Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Very, Very, Hard

As you can see from the title of this post, I am going to talk about a few things, good and not so good.

I think I will talk about these items in reverse order to my title so I finish on an up-note. (Much better for my long term sanity I am sure).

In my work I deal with many people facing very many problems. Some significant, some not so bad, and some potentially life threatening. I am always amazed by the capacity many people have to cope with the most impossible situations, but the reality is that some people reach a point where they no longer have the strength to go on. At this point some contemplate death, and some take the ultimate step and commit suicide.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with a young man who was very distressed by his circumstances; in fact he was so distressed he was talking about suicide. In my current role, and previously when working for charities that specialised in supporting people with mental illnesses, I have unfortunately faced similar circumstances all too often.

Now I need to stress here that if anyone reading this needs more information about suicide prevention a good start is doing a Google on “suicide prevention”. If you are really concerned about someone seek medical help for them, if you feel it is urgent dial your emergency services number (000 in Oz, 911 in The US and Canada, or 999 in the UK, other countries look here). All threats or talk of suicide MUST be taken seriously.

Having said the above, as a professional it is not so simple. Don’t get me wrong Australia has a quite good health system and unlike in the US it is largely free, especially for the poor. But there are never enough services to go around and hence charities like the one I work for often end up carrying a load they are poorly resourced for. So in a situation like the one I was faced with yesterday you have to make decisions on the run about how best to proceed.

In theory the best approach in Victoria is to phone a CAT Team (Crisis assessment and treatment teams). However in my experience CAT teams can take a long time to respond and often seem to want to push responsibility back onto the person who has called due to their own limited resources. Better results are usually achieved by calling an ambulance, but often you hear of people being turned away from ERs because they are either not taken seriously or they minimise their issues once they get there. Unfortunately, there is such a huge stigma to being seen as crazy that many people try to back out of receiving help at the last minute. Overstretched services sometimes fail to support people when this happens, occasionally with tragic results. The best results seem to happen if someone can go with people to support them while they are waiting to be assessed and even repeat what was disclosed.

Back to the young man in question, I was with him for a couple of hours as I and a volunteer phoned around trying to get him the support he needed. In the end we were able to get him linked up with the supports he needed at the time. Then as a manager my responsibility shifts to debriefing staff (in this case volunteer staff) and trying to assess the level of impact such stressful events have had on them. A key to avoiding burnout is to make sure staff get adequate support and just as importantly understand support is available if they need it.

Sometimes you can’t help, no matter how hard you try, sometimes there are tragedies. Usually though you manage to help someone along the road to the help they need. Oddly, this type of event is not only incredibly stressful, but on other levels very rewarding. I have found incredible satisfaction in simply knowing I have done my best to help another human being.
So that is the very, very hard bit dealt with.

My post has already gone on far too long, so I’ll just hint at the Bad and the good and leave them for next time.

The Bad – in my previous post I mentioned an editor reading my manuscript; she has jetted back to England before I could catch up with her.

The Good – she has forwarded some brilliant comments that I couldn’t be happier with.

Until next time.

Just for fun a photo of Green Cape Lighthouse

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Tragedy in the Healing

On Sunday the other half and I drove into across the Yarra Valley and up into the Goulburn Valley. In stark contrast to most of the weather recently, it was a bright sunny day. Not warm because of a cold wind, but it lifts the spirits to see the sun.

We took a slight detour to get a few photos of the Yarra valley up past Yarra Glen. We have had quite a bit of damp weather lately so it is very green at the moment, you would never guess we are in the midst of years of drought.

We then drove up into the Goulburn Valley, like the Yarra it is very green at the moment.

This photo shows some typical "bush" mailboxes with a nice backdrop.

On the way home we went via a little place called Kinglake. Kinglake has been very much in the news since February, unfortunately for unhappy reasons. In the Black Saturday Bushfires on the 7th of this February past 96% of the homes in Kinglake were destroyed. Of the State’s 173 fatalities on that day, 42 were in Kinglake, a lot of people gone from a town that had a population of less than 1500.

We have been to Kinglake before but this was the first time since the fire that destroyed it. It is distressing to drive through a place you know to find it all but destroyed. We were both deeply touched by the experience.

In spite of it all, many of the people of Kinglake are still there, beginning to rebuild their homes and their lives. The Aussie flag was displayed in many places throughout the ruins. Here in Oz we do not often display the flag as individuals, I think in Kinglake it is being used as a sign of community, of mateship and of pride. I think the Kinglake community are using it as a symbol of their determination to not be beaten by the worst.

I did not take any photographs in the town, that would have felt like intrusion, even desecration. We did stop a few kilometres away on the Whittlesea road to take a few photos of the devastation left by the fire. Here are just a couple.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Of Humble Pie

We have developed a strange obsession with going out into the wide blue yonder what ever the weather. Today for example it is another cold damp day and blowing a gale. What do the household do? Curl up in front of the fire with a good book? Sit and watch the latest DVD? Do anything warm and cosy?
No, not a bit of it. Instead we head off for a picnic.

But the plot thickens and humble pie is called for.
At the insistence of our eldest, we again headed for Mount Donna Buang, in a quest for snow.
Now anyone who has been following my blog during its brief existence, will remember that just under two weeks ago, I wrote very disparagingly about the snow cover up on old Donna.

If a picture is worth a thousand words

As you can see same place but now definitely not the same story.
Admittedly only about six inches cover at the moment, but definitely snow.

My eldest is still girding her loins in preparation for her “wet-pracs”. She says she is feeling a bit more able to face the idea. But the poor thing is still very apprehensive about being physically ill come the day. What is keeping her going is the long term goal.

Given the title of this blog I had better say a little about my literary endeavours.
Basically they can be summed up as: word count - 0.
Too many early starts and late finishes just lately.
Writing and the day job don’t necessarily go together.
Truth be told I am probably spending too much time looking at other peoples blogs as well. But a boy has to have some fun from time to time.

Then again writing or researching are fun, but I find I need much more energy, more focus to work on the book. If I write tired, more often than not I just junk that material when I reread.
So speaking of tired, I ran breakfast at work this morning (we try to provide a service 365 days a year) which means a 5:30 am start. So without further ado goodnight and talk to you next time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Death and Other Minor Problems

A long, long, day at work today. I had to start early at a breakfast program for homeless people, before going over to anther program that provides emergency relief for homeless and other marginalised people. I couldn’t leave there until I supervised the cleaning this evening.
I know I sound like a real whinger but that is the space I was in when I finally got home. No research tonight, no work on the book, an early night tonight for me.

Ructions at home tonight, our eldest daughter is studying for a degree in speech therapy at Latrobe University. She realised today that her first “wet-pracs” in anatomy are coming up shortly. In other words they will be dissecting and examining human bodies. The poor thing is really struggling with the idea, back in high school she could barely cope with dissections of rats in biology classes.

She is facing a real dilemma she wants to go on with this course, she sees herself making a positive contribution to people with speech difficulties, particularly kids, down the track. Yet, she just can’t see herself getting over her (natural) queasiness. I just hope she finds a way to go on with what she wants.

Also on the subject of death a photo from a lonely graveyard.

This these are graves in the Kiandra Cemetery in the Australian Alps. Started in the 1860’s about fifty burials were recorded here. No trace remains of most graves in the cemetery. And there is even less trace of the town. A goldfields town with a population of up to 7,000 people today it is gone, leaving almost no trace other than these lonely graves near the Snowy Mountain highway.

Just to finish on a brighter note a fiery sunset.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 11: Jumping on the bandwagon

I am still working on researching Red Army equipment. If I didn’t enjoy research nearly as much as writing I think it would have driven me mad by now. Anyway in the spirit of procrastination I am going to ramble about something totally different.

With so much being said about the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Moon landing I thought I should chip in with my two cents worth. In 1969 many of the signals beamed to earth from the Apollo 11 mission were received by a large dish antenna at the NASA facility at Honeysuckle Creek in NSW Australia. In the forty years since 1969 things have changed a bit.

At Honeysuckle Creek things have probably changed a bit more than in most places.
The American facility at Honeysuckle Creek was closed in 1981 and the Antenna moved to a facility not far away at Tidbinbilla.

All that remains of the US base is the road that leads up the mountain, a few concrete slabs, and a couple of small signs that act as a sort of memorial.
Honey Suckle Creek is now part of the Namadgi National Park and the bush is coming back.

I was up there in Spring last year, the current residents unlike many of the former staff do not usually wear a uniform. Here are a few.

This female Grey Kangaroo has a joey in her pouch.

This is a smaller relative of the Kangaroos, these fellows are Red-necked Wallabys.

I watched this female grazing for some time and then a little face popped out of her pouch she was a mother as well. If you look carefully at this second photo you can see a little face peering out.

There had been drought in the area for some time and with spring came some rain. So I think the locals were taking the opportunity to raise some young while they could.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tanks and other distractions

Today I have been climbing in and out of and all over a World War II vintage tank.
To be specific I have been getting to know a tank like this.

A Russian T-34 produced in various models from 1940 to 1958.
And from inside
I should probably do the right thing and note the photos of the tanks I am using today are not mine. They are from the Wikimedia Commons and are either in the public domain or available for reuse. To check attribution just click on each image.

There now, copyright is sorted out I can go on. So what is an Aussie lad doing mucking around with Soviet military hardware?
Well for a start I should confess, I have not actually been anywhere near a T-34 today. It has all been via my imagination liberally assisted by a number of videos, images, and just as important memoirs and other recollections of real users. It is all about authenticity.

As I have already said on this blog, I am trying to get my first book Veiled in Shadows published. In the meantime I am continuing to work on a sequel (tentatively titled Veiled in Storms). No, Sequel is too strong a word.

Some of the characters of the first book feature in the second, but Storms does not really follow on from Shadows. The two overlap in time with Storms finishing about eight years later. While the first looks at the human impact of the Holocaust and the war in the West, the second looks at the war in the East, but also looks at the nightmare that was Stalinist Russia. I am writing them so it will not matter which book people read first. Each book stands alone but readers will meet characters they already know as they go through whichever they choose to read second.

How did I get onto this? T-34 tanks! One of my characters in Storms will spend some time in the Red Army, so from my point of view I need to know everything I can about that institution and its equipment. Call me picky, but I hate it when I read stuff in fiction that is just plain wrong due to poor research.

When I develop characters, especially an important one, I spend hours, days, sometimes even weeks fleshing them out, and often writing quite involved stories and histories for them. Most of that detail never appears in the final version, or if it does it might be a single sentence in a chapter. For me it helps make a character more authentic, somehow more tangible. If I understand someone’s history before they ever show up in my book I feel I can write them better. That I can “know” what they would do in any given situation.

You'll have to forgive me I've finished with this tank, but I see a stack of rifles over there. See you later.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More on Self Publishing

More browsing the net about self publishing. More thinking.

A couple of self publishers Neil Slade and Morris Rosenthal talk about using Lightning Source as a POD printer and selling through Amazon.

This is all looking very interesting in terms of reasonable quality and hopefully reasonably priced manufacture and distribution of a finished book.

All I would have to do is sort out; editing, layout, cover design, and marketing.

Actually, it really doesn’t seem too daunting except for the marketing bit.
I have already had the book copyedited and a full edit doesn’t look too terrifyingly expensive.

Of course I could edit myself.
Hah! That is laughable. Am I the only one who sees what I think is there rather than what is? At least when it comes to my own work, all I can see is what I think I have written, this makes self correcting almost impossible. As a side to this please forgive me for all the typos I no doubt have on this blog.

Cover design, do it myself? Start with a stock photo and build something in Photoshop? Maybe not, but I do know a few artists.

Marketing how on Earth do I do that? The Internet is obviously is the way to go, but how? I have done some press releases and a minute amount of development work seeking sponsorship for various charities I have worked for, but a full fledged marketing campaign?

An awful lot to think about.
My brain hurts.

Time for brain easing photos

This was taken July 2005, I wonder if anyone can guess where?

Doesn’t it look summery, just the thing for a cold winter day in Melbourne.

And just for a but of fun:
Does anyone have any idea of how this boat

Might have got to here?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Self Publishing can it work?

I have been thinking about self publishing lately.
Not that I am about to leap into anything.
As I said the other day I have an editor reading my work as I type.
But I am fairly sick of the traditional route into publication and I have hardly begun yet.

Like many of us I have had a curious look at outfits like and and wondered if they were any different from vanity publishing of old.

Of the two mentioned above, Lulu looks less like it will subject a prospective author to an aggressive marketing campaign to sell add-ons. Lulu seems to allow you to self quote; Booksurge wants to put you in contact with a “publishing consultant”.

One difference I can see between this model and traditional vanity publishers is that with Print on Demand a client of such businesses would not necessarily end up with a garage full of unsold books. I know more than one person who has suffered this fate.

Still the author is left with the problem of how do they sell their books? If I can’t manage to market well enough to get an agent to read my manuscript, how do I go about marketing my book to the world?

Dilemmas, dilemmas.

Now just ‘cause I like them, a couple of photos.

These guys are Rainbow Lorikeets they are quite common along the east coast I snapped them at a local park near the Yarra River during February.

Also another sunset, this one near Lake George in June last year.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wish Me Luck!

I have had an interesting possibility come up regarding my manuscript. In a case of who you know rather than what you know, I have an editor from a UK publishing house reading my manuscript.
Oddly she is the daughter of a colleague of my other half. Does that make sense?

She is home in Oz to see her family and the cheeky approach has paid off.
There are still a lot of if, buts and maybes. Firstly, she has to like the book. Secondly, although she is in publishing, her field is not fiction. So even if she likes it, the most she is able to do is suggest me as a possibility to some of her colleagues. Still this is the closest I have got to getting someone on the inside to read the piece so I am happy.

And of course nervous

Cold, cold, cold again today.
Once I came home from work (among other things I run a breakfast service for homeless people) our eldest was bouncing around saying "Let's go to the snow today. There's bound to be snow on Donna Buang."
So after warming up with a cuppa' we piled into the car and drove about an hour up to Mount Donna Buang.
There was snow, I took a photo of it (of all of it I might add) just to prove it was there.
And just to prove it here it is! See it does get cold in Australia.

The sign in the picture (which I accidentally cropped) says "no tobogganing", I suspect there is not much danger of that rule needing to be enforced at the moment.
It was cold and wet, but apparently not enough for snow. What was there has well and truly melted.

So after waiting in the cold for someone who shall remain nameless,

we piled back into the car and drove back to Warburton at the bottom of the mountain for the much more civilized pursuit of drinking hot coffee in one of our favourite cafes.

This evening, for a change I went out in the cold again. I have been wanting to get some shots of the city at night. Tonight was a first experimental foray. I spent a lot of time driving around looking for places safe enough to stop (traffic, even on Sunday night is quite busy around the city).
I was moderately happy with some of the results, but I think two things will improve my shots:
I had the ISO set too high and most of the shots are over exposed; and a darker sky would give better contrast, tonight there was low cloud hence a lot of reflected light from the buildings below.
Anyway I was happy enough with what I took to try again another night.

Just a couple of photos I took tonight to finish off.

This one is St Patricks Catholic Cathedral, just east of Melbourn CBD.

This is the Bolte Bridge down at the docklands area of Melbourne.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Journey Continues

When Pat Stone warned me getting published was the hard part she spoke words of wisdom.

With a manuscript I was more or less happy with under my belt, I began the usual trick of querying Agents and the odd publisher. What a painfully slow process it is. Send out the usual letter, synopsis, and sample chapters that their submission guidelines ask for and wait and wait…
Then when finally something arrives…
A rejection, not surprising, not unexpected, yet still surprisingly distressing.
Then you begin again, and again.

When I have talked about my writing in the past I have always said that it was an end in itself. I have always said that if nothing I write ever sees the light of day it will not matter.

That is still true, but also it is not, not quite. I still write mainly for myself, but now somehow, it is not quite enough. Now I want to share my work with others, to have an audience.

Yet the process of trying to get published is very trying. I suppose it is a major character flaw, but I find myself getting very wrapped up the rejections, in trying to craft “a better query”, and then brooding on a reply.

The worst thing about the process is it takes so much energy away from what I would really like to be doing, writing the next novel.

Enough moaning for today.

It has been cold winter weather here for the past few weeks. Not miserable enough to stop us getting out and about though.
I know, I know, days with a maximum of 15° C (59° F) don’t seem very cold to many in the Northern Hemisphere, but we are used to summer temperatures in the 30s to 40s (86 to 104) in fact this past summer we had a days up to 47° (116° F) in February.
Also here in Southern Victoria the wind comes straight in off the Bass Straight and Southern Ocean so it feels much colder than it is.

Anyway last weekend we went for a quick run (about 2 ½ hours drive) down to Wilson’s Promontory (the most southerly point on the Australian mainland) It was wet so we didn’t walk much.

This photo shows the state of some of the walking tracks at the moment.

I did snap a heap of photos (don’t you love digital) but the light was not good so I don’t think many were worth the effort.
Towards evening, the cloud broke up a bit and in the pale watery light, I got a few shots that were almost worthwhile.

Doesn’t that water look cold.
Almost at the end of the day this chap showed up with a couple of mates and let me get close enough for this.

He/she is a Crimson Rosella, one of the many, many parrot species we enjoy in Oz. If being in such a beautiful environment (even with the wind) wasn’t enough, how could anyone grumble too much with such a bright creature on hand.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Journey

As I mentioned all too briefly in my first post I have ambitions about getting the manuscript for my first novel Veiled in Shadows published.

Wait, stop right there Al!

I should say something about my work. Veiled in Shadows is a thriller/espionage piece set in Europe during World War II against a backdrop of the Holocaust. It explores a number of themes from the point of view of several major characters. Included in the themes are: loyalty and treachery; notions of good and evil and how different frameworks can alter individual's ideas of what is right; the capacity human beings have to endure almost anything; perhaps most important is an exploration of the differing effects years of suffering and inhumanity can have on people.

So what is my problem? Getting published of course!

I finished a draft I was finally quite happy with about eighteen months ago.
I'd done all the usual stuff, inflicting it on friends and family etc.
Next I thought I'd get a professional opinion. I sent it off to a manuscript assessor, I chose Driftwood Manuscripts in South Australia.
I had a couple of months of anxious wait, to be sure friends and family had all been positive, but that comes with the territory.

The response I received from Driftwood was on the whole really positive, with the assessor using terms like "enchanting package" to describe the work. The assessor also provided some really helpful advice on a few sections he/she (Driftwood maintain the anonymity of their assessors) thought were problematic. In particular a section of the plot relied too much on coincidence. They also suggested I get a copy edit to improve saleability. I would like to stress here that this was not a sales pitch from Driftwood, they neither offered a service nor recommended any service provider.

I went with Pat Stone from Canberra as a copy editor. I was very impressed with her fast turn around and very reasonable rates. Also she did my ego no end of good with more positive comments about the work. Pat also warned me that what I had done so far was the easy bit. She warned that getting published would be much harder than writing a book of any length.

How right Pat was.

Enough about my book for now.

Just for something completely different a couple of photo's I took last autumn at Merimbula.
These fellows are soldier crabs. They feed along tidal flats at low tide in numbers of hundreds or thousands.

They are cute little guys, the little ones about an inch across. The biggest I have seen are maybe three inches across.
They do this amazing little dance to see which is the biggest and toughest.
Mostly they just seem to measure each others size; but if they are about equal, there is often a bit of pushing and shoving to see who is boss

And just to close a sunset, also at Merimbula.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My First Post

Well here I go, embarking on a brand new blog.

In this blog I am planning to make my main focus my efforts at getting the manuscript of my first novel “Veiled in Shadows” published.

Along the way I will probably also talk about other stuff that interests me.

I might talk about stuff including, in no particular order (except the first, which should come first):

My Family

History (in general, but in particular military history with a focus on WWII)

Bush Walking (I think those from much of the rest of the world call this pursuit Hiking)

Photography (I take a lot of photos, some of which come out, but most are very bad)

Wildlife (a lot of my photos are of this)

Here is an example;

This little fellow is a Gang Gang cockatoo that I photographed in southern NSW.

Archaeology (my other half complained that I came back from Europe with 100s of photos of what she disparagingly calls rocks and hardly any of people).

Like this one of Mile Castle 37 on Hadrian’s wall

Yes they might be rocks. But I think they are nice ones!

Travel (when I can afford it) see above

Reading (I read a lot, almost anything but mostly history, biology or a wide range of fiction).

My latest read is:

I just Wish Wish Wish I had more time to read

So that is what I aim to do with my blog.

But then again, knowing me, I am just as likely to ramble about anything that comes to mind.