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In the bush outside Casino, musing on the vagaries of life, and human nature in general, accompanied by two bovine mums. The new calves are just out of the frame.

 Last week I went to Casino to celebrate the Melbourne Cup with friends. For those of you who don’t know about the Cup, it’s the foremost horse race in Australia; everything stops for it. I don’t know one horse from another, but it’s good to catch up with old friends and see what improvements they’ve made on their 240 acres since I was last there.

I had another reason to be glad I was in the bush for a few days: the first morning I was there I received an email from the POD designer – she’s holding my book to ransom until she receives the remainder of her fee. Which is not a lot, I might add. This is unusual in the industry, thank the Lord – the e book designer sent me 3 different versions of my novel and an invoice the next day with a month to pay.( I paid him 48 hours later – I have figured out how to use PayPal.)

The print book designer and I have had a rocky time (we were both starting out). So, as I say, I was happy I was among friends when I received the email confirming what I already suspected but couldn’t bring myself to believe.

My November deadline, has perforce, moved to 11 December — too late for anyone wanting to buy hard copies for Christmas, unless they’re prepared to ship the book using Amazon’s exorbitant Priority Paid option.

Along with the ultimatum, the designer gave me her bank details. Alas, I haven’t yet learned how to pay someone overseas in this way, where, I understand, certain extra bits of arcane information are required. It was on my To do list, but what with editing and proofing the novel, it got pushed to the back burner. Into the nearest town that has a branch of my bank, obtain a bank cheque, and send it by registered post. It will take at least 10 days to reach the US.

When the designer has received the money and sends me the POD version (hope hope hope), it would be madness to go to press without seeing the proof. (We’ve been though two, so far.) Even using Amazon’s priority paid shipping option, I will lose another 6 days. If there are formatting errors that require fixing, I wonder what happens then?

Even if the book is ready to go, and I sure hope it is, I will lose another six days while I wait for the last lot of print copies to arrive. In my youth, I would’ve lost a lot of sleep over this. Now I just chalk it up to the aforesaid vagaries of human nature and move the date to 11 December. Just to be on the safe side.

It’s a weird situation, and I have no feelings against the designer. It’s not her fault I haven’t yet conquered overseas internet banking. And she did have a hard time with me, I know that. Remember, I’m the one who didn’t even know how to save attached files forwarded to me as downloads. (I thought you saved them under View, and wondered why I couldn’t print or forward them to anyone.) In my defence, though, I had a bit of a hard time myself. When you’re both learning, these things happen.

Life’s funny, and far too short to waste a lot of emotion on a thing like this. It’s very small hiccup in the overall scheme of things. It’s even funny, if you can just see the humour. Fancy being so awful that someone felt driven to this measure. It’s a kind of distinction, I suppose, but one I could well do without.

Darth Vader image

Come over to the dark side, Luke, with me and Danielle de Valera.

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A former client of mine, Chris Shaw, recently sent me one of the short stories from his lately released book, My New Country, a collection of short stories about his experience as a newbie in the wild and woolly country of Australia. He also sent me a great page with photographs of the book’s cover, plus the blurb, a photograph of himself, and information on how and where to buy the book, which is available in both hard copy and e version.

Being digitally disadvantaged as I am, I find I am now unable to insert his material into this post.  I used to be able to do such things, but for some reason, totally unknown to me, when I try now, all I keep getting is a link – which is something, I suppose, and I should be grateful, but it’s not the same as having the cover right there, here and now, in front of you.

But, it’s the best I can do for the moment. I apologise to readers and also to Chris. The link for how to find and buy his book appears at the end of the story.
 

My First Drink in North Queensland

I came to Australia in 1973. Originally, I’m from Felixstowe in gentle East Anglia, but I had spent seven years in the Caribbean, prior to emigrating to this really big island.

I arrived with my Trinidadian wife and three-month-old son in Sydney International Airport, but we had already decided to settle in a northern beach suburb of Cairns, Queensland, mainly because of its similarity to the tropical environment of the West Indies. We flew there after a ten-day stopover in Brisbane.

In Cairns we secured the land, built the house and bought a successful business, thus taking on a twenty-year debt – as you do; or at least, as you did then.

The first drink I had in a pub in the area was in the Trinity Beach Hotel, a large corrugated iron shed, with floor-to-ceiling louvres to the east and the west of the building. It was sixty metres above sea level, on top of a hill overlooking the Coral Sea.

It was around noon, in February 1973. The temperature would have been 33+ degrees Celsius, with humidity hovering around 90 per cent. The sea was flat calm, as blue as an advertisement, and dotted with green islands. Bougainvillea and frangipani blossoms tumbled down the hill below me.

The bloke on the next stool to me swivelled around.

‘G’day, mate’, he said. ‘Haven’t seen you in here before.’ No question mark was needed, but it was a question.

‘Nah, mate. New chum; just arrived,’ I said, desperately hoping he didn’t pick the falseness of my accent. ‘Can I get you a beer?’

‘Yeah, thanks. What do you do?’

‘Me, mate? Pharmacist. What about you?’

‘Surveyor. Been doing some work with my team in Papua New Guinea, up in the Highlands. Of course, there’s not a hell of a lot of law and order in those villages. We came on a situation not so long ago, where a white missionary was fooling around with the young boys and girls in one particular village. The head man of this village was very worried and came to talk to us about it.’

‘What’d you do?’ I asked.

‘We killed the bastard, of course.’

‘Seriously?’ My eyebrows hovered near my hairline, along with my voice.

‘Yup. Only thing to do under the circumstances. Think about it: a long, drawn-out, expensive court case with lawyers and all that flying in from Australia, and the family travelling all the way to Port Moresby? Children giving that sort of evidence? Nah! Would’ve brought huge shame on the families, and they couldn’t have paid for it, anyway. So, we told the head man we’d take care of it.’

I just had to ask him. ‘What did you do with the body?’

‘Dropped it into a septic tank, mate. Ten days, no evidence, see. Can I get you another drink, mate?’

So this was Australia. Bloody hell, this is a rough country! I’d better keep my eyes wide open, but, by God, I loved the sensation of this cutting-edge, pioneering stuff!

A1 sheet for My New Country book

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Janet leigh

For those of you who might be wondering where I’ve been these last ten weeks, I’ve been investigating Indie publishing, particularly the publishing of Print on Demand (POD) books with CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. Those ten weeks have been most illuminating, and I thought I might share my discoveries with you. If you’ve already published a POD book, stop reading now, I won’t have anything new to tell you. If you haven’t, gird your loins, and read on.

For most writers, the journey into indie publishing follows a certain pattern. First, we have:

1.   The Sylvan Glades of Writing the Novel, where the Wellsprings of Hope bubble to cheer the fiction writer on his/her way. The writer thinks the going is tough, but they ain’t seen nothing yet. Emerging from this glade, the writer who chooses to indie publish must traverse:

2.   The Desert of the Last Copy-edit, a fearsome place littered with the bones of writers who didn’t know what they were doing with commas. Crawling out of this desert, writers encounter:

3.   The Fork in the Track, where the writer must decide whether to do only an e book (much cheaper, and easier on the nerves), or to take their courage in hand and rapell into:

4.   The Dizzying POD Chasm. Should the writer choose to do only an e book, Nos 6-10 will still apply, but they will, to some extent, avoid:

5.   The Slough of Despond, where the writer realises that s/he must either format the print book themselves or pay someone else to do it. Even if they decide to pay someone, as I did, they will still have to traverse:

6.   The Forest of Dread, where they must choose two categories for their novel. A great deal is riding on their choice, especially the novel’s findability. Having negotiated this forest, and there is no way around it, the writer comes to:

7.   The Hill of Bewilderment, where s/he must choose seven keywords which Amazon buyers might (the operative word here is might) use to discover the writer’s novel — again, very important for the novel’s findability. After this, they arrive at:

8.   The Lakes of Confusion, where they must set a price for their beloved novel and try to understand Amazon’s royalties system, e.g. a $9.99 price for a 250 page, standard-size paperback will yield the writer US $2.14. What happened to that 70% (or even 35%) we heard so much about? If, after this, the men in white haven’t taken our writer away, s/he must then cross:

9.   The Bridge of Tears, where, if s/he is a non-US resident, s/he must attempt to prevent the US Internal Revenue from taking 30% of his or her earnings. To do this, she must do battle with monsters ITIN, W-7 and W-8 BEN, go on a quest for a Notary (cross his palm with silver) and also find the elusive Apostille, without which the writer will continue to pay the dreaded 30%. Finally, the writer comes to:

10.   The Well of Disappointment, which s/he quaffs while contemplating the novel’s sales figures. If you think I’m being unnecessarily gloomy here, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords says that, for most writers, the average number of e books sold per title is 100.

What does all this mean? In a nutshell it means that the average indie writer/producer of a POD book will be flat out getting their money back. There are hidden costs to producing a POD book that exist regardless of whether the newbie writer outsources, or designs the cover and interior themselves.

In the meantime, I’m camped on the Hill of Bewilderment, right next to the Lakes of Confusion, having taken over a week to negotiate the Forest of Dread with nothing but a hurricane lamp to guide me.  While camping out and enjoying the sights, it occurred to me that I might be able to do some good by devoting one post to each of the steps I’ve described above, so that newbie writers will at least know what lies in store for them.

Forewarned is forearmed. So they say.

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http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00991SMHY

I first met Allan Lloyd in Mullumbimby, way back in the 1980s, when I worked as a volunteer with his first wife Diana; we were trying to obtain a government grant for housing for people with a mental illness in Byron Shire.

In 1994, when I returned from a 2-year stint in Sydney, Allan gave me a ms called The Case to look at. I was immediately struck by his edgy take on life and his clean writing. Now he’s produced an ebook entitled Peace & Love and All That Crap, which has even more of the same.

I’ve always been interested in how authors come to write their novels, so I asked Allan to give me a little rundown on the genesis of his book. Here is what he said:

 

Peace & Love & All That Crap came out of a scriptwriting workshop I was invited to attend in the late 1990s, having had my first film script shortlisted for development funding (albeit unsuccessfully) by what is now known as Screen Queensland. For the workshop, I had to write a treatment and the first thirty-or-so minutes of a new script.

Some relevant personal background: I’d spent much of my life as a walking dichotomy – a left-leaning quasi-hippy working as a freelance advertising copywriter. Talk about a conflict of interests.

And a flashback: Years before, I’d seen a TV news segment showing people protesting about the planned demolition of part of their seen-better-days suburb by dressing themselves in cardboard cartons painted as buildings and being knocked over for the camera by one of their number representing the demolition process. At the time, it had occurred to me that if they’d really wanted to be taken seriously by the general public, they should’ve presented as regular citizens rather than weirdos nobody would want to live next door to.

I based my new film script around that one observation. Drawing on my own advertising background, and people I’d known while living in Mullumbimby, I came up with the idea of a bunch of ageing hippies hiring a cynical public relations expert to help them mount a PR campaign to save a pristine nature sanctuary from private development. The twist was that nobody would take the hippies seriously unless they compromised their principles and faked mainstream credibility.

This script was shortlisted for development funding (again, unsuccessfully) by the Australia Film Commission (subsequently Screen Australia), and then ignored by the Australian film industry. So okay, I figured, if I could write a pretty good unproduced screenplay, it oughta be a snack to turn it into a pretty good unpublished novel.

It was harder than I’d expected. Ninety-odd pages of dialogue needed a narrative. And I wanted that narrative to be in the third-person voice and sounding like the hero’s inner voice, yet not mirroring the style or structure of his spoken dialogue. It took me forever to find what I thought worked and allowed me to have that third-person narrative reacting to the opposing attitudes of the hippy characters the hero has to deal with.

On the upside, the ‘novel’ form gave me room to explore what I’ve found to be a certain integrity and idealism intrinsic to the hippy lifestyle, and contrast it against the delusions and hypocrisy so prevalent in contemporary ‘straight’ society. It also allowed me to include encapsulated back stories for many of the characters, which I believe added extra texture to the story and reading experience. Certain plot elements of the film script, including the ending, rewrote themselves along the way.

When it came to getting published, despite a damn good letter and synopsis (I’m an advertising copywriter, remember) I couldn’t interest a single agent in reading the entire manuscript. The ‘first fifty pages’ highlighted my hero’s unsympathetic qualities without the hippies getting a look in, while the ‘any fifty pages’ option meant that the story’s episodic development became difficult to appreciate.

Did it deserve to find a publisher? I’m the last person to ask. Danielle would say I should’ve had it professionally assessed, and she’d be right. As it was, my partner is an astute reader and often confrontational critic, and she provided perceptive feedback whether I liked it or not. But frankly, I’d had a few years of fun writing it, was by then maybe not mad about any potential hard yards of revision, and in retrospect I think that even my attempts at interesting agents were arguably more about ‘that’s what you do next’ rather than any real personal need to actually see a book published.

So Peace & Love & All That Crap sat around for a few years until I recently decided to self-publish it for Kindle. At the token price I’m asking, I’ll never make any real money out of it even if it sells, but that’s not why I’ve put it out there.

I just figure it’s better read than dead.

Allan Lloyd

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I had a funny experience the other day: I’d gone to the pathologist for my annual blood test, which required fasting – always a stressful time for me. I’d been fasting for 14 hours by the time I came out of the pathologist’s. As I was maundering, a bit light headed, through the shopping centre afterwards, I noticed the weighing machine.

The machine and I are friends. We have a date, once a fortnight. It was only five days since our last tryst, but there it stood, and I thought: Wot-the-hell, it won’t hurt to weigh myself again. I tend to put on weight in winter. It was mid-winter now, and I like to keep an eye on things.

I fished out a dollar coin and stood on the machine, which informed me that I was four pounds lighter than I’d been five days ago. Four pounds lighter! For an instant, I was jubilant, but then I began to have doubts: Four pounds in five days — in the middle of winter? Not likely. I wandered away, thinking that, with my low blood sugar, perhaps I’d read the numbers wrongly.

I really was feeling a bit strange. I went into the coffee shop and wolfed down a cappucchino and a large piece of banana bread with butter. That should do it, I thought. Then I read the local paper for a while, to give my body time to catch up; but I couldn’t really concentrate on who had just grown the biggest pumpkin in Goonellabah. I was still brooding about the weighing machine, and how I couldn’t possibly have been four pound lighter.

Out with another coin. I returned to the machine. This time it told me I was five pounds lighter. Five pounds! But I’d been four lighter, twenty minutes ago. Dearie me. I began to do the math. One pound in twenty minutes was three pounds an hour.

I was fading away. At this rate, I’d be lucky to last two days.

The banana bread, plus the sugar I’d put in my coffee, still hadn’t kicked in. I made it to a bench in the shopping centre and sat down. Two days. I’d never get my e-book out in that time; I was only up to page 82 of Mark Coker’s Smashwords Guide, and I hadn’t even opened the How To Kindle book. I’d never get the sequel finished, and I’d never get to see my daughter, who was arriving at the end of August.

Biochemistry’s a wonderful thing. After about ten minutes of this, my blood sugar finally decided to get the message, and kicked in. With this came the realisation that there must be something wrong with the weighing machine. I went into the chemist shop and reported it. Bad machine, to have let me down in my hour of need.

Waiting for the bus that would take me home, I was struck by how beautiful everything looked — the trees, the sky, even the shopping centre’s crappy banners flying in the wind. And I thought: Reminders of mortality are a good thing.

Nothing <i>too</i> big, mind you. Just something small that can be fixed with a cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread.

Danielle de Valera
twitter.com#!/de_valera

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To be honest, I’m pretty damaged; I guess I’ll recover eventually. For 10 days, eight of us, friends from way-back university days toured New Zealand, lurching from meal to meal (we’re old, yn’kow) across the country — watch for my e-book: NZ Picnic Spots I Have Known. After a while, I grew tired and tended to crouch in the back of the minivan, whimpering, when we made yet another stop. But I never complained. Not even when I slipped on the insane tiling of the Hundertwasser Toilets, now a major tourist attraction for Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nor did I complain about my experience in the Old Rotorua Bath House, now a museum, where I was underground inspecting the pipes that once brought in the healing waters when the information film showing unknown to me in the theatre above my head, reached the point where it depicted the 1896 earthquake, complete with sound effects, floor tremors and rocking furniture. (The patrons’ seats actually rock up and down, side-to-side.) There were no warning signs underground about the film. As my girlfriend and I fled the scene with our hair on end, I couldn’t help wondering how many tourists were lost to heart attacks while down there inspecting the pipes.

Yep, NZ is exciting. We dislodged retinas on the bungee jump and lost two of our number on the 8-Hour Redwood Epic Walk; but the Inflatable Rubber Hamster Wheel pleased all. Rotorua’s Perorming Sheep were, however, a disappointment. The corps de ballet lacked cohesion, the leading ewe kept falling off her points, and the costumes were uninspired. Top marks to the company, though, for enthusiasm, and the combined Southdown-Border Leicester choir was impressive.

Meanwhile, back in South Golden Beach the cats had devised various schemes to torment their conscientious keeper. The old cat was a challenge, as always — her profession, really. Worse was the young cat’s decision not to walk on the bedroom floor while I was away — some kind of cat oblation to the gods? Who knows. I’m told he leapt from shelves to ledges and pieces of furniture, never once touching the carpet, causing my friend to wonder what horror might be concealed somewhere on the floor of the bedroom she was sleeping in. (He’s the cat who brings in the snakes.) All in all, both cats had a good time, but I wonder about my friend, who never once told me later ‘what a lovely time’ she’d had.

Seriously, if you are in the North Island, a must-see is the Princes Gate Hotel in Rotorua — a beautiful, ornate timber 2-storey building built in 1897, which served a fabulous, 2-course Early Bird dinner for NZ$29.95, the Rotorua Museum (but give the underground pipes a miss unless you like to live dangerously), and the Waterfront Fish & Chip Restaurant (BYO) at Mangonui.

I rounded off my adventures with a 3-hour languish in the Gold Coast airport when the shuttle bus I’d booked failed to appear and I had to wait for another with no money left but the price of a cup of coffee. New Agers would say I attracted this experience with my fear of airports. As long as they don’t say it to my face, they’ll survive.

And so it’s back to my reclusive lifestyle. As the song says: ‘It’s very nice to go travelling, But it’s oh so nice to come home.’

If anyone out there reading this is intending to travel – have fun. I did.

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Is there anyone out there who feels the way I do about travel?  Surely I’m not alone in this. There must be a few other people who, no matter how alluring the prospect, find themselves thinking: I’d rather stay at home.

‘Are you excited?’ friends ask me when I tell them I have to go to New Zealand next Saturday for ten days — that’s my phrase: I HAVE to go away, as if I’ve been dragooned into the situation. ‘No,’ I tell them, ‘I’d rather stay at home.’ ‘You’ll enjoy it when you get there,’ they say gamely.

Maybe.

Already the burn back’s begun – what if someone slips a bag of dope into my luggage before I go through customs?  Most worrying of all is the trauma my cats are going to go through. (Note to Cat Lovers—Not: I’ve owned more dogs in my lifetime than cats, but the fence around my current home’s no good, so it’s cats these days.)

I tell myself that travel will be good for me. But I can’t seem to convince me.

The part I hate most is not the plane trip — I don’t mind the idea of dying if it’s quick. It’s the airport. I picture myself wandering lost forever around the endless corridors they always seem to have, like the character in the old Kingston Trio song, ‘But did he ever return? No, he never returned, And his fate is still unlearned …’

The fact that the Gold Coast airport isn’t big, and the cheap, pedal-driven airline I’ve chosen to fly with is little more than a hangar with no corridors doesn’t seem to make any difference. So there weren’t any corridors last time. There could be corridors this time. Well, there could be …

I’ve got a kindly, live-in babysitter for the cats; I couldn’t have gone otherwise. But they’ll still be traumatised because I hardly ever go anywhere, and they’re not used to it. I imagine the old cat living up the paper bark ti tree in the back yard the whole time, drinking dew off the leaves, sneaking in at night to snatch a few mouthfuls of food as death from malnutrition approaches. And I know the young cat will pine — when I went to Brisbane for five days in 2010, my formerly handsome, upstanding cat was a wreck when I returned.

Still, there’s nothing for it but to go. My ticket’s paid, my bags stand ready to be packed. I’m leaving on a jet plane and, like the song says, I hate to go.

Some people love to travel.

Not me.

Is anyone else out there a home body?

Danielle de Valera,  Australian author, editor & manuscript assessor since 1992

http://www.ecademy.com/account.php?userid=danielledevalera

@ de_valera

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