Tuesday, December 26

A Christmas wish for Candy

The festive season started too soon. A fortnight of mawkish seasonal songs pouring out of the radio and filling the shopping malls – bah humbug, even a saint would become grumpy.

However, I'm lifted by the quiet elation that follows a win over writer's block. I'm moving through the autobiography of the novelist Kylie Tennant, convinced hers is a story which would fascinate today's readers, and a good subject for one of the essays in a website I hope to develop.

About 1950, this country schoolteacher's wife lived in the inner Sydney slums with prostitutes to gather material for a novel, and managed to be jailed in Long Bay for a week, making friends of the mattress workers sharing her dormitory.

As I read Kylie Tennant's story, the ABC radio beside my desk says a man has been charged with the murders of five prostitutes in England. I reflect that the British media have depicted the victims as ordinary women, albeit driven by drug habits. Does that reflect a shift in public attitudes to sex workers?

I remember a young woman with whom I enjoyed a chat early this year. She crept up as I sipped a beer in my favorite pub, and asked for a few dollars. A good hard luck story. Her husband had emptied her bank account. I reached into my pocket.

Candy – that's not her name, but if you've seen the film you'll get the picture – looked from side to side, leaned forward, and said: “Actually, what I really need is forty dollars, and I could make it worth your while.”

I could only stammer: “I'm almost seventy – I couldn't ...”

The change in her demeanour startled me. No longer a beggar, she had become the artisan confident of her skill. “I can get you up,” she said.

But where would we go? “You've got your car?” Well, no, actually, I rode my bicycle up to the pub. Candy thought for a moment, then asked:

"You know those old tennis club buildings over in the park?”

It was time to explain to Candy that commercial sex was unlikely to turn me on – and certainly not in the filth of a derelict squat. I expected her to move on, but she stayed and we chatted, moving to another bar so she could scrounge a light.

She insisted she'd completed a methadone program and was now clean. What about those tracks? – I'd never seen a woman with such badly scarred arms. They're old, she said. What about those blue bruises above your elbows? My husband did that when he hit me. (Later, a friend tells me such bruising can result from injecting methadone, a syrup which needs to be pushed in with a horse needle.)

I enjoyed our chat, and the unexpected rapport which developed. I liked Candy. And yes, I did offer to lend her forty bucks. There's no fool like an old fool.

I thought I'd seen both Candy and my forty bucks for the last time. I was right about the forty bucks, but wrong about Candy. About two weeks later she came in, looking for me.

She looked jittery. High perhaps, or hanging out for the next deal. “I'm going into the city,” she said. “I'm working tonight. Know what I mean?”

Oh, Candy. You told me you weren't using any more. “I'm not, but I've got a lot of bills to pay.”

But what of the danger? What if you get bashed, or killed? “It's all right. My husband comes too, and he takes down the car number plates.” And what good will that do if you go off with a psycho? I leave the question unasked.

As she leaves, I wonder why Candy went out of her way to tell me of the night's plans, and I believe she saw me as a friend, someone non-judgmental in whom she could confide. It was flattering, but I believed she was still using drugs. That, sadly, is a compelling reason not to develop a friendship.

Q. How do you know a heroin addict is a true friend?
A. They post you the pawn ticket so you can get your valuables back.

A few months later, I learn Candy is in jail. Is she coping? Candy might have street smarts, but can she handle the heavies inside? I decide to send a Christmas card, but I'm too late. She's been released. I've lost contact.

But I thought of her yesterday, as my wife Merry and I joined our children and their partners, and our grandchildren, in a happy Christmas picnic beside Lake Macquarie.

How did Candy spend Christmas? Is she drug-free at last, attempting to reconcile with the family who had given up on her? Or was she still in that sad line of zombie dolls on the kerb, enslaved by a master which allows no holy days?

If I have a Christmas wish, it's that one day soon a confident and attractive young woman will walk up. “Hi, remember me?” “Of course, Candy, how are you travelling?” This time, she'll be able to tell me the truth.

Sunday, December 24

Cassandra or Pollyanna

I've re-read last Saturday's post carefully, because I'm worried that a friend I trust feels I've become too negative (you may read her comments at the end of Saturday's post). I showed it to my wife Merry, too, and she agreed with my friend.

They have a point, when you count my relentless mockery of Prime Minister John Howard. Generally, I'll stand by what I wrote last time, although I do admit some of it was over the top, a little was mean-spirited, and worst of all, there was too much of it.

But hey, I'm talking about politicians. Robust disputation is part of their trade. They dish it out, and they expect to cop it.

I'm still sceptical about Malcolm Turnbull's claim that “the whole climate change phenomenon has informed and underpinned the policies of the Australian Government for more than a decade,” but in fairness, here's a link to an article he wrote for the Daily Telegraph on the matter.

Did I go over the top when I brought in a reference to 1984's Ministry of Truth? Of course, but this is a blog, not an academic treatise. Think of it as the text equivalent of a newspaper cartoon.

Nor do I think I'm unfair with my comments about Howard's laggardly conversion on climate change, and his parliamentary stumble on Tuesday did not surprise me. I believe political editor Peter Harcher's comments in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday back up my comments.

I guess I over-did it when I went on to mock Howard's ultimatum to George Dubya to charge David Hicks or release him. A more sober approach would be to analyse his commitment to the rule of law, given that Hicks is likely to have suffered more than six years of near-torture before he faces a military tribunal of dubious competence on dubious charges.

Oh dear, I'm still a bit negative. I promise to try harder. Shorter blogs, more wit, and some generosity.

Actually, I thought I'd been doing reasonably well, ending my last post about making fig jam, and before that a piece suggesting we should celebrate Orgy Day on February 6 instead of Australia Day on January 26, more about my fig tree, and a yarn about my encounter with a junkie prostitute whom I liked.

Should I be Pollyanna, the child in a 1913 novel who brought gladness wherever she went? Or should I continue to delude myself that I'm Cassandra from Greek mythology, with the gift of foreseeing the future, but also the curse that no-one will believe me?

Saturday, December 23

Thoughts while building a boat

Designer's sketch of sailing boat I'm building

Just colour the sails tan, and you'll know what to look out for in a few months on Brisbane Water, Broken Bay or Lake Macquarie. A designer's sketch of my boat.
A grab-bag of jottings today, thoughts I saved as I worked in my hot shed trying to complete a boat that's been years in the building. And it's not that big either. A largish dinghy, really, at 4.47 metres (or 14ft 8in for we oldtimers).

Old fashioned too, with a big standing lug mains'l and a triangular mizzen hanging out over the stern. With both sails tan coloured, it's going to attract attention wherever it's launched.

Cap't Flint is a stock design by Hobart naval architect Murray Isles, designed as an “adventure cruiser” for voyages in more open water. Looks safe for an old guy, even when single-handed. Younger fellows may even enjoy camping in it, as Murray intended.

I've already built one of Murray Isles's designs, a delightfully nippy sailing dinghy, but at 9ft 7in it gave me moments of terror when a stiff breeze swept across Lake Macquarie.
Building boats is fun, but Cap't Flint will be my last. My Scottish skin is becoming too allergic to the chemicals you mix to make epoxy resin.

Alas, it doesn't take long for a respected journalist, lawyer and merchant banker to sink into political life when he's elected to the Federal Parliament. Take Malcolm Turnbull, our new Environment Minister, quoted in this morning's Weekend Australian: “The whole climate change phenomenon has informed and underpinned the policies of the Australian Government for more than a decade.”

The truth, as Malcolm must well know, is that Prime Minister John Howard has denied evidence of climate change for a decade. A stubborn man who overestimates his own intellectual abilities, he listened only to those scientists who had the Quadrant Seal of Approval.

The result: We lost 10 years in which we could have been looking for ways to deal with the crisis.
Now we're looking at such measures as clean coal technologies, including geosequestration to bury carbon gases deep into the soil. The trouble is, there's at least eight to ten years' research before the technologies could be found to be viable. And we, thanks to John Howard, are just starting.

I think John Howard is in trouble with this in an election year. Even those dear old blue rinse ladies who still vote for that nice Mr Menzies are going to think twice about voting for a man who has helped leave a damaged world for their grandchildren.

Howard knows the danger, and as a taxpayer you may expect that millions of dollars of public funds will be expropriated for Liberal Party spin doctoring that Howard has been on top of the global warming issue right from the start. George Orwell's Ministry of Truth still in action, more than two decades after 1984.

It's a pity to see Malcolm Turnbull getting down to their level with such misinformation.

But then, he's the Republican who once wrote of Howard: "Whatever else he achieves, history will remember him for only one thing. He was the prime minister who broke a nation's heart. He was the man who made Australia keep a foreign queen."

A politician, unlike a leopard, must change spots to survive in the jungle. But surely, one can stop short of telling porkies.
Sorry Malcolm, you've lost me. Once I thought you'd be a great prime minister.

For some reason, the people in my household rolled about laughing and hooting tonight when John Howard came on TV to say: “I'm delighted to say that the charges have been laid and that the deadline I set has been met.”

Howard giving an ultimatum to the United States? “I demand you charge David Hicks or release him by February.” And the simpleton who happens to be the leader of the free world responding, “Of course, Old Buddy, I'll see to it right away. When was that election, again?”
Oh, pass the tissues. The comedy is just too much.

Sorry folks, more mockery of our beloved Prime Minister. “The tyranny of incrementalism and the lowest common denominator must end.” Goodness! What does that mean? Prime Minister John Howard's words to the National Press Club show he's got something momentous on his mind, like winning this year's election.

Still, there is merit in his plan for the Australian Government to take over management of the waters of the Murray Darling Basin, promising $10 billion to improve water efficiency and address the over-allocation of water in rural Australia. Provided it's not a non-core promise.

I don't suppose we can do anything about using taxpayers' money to buy back over-allocations of water from irrigation farmers. I've heard enough rumours over the years to suspect National Party ministers overruled public servants who advised against the over-allocations.

Perhaps we could send the buyback bill to the Nationals. Some hope!

And for those who heard the National Press Club speech, there was a real treat – you had to listen carefully, but John Howard came closer than ever before to admitting he'd been wrong in the past. Take a look at his speech, find the sentence “I regard myself as a climate change realist,” and read on. You'll have to read carefully, because this is a masterpiece of the spin doctor's art.

On Newcastle's NBN3 news, I watched NSW Opposition Leader Peter Whatzizname present the Liberals' $132 million plan to save the Central Coast from its desperate water crisis. And, as you'd expect, Whatzizname bitterly attacked the State Labor government for the mess we Central Coast residents find ourselves in.

But hey, surely much of the blame for the mess attaches to the Gosford City Council and the Wyong Shire Council, which jointly ran the Central Coast water supply as its dams dropped to around 13 per cent full.
It's been months since Central Coast residents have been able to use town water for any outdoor use – gardens, car-washing, pools, anything.

Perhaps that's why I didn't spot Liberal candidate Chris Holstein on the TV at Whatzizname's water policy launch. A prominent member of Gosford City Council, he might have faced some interesting questions.

Gosford Council members appear to have put more effort into resisting fluoridation than they did in making sure we actually had a water supply.
The fig tree saga continued as hot days brought on a bucketful of ripening figs at once. So it's out with my mother's old Golden Wattle cookbook, published way back between the wars as a textbook for WA schoolgirls and "to set before those taking up life in rural districts of the State simple directions for bread-making, jam and jelly making and fruit preserving, which will secure success at the outset." Simple enough even for me.
Later editions, from 1973, are a bit disappointing. They omit old recipes like cow heel jelly, and my childhood favorite, celery soup. But they've still got fig jam, and the result is marvellously thick, chunky and spreadable.
I'll email the recipe to anyone interested.

Wednesday, November 29

The kids we try to help

WE'RE gathered around a table in the high school library, the small group of volunteer tutors who help out once a week, and we're sharing sandwiches and a cuppa. As I join the conversation, I 'm also thinking about some of the kids we've helped – or tried to help – over the past few years. What will become of them?

There was one lad, three years older than his classmates, brought up by his grandparents because his parents were drug addicts. Both grandparents had just died, and I think he would have benefited from counselling.

I was disturbed it took a volunteer to discover his needs. Perhaps a chaplain would have helped. But why a chaplain? Why is the Prime Minister offering public schools $20,000 to hire chaplains?

Is it to break down the secular foundation of public education, which has served us so well? Or is it to raise the moral values of Australians? That would be a bit rich, coming from a leader who tells lies and scratches up xenophobia to achieve his ends.

And I know many of the kids I've tried to help will get regular Es on the compulsory A-to-E grading system to be introduced by prime ministerial diktat. For what purpose?

For my full diatribe, click to my grumpy old tutor page.

Monday, November 20

Now our fig is feeding more wildlife

Well folks, the sulphur-crested cockatoos haven't been back. You'll remember from a recent post how they flew away, screetching vile abuse at me, after I battled flu and rain to put a tent of bird netting over our heritage fig. Since then we've enjoyed three or four ripe figs a day, and there's many more to come.

But we're still sharing the crop. Blue-tongue lizards live under our house, and we've just found a big one inside the netting, munching away at unripe figs on very low branches.

We're not going to disturb any blue-tongues.

At their own pace, they find their way under the netting. Startled, they're likely to hit the net fighting. Disentangling a big, snapping blue-tongue from bird netting is one of life's more interesting experiences.

Anyway, they don't eat much.

Monday, November 13

A grumpy old pedant, perhaps?

Following that terrible shark attack in Western Australia, I winced many times as news reports said the unfortunate surfer had lost his leg. The surfer, of course, lost a leg. Or, if it was the case, his right leg.

Pedantic? Possibly. But I remember myself more than forty years ago, a bright young fellow from Perth taking a place at the legendary horseshoe-shaped sub-editors table of Sir Frank Packer's Daily Telegraph in Sydney. I was in awe of the veteran subs sitting around the table, and with reason. If I'd let "lost his leg" through in copy, they would have mocked me mercilessly.

Another lesson quickly learned was to recognise passive voice and shoot it down. The Daily Telegraph of those days banned it totally, a ruling attributed to a former editor, Brian Penton. Today, I still dislike "Smith was hit by a runaway truck," preferring the active voice, "A runaway truck hit Smith."

Any sub-editor of my vintage would strike out "onto", making it two words (although an authority like Fowler's Modern English Usage does allow one word in some cases). The News Ltd style book that I half-inched when I retired says simply: "The style is two words, but only one is usually needed."

Yet I notice the Sydney Morning Herald invariably uses "onto" these days. Perhaps that august journal has adopted one word as style. And perhaps there's another explanation.

About a year ago, the SMH offered generous redundancy to its older journalists, and many accepted. When the older guys quit, did the newspaper lose those people who knew the difference between "onto" and "on to"? Perhaps a consistent grammatical style, once an important part of a newspaper's presentation, has become too expensive.

Usage does change, of course, and newspapers have to keep up. A few years ago, "e-mail" was common; today that hyphen has disappeared, although it's often still to be seen in e-commerce.

Nobody quibbles at "media" and "data" as singular nouns these days. "The media is to blame" and "the data has been released."

Later, perhaps, this blogsite may discuss the way newspapers reflect changing English usage, and even whether they still play their former role in setting public standards of literacy.

Wednesday, November 1

A pit boy's progress

For some years, I've collected information about the noted unionist and coalfields historian Jim Comerford, a longtime resident of the Hunter coalfields town of Kurri Kurri, in the hope I could write some sort of biography.

Mr Comerford passed away on November 2, and I think it's worth republishing excerpts from an article he wrote for the union magazine Common Cause of September 27, 1997, seventy years after the day he went down the pit as a 14-year-old boy:

In August 1927 I was withdrawn from High School at the age 13. This blow was softened by an office boy's job at the Kurri Times, thanks to the recommendation of Mr J. Henry, Headmaster at Kurri Primary School. The job paid $1.50 a week.

I had dreams of a brilliant career as a journalist and writer. These were soon shattered when I arrived home from work at the Times on my 14th birthday. My father told me that I was to start the next day on afternoon shift at the Richmond Main coal mine.

Only strict parental control kept me from rebelling. There was a dread in me about coal mines. Too often we had gazed out of school windows as miners slowly marched by to bury their dead.

* * * * * *
My parents' decision to send me to work in the mine was driven by family hardship. We lived in a poor rented place. On the north side of town, a new home was being built for us. Richmond Main would pay me 78 cents a shift, against the Kurri Times's 30 cents. Every cent was needed to pay for that beaut new home.

So, on Wednesday 27 September, clad in black shirt, pit boots, old pants and a cloth cap, carrying my crib tin and water bottle, I was taken to the company train at Pelaw Main Colliery terminal. In its austere carriages were the 250 men and boys who would follow the 1000 men on day shift at “Baron” John Brown's super mine, Richmond Main.

* * * * * *
All that night the off face blokes came to talk to me. In their friendly way they explained what those underground workings were all about. So did my four wheelers as I opened and closed the doors for them.

Early in the shift I was startled by what I was sure was the sound of an explosion. But it was the face miners and shot firers at work.The powder fumes drifted back to mix with the other humid pit smells I was absorbing.

The worst experience that night was to see the axe-dismembered body of a dead pit horse being sent out of the stone drive.

Nobody called me by name. They called me “trapper”. Every child-worker on ventilating doors in the pits was called trapper.

By shift's end, this trapper, tired and dirty, had already changed from the fearful one who waited at the brace earlier that shift. The change was completed on pay day when I was led to the Stump cabin and impressed with the imperative about being a Union boy.

The photo shows Richmond Main as Jim Comerford would have seen it from the train:

photo shows Richmond Main as Jim Comerford would have seen it from the train

Jim Comerford remained a staunch unionist all his life – understandable for the son of a Scottish miner who brought his family to Australia in 1922 to escape victimisation on the East Fife field. From pit boy, Jim Comerford rose to be general secretary of the Miners' Federation, and he represented his union on overseas delegations and many government inquiries.

But he was more than a unionist. He typified what historian John Hirst has called the self-improving working class, involved in adult education and a wide range of welfare and cultural causes in the tightly knit mining communities.

I encountered his writing when I picked up Mines, Wines and People, published in 1979 by the Greater Cessnock City Council. In it, WS Parkes gave a detailed history of the landholders of 1821 to 1856 and Dr Max Lake offered a history of local wine-making.

For me, however, the section which stood out was Jim Comerford's account of the dramatic rise and decline of the South Maitland coalfield around Cessnock and Kurri Kurri, its disasters and disputes, and the social cohesion of its mining communities.

After the Mines, Wines and People section, he wrote Coal and Colonials.

In Mines, etc, he gave just over four pages to the coal industry's worst dispute, the lockout which began in March 1929 and ended 15 months later – a dispute which included the Rothbury riot, where police (Comerford is adamant it was police) shot dead the young miner Norman Brown and injured many others, some by gunfire and some by bashing. He said the lockout deserved a book to itself.

As a 16-year-old, Jim Comerford witnessed the Rothbury riot. And this year, three-quarters of a century later, he delivered that book – Lockout.

A lifetime Kurri resident, Mr Comerford seems not to have achieved much recognition outside the Hunter Valley. He did, however, receive an Order of Australia, as well as an honorary MA from the University of Newcastle for his lifetime of scholarship.

Perhaps it's drawing a long bow, but here's a thought – his father's ordering young Jim down the pit may have deprived Australia of a journalist, writer and historian who would have grown to the stature of C.E.W. Bean.

A recent check with ABE Books showed secondhand booksellers offering Mines, etc from $29.30 plus postage and a lone US seller with Coal and Colonials at $40.55. Lockout can be ordered from the CFMEU union (02 9267 1035) for $35 including postage.

Jim Comerford also gave a short reminiscence of his first day at Richmond Main in Beneath the Valley, a collection of mining stories, poems and memoirs published by Newcastle's Catchfire Press.

Richmond Main is preserved as a heritage site, and it's a great place for a family outing.

Monday, October 30

Expect the unpredictable

The posts above continue my initial venture into blogging. Where next? I wish I knew, but I do have some thoughts about future posts.

Sooner or later, I'll have to put up or shut up in my irreverent slagging of John Howard. Some time, I'll offer my assessment of where the Prime Minister falls short if he does indeed try to govern for all Australians. I hope I won't be branded a Howard-hater.

In a couple of months, it will be the 50th anniversary of my
starting as a cadet journalist with The West Australian in Perth. I've experienced the golden years of journalism , with the profession now under threat as print readership drops and the internet explodes.

I'm trying to develop some stories I've carried around in my briefcase for years. Some have been expanded from travel stories published in the Sydney Daily or Sunday Telegraph a few years ago. Subjects range from the Battle of Pinjarra to the life and work of novelist Kylie Tennant.

From time to time, we'll discuss books – largely older and less well known books which help us understand Australia's past.

Expect the unpredictable. This is a blog without fences

As you'd expect, I'm still experimenting. That may lead me to a different approach with length and frequency of posts, and may even lead me to try other blogging hosts. Bear with me.

Sunday, October 29

Wow! I am chuffed!

With my ineptness, I seem to have deleted my maiden post, which I had expected to turn up in archives. Never mind. Posting's an ephemeral sport, after all.

When I first posted, I emailed all my friends to tell them. As you do.

One came back almost immediately: “Congratulations . Well done. It's great! I'll make it essential reading for my students”.

And what do Suzanne Fleming's students study? Web design and creative writing!

Saturday, October 28

That's pretty big, eh?

In my email newsletter from the NSW State Library:

Few people realise the enormity of the State Library's ever expanding collections. More than five million items are housed in the seven floors below Macquarie Street. Hidden treasures continually come to light and new acquisitions are made every month.
Oh dear, there it is again. Another writer thinks enormity means enormous. It doesn't. It means monstrous wickedness, and once it was a word understood by most educated people.

Today, many don't, so it would be best to take it out of circulation, along with other misused words like disinterested and secreted.

I'd like to expand this list. Any offerings would be welcome. (I've already collected Senator Amanda Vanstone's “the Government is literally bending over backwards”, said on national television.)

You may enjoy this witty and erudite discussion on enormity by a "short, white, leftist feminist law professor" in LA.

Friday, October 13

A test in the nick of time

You don't usually thank your wife for nagging, but this year I'll make an exception. Merry saved my life when she kept at me to go for a prostate test.

Early results were inconclusive. I had a worryingly high level of PSA (prostate specific antigen) in the blood. Nobody could find a trace of a tumour, and I had no symptoms, so I was treated with antibiotics to get rid of possible infection.

The PSA stayed high, so my doctor sent me to a urologist. More tests, then a biopsy where he took lots of samples. They all came back clear, and Merry and I celebrated with a good wine.

But a couple of months later, a rise in the PSA reading to 95 set off another alarm, so it was back for another biopsy. This time a pathologist found one tiny tumour in one of the 18 samples taken by the urologist.

The bad news was that pathology showed the cancer was aggressive, and the rapid rise in PSA suggested a bigger tumour somewhere, perhaps hidden between the prostate and the bladder.

Next referral was to a radiation oncologist. His examination indicated swelling in the pelvic lymph nodes. Had the tumour already begun to metastasise, spreading into other parts of the pelvis? It seemed likely.

Then came almost miraculous news. I'd been put on a course of Androcur, a drug which stops the body producing testosterone. The aim was to shrivel the tumours so they'd be better targets for radiation treatment.

But the drug worked far better than that. My PSA plummeted from 96 to 2.4 – that's two-point-four – and imaging showed the tumours had shrunk so much they were almost indiscernable. It's likely I won't need radiation, and Androcur may keep the cancer suppressed for years to come. I'll know more when I'm next tested in February.

There is, of course, the obvious side-effect. And now, of course, I'm noticing the world is full of women with warm smiles and inviting eyes. Sigh.

The point of this post, apart from letting friends know how I'm going, is to note that in some cases, such as mine, there's only a small window of time between the earliest that detection is possible and the latest when treatment will be effective. A checkup by a doctor, who will continue to monitor any PSA abnormality, is good sense.

Merry's nagging meant my cancer was discovered within that window. Thanks, love.

And fellas, “be a man”. Don't worry about the doctor's finger. Actually, I found the procedure excruciating – not the finger, but the dreadful jokes my GP told to take my mind off what was going on.

Wednesday, October 11

Caution - this contains a free plug

E-books have been around for a while, but they have yet to overcome my scepticism about their usefulness to the general reader.

So I'd better step carefully here – Suzanne Fleming (pictured), who has given me valuable help from time to time and hopefully will do so again, has just taken on the task of Business Development Manager with the e-book publisher Globusz Publishing.

Suzanne is an irrepressible bundle of creative energy, and she's taking Globusz into new directions which probably will change my ideas. But let me explain some of my existing doubts.

First, it's going to be hard to shift established readers from books that pass from friend to friend, or can be borrowed free from the library. Books are comfortable and convenient, even if you do have to lug them around and remember to return them. Displayed on your bookshelves, they're a great way to boast of your erudition.

And look at my wife, Merry. She'll spend hours in an armchair, reading. But at a computer, back pain will cripple her before she manages a couple of emails.

Perhaps, one day, we'll solve the problem with a laptop or some other screen device which she can use in an armchair, but I think Merry will demand Foxtel satellite TV first.

I see plenty of niche markets for e-publishing – textbooks, manuals, travel guides, that sort of thing – but I wonder about general publishing, fiction and non-fiction. General book publishing is a fashion industry, with a market manipulated by platoons of PR ladies, celebrity interviews, reviewers, book prizes, writers' festivals and book signings, in-store promotions, and the rest of it. Big money stuff, all of it.

So how does an e-publisher compete as it signs up promising but unknown authors and develops their skills, at the same time building a trusted “brand” that keeps buyers returning and placing orders?

Here's where Suzanne's ideas look promising. Globusz will change focus from general e-publishing, moving to a writer's assessment model. It will invite the public to evaluate writers' works within a formal Star Rating system, and the highest rated authors will be put on a list to be sent to literary agents and publishing houses (which, to me, seems to acknowlege that writers hope to graduate from e-publishing to the "real thing").

I like the idea. Writers and readers should both feel involved in the business in a way which goes beyond commercial relationships. Indeed, I foresee a less formal online community developing, with more conversation between readers, writers and editors, to run alongside the Star Rating assessment model.

That would be in line with today's most exciting trends on the wider internet, where a combination of “Web 2.0” technologies and changing user expectations are breaking down many of the old ways of doing things. By old ways, I mean the ways we used the internet five years ago!

Also, I could see specialised communities, covering areas from avant-garde experimental writing to romantic fiction, forming within the wider Globusz community. All of this, it seems to me, should boost the demand for basic e-publishing of books.

If you'd like to see Suzanne's ideas taking shape, put www.globusz.com into your favorites list (yes, that's the free plug of which I warned). It might be a good address to pass on to any aspiring writers you know (another free plug!). Since I posted the material above, Suzanne has put up a blog where she invites readers to comment on her own work. This link will take you there.

Monday, October 9

A marketing exec's nightmare

It's the stuff of nightmares for any marketing manager . . . failing to deliver on a promotional offer that's been featured in prominent advertising all week.

The Sydney Morning Herald was still promising 50 recipe cards on December 16, as our illustration (taken from a Herald bought on the NSW Central Coast that day) shows. But when Central Coast newsagents opened their bundles, no cards could be found. In frantic calls to the SMH, they learned the offer applied only to the metropolitan area.

Why, then, promote it on the Central Coast, including the front-page splash shown above?

To fix the stuff-up, the Herald took the names of buyers and promised to post the cards out to them. It wasn't quick, because they had to see how many extra cards they had to print. [PS: The cards arrived in the mail on January 2.]