(A poem triggered by a comment from my late mother that people who weren’t there didn’t understand what it was like to live through WWII)
They do not know,
those who came after,
how the bugle call sounded
and the men went away;
when ration cards sold
in back streets of the city
and meat cost as much
as a decent week’s pay.
They do not know,
those with buds in their ears,
how we listened to rumours
of invasion to come;
how we lived with anxiety,
with gossip and blackouts,
and ran for the shelters
but refused to succumb.
They do not know,
those folk on high salaries,
how we once had sweet fun
on minimal pay
in the arms of young soldiers
at dances and parties
knowing the foe
was just islands away.
They do not know,
the punters and brokers,
how we bet on the future
with our wounded and dead;
not knowing if lovers
would ever come back,
not knowing if there were
more dark days ahead.
They do not know,
those planning grand houses,
that there was a time
we had hopes and dreams too;
but our visions were clouded
by tears for the dying;
the best we could pray was
we’d all see it through.
They do not know,
those who came after,
of that unreal existence
when nothing was sure,
or why we still yearn
for missed fun and laughter:
those who grew up
when the world was at war.
Copyright Darryl Dymock 2021
*Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”. It is observed on 25 April each year, the anniversary of the landing of Australian, New Zealand and British troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.
A few weeks back I posted an interview with Fiona Stager, co-owner of Avid Reader bookshop in West End, Brisbane, Australia. You might remember how strongly engaged Avid Reader is with its community, both locally and online. So I thought you might like this recent post from Fiona, from the bookshop website:
“This Saturday 3 October we celebrate Love Your Bookshop Day which was created by the Australian Booksellers Association to celebrate bookshops across the country and highlight what makes local bookshops great. There will be facebook events, online events and giveaways galore.
Here at Avid Reader we have decided this year to rename it Love Our Customers Day! This is a chance for us to thank you for your continued support of our bookshops during this very uncertain time.
We have been overwhelmed with the many acts of kindness shown to us since March. An example is customers John and Jo who acted as our free couriers to 4005 and 4006 postcodes. Many people said it was the highlight of their day to receive a parcel and have a friendly chat with them.
We had orders from across Australia from family and old friends and concerned customers. Authors and publishers have also given us so much support. Along with an understanding and supportive landlord we have survived!
We thank you for everything you have done to support us.
Happy Love Our Customers Day,
I hope that message makes you feel good as we continue to stutter through extraordinary times.
If, like me, your senses respond to the feel and smell of books in a bookshop, you’ll like Avid Reader.
This award-winning independent bookstore has been in the high street at West End in Brisbane for 22 years and has firmly established itself in the local community. In recent years they’ve spun off a successful children’s bookshop next door: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.
But the past few months of 2020 have been tough for storefront bookshops, and I recently talked to co-owner Fiona Stager about how Avid Reader has coped. This is an edited version of that telephone conversation. It first appeared on the guest blogger page at Margaret River Press in August 2020.
First I asked Fiona about changes she’d seen in publishing in the past two decades. You can listen to her response in this audio clip.
The developments Fiona mentions in that audio clip were of course all before a certain pandemic swept across the world and turned many businesses upside down, including bookshops.
I asked Fiona how Avid Reader had responded to the constraints of Covid-19 measures. You can hear her reply in this audio clip.
Despite the limitations of Zoom-based events, Fiona says they will continue with them after the current restrictions have gone:
Using Zoom has really allowed us to engage with a much wider audience. Each time we’ve done a Zoom there’s been an interesting story that’s come out of it. After our first Zoom event we did a survey: ‘I’ve always wanted to come to your events but I live in Western Australia’; ‘I used to come to all your events but now I’ve moved out of Brisbane and with Zoom I can come to all your events.’
Fiona has also moved all her book clubs to Zoom. But despite the geographically expanded audience, she says that sales are down compared to walk-in events. With an in-store book launch, for example, people often not only buy that book, but they also browse the shelves, and pick up other books that appeal to them on the spur of the moment. Nevertheless, Fiona says they will continue with Zoom even when face-to-face events restart because they know it does reach people beyond the immediately reachable community:
For any number of reasons people can’t come to the shop, but we’ve built such a strong reputation that people jumped at the chance of coming to Zoom events. It’s really opened up the world for us. It also means we can curate our program to even finer detail. So we’ve been able to match the best interviewer for the author, and they don’t have to be in the same city. For example one author was in Melbourne and the interviewer was in Sydney.
‘An ecosystem of small business’
Fiona actively fosters a sense of community, not only among the bookshop’s clients, but also among local businesses. She says that after such a long time in West End, she sees Avid Reader as an ‘anchor tenant’ which relies on other small businesses but has an obligation to them as well:
I made a commitment to our staff, our publishers and writers that we would be here after this [the Covid-19 shutdown]. But also I was really committed to being here for other businesses around us. It’s an important ecosystem of small business, that we all really need each other. That’s something I’m really passionate about.
And there’s been unexpected spin-off from the constraints:
I must say I’ve never been so pleased to be near a chemist. I’ve always thought it was important to be near good retailers, like a good shoe shop, good fashion, good food, a good bakery … . But now, I think it’s been really great to have been close to a chemist. People come out and go to the chemist for something, and then they come to us because the chemist is right next door.
Clearly Fiona is always on the lookout for ways her own business can survive alongside and with the other retailers in West End. But as a bookshop, Avid Reader faces particular challenges at this time.
I asked Fiona about her predictions for the future of publishing and book-selling in Australia in the coming months. You can hear her response here:
Fiona added that in the emerging sales climate, not all the books released later in the year will make it. And that’s got nothing to do with the quality of the books, she says, but to the fact that they’re ‘competing for everything from our shelf space to media and what will get coverage and traction.’
As for Avid Reader itself, I asked Fiona how she was feeling about the bookshop’s future in the midst of this uncertainty. You can listen to her prognosis here:
Fiona’s response is the experienced and pragmatic voice of someone who’s been in the book trade for more than 20 years. It’s clear she sees some hurdles and unknowns ahead. As with the spread of the pandemic itself, retail businesses are in uncharted territory, with a compass we’re all learning to use as we go along.
Nevertheless, in the midst of predictions of retail gloom and doom, and her struggles to maintain a solid client base, Fiona maintains a pro-active and optimistic outlook. Not that she hasn’t had her doubts. ‘At one stage I was just too stressed to read anything,’ she told me. ‘But now I’ve got myself out of that hole.’
So, with the stock of a whole bookshop to choose from, what does Fiona like to read?
I read mostly new fiction. I read a little bit of non-fiction. It will often depend if I’m being any kind of book judge – if I’m judging a literary award, I will read fiction, non-fiction, children’s books as well, and a little bit of young adult.
You’ve probably realised by now that Avid Reader is not only a bookshop but a dynamic part of its local community. We need all the publishing outlets our pockets can sustain, and power to them, but independent bookshops seem to have a special place in our communities, whether you visit them in person or online. And at the end of the year, you might think of Fiona’s prediction that for authors, publishers and booksellers alike, ‘it will depend how Christmas goes’.
Until next time
In the next blog, I’ll bring you another perspective on writing and publishing: a video interview with a key figure in editing.
I’m chuffed that a Haiku I entered in an international Covid-19 Lockdown competition run by Fish Publishing in Ireland made the shortlist (although it didn’t win):
There were 1436 entries for the Haiku, Poetry and Pocket Prose categories and the competition raised the equivalent of around AU$7000 for OXFAM’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal.
Haiku is a Japanese form of short poetry comprising exactly 17 syllables. It’s normally written in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five, but the competition sponsors indicated that on this occasion they would be flexible about the structure.
Technically, in Japanese literature, Haiku tend to be about nature, while a similar short form, Senryū, is more about human foibles.
Morning mist, Tamar River, Tasmania
Here’s another Haiku I wrote, on a similar theme:
only druggies and astronauts
were spaced out
Until next time
What writers say:
The shadow deepens at the edges of the scene. I hope we come out of it all the wiser.
I have written in an earlier blog about how I occasionally resort to writing parts of a story by hand when it starts to become bogged down. Not so much writer’s block as uncreativity. In other words, it sounds boring.
So I was interested to see the results of a survey of 2000 people undertaken by a Deakin University (Australia) researcher in conjunction with the retail firm Officeworks, which found that those who handwrite their thoughts and feelings were two and half times more likely to experience relief from anxiety, fear and worry than those who use a keyboard for the same purpose.
I don’t know that I’ve noticed any improved emotional level in myself, but I do think that the kinaesthetics involved in writing by hand do help to stimulate my creativity (eventually anyway!).
I often find that, when handwriting, I cross out bits, put arrows up and down to show where text might best belong, and write notes or queries to myself in the margin to help guide my second effort when I go back to the keyboard. It can look pretty messy.
I know that technically I could do the same things on my laptop or my tablet, but the scribbling and scrawling by hand seems to free up my thinking.
That second effort, at the keyboard, then becomes an editing process because I invariably change what I handwrote, hopefully for the better.
I understand J K Rowling writes her novels by hand first. I wonder if she feels relief from anxiety, fear and worry when she’s finished? Richer in some way, at any rate 🙂
Papa Hemingway on writing
The American novelist Ernest Hemingway (often called ‘Papa’ by those who knew him) once said he wrote thirty different endings to A farewell to arms. He told this to a distinguished Australian journalist and war correspondent, Alan Moorehead, when the two met in Italy in 1949.
In a biography of Moorehead by Thornton McCamish (Black Inc, 2016), the Australian writer says: ‘I do not know how [Hemingway] talked to other people, but with me he talked books, always of writing, and with the humility and doubt of a writer who reads for five hours or so every day, and who writes and rewrites for as long as his brain will work, knowing that it is only by a miracle that he will ever achieve a phrase, even a word, that will correspond to the vision in his mind.’
Fellow writers will know the feeling about getting it right. But how many of us read for five hours a day? And produce 30 different endings?
In a recent critique of Hemingway’s writing (Yale University Press, 2015), the Australian-born author and literary critic, Clive James, praised the American’s early novels but suggested that Hemingway’s later work was ‘ruined’. James said that Hemingway, ‘having noticed how the narrative charm of a seemingly objective style would put a gloss on reality automatically, he habitually stood on the accelerator instead of the brake. … He overstated even the understatements.’
Lesson: Don’t overdo it.
Until next time
What writers say:
Finally you get to an age when a book’s power to make you think becomes the first thing you notice about it. You can practically sense that power when you pick it up.
To misquote a well-known saying, the road to publication is paved with good intentions.
I certainly had good intentions about maintaining this blog more regularly this year.
My excuse is that I have been too busy doing other things, including quite a lot of writing.
And I am delighted to tell you that one of those writing efforts has been rewarded with publication:
My non-fiction book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, will be published by Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, on 1st September, 2016.
Here’s the back cover blurb:
‘Two years isn’t a long time in your life, but at age 20 it can be significant.
Between 1966 and 1973, while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam, some 300 conscripted teachers were quietly posted to Papua New Guinea. Colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, their task was to raise the educational level of troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence.
Drawing on the recollections of more than 70 of those National Servicemen, Dr Darryl Dymock, a former Chalkie, tells the story of how these young teachers responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves, in an exotic land on Australia’s doorstep. It’s a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told with flair and insight against the background of political developments of the day.’
Papua New Guinea flag
Major-General Michael Jeffery, a former Australian Governor-General, and an Army officer in PNG twice during the Chalkies’ time there, has kindly contributed a foreword.
The book can be ordered from Avid Bookshop, Brisbane at a special pre-publication price.
The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence
Darryl R Dymock
Australian Scholarly Publishing
Publication date: 1st September 2016
Pre-publication offer: $35 if ordered from Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, by 31st August 2016 (RRP: $39.95)
Regular readers of this column will know that I recently wrote a book about working into later life, Extending your use-by date. Strange as it may seem, the theme of the book is linked to a recent change of policy in China. That country’s government has recently announced the end of its controversial one-child policy. Couples will now be allowed to have two children.
The reason for the Chinese Government’s reversal of policy is not a sudden concern to meet parents’ wishes, but because it has finally realised it needs to do something drastic to address the ageing of the population and the lack of young people coming through to replace them in the workforce.
This is not a problem only for China. According to the United Nations, the proportion of the world’s population aged 60 years or over was 12 per cent in 2013, and is expected to reach 21 per cent in 2050. The spread is uneven, however, with the least developed nations less affected.
Examples from developing economies include: Singapore: by 2030, one in five citizens is likely to be 65 and above as compared to one in nine in 2015; UK: in the next five years, the total population is forecast to rise by 3%, but the numbers aged over 65 are expected to increase by 12%; USA: by 2060, the numbers of older people is forecast to reach about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2013.
In Australia, the proportion of Australians over the age of 65 is around 13%. In the next 40 years or so that figure is expected to almost double to about a quarter of the population – around eight million people. At the same time, the birth rate is declining.
For China and Australia and other developed countries, one issue is that there will be fewer people in the workforce, which has implications for both maintaining productivity and for the amount of revenue raised through taxation.
An ageing population will also potentially place heavier demands on health services and, in countries that provide government pensions for their citizens, on the welfare budget.
That is why some countries, including Australia, the UK, and France, have announced an increase in the retirement age, i.e. the age at which such a pension becomes payable.
Keeping older people in the workforce is therefore arguably something to aim for, especially as people are now living longer, and hence potentially capable of continuing to work.
The potential benefits are that the level of productivity is maintained, taxes are still being collected, and older workers have more money in their pockets, and are arguably more content with their lot. I say ‘arguably’ because some people hate their jobs or have health issues and just can’t wait to retire.
Here there comes the hitch, the fly in the ointment, the snag, the unexpected obstacle: age discrimination.
In the same week that China announced the repeal of its one-child policy, an Australian report revealed that a Government scheme to encourage employers to take on older workers had been a flop.
Introduced in 2014, the Restart scheme offered employers $10,000 over two years to employ people over 50, who had been unemployed and on income support for at least six months. The intention was to jack up the Australian mature-age workforce by 32,000 every year but, according to the New Daily, the actual number was 2318, around 7% of the target.
The $ amount was never enough to entice employers over a two-year period, and from November 1 the Government has reduced the period to 12 months, but not increased the figure to employers.
The real stumbling block, however, is not the money, it’s employer (and social) attitudes. Older people consistently find it difficult if not impossible, to be re-employed after leaving work voluntarily or through a redundancy.
This is despite the mounting evidence that people are capable of learning and training into older age, and that they have built up skills and knowledge that can contribute significantly to an organisation’s well-being.
This is not an issue only in Australia. The Huffington Post reported that a Georgia Institute of Technology review of the U.S. government’s 2014 Displaced Worker Survey found that someone 50 years or older is likely to be unemployed for almost six weeks longer than someone between the ages of 30 and 49, and close to eleven weeks longer than people between the ages of 20 and 29.
The study also discovered that the odds of being re-employed decrease by 2.6 percent for each one-year increase in age.
In Australia, the Human Rights Commission found that more than a quarter of 2000 workers surveyed said they had been discriminated against because of their age.
So, although the workforce is ageing, older people are living longer (and staying heathier too), and the proportion of younger people is declining, it’s still tough for older people to get back into work once they’ve left it, because of employer and societal attitudes.
The big question is: will those attitudes change in the face of a changing population age profile, and of the potential for productivity and hence the standard of living to drop because those older workers who want to work are being denied the opportunity?
Until next time
What writers say:
Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver
The Queensland Writers Centre and the publisher, Hachette Australia, recently announced the successful applicants for their 2015 joint Manuscript Development Program, now in its ninth year. They are:
Patricia Holland’s literary fiction manuscript ‘Lochwall’ (QLD) Victoria Carless’ literary fiction manuscript, ‘The Dream Walker’ (QLD) Wendy Davies’ romance manuscript, ‘The Drover’s Rest’ (VIC) Susan Pearson’s historical crime thriller manuscript, ‘River is a Strong Brown God’ (QLD) Mary-Ellen Stringer’s contemporary literary fiction manuscript, ‘A Beggar’s Garden’ (QLD) Angella Whitton’s contemporary fiction manuscript, ‘The Night River’ (NSW) Kali Napier’s historical fiction manuscript, ‘The Songs of All Poets’ (QLD) Susan Fox’s commercial women’s fiction manuscript, ‘Mine’ (VIC) Imbi Neeme’s divorce lit manuscript, ‘The Hidden Drawer’ (VIC).
I remember the excitement I felt when my name appeared on that list in 2010 for my non-fiction manuscript of the story of the Australian trail-blazing aviator, Bert Hinkler, which was published by Hachette Australia three years later as Hustling Hinkler. I also remember the anxiety I felt as I realised I had to polish my work to the highest standard for publication, and then submit it to public scrutiny.
Dawn Barker’s book, ‘Fractured’, was chosen for the Manuscript Development Program in 2010, and later published by Hachette.
From the experience of writers selected for the Manuscript Development Program in the past, not all the authors on the list above will see their books published by Hachette. Some will go on to other publishers; some may not make it to the point of publication, for various reasons.
Whatever the final outcome, selection in itself is an acknowledgment that the writer stands out from the crowd, and has something special to offer. So that alone is an encouragement in an industry where ‘getting a start’ is tough.
I know a writer whose application was unsuccessful this year, and I know how much work she put into the manuscript and how she drew on professional advice to help her shape her story. Even though she missed out on selection, this author is not giving up – she has a back-up plan to seek publication in other ways.
Some of the readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite quotes about writing is from the late science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov:
‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’
Read, and think, and listen to silence
I’ve been reading a biography of an author who won four Miles Franklin Awards*: Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather by Karen Lamb (University of Queensland Press, 2015), and came across this advice from the distinguished Australian author, Patrick White (1912 -1990), to Astley in 1961:
‘I think you should write nothing for a bit. Read. … Read, and think, and listen to silence, shell the peas, not racing to begin the next chapter, but concentrating on the work in had until you know what it is to be a pea … Then, when you have become solid, you will write the kind of book you ought to write.’ (p. 137)
Fire on the horizon
I was recently in Adelaide, South Australia, taking to ex-Chalkies about Army Education in Papua New Guinea (see previous blogs) and couldn’t resist taking this pic of the jetty at Glenelg around 8 o’clock on a Saturday night.
Until next time
*The Miles Franklin Award award, now worth AU$50,000, was bequeathed by the will of Australian novelist, Miles Franklin, for a ‘published novel or play portraying Australian life in any of its phases’. All entries for the award must have been published in the previous calendar year.
The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF 2015) is over for another year. I was fortunate to be able to get to a couple of the sessions on the Thursday and Friday – a masterclass with US short story writer, Kelly Link, and another with researcher and biographer, Karen Lamb.
Kelly Link introduced us to The Family Arcana: A Story in Cards by Jedediah Berry. It’s described as ‘a story about a haunted family, published as a poker deck and written to be read an infinite number of ways’. Kelly’s deftness in shuffling this pack indicated either that she spent her childhood in Las Vegas or that she has a fall-back position if she ever tires of writing. One member of the masterclass asked her about the appropriate length of a short story. Kelly said she’d recently written a 14,000-word story, and one of her writing colleagues consequently suggested it
Author Kelly Link
was time she thought about writing a novel…
I bought a copy of Kelly’s latest book of short stories, Get in trouble(Text Publishing, 2015), and when she signed it she warned me that the stories had ‘pretty weird endings’. I’m looking forward to reading it.
I have a few things in common with Karen Lamb – she’s a researcher and biographer, she teaches at a university in Brisbane, and she likes structure in her teaching. So she had a timetable for the masterclass. The value of the class for me was that it gave me new insights into my current draft about the ‘Chalkies’ in Papua New Guinea 1966-73 (see previous blog). Also, Karen mentioned a book by an American writer, the intriguingly named Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer (Harper Collins, 2006), described as ‘A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them’, which could be worth a look. I bought a copy of Karen’s biography, Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather(University of Queensland Press, 2015), because I’m interested to see how she wrote it, and I also like supporting fellow writers as well as an independent bookshop (State Library of Queensland).
There were other potentially fascinating sessions at BWF, but apart from having family commitments over the weekend, I also reach a point at such events where I need to get back to my own writing rather than continue to hear other writers talk about theirs. I strongly support the adage that the best thing a writer can do is write! As a long-time educator as well as writer, I believe external input, whether through writers’ festivals, self-help guides or online tips, can be very helpful, especially if it’s timely, but it can also be an excuse for procrastination.
Mary Norris is a copy-editor at the well-known The New Yorker magazine, which publishes news stories, short stories, essays, cartoons, poetry, etc, and includes an audience well outside its host city. It’s also well-known, if not notorious, for its rigorous copy-editing, and Mary Norris is one of the enforcers.
This non-fiction book is part memoir, part discussion of points of punctuation and grammar, often humourously expressed, and sometimes self-deprecating. Nevertheless, there are clearly standards of English expression to be upheld, and Ms Norris shows she believes has a responsibility as a standard-bearer. She does not brook the use of dangling participles, for example, once objecting to this construction from an author: ‘Over tea in the greenhouse, her mood turned dark’, and she rejects outright the use of ‘their’ in place of ‘his and/or her’. Mary Norris also uses only No. 2 pencils for hard-copy editing and if someone accidentally leaves a No. 1 pencil on her desk and she picks it up, she knows immediately it is not hers, and throws it in her desk drawer. Part of her story is about being able to find a reliable supply of No. 2 pencils. You get the picture.
In between, the author gives us a fascinating insight into the backrooms of The New Yorker and her fellow editors, including Lu, who ‘patrolled the halls like a prison warden’. On Lu’s desk sat a small canister she called a ‘comma shaker’, to express her distaste for what she saw as The New Yorker’s over-use of commas.
Between you and me: Confessions of a comma queen is an enjoyable read, and some of Mary Norris’s punctuation examples are guaranteed to provoke discussion among people who care about the use of language. I just hope she doesn’t run her No. 2 pencil over my blog.