Thursday 10 December 2015

The Mortal Maze -- some thriller publicity in my former hometown

A welcome article in a newspaper covering the Australian town where I grew up. Read The Mortal Maze reviews here.

Books: a penny bargain

I recently discovered that a second-hand copy of my book God's Triangle was available on an Amazon site for just one penny, plus £2.80 p&p. A penny? How could that be?

The answer, I found, was here in the New York Times Magazine. This article is worth reading, but to sum up it tells us that there are companies that make their profits not on the books they sell, but on the post and packaging.

A member of my family who works for a charity shop in London confirmed the New York Times story. He said that charity shops often get far too many books for them to sell individually, so most are sold in bulk to companies that then choose the best ones to sell for as little as a penny -- plus, of course, the inflated p&p charge.

I never knew that. Did you?

Tuesday 24 November 2015

How do journalists get their scoops?

The Mortal Maze, an authentic thriller for journalists and non-journalists alike. Now available as an ebook and paperback...

And here's what some of the early readers think:

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Charity fund raisers: doncha just hate 'em!

The other day I phone a friend in Australia from London. She hung up before I had a chance to say a word. So I rang her again. This time she answered and when she realised who I was, she explained that she had initially thought she was the recipient of yet another begging call from a professional charity fund raiser.

This happens to me quite often when I ring friends and relatives in Australia or New Zealand, usually in the early evening, their time. It is becoming a serious irritation. More and more Aussies and Kiwis are installing call monitors. As a result, calls from abroad show up as "private number", "number withheld" or "number unobtainable". The person being called assumes -- with some justification, sadly -- that they are in danger or being pestered by a smooth-talking telesales person or criminal displaying all sorts of inventive ways or relieving that person of some or all or their hard-earned cash.

My mother, who died aged 95, was a particular target in her later years for charity beggars. Being a polite woman, she would always hear the callers out and would try to explain that she was an old woman and already gave significant sums of money to charity. As I tried to explain to my mother, this information encouraged, not discouraged, the fund raisers who were almost all working on a commission of one sort or another. It was quite shameful the way they tried to exploit her good nature.

In a related matter, I have recently been receiving calls from a particular UK number that is almost certainly using auto-call phone software.I tracked it down to a charity I have supported for many years. I have now withdrawn my support in protest.

Words that are misused or unnecessary

Some German friends recently asked me to edit a letter they were writing to their neighbours about a matter of mutual concern. Their spoken English is excellent, but they were worried that their grasp of the written word was not so good. As I suggested changes, I realised that some of them would have been made were I editing a similar document written by a person with English as a first language. This took me back to when I was a journalism lecturer and produced for my students a simple guide to some of the errors that irritated me. You may find it of use:

Saturday 12 September 2015

Book publishing: typos and other dumb errors

When I published my first book -- a non-fiction story, God's Triangle -- it was edited by one person and beta-read by four other people. As far as I know, it contains no errors. However, my new thriller, The Mortal Maze, has been professionally edited and proofed at some expense by two people, been edited again (free of charge) by a third person and checked for errors by at least six beta readers. Yet when the book proofs came back from the printers earlier this week we still found a significant number of typos. How come? What's so different with this book? Is it because several of the readers told me they got completely carried away by the story, thus failing to note errors? Or could there be some other reason? 

One interesting suggestion is that proof readers be required the read a book twice -- once front to back, then from back to front. That way, it is said, few errors will be missed.

Anyway, The Mortal Maze is now available error free (I hope).

Friday 17 July 2015

Planning a trip to Australia (Oz)? Better learn some Strine! UPDATED

The first 30 years of my life were spent in Australia and ever since moving to London, I have made at least one trip every year to the land of my birth. But despite the frequency of my visits, I am increasingly finding it difficult to understand the language.

 It now seems that most descriptive names in Australia are reduced to words ending in “o” or “ie”.

Over the years I have become  accustomed to “arvo” (afternoon), “tinnie” (can of beer or a small tin boat) , "cossie" (swimming costume) “rellie” or “rello” (a relative) and being referred to as a “journo” (journalist), but what was I to make of a headline in the Australian papers about a man’s leg being chewed off by a “saltie”? 

I found that answer only by reading well down into the story and learning that a “saltie” is a salt water crocodile. I also noted that the man with the chewed leg was in a critical condition in “hossie” (hospital).

On one recent trip, I was challenged by a large illuminated sign over a highway “Have you renewed your rego?” My immediate response was to shout: “Well, I might renew it if I knew what it was”. A friend later enlightened me. “Rego” was short for car registration, the Australian equivalent of the UK’s road tax. 

Some of this word reduction and slang is amusing, and I couldn’t help smiling when I learned some time ago that “carked it” meant that someone had died (i.e. become a carcass). On a recent trip to my homeland several people used "carked" in their conversion, such as "Did you know that old Fred had 'carked' it?" 

I also love the much-used “hoon”, the short form of hooligan, and “rort”, the term most frequently applied to phoney expenses and rip-offs by politicians (“pollies”).

What surprises me is how the slang has been adopted in recent years by Australia’s mainstream media. 

It is common, indeed usual, for Australian newspapers to refer to “firies” (firemen), ambos (ambulance drivers), "fishos" (fisherman) and “schoolies” (drunken end-of-school-year party).

Scanning the Australian papers on the internet the other day I also came across “tradie” (tradesman, such as plumber, electrician and carpenter), “boatie” (someone with a small boat), “yachtie” (a yachtsman) and “servo” (a motor vehicle service station).

And then there are the slang words that pop up in emails and social media postings from my friends (“mates” is preferred) and relatives (sorry, rellos) in "Godzone" (Australia): There is “bowlo” (member of a lawn bowls club), “sando” (sandwich) and “trannie” (no longer a transistor radio; now a transexual). Also, a friend reported that their child had a "tantie" (tantrum).

I received an email from a friend who apologised for failing to "corro" recently. Corro? Yes, of course. That turned out to be the short form for "correspond". He told me that he had the builders in to do some "renos" (renovations).

I recently tore my hamstring in a fall. I received several sympathetic emails from Australian friends in which they referred to my "hammy". 

Finally, I should tell you about a recent email in which a women friend heaped praise on her “gynie”. No doubt, by now, you will have decoded this to be a reference to her gynaecologist.

And how did the Aussie accent come about? Here are some suggestions: 

Saturday 16 May 2015

Self publishing versus vanity publishing

I have now finished the draft of a thriller, yet to be finally named. Like my previous non-fiction book, God's Triangle, it will be self published, or indie published, if you prefer. There was a time not long ago when any self published book was considered a vanity project. Often it was a vanity project, of course, but sometimes it was just a book that was intended for limited distribution.

Things has changed dramatically in recent years. If some established and reputable publisher were to make me an attractive offer, I would consider it. Meantime, my book will already be out in the wide world and on sale, rather than sitting in some publisher's in-tray for months on end. Also, the marketing and everything else about the book will remain totally under my control.

The growth of self-publishing has, inevitably, resulted in a lot of unreadable rubbish being inflicted on the market -- mostly because of authors who arrogantly believe their work to be beyond improvement. Consequently, they publish it without seeking the opinion of potential readers (known as beta readers), let alone allowing their words to be professionally proofed and edited. But that is rapidly changing, not least because of the encouragement and growing power of independent publishing groups such as the Independent Alliance of Authors. This organisation encourages its authors to produce writing of the highest quality by getting their books properly proofed and edited. Some poor books will still slip through the net, but let's face it, there is a lot of literary trash out there that has gone through the traditional vetting and publishing route.

For more on the subject of self-publishing, go to this London Guardian article.

Friday 3 April 2015

The "evils" of dancing

Religions of many persuasions have had difficulties with dancing -- certainly the sort of dancing in which male and female made physical contact. Some religions have been ambivalent; others has been quite hostile. Even so, I was surprised at the intense animosity to dancing shown by my Gx3 uncle, the Rev. Francis W. Cox, one-time head of the Congregational Church in South Australia when it was still a British colony.

My surprise was because in many ways he was a radical clergyman and someone many decades ahead of his time. For instance, he was a great supporter of Aboriginal culture and did not believe that Australia's Aborigines should be forced to adopt British cultural ways. He also believed that state school education should be entirely secular, even to him opposing religious education classes and the placing of Christian bibles in school.

However, dancing was obviously another matter, as recounted in this extract on Dancing and Other Sins from Geoffrey Haydon Manning's out-of-print book A Colonial Experience - 1938-1910:

The Clergy Intervenes

In 1881 a youth hung himself 'under the influence of fear of detection of his peculations [theft] on his master's property' and it was alleged by Reverend F.W. Cox that 'the departure of this unhappy youth from the paths of rectitude was caused by his frequenting a dancing saloon in the neighbourhood.'  The same gentleman went on to describe some of the places of amusement:
    There is in North Adelaide occupied by men said to be of no repute, to which any girls can go free, the young men paying one shilling for admittance... In South Adelaide there is a house open to the lowest type of both sexes and several others are being opened in the city and suburbs.
He concluded a long epistle with a plea:
    Of what use are our efforts as ministers of the gospel, as Sunday school teachers, as instructors of the young, if hot-beds of vice are allowed to spring up and flourish among us? The sad story of the [suicidal youth], which made the hearts of many to bleed, is but the natural outcome of such places of unhallowed resort.
Another correspondent, under the pen name of 'Reform', cast aspersions upon the Globe Casino which he accused of being frequented by 'young men of the larrikin tribe', who discussed points as to partners in the dance 'in a most indecent manner.' The proprietor, Arthur F. Mills, took exception to the general tenor of both correspondents and said that 'it was detrimental to my character that such insinuations should be thrown out, as I know for a fact that only respectable young men and women visit our room.'
Further correspondence followed, some defending and others deprecating the existence of such establishments. Upon a careful perusal of the latter I found that they might fairly be divided into two classes - the one objecting to the existence of dancing saloons as inimical to the proper training of the youth of the present generation, and the other protesting more particularly against the gross indecency and the wrongful temptations to young people of both sexes, which were said to arise from the establishment of the saloons.
In what follows it must be understood that I do not attempt to deal in any way with the point raised by the former class of objectors. I do not propose to enter into any controversy as to whether public dancing saloons are not, under any circumstances, injurious to young people. My mission was carried out solely with a view of ascertaining whether there was a truth in the allegations that had already been made as to the improprieties which were supposed to be carried on at the saloons.
With this object I paid several visits to those saloons that were open to the public, and also attempted, but unsuccessfully, to gain admission to one or two which, if reports were true, were merely dancing brothels. As to the latter I have little to say. At one place I was refused admission and at the other, although I and my companion from the detective office, knocked a great many times, no notice was taken.
The room was lighted and the sound of music and of pattering feet showed, however, that dancing was going on within. There were no two opinions as to the desirability of closing places such as these. They were undoubtedly the cause of great evil. As to the women who attended these places, it could not be imagined that any of them were pure. Leaving those unsalutary places of resort I proceeded to visit the public dancing saloons - they were three in number.
I have since been told by a Baptist friend that some Baptist church halls in Australia had sloping floors so that they could not be used for dancing. She also told me that some Baptists in South Australia were once censored for attending an official ball to mark a visit by a member of the British royal family.

The Rev. Cox died in 1904 long before the invention of television, so I can only imagine what his reaction might have been if he had witnessed the deliberately-erotic and provocative performances on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing or its overseas franchised version Dancing with the Stars.

Finally an old joke: A conservative clergyman is preparing a young couple for their marriage and gets onto the subject of s-e-x. "One thing I should warn you against," he said. "Do not ever engage in love-making while in the standing position as this could lead to dancing."

Friday 6 March 2015

A political ambition thankfully unattained - UPDATED

The publicity about the Netflix remake of the political thriller "House of Cards reminded how much I enjoyed the original BBC series featuring my fine actor namesake, Ian Richardson. I was working at BBC Television Centre at the time and much of his fanmail came to my office without any indication whether it was for me or the actor until it was opened. I would forward the fanmail to the other Ian and we exchanged several friendly letters, although we never met.

Not ever having received fanmail in my own right (why the hell not?) I found some of the other Ian's mail amusing. My favourite was this one from a young man in Kent who thought Ian's character -- the evil, manipulated Francis Urquhart -- was a man to be admired:
"Ever since I was eleven years old I have been interested in Politics. The Character you play, Prime Minister Francis Urquhart, is I feel is quite excellent. I want to become Prime Minister when I grow up and it is your character that has given me added inspiration to go for my goal. I would be very greatful [sic] and most happy if you would perhaps send me your Autograph or perhaps a signed Photograph of yourself. I really admire you Mr Richardson as Francis Urquhart."
I have Googled the writer of the letter and I am happy to report that, so far at least, he has failed in his ambition to become a politician, let alone Prime Minister. Indeed, I can find no trace of him at all. He seems to have remained in well-deserved obscurity.

LATER ADDITION: After writing this post I was reminded that there was one other particularly amusing fanmail letter for Ian. It was from an American with the surname Urquhart and suggesting that he was probably related to Francis Urquhart. He seemed to be under the impression that the House of Cards was a documentary, rather than a work of total fiction.

Monday 2 March 2015

An above-Everage honour

Strewth! I'm a Dame Edna favourite!

Just before Christmas, I posted a fairly routine tweet about Dame Edna Everage appearing on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme. Now, after all this time, I get this message (see below). Can there be any greater honour for an Australian?

Top of Form
Back in the Dim Dark Ages (the 1970s) I used to freelance as the London correspondent for Australia's TV Week magazine. I got to know Barry Humphries a bit before he became seriously famous outside Australia. Sometimes when I would ring him, "Edna" would answer the phone and tell me that "Mr Humphries is busy just at the moment, but he will call you back as soon as he is free" -- and he would, returning the call as himself. 

We would sometimes chat about his Private Eye strip, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, and make up deliberately-crude Aussie sayings. One of these, I remember, was "Go stick your head up a dead bear's bum". 

On one occasion, at a social function in London, Barry/Edna agreed to do a radio interview (for 3AW, Melbourne, I think) and the only quiet place we could find was the men's toilet. Fortunately, no-one burst in on us during the interview, as there would have been a lot of explaining to do.

Barry never liked being interviewed as Edna unless dressed in character. However, on this occasion I remember that he was wearing a dinner jacket. I wish I still had that interview, but it was back in the days when 1/4" recording tape was expensive and was bulk erased after being broadcast. However, I still have a copy of one interesting (mostly serious) interview with Barry done in January 1970 before he became seriously famous.