exquisitely by Mr Ambrose Pike, an unexpected guest whose spiritualist approach to life changed Alma forever.  But it was the orchid’s exotic cousin, Tahitian vanilla, that posed a set of puzzles Alma followed half-way round the world.

A tribute to all scientific women, this lyrical account of Alma’s quest for knowledge is likely to start you on your own journey for the signature of all things.

The Signature of All Things
Elizabeth Gilbert, 2013
499 pp. 
ISBN 9781408841891

Saturday, 6 September 2014


I bumped into a former work colleague, Jenny, at the Canberra Theatre last night and it started me thinking about the passage of time. She mentioned she had been at my farewell from a posting in Bangkok, which was in 2005.

That final month in Bangkok saw my son turn seven and a week later have his appendix removed at the BNH. I remember the aching anxiety between the time I held the anaesthetic mask over his face prior to the operation and watching him shiver back to wakefulness in recovery less than an hour later. It seemed like an eternity.

These days Aidan doesn’t need his teddy (who happily also recovered from the appendix experience). And as a young adult he doesn’t need me in the same way he did at seven.  At the theatre last night, and nearly ten years on, he towered over me and made polite conversation.

He’s noticed the passage of time too.  “You’re not embarrassing anymore,” he said to me earlier this week. 

While I was trying to work out when I had ever been embarrassing (spinach in my teeth? forgetting someone’s name? kissing him good-bye at the school drop-off? ), he let me know we’d moved on to a new phase. Phew. Despite the sands of time shifting slightly under my feet, I felt relief. Even though I’d missed this awkward phase, it was over.  Probably best for both of us.

"You can do anything you like,” he said. The sands tilted further as I processed the fact that I was being given permission. Hmm.  He patted me gently on the arm and said, “Now you’re just amusing.”

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: The Mandarin Code

Canberra, Washington and Beijing are locked in a three way tussle of high stakes foreign policy and cyber-espionage. When a body is found in Lake Burley Griffin, reporter Harry Dunkley chases an information trail through the backwaters of a minority government, political assassination, powerful egos and a quest for control that spans three continents. What he uncovers is a cesspool of conspiracy that has more twists and turns than a party room ballot.

The Mandarin Code showcases familiar Canberra landmarks­­; Parliament House, the ‘Kingo’ Hotel, the Australian-American Memorial at Russell Offices. It introduces the recently constructed ASIO headquarters and Chinese Embassy as well as Nara Park, Yarramundi Reach and the hike up Mount Ainslie, well known to Canberra denizens.

For those who think Canberra is a sleepy backwater, think again. If you are a student of Australian politics, you might be surprised to discover who’s really running the show.

The Mandarin Code
Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, 2014
Fourth Estate
459 pp.

ISBN 9780732294575