Saturday, March 31, 2007

Train Wrecks

Warning: this is a political rant, because I’m pissed off.

Four hundred dead in Iraq within 48 hours and 15 British sailors and marines captured in Iraqi waters by Iranian gunships does not make for a happy Middle East.

Both issues have significant ramifications, both short and long term.

The first issue is criminal. No, it’s despicable, reprehensible, anathema to humankind, no matter what flavour and criminal.

Some would see it as tragic that so many people were killed by suicide bombers. I take the American view that these ‘soldiers for Islam’ are, in fact, homicide bombers.

It’s bad enough to blow up a car filled with explosives to kill innocent Iraqis because they’re Shi’ite or Sunni. It’s sickening that Chlorine gas was used. It’s loathsome that children were used in at least two bombings and an ambulance used in another.

Yeah, one ‘soldier for Islam’ had two kids in the back seat of a car filled with explosives so he could drive by a check point. Why would anyone suspect a man would be so willing to sacrifice a child for his own twisted cause?

In a second bombing, a twelve-year-old boy on a bicycle with explosives was used. Again, who would suspect someone so young?

The fundamentalist explanation is that these victims are ‘martyrs for the cause and will go to heaven for their reward; their sins – and those of their family - will be forgiven’. That goes for any innocent killed, too. Such specious reasoning is atypical of a patriarchal religion determined to oppress everyone but themselves and their friends; to maintain their grip on power. It has nothing to do with Mohammad or his religion, and everything to do with greed.

What they’re not telling these bombers is that they’re not going to heaven; there’s a special place reserved in Hell for them, because Islam forbids such killings; only a council of Imams can call a Jihad, and only to protect the Holy land.

The second issue is more political. It’s to do with Iran boosting its political currency with other Middle East countries. It matters not that they are condemned by the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, or that the Brits can prove via GPS that HMS Cornwall was in Iraqi waters; it matters that they have taken on a military powerhouse and humiliated them, thus giving them kudos in the eyes of more radical Moslems and countries who are afraid of the might of the West. It tells these people that there are ways because the West is unwilling to sacrifice its’ own people; where radical Moslems have no such fear.

As the standoff continues, or should I say propaganda war, the US announced it has refused a prisoner exchange of the five Iranian spies captured in Irbil for the 15 Brits; the Iranian.

All this comes down to Iran having bargaining chips for the negotiations on the nuclear issue, a fact already stated by an Iranian official, in that Britain’s demand for the prisoners to be released without delay was ‘unhelpful to the negotiations’.

Iran has its’ eye on becoming the premier power in the Middle East. (I haven’t heard any condemnation from any other country in the region.)

If Iran fulfils the UN’s accusations of nuclear armament, what then? Will President Ahmadinejad follow through on his threat to wipe Israel out? His country is already building cheap Cruise missiles; Iran supports Hezbollah fighters in Israel. Iranian made weaponry has been found in Iraq, Iranian agents captured in Iraq, Iran is an ally of Syria and Palestine.

Does any of this sound suspicious? What endgame is coming up?

Worse, Democrat Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, thinks it’s a good idea to visit Syria, a known ally of Iran. What is she going to say? “Don’t worry: we’ll be out of here in a year.” Or more telling, “We’re reasonable people, we can come up with a reasonable solution.” That only works if you’re engaging people of a like mind.

What it shows is a significant lack of geo-political awareness of Middle East politics.

Bush may have made a mistake going into Iraq to finish the job the UN wouldn’t let his father complete, but the rhetoric and arm-twisting in the Congress (‘Calm down’, indeed), and the emasculating of the American forces in Iraq will lead to defeat; not just militarily, but diplomatically and politically.

Neither of these situations bode well – not for the people involved, nor for the rest of us watching the train wrecks coming. Sure as eggs, these situations are going to deteriorate. It’s time to stop being politically correct, and take action, because no matter what any one says, someone is going to be offended. There is no respect in ‘talking about it’, because the other side sees that as a weakness to exploit and, as history has allegedly taught us, appeasement never works.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Real life

I've been struggling, I admit it.

Time has not been my friend; no, indeedy. I've been doing paid day work this week and next week and it hasn't left me alot of time left for anything else.

The work is back at my old job where I'm the only one on deck, so I'm trying to do the work of three. I don't think there are enough hours in the day to do everything. I've been buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly.

I've got the work I used to do, a colleagues work who's off on sick leave and my old bosses work because she's off on holidays.

By the time I get home, all I want is to put my feet up. Unfortunately, I look after an aged parent, so that doesn't happen.

This weekend, I'm trying for some time to do my work - in between baking a birthday cake for my sister (Hippocras is made, though... mmmmm... yum meee!). I suspect she's gonna get ignored for a while, because I'm determined to have a story up during the next week and some other stuff done.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PBW Stories

Sometimes, I'm little slow on the uptake.

On PBW's old site, every month there was a new story to indulge in. Due to people nicking off with some of those stories, Sheila stopped posting them - and rightly so - though honest fans were disappointed.

Now the stories, excerpts and handy templates are back. Go over to PBW Stories for some goodies. It's not a large site, but has some useful templates for the emerging author to use.

* * *

In the headlines here in Australia is the shocking physical altercation between the Ukrainian swimming coach and his daughter that was caught on camera yesterday.

The World Swimming Championships are currently being held in Melbourne and this tosser was caught getting physical with his kid. We all saw the footage on the television this morning and Victorian police took out an intervention order as a result.

What is up with some parents? Why must it be done their way or not at all? Why can't they behave and be proud of their children's successes? It occasionally happens in tennis, codes of football, hockey, just about any sport on the weekends and parents are chastised for such behaviour; you don't expect it at a professional level, nor with such venom.

I thought we'd gone past that, but I guess I was wrong.

Mikhail Zubkov, you may now leave our country; don't return, we don't need, nor want your type of assholeness.


The first Gitmo detainee has faced the military commission on 'terrorism' charges. Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty to 'providing material support for terrorism'. A charge that is retrospective; that is, the commission thought it up after Hicks was captured in Afghanistan.

Hicks has spent five years in detention without charge.

This whole issue has been... well, fraudulent is the most polite term I can come up with. No other Western nation would hold a prisoner for so long without charge and the Americans would be first in line to condemn such an action. (You'll recall that America is not a signatory to the International Court because it would mean its' citizens were subject to international law - particularly, soldiers. Can't have that can we.)

On one side of the argument is the declaration of war; under that, any 'enemy combatants' are actually prisoners of war and not subject to 'charges' unless they involve crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, if you take up that argument, any detainees would be prisoners until the War on Terror is over; who knows when that will be?

On the other side is the determination to wipe out terrorism - an admirable objective, yet doomed to failure because at any time, anywhere in the world, someone is perpetrating terror on someone else.

Worse, these detainees have no rights under the American Constitution and that has led to an abuse of human rights - the length of detainment, the issue of solitary confinement (in which Hicks spent most of his five years). No rights under the U.S. constitution does not mean these people have no rights at all. Charge them, or set them free.

It seems to me the delays in the 'trials' has been due to lawyers and the government trying to come up with a process acceptable to everyone and vaguely legal. Not going to happen.

What's happened to Hicks is that he's pleaded guilty because he's had enough of the bullshit. He would take any chance to come home to Australia. In my view, he's probably guilty: wrong place, wrong time, wrong side; and should be punished. Then again, he's been punished enough, and the deal he made could be a form of balance.

He's spent five years behind bars; the American military don't know what to do with him, so a plan might have been formulated to redress the imbalance: you accept the five years plus a little extra and we'll let you go home. No admission of wrong-doing by the Americans and Hicks comes home.

I shudder to think what would have happened if Hicks was proven not guilty. That's now a moot point.

America is taking a beating on this issue and it's time to come up with a United Nations sanctioned commission, rather than a poorly organised, poorly executed military kangaroo court.

I wonder what the odds are on all the detainees being 'proven' guilty?

Monday, March 26, 2007

WTF file

People, and their attitudes, never cease to amaze me. To wit:

From the AAP news service (emphasis is mine) - "A driver who killed six teenagers on a country Victorian road as he balanced his four-year-old son on his lap believes he did nothing wrong and blames an absence of speed signs for the smash, a court heard on Monday.

...he did not see the teenagers until after he had lost control of the car while he was driving around a right-hand bend in the road, travelling between 80km/h and 90km/h.

"I mean there was no speed (sign) and I feel as though that - that's the reason why the accident happened," he told police."

Umm... This idiot also left the scene of the accident; his daughter, aged 10, told police that: her brother was not wearing a seatbelt while her dad went "really fast" around the corner. And this guy doesn't believe he did anything wrong!

From Reuters - Real men don't pose for the cover of a Harlequin romance. And that's something the publisher wants to change.

Representatives of Harlequin Enterprises, the world's biggest publisher of romance novel series, inspected the assets of about 200 men who lined up at a Toronto casting house on Saturday to prove they could flutter readers' hearts better than professional models.

"We're looking for some guys that are not your usual models, but have that iconic look that women go for -- sexy, sensitive, beautiful and fit," said Harlequin spokeswoman Marleah Stout, who attended the open casting.

"We want real men ... exactly what you think in your mind when you're fantasizing or imagining that ideal man."

I guess Fabio isn't a real man after all; nor are the models used.

And this one, from Famous Magazine - "In a sequence of events that truly have to be seen to be believed, the UK Daily Star has reported that Victoria Beckham wants to start a Hollywood book club.

The 32-year-old is apparently keen to teach her American friends about English literature, and sees the club as a perfect way to get started. The exclusive club will meet once a month at each other's houses to discuss the book on the menu, and thus far the titles up for nomination are Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Emma' and 'Sense and Sensibility', as well as anything by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy."

'Friends' include Katie Holmes and Jennifer Lopez. Not surprisingly, it's not being taken seriously. After all, this from a woman who once confessed to a Spanish newspaper, 'I haven't read a book in my life. I haven't got enough time. I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines."

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I consider myself fairly well versed in technology, but sometimes, I wanna just [insert lots of expletives here]!

At first, the mouse - the backup - was a little stiff (the arrow, actually), then it stopped completely. It's an infra-red mouse and still glowing, but this time with malice. It refused to work. I tried to reconnect to my cordless; again, that malevolent little light gleamed at me, but refused to work. The arrow was stuck up in the corner of the screen. Neither would work, no matter what I did.

So, I'm using the third back up (you guessed it, I can't seem to throw anything away no matter how antiquated). If this one fails, I'll be right back to the original mouse: two buttons and a mouse ball.

Then... the infra-red, cordless keyboard went on strike.

I swear, I did nothing to offend them! Well, okay, the cordless keyboard no longer has print on some of the letters, like, um, the 'n' and the 'l'; the 'o', 'p', 'k', 'm', 's' and 'e' are showing wear, too, but I would have thought them more robust!

The back up keyboard works just fine: no wearing on the letters (though I think they'd protest about that). The feel is good, too, better than I expected and just as fast.

I wonder if I should buy another new keyboard and mouse? The mouse, in particular, is important because I'm running out of usable, software-compatible mouses. (Maybe they just need a rest...)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Paparazzi Parrot

I took a break from anything to do with writing and worked in the garden.

This is a danger zone for me because I'm botanically-challenged. A weed, is a weed is a Babiana? I have no idea until they flower. My siblings don't suffer from the same malady. They, the evil trolls, can simply point at a plant and name it - my mother goes one better and names it in latin, too.

I'm tugging out the grass - yes, I know it was grass - from a drain, when the squawking of Rainbow Lorikeets came from overhead. They're noisy beggars but beautiful.

They squabble like children, talking over each other, snuggle together, fly rapidly and are incredibly difficult to see if you don't know where they are in the trees.

Two settled into the bottle brush, two others into a nearby tree and I figured I could get my camera and take a few shots.

This little one is obviously a celebrity parrot. He sat very still for this photograph, but every one after, he ducked into the foliage, jumped to the Sesanqua Camellia and otherwise refused to have another photo taken. The other lorikeets were busily chatting away like schoolkids. Probably giving him a razzing.

You'll note the scowl on his face in this photo. Ah... what it is to be popular.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mostly done...

I've finished the initial edits of the chapters, but I still have to do a final read through.

I'll do that tomorrow. I feel like shit - which is par for the course when you have a cold; not the flu, but a cold. A pain in the ass.

One day soon, I hope someone comes up with an instant cure.

The worst of it is that I'm thinking everything I've written needs to be tossed, and maybe it does, but I need to be in my right mind before deciding.

* * *

I received a call from my old boss yesterday afternoon, and I have two weeks work from Monday. One staffer is on holidays and the other will be in hospital, leaving only the boss there to cope.

I hope I can remember it all - it's been six glorious weeks of holiday - and, since Daylight Saving ends this weekend, I won't have to worry about getting up earlier than I have been! Cool.

Now, I'm going to create a couple of covers for my chapters.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Suck it up

I've always found writing the first three chapters relatively easy, but in going back to edit, they invariably suck. Majorly. Like a vacuum. Like a drain.

Yet, they are the most important part of the book. If no-one's interested in the first three chapters, they're not going to read on. For an agent or editor, the first page has to catch their attention or you are doomed; doomed, I say!

For my work, the ideas are sound and seemed brilliant at the time of writing; it's the execution that is sadly lacking: the passive sentences, unnecessary words, plot faults, paucity of description, info dumps... It all comes back to bite me. Hard.

It is during this editing stage that I wonder why I ever thought I could write; that everything is shit and should be given a proper burial.

I've almost done the first three chapters of Teardrops of War - tomorrow I'll read through it, again. In the meantime, I'm going through the first three of Demon's Gate, a book I wrote a good ten years ago. It is suffering from the same thing, though interestingly, not as much. The worst of it is a two and a half page geo-political info dump that started on page three! It's gone now. Not buried, but cut out and pasted in the accompanying 'outtakes' file. It's a good enough explanation, it has to be put in somewhere, but not as a whole.

I've learned since this book not to do info dumps. I'll find other things I've learned not do as I progress. Both books are interesting to me for varying reasons: one is full of blood, guts, survival and the search for a loved one; the other, mystery, emotional angst, survival and the consequences of war.

I know within myself they're good books, it's getting past the first three chapters that's proving difficult. Once they're fixed, however, I know the prose will run much smoother.

And while fighting my way through bad grammar, bashing passive sentences and tickling descriptions into submission, two quotes spring to mind to keep me going. I don't remember who said this one, but: "When I'm writing, I just skip over the boring bits to keep it interesting." and, of course, Holly Lisle's, "never give up your dream."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Plodding along

I'm doing some re-writing, which is difficult because I want to keep the participants in this scene where they are. To do so, I have to make all the characters active participants, not merely spectators.

Motive and advancement are the keys: motive for why characters are where they are, and the advancement of the story, in particular, giving the reader an impression of the characters.

It would be easier to simply cut a few of them out, but the set up is too important to reduce the participants, thus it becomes more complex.

The worst of it is that this scene is from two perspectives, the good guy and the bad guy. Yep, the bad guy. In this book, there's no reason to hide the evil-doer - or in this case one evil-doer and one unknown factor.

I've written a great piece for the villain (a beta reader said so, nyah) but I fear it may have to go. I'm holding onto it, though, in case I get a spark of brilliance. (Which is doubtful at the moment because I'm choked up with drugs to get rid of this early Autumn cold. I'm thinking weird thoughts already.)

Anyway, I'm becoming increasingly desperate to post these three chapters by the end of the week. With two full days of writing, I should be able to do it - snotty or not. It's a deadline I'm not willing to let go.

But, I'm halfway, so that's good. Time to get back to it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Passives and Weasels

The current weather patterns are creating havoc with my internet access and my work. It's never a good idea to indulge in either with thunder and lightning going off around the house.

But today was mild, and that meant work. I've been editing Teardrops of War and it is slow going.

I can't remember what draft this is, but the current editing project deals with passive voice and so-called weasel words.

The passive voice can be identified with the help of Microsoft's spelling and grammar function; changing sentences to active voice is the challenge.

For example: No doubt he would be lectured once again on the value of staying on post at all times. Is passive; words like 'was', 'has been', 'will be', 'are', 'have been' should be taken out. Go here for some examples. I rewrote the sentence as: Druce’s smile was faint, as if anticipating the coming confrontation with the Brigadier. This turns it active, and gets rid of some 'weasel words' at the beginning of the next sentence.

It is hard to write an entire book without using passive voice somewhere, but as long as it's kept to a minimum, I don't think you have to tie yourself into a mental pretzel trying to make the novel entirely active.

Weasel words are probably the hardest. You don't know how many you've used until you check and the more you practice, the better you'll be at getting rid of them. I replace the words with a coloured version and it's amazing what turns up.

Words like 'that', 'was', 'were', 'have', 'had', 'there', 'by', 'am', 'be', 'is', 'have been', '-ly' lengthen a manuscript when it's not necessary. This is where paragraph edits become important. Is there a better way to write it? To shorten it? To add a more descriptive and punchy term?

All authors have their pet hates; it's a matter of personal choice, but the words above are the fundamental ones. Try it with you're own manuscript and see what you come up with.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Plague of Memory

I've just finished reading S.L. Viehl's Plague of Memory and, like the rest of the series, it's filled with things I don't like, and things I love; both of which compel me to read further.

Plague of Memory begins with Dr Cherijo Torin's alter ego Jarn back aboard the Jorenian ship Sunlace, trying to find her way. She is in the body of Cherijo, but has no memory of her. You'll recall that Cherijo's persona was wiped away courtesy of a couple of gunshots. But you'll also recall that Cherijo is nigh immortal.

Jarn is called to the Hsktskt home planet to try and cure a plague that is turning the reptiles murderous and suicidal; for her to do so, she must remember Cherijo.

I've read a lot of reviews that expressed disappointment in the last two books: Rebel Ice in particular came in for a lot of criticism for departing from the strong story line and turning Cherijo into someone else. In Plague of Memory, it was expected that Cherijo would once again emerge. But I have a problem with those naysayers.

If you've read Eternity Row, and read it properly (no skipping bits), you'd have found the clue: Cherijo leaps out of a transport, is caught by Duncan, and both are caught by Hawk. She's is roundly chastised for the foolhardy stunt, to which she replied that she was immortal and wouldn't have died; hurt a lot, yes, died, no. But if she'd landed on her head and sustained critical brain damage?

And that is what I think alot of people missed. Rebel Ice demonstrated what would happen and Plague of Memory continues that theme. You can't replace the esoteric, the memory part of the brain if that matter is destroyed, you can only make new memories. The author makes that very clear and so Jarn and Reever have to move on.

What I hated about this book was Reever's manipulations for selfish reasons. To me, he's not displaying love, but obsession and he has done this repeatedly throughout the books. Worse, the Captain of the Sunlace joins in with the manipulations; both men deciding what Jarn can and cannot do as if she has no right to decide her own future - Xonea because he understands how critically injured Cherijo was and the cultural difficulities of Jarn's background, and Reever because he's obsessed with Cherijo and will do anything to keep her by his side, whether she wants to or not.

What I loved about the book was that Jarn is not afraid to use weapons. She has distinct ideas about how to act, even if they go against the community she's been manipulated into re-joining. Not that Cherijo was spineless, but Jarn is more than capable and not restricted by the medical code of ethics of doing no harm. Jarn will and has used the knives for less than saving lives.

As interesting as this story is, I deduced the perpetrator of the plague early on. There was only one true suspect, but I enjoyed Jarn's meeting with the evil-doer. There was one aspect of the book I did not see coming and my response was "you sick, evil bastard!" Always a good reaction and one of the reasons I so enjoy Viehl's work - she will always throw in a good OMG moment, doesn't stint on consequences and lays the ground work for the next book with subtlety.

I'll have to be patient for the next book in this excellent series.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Don't Stop

Laurel K. Hamilton’s latest post is disappointing.

Whether she understands what she has written is a sign of weariness or not, it’s yet another post she shouldn’t have written (another, more recent one was a rant about ‘negative readers’).

Way back when LKH began blogging, she said she was going to do it as a diary of sorts so new and emerging authors could have glimpse into the life of a working professional writer.

Me, I was thrilled. I like to read working blogs, to read about the difficulties some authors have in creating their books; to have a look-see into such fertile imaginations.

But it has been a long time since LKH’s blog has been interesting – work-wise.

Now, she has confessed to a basic mistake new writers often make: stopping in the middle of a scene; an important one.

Rule number… um… whatever: do not stop writing until you are satisfied you are at a point you can continue from.

Authors use all sorts of tricks to continue. My personal favourite is in the middle of a sentence. Yes, that does seem to be a paradox if taken with the above comment. But remember this: if you stop in the middle of a sentence, you know exactly what was about to happen next without compromising the direction of your work. If you stop in the middle of a scene, a number of alternative scenarios can be created, taking you away from what direction you wanted to go – outline or not.

By giving yourself time to subconsciously think about the work, it can either lead to disaster or a better piece of work – usually, it’s a bust; especially if you’re not an outliner, and have been writing the same types of work for an extended length of time.

You have to trust yourself to know when to stop. I don’t think it’s a matter of words, either. Every author throws themselves into the characters, the scene, the book - or at least they should. It’s no good thinking that today’s aim is 4000 words and then stop; that way lies madness. Better to think, to plan ahead, to where your characters can safely stop. Write your characters into a safe place (whether it actually is, or a false sense of security).

You aren’t going to be writing a two day long battle, or sex scenes, or political discourse, or character description, or motivation – you really aren’t going to do that: it’s boring and tedious for the reader.

So, to plan your days writing, you have to work out how many scenes to write and what happens during those scenes. Then you’re done until tomorrow. It works like that until the book is done. You may write for three hours or six, or nine or twelve or however long it takes to get those scenes written, but you never stop because you’re ‘tired’: that tiredness will reflect in your written work and have to be taken out later, or completely re-written. Best to plan it first.

There. Simple, though not easy.

And how can I preach this when I’m an organic writer? A writer who doesn’t outline? Because when I start the day’s writing, I have an idea of where I want to stop at the end of the day. It’s sitting there, at the back of my mind, so I still have a target to reach. If I don’t think I can make that target, I write it down and select another more attainable target. That way, the continuity isn’t affected.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Batter Up!

I've posted a new story on the Takeaway.

I was going to do it yesterday, but the dentist was mean to me and replaced two fillings. There's nothing like being a drooling wreck to make you not feel like playing with anything.

I thought I was on the verge of a panic attack after he put the anasthetic in, but apparently the stuff had adrenalin in it. Jeez! He gave me two shots! No wonder my heart was pounding! So I was rubber-faced for a while. I wonder if it's a side affect to giggle at the funny side of having no feeling in your jaw and cheeks? Or whether I simply amused by it?

Anyway, go. Read. Enjoy. Or not.

I'm working on posting another excerpt, so it should join the others shortly.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Historical Accuracy vs Political Correctness

Warning: Some readers may find the following post offensive.

Accusations of racism are flying around various political arenas in England, in Australia and in a lot of other Western Countries.

I think people have forgotten what the word means and are using it as a political stick to get their own way, or to oust an undesirable.

To cite the Oxford Dictionary - racist: • noun 1 the belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race. 2 discrimination against or antagonism towards other races.

Last week, feral Christian politician, Fred Nile, called for the suspension of Islamic immigrants to Australia to stop the violence here. That is a racist statement.

The Tory Home Affairs spokesman, Patrick Mercer, was sacked by the Opposition in the UK for an alleged race remark. What he said was: “I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.”

What’s the difference? Mr Nile is using a racial assumption that brands all Moslems as violent. Mr Mercer made a comment about his own experiences as a former Colonel in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment. That he did not refer to white soldiers made the comment worse than it was. He would not have been accused of racism if he were speaking of Anglo-Saxon soldiers.

Ethnic minorities freely use the race card and Caucasians flinch.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about politics, but writing. I use these incidents as an example.

A couple of years in the Forward Motion chat room, a debate erupted over use of the word ‘nigger’, a well established epithet and a fundamentally morally reprehensible word to describe a black person. Not an African-American, but a black person. Aboriginals in Australia were called niggers, too. Even the Oxford Dictionary says: “Usage The word nigger is very offensive and should not be used.” But I use this example because it is a visual insult, as well as ideological.

The argument was whether a modern day writer could use the word if in its historical context. The writer was working on a Western novel and was unsure.

Half the respondents said no – the word is unacceptable in today’s society; the others said yes – it was a word freely used at the time.

Which side is right? If we take the former, we are re-writing history; if we take the latter, we are preserving a picture of the culture, society and language of the time.

Calling somebody a ‘jew’, or a ‘wog’, or a ‘pom’, a ‘yank’, a ‘kiwi’, a ‘skip’, a ‘kraut’, a ‘nip’, a ‘catho’, aren’t so offensive, and yet perhaps they should be, for they have the same connotations – that of a group of people separated by means of ethnicity or religion.

I’ve read a number of books where ‘offensive’ terminology has been used to describe the personalities of the character. You immediately know what kind of a person they are by the words they use, or those that surround them.

Is there a line you can draw? No. I don’t think so. Evocative language creates emotions in a reader, something that will stay with them long after the book has been closed.

What writers have to be careful of is how often offensive words are used: to make a point, yes; to beat the reader over the head with, no.

I came down in the camp that said ‘yes’, it was okay to use as long as it was in context. But what the argument left me with was the disturbing thought that political correctness was threatening to over-run common sense.

Freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to offend unnecessarily (though there are many websites that do), nor does it mean that you can take offence when none is meant.

But… make your own decision. As writers, we have a responsibility to our work and readers, but we also have a responsibility to the truth, no matter how ugly it is.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I thought I’d do some of that ‘sharing’ thing that bloggers do on occasion. This has come from Tamara Siler Jones’s site. I’ve adjusted some of the questions, though. You can play too, if you like.

1. Height? 5’41/2” Can’t forget that half inch.

2. Have you ever smoked heroin? No. I’ve seen what smoking too much pot does to a long time user and it is ugly.

3. Do you own a gun? No. Ordinary folk aren’t allowed to own guns here, though I did train in pistol shooting at a club. I have to say I enjoyed it. The concentration and focus required to hit the bullseye was a stress-reliever for me during a tense time.

4. Who would you let eat crackers in your bed? No-one. Beds are not kitchen tables, thanks.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? Always. Dentists, too.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? Love ‘em. Yes, I know what goes into them, but I really like them.

7. What’s your favorite Christmas song? Sigh… how embarrassing. Last Christmas by Wham. There. My secret is out.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Coffee, made by me from my new espresso machine.

9. Can you do push ups? Yes, but why would I? I can see the ground perfectly well standing up.

10. Is your bathroom clean? Yes.

11. What’s your favourite piece of jewellery? My Sterling silver Dragon’s Head pendant.

12. Do you like painkillers? No. I’m rarely in a situation where I have to take them and only when necessary.

13. What is your secret weapon to lure in the opposite sex? If I knew that, I wouldn’t be single! Obviously my sparkling intellect isn’t working.

14. Do you have A.D.D.? No, oh, hey aren’t those colours pretty?

15. What is your favourite season? Winter. I write more and better during the colder months. It's invigorating.

16. The last person you spoke to on the telephone? My twin sister; she and her family are visiting next weekend.

17. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment? Why am I doing this? I need to hear that song again. Better close the window, it’s getting chilly.

18. Name the last 3 things you bought: Chicken Maryland for next weekend when the visitors arrive, Dutch Smoked Cheese, a Grindenstein which is a container for my coffee grounds – they then go on the compost heap.

19. Who is your favourite visual artist? Canaletto. I just love the detailed works.

20. Ever been out of the country? Yes: Fiji, Thailand, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Singapore, Spain.

21. You’ve won a major award and have thanked your family, who else would you thank? The authors who helped me, the publishing company for taking a chance and my agent.

22. Current worry? Getting writing work done.

23. Current hate? That asshat with the dirt bike without a muffler roaring up and down the street.

24. Favourite place to be? Curled up on the couch with a good book, or walking the beach in winter.

25. How did you bring in the New Year? Fast asleep. I’m over the partying stage.

26. Where would you like to go? Everywhere, but back to England and Ireland first, then the American east coast for Leafpeeper season, New Zealand.

27. Do you own slippers? Yep. Sheepskin floppies.

28. What shirt are you wearing? A long-sleeved T-shirt in dark blue.

29. Do you burn or tan? Tan, but I’m over the sun thing, too. I neither want nor need wrinkles or melanomas.

30. Favourite colour(s)? Aquamarine and peacock blue.

31. Would you be a pirate? Nah. Too much hard work.

32. Are you gay? No. though I've been known to laugh at a good joke.

33. What songs do you sing in the shower? I don’t sing in the shower, I plot.

34. What did you fear was going to get you at night as a child? The big bad wolf or the Coachman that haunted our house.

35. What’s in your pockets right now? Lint. Lots of lint; someone left a tissue in a pocket and it went through the washing machine. Gaah!

36. Where are you? At home.

37. Best bed sheets as a child? I don’t remember; they were sheets. Not up there on the grand scale of things to remember.

38. Worst injury you’ve ever had? The facial injuries from a car accident. Blood everywhere, stitches in my forehead and looking like I’d gone a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson.

39. You’re on a trip around the world and have to select five landmarks to visit, what would you pick? The Great Wall of China, the Acropolis, the Black Forest in Germany, the Somme, Macchu Picchu.

40. How many TVs do you have in your house? Um…Six. Two don’t work, one is an antique, one is hooked up to the VCR, one in my room and the other in the loungeroom.

41. Who is your loudest friend? Stacey! (Sorry, Stace.)

42. Who is your quietest friend? Hmm… me.

43. Does someone have a crush on you? Not that I know of.

44. Do you wish on shooting stars? Yes.

45. What is your favourite book? On Basilisk Station by David Weber.

46. What is your favourite candy? Mmmm… Turkish Delight…

47. What song do/did you want played at your wedding? Not married.

48. What song do you want played at your funeral? Tubular Bells, by Mike Oldfield.

49. What were you doing at 12AM last night? Medicating the dog for fleas.

50. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up? Oh, jeez! I’m late! Traffic is going to be hell. Will I get a parking spot? No time for breakfast…

Friday, March 09, 2007

Leaves and trees

Ah, yes. "You can't see the forest for the trees." In my case, I couldn't see the leaves for the tree.

I've been researching the tree for about five years now and have been intrigued by what I found, who I found and little snippets of their lives. Sometimes, fate has had a hand in not only what I've found, but when.

As you know, I've discovered a deserter from WWI and it's hard not to sympathise. That was Sunday. The previous week, I'd requested a copy of my great-grandfather's marriage certificate, not expecting it to arrive until late March. It came today and I now know my great-great-grandfathers names on my mother's side - cool!

Using the certificate, I've found a lot more:

That who I thought were my great-grandparents weren't actually related. I couldn't work out why the 1881 census had them married when another site had them hitched six years later. Living together was most definitely frowned upon, and they were both Roman Catholic - it wouldn't have happened. But they had the same names, were born in the same areas and even had the same jobs. Only the timing was out. It's bugged me for some time, even though I knew a couple on the other side of the tree had to marry because of a wee bairn on the way.

That a family unit I'd downloaded from the 1881 census some years ago, are related. The problems? The surname was spelled different, as was my great-great-grandmother's name. Names like 'Hannah' were often abbreviated to 'Anna' or 'Ann/e'; my GGM's name was Rosannah, but every one knew her as Rose Ann and the surname ended in 'ie' not 'ey' as I was used to. Light-bulb moments are sooo useful.

That my great-grandfather might not have been born in Ireland at all, but his father and father-in-law were. I still have to track them down, and following the tree through Ireland is an exercise in frustation as a lot of the censuses were destroyed. I have to know where they were born before I can tackle the church records.

Then on Wednesday, I was contacted via Genes Reunited by a second cousin! and I've managed to secure what happened after my Mother's family came to Australia. He's promised to send me a small family tree that his cousin (and mine, I suppose) did.

It's strange how things work out. I've gleaned more information in the past week than I have in five years of looking.

Now, I have a lot more to do before I'm satisfied I have the tree done for future generations. So far, I have four hundred years of history, but it's not even. I know I can go back further, to the origin of my surname in the twelve hundreds and beyond, if only I can find those generational connections to other trees.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007



I’ve finished We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore (Ret.) and journalist Joseph Galloway.

I can’t say enough good things about this book, and Somme Mud by E.P.F. Lynch. The contrast between these two books and the two wars is surprising.

Fifty years apart, yet the parallels are obvious, as are the problems of astonishingly bad command decisions.

For Aussie troops in the trenches of France, initially under the command of the British, it was a life of hell, mud, blood and needless sacrifice; once command shifted to the Australian generals, the Aussies had less casualties, gained more ground and captured more enemy than any other country (per capita).

For the American troops in the Ia Drang valley, it was lack of medivac, a command that constantly wanted updates and a Government policy that still holds sway today.

Hal Moore went into the battle at a disadvantage: troops who were ‘short’ – that is, soon to be rotated out of the army – stayed in the U.S., even when the whole battalion had trained to a well oiled and understood machine. They also came up against an equally professional and determined enemy.

The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops came down the Ho Chi Minh trail in Cambodia; the U.S. forces were not allowed to pursue them, thus giving the enemy a safe haven to regroup and rearm – that was a disaster for the American forces, though to widen the conflict into Cambodia may have lengthened the conflict, or shortened it and stopped the monstrous Khmer Rouge from ever coming to power in Cambodia. We’ll never know. This was a policy that bore closer scrutiny, rather than the hand-washing worry of ‘offending’ a supposed neutral country.

The second disastrous policy that is still in effect is the rotating of troops out of combat after a year. The NVA and Viet Cong troops fought the war for ten years, once; the Americans fought the same war ten times. The U.S. lost valuable experience when those soldiers went home; worse, the commanders were rotated out too, thus depriving the Army of combat experienced officers who knew how the enemy operated.

War isn’t about compromise, it’s about brutal death, catastrophic destruction, never-ending grief and ultimate victory or defeat for the opposing forces. There are no polite terms for war; no diplomatic speeches that can soothe the trauma.

For the troops in the First World War – allied and German - and in Vietnam – the U.S. forces, NVA, Viet Cong and South Vietnamese Army - there was no discussion on the why’s and wherefore’s. The soldiers did what every soldier has been doing for centuries: their job. And they did with distinction, with courage and with burning need to return home.

It is the young men and women who fight and die for the ideas of the old and foolish.

If you get a chance to read either of these books and you have an interest in military history, do so. They are written from soldiers’ points of view, and while they do have facts and figures, planning and strategy, they are overwhelmingly of how a soldier feels and acts under extraordinary circumstances.

I came away from those two books with the same thought: Governments may change; a soldier’s courage and dedication to duty do not.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Last month I posted in the comments about family rumours of a deserter and a member of Sinn Fein. The latter rumour is untrue; the former, we-ell... it's complex and a blight on the British for how they treated their troops. So here's the story:

My uncle mentioned he had some medals from WW1 but didn't know to whom they belonged. He'd been given them by his mother with this comment: "He came home, told me to burn his uniform and take the rifle to the tip." That's it.

Uncle K rang me this week with the medal number. The number is the service number of the owner of the medal and I duly looked them up and found the information from great-uncle J.'s service record.

J. was born in Lancashire, but when war broke out he was in Clyde in Scotland. He joined the Royal Naval Division - a division made up of sailors for whom a ship couldn't be found for them to serve upon. The Division had infantry units, artillery units and machine gun units attached.

Sent to Gallipoli (wow, I always thought none of my ancestors were there!) he was shot in the chest in July, 1916. Evacuated back to England aboard the Hospital Ship Letitia, he wasn't expected to survive. But he did. It took doctors five months to diagnose a pneumo thorax or a collapsed lung. He had the lung removed.

His relatives were informed of the injury, the seriousnesss of it, but were not informed about anything else: when he was transferred to various hospitals, when he was transferred from battalion to battalion.

My great-grandmother was illiterate and wouldn't have been able to read the telegrams, but J.'s youngest brother W. was literate and would probably have read any messages (my great grandfather died in 1902 in mysterious circumstances).

Over the next year, he was in and out of hospitals - on one occasion, he was chucked in the pokey for seven days for being AWOL - and transferred between battalions.

On 31 August 1916, my g-grandmother received a telegram that read: "Found drowned at Wimbourne, 28.8.16. Relatives informed, inquest held yesterday, open verdict.”

On the same day, the 31 August 1916, the record reads: "At a court of enquiry held on the 26th inst., was declared a deserter & is struck off the strength of Battn. 26.8.16."

The following day, a telegram is sent to the Officer in Charge of the Battalion: "Cancel wire re death by drowning, has returned from absence”. It does not record whether a telegram was sent to the relatives, but I hope so.

Again, J. spent time, a month this time, in detention, but returned to duty and is listed as being a reinforcement for the Base Depot in November 1916.

For a year he served without any marks on his record. Then, his battalion was sent to France. Remember, he's missing a lung at this stage and the Germans are using gas attacks on the Allied lines.

He fought at Passchendaele, the battle of Cambrai, then disappears. In January 1918, he's listed as not yet returning from leave. It's not until November 1918 that he's listed as 'missing' and an inquiry is sent to his relatives. "No news" was the reply. Then, in January 1919 "Assumed Killed in Action 23.11.1917” is written on his record, marked "dicharged dead", and from there, the card goes off to wherever KIA cards go.

His name, rank and serial number are listed on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium near Zonnebeke where the names of 35,000 officers and men whose final resting places are unknown are engraved.

It's an astonishing tale that this man, this volunteer should have been forced to remain on active duty with only one lung, and sent to the slaughterhouse that was Passchendaele. How he managed to return to England, to his family, without being picked up by the Military Police I'll probably never know. I can only speculate that during the absolute chaos, he managed it.

Of J.'s brothers, my grandfather P. lost a leg, J2 was shot in the left arm, rendering it useless, J3 was gassed and died ten years later as a result, brothers M and A were also wounded, but I have no information on them. W was too young to serve. We think that the family felt J. did his duty and more and refused to inform authorities of his return.

But how do I know J. didn't die on the Fields of Flanders when all records show that's where he lies, unknown, in eternal slumber? I have a photograph of him taken just before WWII in Wales...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

New Blog

While I was doing my usual 'surfin' of the net, I found a terrific blog for writers.

Kit Whitfield has some wonderful advice for new authors and has interesting discussion pieces from the publishing industry. It is worth your while to go and have a look, read, inwardly digest and then bookmark.

I was going to write a post about giving your character hobbies, but my mouse has gone pear-shaped. Do you know how difficult and time consuming it is to do things on a computer, on the 'net, without the use of a mouse? Oy.

Luckily, when I first started using computers - back in the dark ages - mouses (mice?) weren't around. But the endless tabbing... jeez...

I'm sure I have a spare around here somewhere...

Hmmm... there's a story in there somewhere... about the sudden lose of technology...

Friday, March 02, 2007


The only Australian to be held in detention at Guantanamo Bay, David Hicks, is finally to face a 'special military commission'. The charge? Material Support for Terrorism. The second charge of attempted murder was dismissed through lack of probably cause. The first charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Material support for terrorism. What is that?

I don't have a problem with Hicks being in detention. I do have a problem with the length of time he and his fellow inmates have been in Gitmo; Five years for Hicks - a sentence in itself.

This charge sounds like something to cover the fact he's been in prison for so long.

In fact, I would argue that these people aren't criminals, but prisoners of war given the American declaration of War. Never mind it's on Terror. Could it be any more amorphous than that? A war without end means the detainees stay in prison for as long as their natural lives.

The whole idea of sending the prisoners to Gitmo was ill-concieved and hasty in the extreme. Yes, something had to be done, but if you're going to prosecute a war, you'd better have all your ducks lined up and it's clear Bush had no idea. "A war? Sure, it'll be fun; I'll play!"

And if Hicks is proven to be innocent? (Fat chance - there's to much invested in his detention.) What then? Those five years are lost; no amount of money is going to get them back, nor is it going to help the psychological damage done.

Hicks' father, Terry, has been fighting for his son's release ever since David was detained. A good Dad, for all intents and purposes, and yet he's never come out and explained what David was doing in the fortress in Afghanistan when the CIA agent was killed and the Americans captured it. Mr Hicks is full of diversionary comments and half-hearted denials.

But that no longer makes a difference, for Terry is using his own son as a battering ram against the Prime Minister. It looks like Terry has forgotten where and when and why his son was detained and instead believes his son is a victim of American aggression and Australian indifference.

I think that to save face all round, the Americans will have to pass a 'guilty' verdict to affirm the five years in prison, but release him soon after the trial to appease the growing unrest here and as a trade for Australia's continued good will. Mr Hicks won't see it that way; he'll see it as an injustice (the old 'my boy, he good boy' denial, even with obvious proof); he already sees his son's continued detention as a betrayal by our government and, no doubt, he's filled with hate for the Americans.

Well, Mr Hicks? What was your son doing in an Al-Quaida fortress? And why do you think David is innocent?