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 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.]