Do We Still Get Satire?

Someone (an American) said to me, the other day, that Americans no longer perceived or understood satire. He asked whether it was the same in Australia and I had to pause…

Do we?

My god do I even get satire?

I bloody well hope so because I’ve just published a satirical novel and have another coming out next year!

So what exactly is satire?

My own definition is that satire holds a mirror up to society, often by portraying an issue to the point of extreme absurdity (thus causing the reader to reflect upon that targeted issue in real life). Two of the earliest novels (Gulliver’s Travels and Don Quixote) are satirical – attacking aspects of their societies that didn’t make sense to the authors – Cervantes through the portrayal of a noble buffoon tilting at windmills, and Swift through the portrayal of Gulliver (an educated “everyman”) as a giant, and then as a tiny chap among the Brobdingnagians (and others) – skewering the pointlessness of religious and political distinctions and rivalries as he went.

Is satire funny?

Sometimes, but it’s usually a wry style of humour – raising an eyebrow or half a smile when the reader perceives the target. Catch 22 is one of the more famous modern(ish) satires – pointing out the absurdity of war by portraying those who wage it as ridiculous. There are many laugh-out-loud moments in Catch 22 – I frequently quote the bit where Yossarian is walking the eerie streets of Rome at night and sees a sign saying: “Tony’s Restaurant, fine food and drink. Keep Out.”

Compare that with a book published just a few years earlier and also satirising war. Lord of the Flies is not funny at all – it’s a harrowing book, on one level about the cruelty of children when allowed to lose their socialisation on a desert island. But on a deeper level, the book (published at the height of the Cold War) is arguably about the sovereignty of nations who can’t get along. (The boys are being evacuated from a war zone as the story opens.)

To get back to my original question – do people get satire anymore? When was the last truly famous satire? The Truman Show maybe? Dexter? I’m wracking my brains to think of anything since, and if people aren’t presented with satire they will never learn to recognise (or appreciate) it.

I was recently involved in an online conversation about Lord of the Flies and all people could talk about was the cruelty. They didn’t like the book because they didn’t believe children would really behave like that.

I was pulling my figurative hair out because the cruelty is not the point! The cruelty is just a vehicle for the message – that people can lose their socialisation when no longer compelled by a higher authority to behave. But is that all the book is saying?

This has always been the fundamental issue with international law. There is no higher sovereign entity to compel good behaviour so nations must negotiate their own (inevitably) unequal relationships, and when those negotiations fail, war is often the result. I always saw the island as representative of the earth with Ralph and Jack as superpowers of waxing and waning power as the others cluster about their leadership. Piggy stands for the last vestiges of civilised behaviour and decency, hence the call to arms: Kill the Pig!

Of course the cruelty continues all the time. Empire building, ganging up and exploitation of the weak is cruel. It’s happened forever and the First World has tended to be the main beneficiary over the centuries. That’s exactly why we see China behaving so assertively these days. They’ve been treated very badly by the West in the past (Opium Wars, anyone?) and they’re not going to let it happen again.

Anyway, back to my point. The people taking part in that Flies debate did not get the satire. Could it be that they were too young to remember the Cold War? Or is it more that we have lost our ability to perceive subtext in literature – that everything is taken at face value and that’s it.

I suspect the latter, and if so, what does that say about our community if we no longer get satire?

It means a society that is no longer capable of seeing its own flaws – that cannot laugh at itself – that does not get the joke – that takes itself far too seriously.

Is that what we’ve become?

In these days of heightened sensitivity over every fucking issue under the sun, I’d say that’s exactly what has happened. Of course, some people will say that as an educated, white, middle aged, First World male, I’m part of the problem. My lamenting the death of satire is really just me bemoaning my incremental loss of relevance and power.

Probably.

Everyone is reclaiming their own personal sovereignty, which is fine, but it’s happening at the expense of satire, subtlety, subtext and (some would say) sanity. It feels like there’s a massive correction happening across the world both within and beyond countries, cultures and subcultures. This inevitably means the disruption of existing arrangements and privileges – which more often than not is a good thing, but we’ve seen before how revolutions tend to breed new bosses – same as the old bosses.

Ironically, it was the identification and skewering of inequality and injustice that satire was invented to achieve. So if satire is dead, maybe we just don’t need it anymore, because the inequality and injustice has become way too obvious.

That has to be a good thing (that we can see the injustice and do something about it), but it won’t help me sell my satirical books…

When Does Sex Become Sexual Assault?

This is a really difficult topic to write about.

That doesn’t mean it should not be written about. It’s just that attitudes (and experience) are so diverse that anyone venturing an opinion is very likely to be hated by at least a subset of readers, no matter how sensitive and tasteful they try to be.

So why am I even dipping a toe into this murky and dangerous pond?

Because this morning an American reviewer of my new book Welcome to Ord City, after giving it a massive thumbs up, left this postscript:

A trigger warning for some folks, there is sex in this book and it is not always consensual – this bit seems to be glossed over [by] the characters but these acts would be considered sexual assault.

I was stunned.

Then I was defensive.

Then I was just plain horrified. So many beta readers and editors have read the book and not one of them suggested that some people might find any of the (handful of fairly mild) sex scenes problematic.

I then calmed down a little and mentally reviewed the various scenes – trying to get some insight into what I’d done. I even engaged my legal brain and considered the defining elements of sexual assault under Australian law.

They more or less boil down to this: sex becomes sexual assault when one party becomes aware that the other party is not (or no longer) consenting, but continues anyway.

I can absolutely guarantee, hand on heart, that this never happens in Ord City. I could go through each scene and give a careful analysis as to why whatever happens is not non-consensual but that would give too much away. (My sex scenes always have an impact on the plot – see previous post: How to Write an Excellent Bonking Scene.)

Yes, there are a couple of complex, ambiguous moments, but that’s what makes them interesting. Now I am agonising over the possibility that some people might think I’ve put non-consensual sex into a book – which I would never do (unless there were to be very severe consequences).

I guess this, to some extent, comes down to different laws and cultural sensitivities. Until today, the book had only been read by Australians and no-one had the slightest issue with it. But as we speak, Ord City is being read by reviewers all over the world and maybe some of them will think I’ve sailed too close to the line.

There’s nothing I can do now. The ebook’s out and the paperback will hit the shelves next week. I can’t change it, but neither do I want to change it. I know there’s no non-consenting sex in the book but once a book is out there an author loses control. The audience make what they will of it and that’s it. (In fact, I contacted the reviewer and thanked her for her very thoughtful review.)

But, there is an edge to my writing, which is why you’ll always find a few one star reviews on goodreads sprinkled through the raving fours and fives. I expect the same again with Welcome to Ord City but I sincerely hope I don’t get called worse than Hitler.

Not again.






The New Deal: An Inter-generational Treaty?

I have an idea to help Australia.

I daresay it would work in other first world countries also but it would definitely work here, and the idea is a very simple one.

All people over 60 should be encouraged to retire.

Strongly encouraged – with major tax and social security incentives.

This will benefit everyone – especially the young.

* * *

I’m now at the age where friends and colleagues are starting to retire (or are at least talking about it).

Those who aren’t ready to retire are mainly concerned that they won’t have enough money. After all, how much is enough? Especially when you can no longer easily get another job if your circumstances change (or live a lot longer than you expected to).

The current situation, of course, is massively complicated by the COVID19 problem. The future is so uncertain that people who were contemplating retirement are putting it off – not least as they have suddenly realised that rental and other investment income is no longer as safe as they thought.

That may seem fair enough, but the hardest impact of older people staying in the workforce is the loss of opportunities for the following generations.

That really needs to change.

An entire generation is in danger of missing out on the sort of careers my generation took for granted. In my day you got a free education and moved seamlessly into a well paid professional job.

No longer. These days, after years of study and ratcheting student debt, graduates face a Darwinian Struggle just to land an unpaid internship. Graduate placements are like hen’s teeth and it’s mainly because people are no longer retiring at 65 as they routinely did in the past. They’re staying on, having accrued massive salaries and other benefits which, quite understandably, they are loath to relinquish.

This keeps the younger people below them marking time in mid-career when they ought to be moving to the senior ranks, and the youngest of all don’t get the early career opportunities that my generation expected as a matter of course.

This has all sorts of implications beyond just the personal. Our entire work/social infrastructure is delayed because people aren’t getting the skills and experience they need when they are best equipped to benefit and grow. That means our entire economy is stunted and less equipped to compete on the world stage.

And it will get worse. If we are not producing the people we need to power our future economy and run our infrastructure, who else will do it?

Are we to become tenants in our own country, having sold out to overseas interests rather than develop our own?

And what becomes of the unused generation?

Increasingly resentful of the baby boomers who stole their careers, they will not be earning enough to pay the tax needed to fund our declining years and will be disinclined to provide the basic services we will need.

We have a powerful incentive to make sure this never happens – the carrot of retirement plus the stick of a dysfunctional community in which a happy retirement will be unlikely except for the super-wealthy. (And how could even they be happy amid so much communal unhappiness?)

So, how do we encourage the over-60s into retirement so that everyone else can move up a rung and the youngest can finally get a foot onto the ladder?

We dispel the fear of retirement by guaranteeing (or at least maximising) retirement income opportunities. The government needs to restore the full value of the superannuation system established by Paul Keating to enable more people to fund their own retirement.

That will certainly help but other tax incentives (not to work beyond 60) should also be on the table.

There should also be a pension for all retired Australians over 60 which is means tested to cut out at about the $60k mark (retirement income).

These measures will be expensive but nowhere near as expensive as wasting a generation which receives more in welfare than it pays in tax. Providing opportunities for the young is a double winner because it increases tax revenue at the same time as decreasing welfare payments.

A triple winner, in fact, because it reduces mental health problems and other dysfunction to create a happier community in which people like me can enjoy retirement…one day. (Ahem)

My comments are most relevant for the corporate/professional world. There will be other sectors of work which will need older people to stay longer (especially in the VET sector) but perhaps there could be other incentives (eg teaching supplements for people happy to train those needed skills).

There are any number of details to work out but the basic principle is nothing less than a treaty between the generations. Instead of hogging the opportunities for ourselves, we should be stepping aside to let the young ones step up.

And in return they will maintain a community in which we can comfortably retire…or transition into full time writing.

Ahem.

 

Fighting Man Press: Into the Unknown

Readers of this blog will be keenly aware that, whenever I’m not shouting my mouth off about everything under the sun, I am otherwise engaged in the most subversive, sad and futile activity known to humankind.

That’s right, I am the lowest form of life – a writer of fiction.

* * *

What drives a person to spend (literally) thousands of hours in lonely rooms, tapping their life away, while the rest of the world continues in its oblivious orbit?

Because that is the reality. One in a thousand writers is commercially published and only one in a thousand of those is successful enough to make their living from it. The odds, therefore, are a million to one against.

Every year it gets harder, but still people keep trying.

Why?

No doubt, there are any number of reasons. For many it is simply a hobby – an artistic pursuit to be enjoyed for its own sake – and that is part of my own motivation. I could no more not write than not breathe. (Ahem)

But when you’ve done it long enough to feel you’re moving up the rungs of the craft ladder, you want some feedback. It gets to the point where you just can’t go on without an audience.

Having an audience means getting published – which in one sense has never been harder. Book stores, distributors and publishers were closing down in droves long before COVID 19 inspired another generation of dystopian, post-apocalyptic scribblers.

Yet, in another sense, it’s never been easier, and that is where I now find myself – about to take a dive into the vast ocean of independent (ie, self) publishing.

* * *

Self publishing – now commonly known as independent publishing – used to have a very bad name, and no-one who wanted to be taken seriously would ever dip a toe into that murky pond.

Because let’s face it, there is a lot of dross out there.

Or is there?

It has certainly been a common perception that most (if not all) indie books are terrible. They were rejected by proper publishers, so they must be terrible, right?

To return to that original statistic – one in a thousand manuscripts gets picked up by commercial trade publishers – does that truly mean that the other 999 were terrible?

There are all sorts of reasons for rejecting manuscripts – the main one being that there is only so much room in any publishing program and most of it is already taken up by contractual commitments to existing authors within the stable.

With most publishers so focused on the bottom line these days – and there being so much pressure on the bottom line from other sources such as book shops wanting more, distributors wanting more, readers wanting to pay less, how much margin is left for new voices trying to break through?

Almost none, which means for those novelists who really are worthy of scratching their mark on the zeitgeist, there is only one possible avenue.

* * *

Having had four books commercially published to significant critical acclaim (two of them making it into the airport bookstores), you’d think it wouldn’t be hard for me to find publishers for my new work.

I can hardly even get them read.

In fact, my next novel – my masterpiece, no less – was accepted by a mid-sized Australian publisher, to my great excitement. They were the biggest publisher I’d had so far and had a good reputation for quality and promoting their authors. Their books win awards! With the profile of the publisher and the quality of the work (as I see it) I thought I’d finally broken through.

Imagine then my devastation when the publisher contacted me to say they were in trouble and were cancelling everything in the pipeline? (And if they’re in trouble, then god help the rest.)

I’m still getting over it.

But that’s when I made the decision to create my own imprint.

It is a bold move and an expensive move, but I am encouraged by the fact that the publishing industry has evolved to the point that independent publishing is no longer a by-word for crap. There are any number of success stories – indeed, Amazon and goodreads are chockers with independent authors who’ve developed enough of a reputation to make a living from writing.

I’d go even further and suggest that – given the super-conservative approach that publishers now take (certainly in Australia) – that the only place to find interesting new voices is in independent publishing. I know there are now armies of readers looking for something genuinely new so am greatly encouraged by that thought.

Welcome to Ord City is way too good to let wither on the vine, so I have to get it out there. No matter how hard…no matter the cost.

To that end, I’ve created my own imprint – Fighting Man Press. Ord City will be the first book published under that imprint but I need your help. I am appealing to anyone who has enjoyed my work in the past to take a look at Welcome to Ord City – and if you enjoy it – really enjoy it – then tell people about it. Review it on Amazon or goodreads. Tell your friends. Tell everyone!

I know I’m asking a lot. This is a grubby appeal of the type I’ve never made before but my new venture will fail unless enough people act as my advocates to push the book hard enough to reach critical mass – to take off under its own power.

Obviously it won’t do that if it’s not good enough in the first place, but I’m betting it is good enough and I’m spending my own money to get it out there in the hope that readers who enjoy my work will want others to discover it also.

Here are three suggested responses to my impassioned plea for your support. Feel free to post any of them onto this page:

• Adrian, I love your books and will do my best to help Welcome to Ord City be successful.
• I am appalled that a writer of your so-called ability would stoop to such grubby depths in search of a lousy dollar.
• I am completely indifferent to everything you do or say.

I just know I’m going to be seeing that third bullet point a lot, but at least that means they’ve read this far!

Don’t Judge a Book…

Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, and sometimes they’d be right.

The truth is that the publishing industry is obsessed with covers because a person wandering through a bookstore or library must be engaged if your story is to live. You’ve got one chance to grab their attention, and unless that person has come specifically looking for your book, the best way of claiming their attention is through an arresting cover.

So what makes an arresting cover?

There’d be any number of PhDs written on the semiotics of book covers, but fundamentally it needs to be somehow relevant to the story. It needs to – on some level – arouse the sensibilities of the reader. It needs to give the reader (even if only vaguely) some sense of what the book is about.

There is quite a range of possibility, depending on the story and its target market. A subtle psychological drama can get away with something blandly symbolic, whereas any kind of action novel needs to get to the point immediately. If your book is about self-aware, war-mongering robots, you can’t have a cover featuring a woman staring off into bucolic distance – even if the woman is a robot. Your readers will want something just a tad more explicit.

On the other hand, if your story is a dynastic history spanning several generations of ordinary people coping with the gentle vicissitudes of famine, flood, inheritance, politics and distant war, you would be wise to avoid a whole bunch of exploding robots on your cover.

Just imagine the reviews on Goodreads:

I thought this book would be about exploding robots but it was a costume drama set in the nineteenth century and by page 87, only three robots were mentioned and only one exploded. DNF.”

That sort of review is death so I can’t emphasise enough the need for cover integrity…which is totally a thing.

So, bearing all of that in mind, what do I have to say about my own new cover?

Welcome to Ord City has an amazing cover. It is designed to look like a retro postcard – welcoming the reader to a nice holiday location – but the reality is that Ord City is not a nice place. It is very far from being a nice place, but refugees have been welcomed there by an opaque government representing a divided community. Are refugees welcome or not?

Then there are the colours – eye-catching for sure. I defy anyone to see it in a bookstore or library and not automatically reach for it. There is a crocodile, and yes…there are crocodiles in the story (although not as apparently welcoming as the one on the cover).

There is also a gumtree which lets everyone know this is an Australian story, even though the subtext is equally relevant to any country where the issue of refugees divides the community.

There is also a quote from Pauline Wright on the cover. Pauline is President of the Law Council of Australia and one of the smartest people I know. If she says the book is astute and riveting, who shall dare oppose her?

I couldn’t be happier with the cover so congratulations to Lucy Barker who is an accomplished visual and installation artist. I am privileged to have her as a cover designer and recommend her services to anyone who wants their book to really stand out amid the savage Darwinian struggle of the bookstore.

Or library.

I only hope you all believe the story’s just as good.









 

 

Profound Evil, or First World Problem?

Some of you will regard this story as utterly outrageous.

Others may perceive it as just another First World Problem…yawn.

My wife (the wonderful Kazzie) and I have an investment property in Sydney. A few months ago, we learned that the tenant was not living in the unit but was renting it out as an Air BnB. This was absolutely not allowed under the lease (nor the property by-laws).

Our first instinct was to evict the tenant immediately, but upon being contacted he swore he did not know such behaviour was illegal and promised (cross his heart) not to do it again.

Against our better judgment, we allowed the tenant to stay.

A week ago, we attended at the apartment for a routine inspection and our suspicions were aroused immediately. There were a number of indications that the property was not being used by a couple – as per the tenancy agreement. The main indicator being four beds stuffed into a one bedroom apartment.

Then the clincher. Sitting on a shelf, in plain view, was a Retail Tenancy Agreement executed by our tenant – as landlord – covering the period from March to August – with two strangers signing the lease as tenants.

The rent our tenant was charging these strangers was slightly more than double what we were charging him.

This is fraud.

It is fraud to pretend to be a landlord for premises which you do not own or have agreement in writing from the owner to sublet.

That much ought to be fairly clear. And yet, when we said to our property manager that we wanted the tenant evicted immediately, she said we couldn’t do it. What’s more, she contacted the Real Estate Institute (REI) who told her we could not evict the tenant due to the new COVID 19 provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act (NSW).

On what bizarro world planet is this reasonable?

I told the property manager that there were exceptions to the COVID protections, including that an eviction notice can be issued where it is reasonable to do so, including where premises have been used for an illegal purpose (such as fraud).

On top of that, surely the COVID protections are to protect people actually staying at the premises – to keep a roof over their heads during a period of hardship.

Our tenant is not staying at the premises! He has illegally and fraudulently sublet the premises to others (possibly four others in a one bedroom flat) and yet the advice of the Real Estate Institute is that he cannot be evicted in less than 90 days!

How on earth can that advice be correct?

I know that the Residential Tenancies Act (especially during the COVID crisis) is heavily geared towards the rights of tenants. I have no problem with that.

But I have a massive problem with legislation that rewards fraud!

Is the government seriously telling me that our tenant is allowed to commit fraud and that, if he does, they will protect him?

That can’t possibly be right and yet it is the advice of both our property manager and the Real Estate Institute.

As I said at the start, some will not give a rat’s about my First World Problem, but if you agree that this situation is utterly ridiculous – even a complete abdication of judgment and reason by the state government (OR the Real Estate Institute), then please share this story and tell the idiots in charge what you think.









Is Australia a Racist Country?

I have asked this question my entire adult life.

And with the Black Lives Matter movement being the equal biggest topic on the planet today, it seems apposite to ask the question again?

Are we racist?

It’s a complicated question with a complicated answer, so I’ll try my best to be honest (as a middle-aged, white male) and express what I really believe to be my own position.

YES, I am racist to the extent that I recognise people of other races being different from me.

NO, I am not racist to the extent that the difference, although I can’t help but acknowledge it, does not matter to me.

Of course, the issues are far more complex than just that, but I suspect my top-of-head response to my own question would be the same for more than 50% of mainstream Australia.

Now for the complexity…

We live in a really lucky country.

Australia has only a teensy population by world standards (25 million) but we’re the 12th or 13th biggest economy. That’s a huge amount of money being shared by only a very privileged few. Sure, many Australians don’t feel wealthy, but if you’ve got a job in Australia – any job – you would comfortably make it into the top 0.4% of wealth on the planet.

Holidays are your right. International travel is possible for you. You enjoy leisure time, political rights, free medical care (of the highest quality there is), ease and freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom to be rich (if you earn it). You can have a car, you can buy a house (or at least rent a really good one), you are connected to the internet, watch movies and sport on your television, have clean water, longevity and can boldly walk the streets at night in comparative safety.

Unless you’re indigenous.

The plight of our Aboriginal men, women and children is a disgrace. We all know it, but we don’t deal with it – not enough of us.

That’s why we shrug our shoulders and let the status quo continue. Our First Nation people are massively unemployed, uneducated, unsupported, under-resourced, over-represented in the prison population, ghetto communities, bad health and death statistics and generally non-existent as a middle class.

That’s why I think we’re a racist country because we all know about this, but we don’t take the hard decisions to redress the imbalance of 250 years.

Certainly we’re alright at making symbolic gestures, like Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation, but where did that go? What did it really mean?

Or the Bridge Walk. I was there that day, and it truly felt like the start of a change. But nothing has changed.

As a lawyer, I’ve struggled with the idea of Constitutional recognition of our First Nation, because a Constitution surely needs to treat all people equally.

But I’ve changed my mind. We haven’t done enough to treat all people equally under the current Constitution so clearly it’s not adequate for the needs of all Australians.

If real Constitutional change is what it takes to redress the imbalance then that’s what needs to happen.

First Nation people make up approximately 3% of the Australian population. In a truly equal society that would mean 1 in every 33 households, on any street, would identify as Aboriginal. We are a really long way from that statistic being realistic, but to my mind – that’s the challenge.

And it won’t be made any easier by the conservatives among us who want to protect the homogeneity of the socio-cultural mix within their neighbourhoods and work places.

So often, when I raise these ideas in conversation with other white Australians I am confronted with the old arguments about how well “the blacks” do from government hand outs and other “bullshit positive discrimination that white people don’t get”.

My response is always: ‘What would you rather be in Australia…black or white?’

‘Shut up, smartarse!’ is the usual reply.


Men Writing Women

There is a bit of a theme these days in both writers’ and readers’ circles about the inadequacies of male writers when portraying women.

I’ve never given it much thought, except to say that my stories feature both men and women and any character given a name will always have an impact on the plot and, at the very least, reveal some aspect of the main characters’ personalities.

For me that is the essence of meaningful characterisation – have the character, no matter how minor – do something that matters.

So it was with some consternation that I read a review recently that praised my historical fiction story (The Fighting Man) but included this rider:

However, there is an unnecessary focus on sex that detracts from the story, as the few women who were included in the work were mostly there just for the protagonist’s sexual forays or were extremely minimal characters.”

I all but screamed in existential pain when I read that, for numerous reasons, not least as ** spoiler alert ** the main character never gets to properly have sex – though he desperately wants to.

Now, I am the first to say that when a book is published, the author loses control. The book becomes the property of every reader and they are free to make of it what they will. So I’m not complaining about the above review (even though it looks like I am).

What I’m railing against today is that some readers appear to bring their own agenda (should that be a-gender?) to reading a book and perceive it through a lens that distorts the author’s intention.

I believe there is an automatic suspicion in some readers (and they’re not always women) of the female characters created by male writers. In fact, this suspicion is frequently warranted, as anyone who has ever watched a James Bond film might attest. There really are writers who create ciphers – one dimensional female characters whose only purpose is to gratify, decorate or be saved by the male lead.

But if you bring that suspicion to every book you read, then that’s what you’ll find. It is human nature to see the evidence that fits with a hypothesis and not see all the other inconvenient evidence that does not.

I turn now to my treatment of the women characters in The Fighting Man, so let’s start with context.

The setting is C11 Saxon England, plus Norman France and the Viking army. It is a proto-feudal, patriarchal society where no-one had political rights as they are understood today, and no amount of presentist posturing can sanitise that brutal reality. Any historical novelist worth his/her salt will be doing their best to convey a sense of how it really was – not a sense of how C21 moralists might prefer it to have been.

The Fighting Man is very much a retelling/interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry, in which there are only two females. One is a woman being slapped by a cleric; the other is being forced to flee from a burning building. Both of these women are included in the story – the woman being slapped has a very important (even critical) role in the plot.

Of course, my research led to me to other women who featured in the known history, including Edith Swanneshals, Edith (daughter of Aelfgar) and Mathilda (wife of William the Bastard). All of these women have important roles in the plot of The Fighting Man, but none have as much impact as the main fictional female – Valla, the witch of the wood.

Brand (the main protagonist) is obsessed with Valla from the moment he meets her and their very tragic story – told from each of their separate perspectives – could simply not have happened if Valla’s story was not of approximately equal value to Brand’s.

After Brand, Valla was the most important person in the story. More important than any of the historical characters, including Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror.

So how does anyone reading The Fighting Man come away with the impression that the female characters were only there for sexual forays (or were just very minor) when, in fact, the main female character never has sex (even though she wants to) and is far more important to the plot than the warring kings of England?

Honestly, I know I said that readers are free to come up with their own interpretations, and even free to spray those interpretations all over the internet, but we authors are sensitive souls and can only take so much. Abuse I can handle, but being misinterpreted drives me bonkers!

Which, some would probably say, is appropriately ironic.




Welcome to Ord City

Imagine if Australia decided to reverse its anti-refugee stance and let in anyone who wanted to come here.

There’d be a mad rush, so how could we possibly manage them all?

What if we said to these desperate people: “Welcome! You may come to Australia, but you must stay for the first seven years in the Temporary Citizenship Zone (TCZ) around the Ord River.”

Seven years later, Ord City might be a teeming pan-Asian metropolis on our northern edge with a large First Wave about to gain their citizenship and be allowed to go anywhere.

How might the rest of mainstream Australia feel about it?

Would we all be totally welcoming? Or might there be some opposed to the idea, not least because of the dilution of “Australian values” and the risk of letting in terrorists.

And what if the concentration of so many races and cultures in one place had seen the development of a radical new philosophy blending aspects of numerous Asian religions – preaching a terrifying unity which mainstream Australian youth adopted as counter cultural slogans.

The likelihood is that Australia would be deeply polarised by Ord City, and that barbeque and dinner party conversations would get quite heated.

This scenario forms the backdrop to my new novel – Welcome to Ord City – which I hope will be out in July.

The story opens two weeks before the First Wave. Our hero is Conan “Tools” Tooley, an AFP Agent sent up to Ord City to look into a gangland double murder, but Conan is frustrated by the problems and questions that arise at every step. It is clear to Conan that something very weird is going on but he is under pressure to wrap up the case and come home.

His local AFP colleagues are no help and neither are the people he encounters in his investigations, such as officers from the Army of God charity, local politicians and Ronny Kwai – a journalist and socialite who is very well connected.

At the same time, the story is also being told from the perspective of a carload of young people heading up to Ord City for the Illumination Festival – the night before the First Wave – and Asif, a deep cell terrorist with a deadly mission.


As the various subplots wind towards the explosive conclusion, everyone’s motives and values will be challenged and certain alignments will dramatically change.


Welcome to Ord City is a satirical crime thriller set against the backdrop of Australian refugee politics and the malleable populism that characterises the Lucky Country in the C21.


Watch out for the Facebook Live launch where I will be grilled on the book by Pauline Wright, President of the Law Council of Australia.

Rating the Raters

This will seem like the ultimate first world problem.

Even worse, it’s a pathetic, futile whinge – but I have an outraged sense of justice which needs to be expressed.

Book rating sites (especially Goodreads and Amazon) are very important for both readers and writers. For writers they are a valuable source of feedback and a bit of a marketing tool.

For readers they are a means of registering their feelings after reading plus a great resource for other readers wondering how best to spend their time and money.

They are also a medium via which readers and writers can connect to enrich the experience for both. For the system to work efficiently it needs two crucial ingredients – the objectivity and good intentions of the reviewer.

Now we come to the source of my gripe.

I recently indulged in a giveaway for my historical fiction novel – The Fighting Man. It has been a fairly successful novel – sold out of its hard copy print run and had nothing but great reviews. It was sitting proudly at 4.5 average rating on Goodreads when I decided it needed a marketing shot in the arm, so entered it for a giveaway.

A giveaway event is where readers get a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Less than a day after my giveaway, a new one star rating appeared from one of the people who had accepted The Fighting Man – which is quite a long book and reading the whole thing in less than a day would be an amazing effort. The sort of effort that could only be made by someone who absolutely loved it.

Now, I’ve had one star ratings before, and they didn’t particularly bother me – my stuff can be both challenging and confronting for some readers so not everyone will love it. But this one really annoyed me. If a person signs up for a free book in exchange for a fair review then certain implied clauses of the contract must follow.

For a start, the need to be fair.

She obviously didn’t finish the book, in fact, barely even started it. If that’s the case, she should not be rating the book at all because she did not finish and cannot therefore judge it fairly.

At the very least, if she disliked the book so much she could not continue, but still wanted to express her objection with a bad rating, she should have offered a review to say why her opinion was in such stark contrast with all other ratings.

Moving beyond my own subjective outrage, it is also a massive disservice to other readers who might be interested in the book as it distorts the apparent quality and potentially puts off those who might genuinely enjoy it.

So I am proposing a new system, where authors get to rate readers.

Just as uber has a reciprocal rating system for both driver and passenger – book rating services ought to have a similar system for writer and reviewer. If you are going to give me one star (and no review to say why) when everyone else has given four or five, I should be able to rate you back to limit your access to giveaways.

When I checked again this morning, I saw she’d (just one day later) given another one star rating to a book averaging comfortably over four. This is very obviously tyre kicking of the worst kind: sign up for a free book – didn’t like the opening – damn it with one star. Sign up for another…

I give her no stars!