Quiet Friday

Lunch at Diggers and a quick vino at Steelers.

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Saw an occasional bit of the Cricket. Then a brilliant sunset at The Bates Motel.

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Made a little painterly there with FotoSketcher.

Interesting WordPress Bestseller List.

Take a look at the bestsellers and award winners who use WordPress — and be sure to scroll down to read about the notable works and WordPress-powered websites of twelve authors we’ve handpicked from this impressive list…

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And quite a few more of course. I immediately think of  Cristian Mihai, for example, and of US GLBT author Rich Merritt, and then there’s The Rochford Street Review from Sydney. Not to mention poet Adam Aitken.  Be interesting to know how many writers, famous or obscure, have embraced the blog, specifically WordPress.com which in my view is the best of the popular platforms now.

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Yesterdays

Here at The Bates Motel yesterday was warmish.

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A writer’s yesterday

Helen Garner has a rather lovely unsent letter to a former teacher in the Fairfax press Sunday Supplement today.

One day you listed the functions of the adverb. You said, "An ad­verb can modify an adjective." Until that moment I had known only that adverbs modified verbs: they laughed loudly; sadly she hung her head. I knew I was supposed to be scratching away with my dip pen, copying the list into my exercise book, but I was so excited by this new idea that I put up my hand and said, "Mrs Dunkley. How can an adverb modify an adjective?"

You paused, up there in front of the board with the pointer in your hand. My cheeks were just about to start burning when I saw on your face a mysterious thing. It was a tiny, crooked smile. You looked at me for a long moment – a slow, careful, serious look. You looked at me, and for the first time, I knew that you had seen me.

"Here’s an example," you said, in an almost intimate tone. "The wind was terribly cold."

I got it, and you saw me get it. Then your face snapped shut.

I never lost my terror of you, nor you your savage contempt. But if arithmetic lessons continued to be a hell of failure and derision, your English classes were a paradise of branching and blossoming knowledge.

E-books and editing–opportunity and hazard

Way back in the last century when word processing was hot new technology I knew nothing about I became a footnote in Australian literature – but I did learn a thing or two about publishing and editing. As I wrote back then:

AFTERWORD TO NEOS 1

If you have enjoyed this first issue of Neos as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you, then our aims are achieved. We have had to select from material at hand; we hope you, our readers, will become contributors, widening the range on which we can draw. Yet we have been able to give you, in this initial sample, work in whose quality we believe…

We do not have rigid preconceptions concerning what and how you should write. But if we were to offer advice, it might be that of Ezra Pound*:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something. Go in fear of abstractions… Use either no ornament or good ornament… If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush… the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object, … if a man use “symbols” he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.

Advice we aim at; we do not always succeed.

Second, expect to discover things as you write: that is the joy of writing, as Australian poet Robert Gray observed in Island Magazine (June 7 1981):

All those details [in the poem "Telling the Beads"] which sound as if they’re the record of an experience I’ve had of walking into a garden in the morning are things that actually I never knew I’d observed, and when I sat down with a white sheet of paper those things came into my mind like a new experience. They’d obviously been things I’d encountered somewhere, in some form, but then I really saw them for the first time on the white page as I wrote, which is one of the reasons one enjoys writing so much.

Third, revise what you’ve written. Of this Robert Gray said:

I keep the drafts, and I just trust to my response to know if and where I’ve overworked it, but usually I haven’t. To me, to write well is to have the exact word. It’s absolutely essential to choose only the words that are appropriate and nothing else… I just try to always work for the feeling of clarity… I think if you’re going to say something, if you’re going to open your mouth at all, you have to be prepared to really examine and define and refine what you’re talking about until you get it right.

If then we decide to use your work, you may get from us some suggestions for further revision. This is not meant to discourage you. Rather, see us not as “experts” (which we’re not) but as your writing partners, dedicated to bringing out as well as possible what you want to say.

* Charles Norman (ed), Poets on Poetry, NY, Collier 1962, pp 320-333. John Hawke reminded me of Pound’s important statement. Robert Gray became a regular reader, I might add, and a keen supporter.

And later on I found myself editing – at his request, mind – Frank Moorhouse and then Rob and I found ourselves editing – virtually rewriting a sentence or two – Les Murray. Why? Because even truly accomplished writers — if in a hurry as were both, I suspect, doing guest pieces for us – can nod off. “Les Murray is Australia’s leading poet and one of the greatest contemporary poets writing in English. His work has been published in ten languages.”

So what happens with eBooks?  One prompt for this post was The Diary in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

WITH THE E-BOOK PHENOMENON

MAINSTREAM publishing houses are colonising new territory in the next stage of an e-book revolution that is changing not only how we read, but what we read, forever, The Guardian reports. After the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as an e-book series posted on a fan site by its author E L James, and which has become the world’s fastest-selling book, publishers are circling the thriving online platforms serving unpublished writers. Last week Pearson, the owner of Penguin Books, bought one of the biggest grassroots publishers, the American company Author Solutions, for £74 million ($111 million). The idea is that Pearson will no longer have to rely on spotting e-book successes early on; instead, they will own a new author’s work from the first moment it appears online. Last week the Glaswegian crime writer Denise Mina said she believed e-books would soon radically alter the publishing industry. After receiving a British crime novel of the year award for The End of the Wasp Season, she said: ”Nobody knows what sells. More so now because the market’s changing so fundamentally because of Kindle and electronic publishing … It’s going to change the sorts of stories that we hear, which is amazing.”

So we all know the potential even if we really have no idea yet where this will all end up. And of course the opportunities for young – and not-so-young—writers are just mind-blowing. What would Neos look like today? Well, go to Smashwords and you will find out: there are quite a few journals, some of them excellent, available there free! And some of them are edited – by which I mean the copy has passed before human eyes and informed brains before you get to see it. Sadly, however, there are plenty of cases where this doesn’t happen.

Writing isn’t easy and no writer, bloggers excepted perhaps, inflicts first drafts on his or her readers. Most writers would rather no-one except themselves and their editors ever saw their first drafts, let alone publish them. And yes, this is a first draft though it will get edited if I spot something really wrong with it. But then this is a blog, not a properly published piece of writing.

Sometimes the lack of editing leads to absurdities like these, from a book I am now reading.

“This belonged to my granddad” said George, “your great-grandfather. He was fighting the Japanese over in the Pacific during the war. When he died he passed the medal over to his son, my Father passed it down to me on my eightieth birthday. I was saving it for your eightieth. But being that you’re already on the way to become a man, I’ve decided to give it to you now. I hope you like it. This became a lucky charm for me. It helped me through many hard times, I can tell you. I hope that it will help you in the same way it helped me”

Context makes clear that should be “eighteenth” and a good editor and/or proof reader would have spotted this in a trice. And one more:

Ross’ room was jam-packed with cupboard boxes.

Oh the curse of the spell-checker! I will let you work that out.

If such things were infrequent I wouldn’t really complain, as I am not all that much of a pedant. Trouble is some published eBooks are so littered with such solecisms and worse – mangled sentences are worse—that one really does start to choke on what one is reading.

Now my two examples are from a good young writer from England – potentially a very good writer indeed. So apologies, really, to Nathan Davey (b. 1993).

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Nathan Davey

He has two books out there: Dust in the Wind and Aaron Connor.   Of these Aaron Connor is far and away the better. On Dust in the Wind I agree with a very thoughtful review on Amazon:

Ok… the good, the bad, the confusing…

The good: Ross and his friend Beth are truly nice kids. Their dialogue and interaction in the beginning of the book is very realistic and rather heartwarming… you can actually relive the nervousness of your first date and your first kiss.

Ross’s feelings for his family – especially his little sister. The emotional trauma and feelings that Ross goes through while trying to rescue his family, his reactions to what he sees "above" and his memories of better times before the nuclear bomb hit LA.

The secondary characters: General Gardner, Nick Beat, and how they meet Ross and Beth and the ties that are formed.

The bad: Maybe "bad" is a harsh word – instead, let’s call it "breaking out our inner child and suspending all belief" that the government could actually build an entire underground city and more importantly, would have enough moving vans and "helpers" to load everyone’s entire household on the same day and then convoy it down to their identical houses (and streets) below…

In my opinion, the author is truly talented – I just think he needs to pick a target age group and write consistently for that age. And, based on what I read, he would be successful at whatever that targeted age group would be.

I would still recommend this book and look forward to reading more from the author as I feel he is truly talented!

I think he is truly talented too, and Aaron Connor shows this, though even there I just don’t buy the ending… The nearer Davey writes to his experience and his genuine concerns, the better he is.

I have a little secret to tell you about Teachers. They don’t care about you. The only reason they want your grades to be high is to make the school look good. They don’t give a toss about your well being or about your future. To them it’s just a job, which is a bugger as their job should be helping you get a job. Of course, like everything these days, money always comes first doesn’t it? When will we all learn that it’s just paper? Life’s too short to be worrying about little pieces of green paper!

I mean, Teachers are dicks aren’t they? I can’t imagine why these people, who are meant to determine our future, could be such horrible people. Every Teacher I’ve ever come across has been a patronising, horrid, vile, smoke stinking, whiskey swilling, pompous, stuck up and arrogant old psychopath! They find joy in making you feel insignificant.

If you’re bullied, they don’t do anything useful to stop it. All they do is “have a word with them” which makes the bullies beat you up even harder for snitching. I bet there are good Teachers out there somewhere, it’s just a shame that I had all the nutters.

I and Teachers have never gotten along. Do you really want to know why? Because they blamed me for everything! If anything anti-social happened at the school, it always seemed that the finger was pointed at me, whether I was involved in the event or not. I never did stuff like that, but that didn’t stop the Teachers from assuming that I was the guilty one.

Just because of how you look or act they make assumptions about you. It’s so contradictory, as they spend entire assemblies going on and on about treating everyone as equals, when they themselves are the most judgemental sods I’ve ever known! If they smell cigarette smoke on the playground, they search for the first bloke in a hoodie they can find and punish them accordingly. No evidence, no jury, no plead for innocence just straight forward punishment. It was like being stuck in a George Orwell book!

Mr Bertgill was the worst of those judgemental horrors. I wasn’t particularly smart. That’s all there was to it. It wasn’t that I didn’t pay attention in class because I bloody well did. I took notes and asked questions and everything. The information just didn’t go into my little brain box. It went into one ear and then buggered off out the other.

That didn’t matter though. Mr Bertgill uses my dress code and background to create his own story in his head. In his head I’m a delinquent who disturbs classes, talks back to Teachers and plays games on his phone during lessons. He believes that I’m not even bothering to learn but that’s not true! I want a future as much as anybody!

There are some great chapters set in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival. Given that the Youth Theatre Group Davey has been associated with was there in a production not a million miles from the one described – well, one hopes there is a strong dash of poetic licence happening…

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From an actual Youth Theatre production in Edinburgh in 2009

based on this

The children were dressed in striped uniforms. Their hair was completely shaven, the hair they had before must have been wigs of some sort. They were marching in a lined procession up the street, led by several boys dressed as Nazis. The boys dressed as Nazis were goose-stepping and had their hands rose in a Hitler salute. At the back of the procession were two people, who were holding up large banners brandishing the swastika. Joe was at the back as well, holding an amplifier which was plugged into his MP3 player. From the MP3 player, Joe was playing Adolf Hitler’s Rally Speeches at full blast. The man with the monk haircut was whipping the young actors with a fake rubber whip, while singing the German national anthem.

The one thing that Joe hadn’t counted on, was a large group of German students and tourists being on the Royal Mile that day. If they had done this on a day in which the street was occupied by British people alone, all they would have got was a fair amount of tutting. Instead they got a massive backlash of hatred from the crowd.

One German man with a grey beard came out of the crowd, grabbed the amplifier from Joe’s hands and smashed it over his head. Joe went tumbling to the ground, as bits of broken plastic fell all over the cobblestone street. There was a massive cheer from the crowd.

Even though I shouldn’t have done, I smiled at the sight of it. Serves you right I thought, you insensitive bastard!

Interesting to see what Davey has been reading. (Amazing thing, this Internet!) There is something there I may follow up on myself.  Russell Brand.

So what of eBooks then?  I am rather glad to have had the opportunity to read a very promising writer fifty years younger than myself who lives on the other side of the planet. Not before eBooks would this have happened so readily. Still, I do wonder where editors, proof-readers and publishers will end up – and whether there may be a considerable loss there in the world of writing, or quality writing.

Why my toilet reading lends support to Jonathan Franzen….

Franzen likes the actual physical book. So do I. Consider my habit of reading reference books in the loo.

“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of “Freedom.” I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now…

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change…

“”The Great Gatsby” was last updated in 1924. You don’t need it to be refreshed, do you?”

If you get my drift. The Guardian reports:

The acclaimed and bestselling novelist, who denies himself access to the internet when writing, was talking at the Hay festival in Cartagena, Colombia. “Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring,” said Franzen, according to the Telegraph.

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

For serious readers, Franzen said, “a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience”. “Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change,” he continued. “Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

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There’s just no way you can browse and graze an ebook satisfactorily while sitting on the bog, that’s what I say. Today it was the turn of Fowler’s Modern English Usage… The Burchfield revision.

And speaking of Oxford, did you know – one of the blessings of British imperialism – that Oxford India celebrated its centenary in 2011? See Shelf Life: A personal history of the Oxford University Press India at 100 by Ramachendra Guha.

…To enter the Bombay office of the OUP in 1993 and 1994 was, for me, like entering an ancient club of which I was a privileged new member. The honour was manifest, but so also the pleasure. In the foyer were displayed the works of the best Indian sociologists and historians—André Béteille’s The Idea of Natural Inequality, Ranajit Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Ashis Nandy’s The Intimate Enemy, Irfan Habib’s An Atlas of the Mughal Empire. Also on display were the works of OUP authors who were not Indian, among them such colossally influential scholars as Isaiah Berlin, Ronald Dworkin and HLA Hart. The gentry and literati of Bombay came to this showroom, and I spent some time there myself. But my main work lay upstairs, where, in a locked cupboard, lay the correspondence between a writer whose life I was writing and a publisher who had once dominated the building in which I now sat.

This writer and his publisher were both Englishmen who had gone native. They were expatriates of standing who knew, or knew of, the most powerful Indians of the day. Their own relationship was personal as well as professional. They were (as in those days writer and publisher sometimes could be) really close friends. In their correspondence they discussed books, but also food, music, politics and, occasionally, sex. Their letters were sometimes businesslike, at other times warm and gossip-laden. Reading them, 50 or 60 years after they were written, was an exhilarating experience.

Occasionally, hearing me chuckle or gasp, the occupant of the next cabin would come to have a look. Named Rivka Israel, she was a senior editor at the OUP, and the person who was in charge of—and lovingly tended—the archive. (She came from a family of Bombay Jews who made their living as craftsmen of learning—her father, Samuel Israel, had been an admired editor himself.) Rivka, in turn, would sometimes call in the branch manager, a cheerful Gujarati named Ramesh Patel, and have me read out once more that passage about, for example, life with Gandhi’s “sexless and joyless entourage”….

But 2011 brought a controversy we here in Oz heard nothing about.

…But as it turned out, in its anniversary year OUP India had what may, in retrospect, be viewed as the worst episode in its history. In November 2011, the University of Delhi withdrew an essay, written in 1987, by the poet, folklorist, translator and theorist AK Ramanujan from the BA History syllabus. The essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation, explored the many renditions of the Ramayana in India, an exercise in scholarship (and ecumenism) that offended rightwing dogmatists seeking to impose a single, authorised, invariant text on the public.

The decision sparked outrage, for Ramanujan was a truly great scholar, whose work has had a profound, enduring influence on Indian and global scholarship. That his essay was being suppressed due to pressure from Hindutva extremists was particularly ironic—for his majestic translations of medieval Hindu poetry had done much to make the world aware of the beauty and depth of Hindu mystical traditions.

The essay had originally appeared in a volume edited by Paula Richman called Many Ramayanas, and then in The Collected Essays of AK Ramanujan. Both books were published by the OUP. However, they had been allowed to go out of print after a petition filed in a court in the small Punjab town of Dera Bassi claimed that Ramanujan’s essay offended religious sensibilities. In withdrawing the books, OUP assured the litigant that it “very much regretted” publishing the essay, apologised for causing him “distress and concern” and assured him that the books containing the essay would be withdrawn…

Do read Guha’s article. It is from the Indian magazine The Caravan and came to my attention through the Arts & Letters Daily. Of course that in itself is a counterpoint to what Franzen has to say about technology: without the computer and the Internet I would never have had the opportunity to read any of the things mentioned so far – except for the reference to Franzen on the back page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Also via Arts & Letters Daily comes Jonathan Haidt Decodes the Tribal Psychology of Politics.  Now I have always seen political opinion as very much a product of personality issues rather than rational thought, if only because I suspect that to be my own case! I am quite convinced that conservatism is at heart a personality disorder. One day there may be a pill for it. But if course why stop there?

Jonathan Haidt is occupying Wall Street. Sort of. It’s a damp and bone-chilling January night in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. The 48-year-old psychologist, tall and youthful-looking despite his silvered hair, is lecturing the occupiers about how conservatives would view their ideas.

“Conservatives believe in equality before the law,” he tells the young activists, who are here in the “canyons of wealth” to talk people power over vegan stew. “They just don’t care about equality of outcome.”

Explaining conservatism at a left-wing occupation? The moment tells you a lot about the evolution of Jonathan Haidt, moral psychologist, happiness guru, and liberal scold.

Haidt (pronounced like “height”) made his name arguing that intuition, not reason, drives moral judgments. People are more like lawyers building a case for their gut feelings than judges reasoning toward truth. He later theorized a series of innate moral foundations that evolution etched into our brains like the taste buds on our tongues—psychological bases that underlie both the individual-protecting qualities that liberals value, like care and fairness, as well as the group-binding virtues favored by conservatives, like loyalty and authority…

In March, Haidt will publish The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon). By laying out the science of morality—how it binds people into “groupish righteousness” and blinds them to their own biases—he hopes to drain some vitriol from public debate and enable conversations across ideological divides.

Practically speaking, that often means needling liberals while explaining conservatives and religious people, and treading a fine line between provocation and treason. Haidt works in a field so left-wing that, when he once polled roughly 1,000 colleagues at a social-psychology conference, 80 to 90 percent classified themselves as liberal. Only three people identified as conservative. So hanging out in his lab can jar you at first. You’ll be listening to his team talk shop over boar burgers and organic ketchup in Greenwich Village, and then you think—Wait, did Haidt just praise Sarah Palin?

Indeed. “She’s right,” he says, that “it’s not left-right so much as it is the big powerful interests who control everything versus the little people.” And National Review? “The most important thing I read” to get new ideas. And Glenn Beck? “A demonizer,” says Haidt, but one who has “a great sense of humor, so I enjoy listening to him.”

Meanwhile, though Haidt still supports President Obama, he chides Democrats for a moral vision that alienates many working-class, rural, and religious voters. Though he’s an atheist, he lambasts the liberal scientists of New Atheism for focusing on what religious people believe rather than how religion binds them into communities. And he rakes his own social-psychology colleagues over the coals for being “a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering” and for making the field’s nonliberal members feel like closeted homosexuals…

I really think there is a lot in this. Really.

Virtual travel in depth

That’s, for me, one of the characteristics of first-rate genre fiction, especially in the thriller and crime genres. And some are superb in this regard.

Second to none is Qiu Xiaolong.

6133e30cb1f7339affff809affffe904Qiu Xiaolong [on the right] was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress(2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems(2003) and Evoking T’ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu’s books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.

I enthused about Death of a Red Heroine in October 2006.

Death of a Red Heroine resonates with me, because this is M’s city, and much of the novel is in the precise time and place when M knew Shanghai best; it also happens that one of M’s closest friends was a policeman in Shanghai, and thereby hangs an interesting tale indeed. Suffice to say I will probably pass the book on to M when I have finished it; I am sure he will recognise something on almost every page. M’s sister also happens to be a journalist/literary critic, as is one of the principal female characters in the novel.

If you want an authentic feel for what it is like living in China, and how the locals negotiate the politics and the system, and you want something that goes way beyond stereotypes, then read this book.

ss10 A Case of Two Cities is just as good.

Qiu Xiaolong’s books offer a look at modern day China while usually providing a very satisfying mystery story. While I found some problems with the last book in the series, I quickly became involved in this story and enjoyed it.

Telling a crime story set in a foreign country requires the author to ‘translate’, to offer the story in a way that makes sense to the reader who may never have been to that country. Certainly, relatively few Americans are likely to have visited China but author Qiu provides us with an accessible narrative. That this tale takes place in part in America provides another angle. While the author has lived in the US for over 15 years, he’s Chinese, born in Shanghai and knows the culture and the country. The changes in recent years are manifold and Qiu shows that understanding them isn’t the easiest thing for those who live with them.

Add to these lessons (an inaccurate word as there are seldom any ‘teach-y’ moments, as you understand from reading, not from exposition) the trip that Chief Inspector Chen Cao takes to the United States in this story. He is not only representing China here, but is also meeting with expatriate Chinese members of the community in Los Angeles. Chen is acutely aware that what he does and says is known back home.

He has a slight advantage – his command of English is a major reason he is on this trip – but he’s still very much a stranger in a very strange land. His primary purpose is investigation, to track someone who has fled China and now lives in the US. Untangling the threads of investment, connections and corruption are a major part of the investigation and Chen really would like to be in two places at once. On the other hand, his friend Catherine is back in America, with her knowledge of China and her qualifications at a translator, meaning of course that they end up thrown back together – not an easy time for either of them.

I was reminded throughout this book of the differences between our cultures and was fascinated. Chen is a famous poet and is a member of the Writers’ Association (we have nothing similar). Chen is extremely familiar with huge amounts of poetry of his land, which comes to mind all the time, as do classic novels. He’s at ease quoting dozens of poets from hundreds of years ago; I can’t imagine how anyone’s brain stores all that. His friends and colleagues quote from THE DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER with ease. His thoughts and comments are peppered with proverbs and poems which I found often to be totally incomprehensible.

There are dozens of these touches that teach about the culture and ways of modern (and to some extent ancient) China and at all times the story moved, the characters were intriguing, aware, multi-dimensional. The story being told never got lost in the many details…

I was unbothered by the cultural allusions that reviewer finds “incomprehensible” – but then I have been sharing, through M and others, and learning about Chinese culture for over two decades now. It is a constant reminder that western superiority is often merely western ignorance. Qiu Xiaolong as an admirable cultural bridge as well as a first-rate mystery writer.

See also:

Now another journey.

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That’s South African Deon Meyer, whose books are translated from Afrikaans. As well as being a good story, Devil’s Peak (linked above) is – to compare it with what I glean from people who know like my friend Sirdan – a very thoughtful journey into the life and mind of today’s South Africa.

The third journey is to the far north-east of England: Martyn Waites, White Riot.

Martyn Waites doesn’t believe in sparing the gore. To offset that, he is very good at engaging the reader’s interest and writes about topics that are of contemporary interest. WHITE RIOT deals with the unpleasant – but all too possible – subject of racial discrimination and racial violence in the northern English city of Newcastle.

The tale begins with a kidnapping and murder. A victim is taunted with the Muslim beliefs of his parents. He, perhaps, is not convinced of the validity of the notion of the numerous virgins that await him in the imminent paradise that he is about to enter — or not.

Kev’s mate Jason is scheduled for slaughter by a ruthless group, at first unknown by the reader. Jason has been dubbed The Butcher Boy, a reflection of his job but it seems as though someone else intends butchering him.

Peta Knight, an associate of former journalist Joe Donovan, is hired by one Trevor Whitman. Whitman has written a tell-all book detailing his time with a right-wing group calling itself The Hollow Men. He has been receiving threatening phone calls which he wishes Peta to investigate.

Joe Donovan, meanwhile, is still trying to investigate the kidnapping of his son. Years later, he seems finally to have located the boy’s whereabouts but the people who have the boy in their care and have adopted him hold him close and Joe seems to be no nearer to being reunited with his son – and his relationship with his wife and daughter is fractured. All Joe wants is to retrieve David and to have a family once more.

Waites is truly a master at building tension. He also has no scruples when it comes to subjecting his characters to violence and, indeed, death. He constructs a plot that is at once horrific yet believable. Not the least of the horrors is the concept of people cold-bloodedly manipulating True Believers into actions they probably would not contemplate, were they privy to the machinations of their leaders. The portraits of his characters are well drawn and, alas, convincing.

The author seems to delight in cliffhangers. Somehow, I wish he wouldn’t. When his next book in the series is released, no doubt I’ll have to reread at least part of this one. Perhaps I need to take a memory course!

I agree pretty much with all that. I admire the book’s politics too: very insightful and rather enlightened.

Just a note: the Emerging Writers’ Festival currently happening in Melbourne looks quite amazing!

Going back

Consider another of my blogs: Floating Life which began in 2007 and continued until superseded by this blog. Later archives from Blogspot (mainly) were added, taking the entries back to 2005.

Near the end of its run I did a retrospective series under the tag Decade called “Blogging the Noughties”. Another series followed, Picks from 2009 photos, and then Floating Life closed.

One of the “best of 2009” pics

In the "Blogging the Noughties" series I refer to my old Diary-X site a number of times. Diary-X was a bit like a WordPress that failed, though it was much less ambitious. It was a nice place and we regulars loved it.

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That links to the surviving copy on The Web Archive.

20 Jul 2001
While the Prince is away…
Holiday almost over

The salt mine beckons…

With the Crown Prince being on a Royal Progress at the moment, I feel I must make sure the Diary is kept up pending his return. I confess ICQ seems slightly bleaker though…

Today I coached in Chinatown and ran into yet another ex-student who was doing business there. Prior to that I spent some time in the UTS Library, where I found an excellent article by Wayne Martino from Murdoch University, published in The Teaching of English (a journal I have neglected of late) 127-128, May 2000 (published by the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE): "The Boys in the Back: Challenging Masculinities and Homophobia in the English Curriculum". While some of that journal is available on the Internet, that article isn’t–which is a shame. It slots well into the issues I raised in the diary before last. I did find on the Net, after searching for "Wayne Martino" on Google, some interesting things from the Tasmanian Department of Education which those interested may follow up.

There was also a thoughtful cautionary article in an earlier Teaching of English (124, March 1999) by Andrew Kowaluk, "Boys and Literacy: Challenging Orthodoxies". This article questions using critical literacy as an instrument of social change on the grounds that as it challenges values it may well meet resistance and entrench the values it seeks to problematize. Oh my God, I have used that word! In referring in the diary before last to the reception of the efforts of a female colleague, I hinted at that phenomenon, and indeed I think teachers need to move carefully in raising such issues.

The whole thing is something I must give more thought to, because I know that what we have (in my school anyway) is, despite exceptions, the ethos entrenches a conception of masculinity that is really destructive. Those exceptions are large and important, of course, but should they be exceptions? Why should the power elite in the school so often be unreflective? Why should bullying tactics on the part of certain staff go unrebuked? Why should a certain type of maleness be so rewarded?

Yes, there are people reading this who know precisely what I mean (and who I am too) and I would be interested in their views.

My late mother’s birthday today: makes me a bit sentimental.

And again:

7 May 2001
After the storm
A bit of a roller-coaster

First, let it be said that banks have lost the human touch. No elaboration–sorry!

There was a bit of a storm a day or so back, but comparative calm has returned. In fact, a couple of storms–one work-related, one domestic! The value of one or two who regard one in a positive light was brought home to me.

Yes, it’s one of those cryptic entries again, folks.

Lunch was like a clear pool and a shady tree in a desert place. I heard too at lunch that a slightly radical change in accessories is in the offing; I look forward to seeing the result 🙂

Lovely talk last night with a new ICQ friend, Kenny–a priest. I am looking forward to this friendship developing. And speaking of ICQ friends: Happy Birthday, Atakan!

Kenny was Ken Sinclair, a Melbourne priest, 6 Feb 1927 – 19 May 2005 – but his website lives still. *

Here are the links to some friends’ sites. The first one, known as "Ninglun", is a teacher at a boys’ high school in Sydney, and in addition to his routine teaching, has a lot to do with teaching and inculcating attitudes of anti-discrimination. The second, "Sal", contributes a lot of material to a group called "The Gay Catholic Clubhouse", and is a great guy. In fact, they are both great guys!

The next link is to the site of Michael Coyne, an internationally known photographer, who,as I tell him, I’ve known for so many years that I knew him before he was famous. The link "Present Australia" belongs to a couple of long-time friends, Mike Clohesy and Oliver Scofield, who set up this business called "Present Australia", that handles everything for people wanting to visit Australia. The next link is to a site called "Woodchips", set up by our Fr Wood’s brother and nephew, to be about the Wood family. In the graphic, Fr Wood is the tall guy second from the right at the back. He is 81, and his mother, seated in front, is 103!

Ken’s link led me to my VERY FIRST SITE on Angelfire! Well, not quite, as I had a site on something called Talk City for a while beginning 2000.

angelfire

This is rather ironic:

angelfire1

A shame that didn’t stick: imagine the difference a decade of not smoking would have made financially as well as healthwise!

You can even visit the guest book – well, one page!

Back to Diary-X.

Monday, March 25, 2002

On my Diary Key page I have three other diaries linked, all with permission obtained some time back. I thought I’d tell you a little about each one today, and think about why we do this.

I’ll begin with the youngest diarist, Lucas in Montreal. He is about eighteen and uses this diary (he has another) to reflect on his feelings, what happens, his growing definition of himself, and what appears to be quite a battle sometimes with depression. I like his sense of humour and his touch of self-irony. He is a very aware young man.

Queer Scribe is also a North American. His diary is often raunchy as he is much more, shall we say active, than I am. He is a bit younger than I am, but not all that much. He is also very reflective, very self-aware, and, it seems to me, very honest. This is a sample from the latest entry, not so raunchy this time. He is telling of his contribution to a talk-back show:

"But, you know," persisted Tracey, "I’m not so sure I like this having to watch what we say. I mean, doesn’t language constantly evolve? Like the ‘that’s so gay’ thing; sure, maybe it was once a homophobic slur but when we use it now without knowing that, isn’t it ok?"

"Well," I said, "I don’t lose too much sleep over whether this phrase gets said or not. But I think it’s good for us all to be sensitive about the language we use. That’s not political correctness, it’s just about recognizing that the words we choose have an impact on who feels a part of or apart from the dialogue."

(I’m not sure that last sentence is verbatim; I doubt I said anything quite so "articulate".)

…It’s good to be a little uncomfortable because it makes us think about what we’re saying and who our words might be trampling upon. That’s not censorship so much as it is a desire to communicate.

The last one linked from my Diary Key is Drew. He is a thirty-something English guy, very bright. He writes very well indeed. When I first came upon his diary he was living in New York, and his entries around September 2001 make very interesting reading. He is now back in the UK. He has a section explaining his reasons for keeping an online diary–that is what the link in this paragraph takes you to. I rather like what he says, which includes:

I’m a shy self-effacing person in my daily life, but my alter-ego craves attention. I get a kick out of seeing my words, thoughts and observations published on the web and out of knowing that someone else might see them too.

But there are more noble and important reasons as well: The knowledge that I have an online journal to maintain gives me a new sense of responsibility towards my diary. It disciplines me into writing daily, or almost daily. It also encourages me to write well, or as well as I am able.

And I know that I’m a happier person when writing is part of my life.

My diary began also as a discipline, and as a way of getting control over certain things in my life. That was before it went online. Going online was in a way to launch the longest letter to a friend ever written 😉 and it has continued that function, but one knows others read it, and the feedback has often been encouraging. I think I too am "a happier person when writing is part of my life."…

I can’t stop without correcting an omission. One of the first sites of this kind (though it is not strictly a diary) that I encountered is Yawning Bread, a very articulate gay man in Singapore. It is well worth visiting for all sorts of reasons. He writes beautifully and thinks…boy, can he think! His entries for March 2002 are just up and deal with religion, culture and gayness from an Asian perspective. The bill of fare on this site is extraordinarily rich, sustaining, sane and humane. You would be mad not to read it regularly, as it is better than mine!

And there is Mitchell’s site too (see below) which is also a kind of diary, but sometimes a knowledge of wrestling helps, especially on the guest book. A quirkish irony/humour pervades Mitchell’s site, with an underlying seriousness at times (I think he might admit to that if pressed and in the right mood.) I have been known to have been taken in by it in its more ironic modes 😉 It is also a bit elliptical at times. Oh, and there is a gallery.

An issue raised by all this – in fact I had read the article before starting this entry – is in today’s Sun Herald: Journey past the last post by Neil McMahon.

We live so much of our lives online but what becomes of our digital selves when we’re gone?

Neil McMahon reports on virtual life after death.

This phenomenon of us sharing lives in various virtual worlds is so recent that we’re still contemplating what it means in the here and now, with most of us yet to consider what it means when we’re dead and buried. But the debate is beginning. In the US, entrepreneurs have given thought to questions yet to trouble most of us: what to do with the digital trail we leave behind, from Facebook accounts to Twitter posts, from the endless gigabytes of email to that personal YouTube channel that was fun at the time but which may not withstand the demands of eternal life. And these are not mere memories – many will also leave behind significant financial assets online, from music libraries to valuable e-book collections.
 

In the meantime, some of us will go about creating that digital legacy with the only assistance from outside being asking a trusted loved one to hit "Send" on our final words.

Jessica Horton was not the last blogger confronting mortality to consider how best to give eternal voice to their online self. This month Canadian writer Derek Miller, 41, used his blog, penmachine.com, to deliver what he called The Last Post. It began: "Here it is. I’m dead, and this is my last post to my blog. In advance, I asked that once my body finally shut down from the punishments of my cancer, then my family and friends publish this prepared message I wrote – the first part of the process of turning this from an active website to an archive."

For Miller’s family, as for Horton’s, the lesson seems to be that a legacy managed is a legacy the bereaved can live with. As Horton’s mother, Julia Whitby, says: "We respected her wishes. I like the fact that it’s out there. I know Jess would have liked that. She loved to write, and if she’d lived I think she would have been a writer. I’m very proud that she had an impact, because that’s what she wanted to do."

It’s an interesting issue, eh!

* Ken Sinclair – obituary 2005 pdf

Ken Sinclair,   6 Feb 1927 – 19 May 2005

Fr  Ken Sinclair, openly gay man and priest at St Francis (Melbourne) for many years, died earlier this year, aged 78.

Many of us who went to the national homosexual conferences of the 1970s and 1980s will remember Ken with affection.  He only missed one of the 11, and was a great counter-example to the prevalent view  of the time that Christians were the enemy of gay people.   The conferences helped Ken affirm his confidence in being gay – and in gratitude he spoke publicly for gay rights, sometimes in the face of considerable censure from his own Church. Ken contributed to the gay community in many ways:  in his pastoral work, in his writing, as a supporter of groups, the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives among them, to which he donated large amounts of material over the years, and in friendship to the many whose path he crossed along the way.   His PhD thesis in 1995 examined the churches’ responses to HIV/AIDS through the filter of their

attitudes to homosexuality, based on interviews with clergy and people living with HIV/AIDS.

There is an interview with Ken in Dino Hodge’s book, ‘The fall upward;  spirituality in the lives of lesbian women and gay men’ (1995), which captures much of what was so likeable about Ken.  For Ken, simple principles of love and charity were at the heart of his religion and nothing could excuse cruelty dressed up as piety.  It was summed up in this passage about ‘particular friendships’, which were frowned on by official teaching when Ken was a novice.

"But as our director said:  ‘Any friendship has to be particular otherwise it’s not a friendship’.  I can’t remember if it’s Charlie Brown or Linus in the cartoon strip that says:  ‘I love humanity.  It’s individual people I can’t stand’. But of course you can only meet humanity through individuals."

Ruth Park

Surry Hills Dickens, says one obituary. Her novels The Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange chronicled the lives of Surry Hills people in the late 1940s and have become Australian classics.

The first I heard of Ruth Park was as a child in the early 1950s listening to The Muddleheaded Wombat on 2BL at 5 pm. Like most of her work the book version of that is still in print. She also wrote for children Playing Beatie Bow.

See Ruth Park: A Celebration.