Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Caved In...

I'm in the middle of three crazy days at the moment, where pretty much every single minute of every single day has been accounted for, with the result that certain things, like blogging, have taken a backseat. That's why there's been this deafening silence here since last week.

But, anyway...

I love my iPad* for all sorts of reasons. It seems like every time I turn around, I'm finding a new use for it. I'm running all my class lists and records off it nowadays, as well as all my lectures, marking and meeting notes, meaning that my teaching has become virtually paperless in the last couple of months. I use the calendar function on it for all my appointments, and unlike my old paper diary, I actually use the calendar, which has made for a more efficient life. I'm using it for design (like the blog title up there), email, internet, magazines, journals and all sorts of other things.

But there was one function I was determined not to capitalise on. Determined.

I wasn't going to read books on it.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I'm one of those people who always claimed to like my books printed. On good, old fashioned trees. And that hasn't changed. I like being able to hold a book, to heft it in my hand and feel the weight of it. I like the smell of paper and the texture of it. I like the soft crinkle of paper as you flick the page. I like (don't hate me for this) being able to dog-ear the page I'm on.**

So when I got my iPad, I decided that the one thing it wouldn't be is an e-book reader.

Until the other day, when a colleague of mine presented a fantastic paper here at the uni, about the future of the book. She also has an iPad and, unlike me, is an avid reader on it. In her talk, she broke down a lot of the objections regularly raised in relation to the e-reader. She talked about the economics, the portability and the convenience, but for me the moment she changed my mind about this particular issue was when she talked about the tactile aesthetics of reading on the iPad.

She made the point - and I can't argue with her on it at all - that the iPad is, in its own way, just as much a sensory and tactile piece of reading equipment as a book. The smoothness of the screen below your fingertip, the oh-so-subtly muted polish of the machined aluminium chassis, the cosiness of surruptitious reading at night with the lights off, the tweaking of font size, brightness, contrast and 'paper' colour until you're looking at exactly the reading surface you want to look at.

That was what got me. It's not about having the same tactile reading experience as with a book, but it's still about tactile engagement with the words on the page.

So, last weekend, I bit the bullet and bought my first e-book on Amazon. John Birmingham's After America. I'm roughly halfway through it now.

And, I have to say, I'm enjoying reading it. Even aside from the fact that its a damn good read, the iPad is almost always with me nowdays, and therefore so is my book. When I have five spare minutes*** I've got reading material. When I'm eating and couldn't normally manage both a thick bestseller and my food, the iBook is a one-handed operation.

The tactile stuff is living up to its promise, too.

So, reluctantly, I have to admit it. I'm... well, not a convert; I'm still going to be buying 'proper' books, and I don't think a book will feel quite 'real' to my until I'm holding those bound and covered pages in my hot little hand. But I won't not be buying e-books, either. They've definitely got their place.

*I might have mentioned this already...
** But only in my own books, of course.
*** something that hasn't happened since 7.00 last tuesday morning

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Such a Perfect Day

Of course, I probably shouldn't be referencing Lou Reed in the title, because unlike his - let's be honest - fairly ironic take on the perfect day, today actually was pretty damn good.

I was a little worried that this weekend might be a bit of a trial, actually. I mentioned it in my last post. But today was lovely.

The little angel slept in! Until almost 7.30!*

Then we cooked a slap-up breakfast of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and toast with coffee (for me) and a toby-cino (for him)

Then, off to the pool. Foolish dad thought that on a freezing, blustery 7-degree Canberra morning that the indoor pool would be almost deserted. Shows what I know. Turns out that Belconnen pool was the most popular place in Canberra this morning. Still, no matter, we spent a very pleasant hour-and-a-half floating, splashing, playing in the fountains, jumping off the wall and sinking like a stone to the bottom of the pool.**

Home. Light lunch, and then Toby had a nice little 2.5 hour nap, while Dad did the housework and got stuff ready for next week.***

Then it was off to my Mother-in-Law's house, to take her up on her very generous offer of a Toby-Sleepover.

After dropping the bub off, I headed into civic for an early meal, a beer, and a very pleasant couple of hours reading 'After America' by the versatile John Birmingham which I took great delight downloading to my iPad for $16.00 while standing in Borders beside the $39.00 hard copy. (Sorry, John, but sometimes you gotta make a selfish decision...)

Now I'm home. Just had a shower in our lovely new bathroom, got a glass of nice Clare Valley Reisling in hand and a bit of Crowded House playing softly. The heater's going, the dog's curled up at my feet, and tomorrow I can even sleep in until 8, or even 8.15 if I want.

And sure, the house feels absurdly empty without either Min or Toby in it. And sure, I keep fighting back the urge to ring and just check and 'see how things are going', but that's fatherhood for you. Min'll be back home monday morning, (at the moment, she's having a day off touristing and shopping in Copenhagen) and Toby tomorrow, so I'm going to just enjoy a rare night to myself. Probably in bed with JB's book.

Yep. Pretty much a perfect day.

*7.30 might not sound like much of a sleep in to anyone reading this who isn't/hasn't been the parent of a toddler, but - trust me on this - 7.30 is like 11.00 in normal world time (which is a little like dog-years)

**Only a couple of times.

***And played Farm Frenzy 2 on his iPhone

Friday, October 15, 2010

Just Reporting In

As predicted, solo parenting week has been, well, rather hectic. And exhausting*

It's all going well, though - thanks largely to insane amounts of rather OTT organisation on my part beforehand.

Of course, tomorrow and sunday will be the big test - how will Tony cope without the relief of daycare? Will he start speaking about himself in the first person? Other rhetorical questions?

I'll keep you posted.

*though this wasn't helped by the fact that certain family members chose Wednesday night to wake up and yell every hour or so...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'd Like To Thank The Academy...

Just a short one, this evening. Night two of solo parenting going well. The scary thing is that I've put Toby to bed for the second time since Imogen left, and she still hasn't arrived at her final destination. The joys of international travel.

Anyway... I've picked up a couple of accolades in my time, for various things, but it has recently been brought to my attention that our humble blog here has made the list!

(You'll have to look closely to find us. Down near the bottom. At number 98, to be precise.)

So there you go. Made the top 100. Out of 126. That's almost as good as some of my year eleven maths results.

Thanks followers (and non-followers) I couldn't have done it without you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flying Solo

A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, Min got invited to coach the ANU team in the second annual Copenhagen Negotiation Competition which means, of course, that she's off to Copenhagen.

Actually, as I write this, she's just taken off from Sydney, launching into a 30 hour effort - Denmark via Bankok and London. Luckily, I'm told that Princess Mary greets all Australian visitors to Denmark at the airport with a can of VB and some Vegemite on toast. I'm not sure how true this is, but I like to think it'll happen.

And, of course, the other upshot is that I'm a solo parent for the week. Yep, just me and Toby, batching it.

Thus far it's going well. We've watched an episode of playschool, made sausages, mash and peas for dinner ** Then (as tends to happen with dinner nowdays) Toby threw the mother of all tantrums, had a bath, and went to bed, where he fell asleep in an instant.

So now I'm sitting alone, in a suddenly very quiet and empty house. I've also done two loads of washing, already. In a while, I might go sit outside and have a beer and contemplate the next seven days. I've got my meals planned, the shopping done, Toby's daycare bag already packed for tomorrow, our lunches made, and have swept the floors. I'm organised. Bring it on, I say.

And, of course, I've been thinking about single parenting. This is the first time I've had all the parental duties to myself for any extended period. (I've done some short hops before, of course, but never even a complete overnight.) Min's done it several times while I've been off for various writer's festivals and uni obligations, but this is my first time in the pilot's seat.

It's kinda daunting, in its own way. Already, after just a few hours, I'm finding myself thinking differently. More logistically, for one thing. But I'm also looking forward to it - I really need to know that I can do something like this.

So, anyway, if there isn't a lot of blog action from me this week, you can probably guess that it's because I'm knee deep in toddler-town.

Should be fun. And, of course, one day I'll use the experience in a book.

**this particular dinner is something of a tradition in my family: when I was a kid, whenever mum was away, Dad made bangers and mash. I've got fond memories of eating bangers and mash for dinner on the night after my sister was born, so I felt kind of obliged to carry on the tradition.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's a Love Story...

...don't worry. I'm not about to go all Taylor Swift on you.*

But as today is the 10th of October, 2010 (ie: 10/10/10) I thought I'd tell you a true love story.

This couple I know, who shall (for the moment, at least) remain nameless, have been together for quite a while, now. In fact, one of their early dates, during their first year of seeing each other, was on the 6th June, 1966. (6/6/66). They went to a restaurant in Perth - a steakhouse located at 680, Oxford street, Mt. Hawthorn.

That night, the bloke in question asked the girl in question** if she'd like to have dinner there with him again, eleven-and-a-bit years later, on the 7/7/77. Her reply, only semi-seriously, I suspect, was that she'd probably have four kids by then, which could make it difficult.

"Doesn't matter. Bring them along." was his reply.

Eleven-and-a-bit years later, they did indeed go out to dinner again. At the same steakhouse. The girl was only half correct; at that point, there were only two kids, and the third well on the way. (And the two, despite being invited, were actually dumped with their grandparents for the night. But that's kinda beside the point.)

Then (You can probably see where this is leading) on the 8/8/88, they went there again. By now, the steakhouse had become a modern French joint, and on this occasion the kids - all three of them - did come along.

On the 9/9/99, the family went again. By this point, the restaurant was Thai. Their eldest son brought his (then) girlfriend.***

Tonight, that couple will be heading off to the Royal Thai Restaurant, at 680, Oxford Street, Mt Hawthorn, for dinner. This year, just like in 1966, it'll be just the two of them. Their eldest now lives in Canberra with his wife and son. The middle child and his wife are off hiking in southern Patagonia, and their youngest lives in the USA with her husband and kids.

I hope mum and dad have a fantastic evening. And I can't help but wonder what they must have talked about that evening back in 1966, and if they even considered the possiblity that almost half-a-century later they'd be sitting down together in the same restaurant (or the same place, at least) with their family spread across the world, all of us very far apart, but still very, very close.

Happy 10/10/10 Marg and Dave. Enjoy yourselves.

*though I will admit, here in very small letters at the bottom of the page, to owning the CD. And to occasionally playing it. And singing along. Usually while house cleaning...

**I know you've all worked out that it's my parents by now, but I'm going for dramatic effect here, so go with me on this, okay?

***Not, sadly, his current wife, although that would have made for a much better story...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just A Short List...

Gotta be quick with this one, owing to an impending meeting, but I wanted to mention that the shortlist for the ACT Book of the Year Award was announced yesterday. This is the one I sat on the judging panel for earlier this year, and I'm really thrilled to see the list finally out in the public.

Carving so many fantastic books down to a shortlist of only five was one of the most difficult things I've ever done, but I (and the other judges on the panel) are all really happy with this final list. Owing to my position as judge, I'm not going to make any comments about them at the moment, other than to mention that the shortlist, in no particular order, is:

The Lake Woman, by Alan Gould

Rugged Beyond Imagination, by Matthew Higgins

Valley of Grace, by Marion Halligan

Bills of Rights in Australia, by Andrew Byrnes, Hilary Charlesworth, and Gabrielle McKinnon.
The Blue Plateau, by Mark Tredinnick

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, and also to the rest of the very talented ACT and regional writers who entered - it was a fantastic privilege to read all your wonderful books.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Referee's Decision is Final

In the last week, I've submitted my first two articles for refereed journals - one here in Australia, and one overseas. Both were accepted for publication, which is good news. Both came back with overall positive reports from the peer reviewers*

It's funny, though - after ten years in the writing industry, countless newspaper and magazine reviews, not to mention editorial and readers reports, I thought I was done with nervousness about putting something I'd written 'out there'.

Turns out that I was wrong.

I've got pretty clear memories of the day that The Darkness was released, waaay back in 2000. I remember knocking off from work (one of the longest school days of my life) and driving directly to my local Dymocks bookstore, in the Morley Galleria. Before going into the shop I stood outside for a couple of moments and reminded myself that there was no point rushing in, because the book wouldn't be there, anyway. But, once I entered and made my way to the 'young adult' shelves, right at the back of the shop beside the 'alternate lifestyles' section, there, to my shock, was a single copy of my little blue book, parked spine-out on the shelves beside Nick Earls' 48 Shades of Brown and all five million copies of David and Leigh Eddings' The Belgariad.

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Mainly because, up until that point, the whole 'publishing a book' thing hadn't been real - it'd been a sort of abstract idea, but with nothing tangible to show for it. Suddenly though, there was a copy of my book - my book - with my name on the front cover, sitting in a public bookstore for anybody with a spare $14.00 to just walk in and purchase, whenever they wanted. They didn't need to ask my permission, or wait for me to send them the latest draft of the MSS. Hell, they didn't even have to know me.

And, it also occurred to me in that moment, perhaps just a little too late, that when they read it, they didn't have to like it. My writing was 'out there' in the public eye, and totally open to criticism.

One of the most nerve-wracking realisations of my life.

Over the years, and the course of another ten books, I've gotten past that feeling. Nowdays when a book hits the shelves I just treat it with more of a resigned shrug and a que sera sera. Naturally some people won't like it. Hopefully more people will. Either way there's nothing I can do about it. I pretty much thought I'd gotten through the nerves.

Which is why I'm a little surprised to find myself so suddenly twitchy about these peer review articles. The thought that they're going to be published in proper academic journals is not an all together comfortable one, even though I'm happy with both pieces and it's an intrinsic aspect of my job. But still - it's one thing having my creative writing published; that's just stories, after all. These are somehow... different.

I think it's because academic writing is published for one specific purpose: to encourage debate. And discussion. And (occasionally) argument. We've all heard horror stories about academic feuds which have taken place in the pages of various journals and textbooks, sometimes for decades. There's also a strong and very edgy body of scholars who have specialised for years in the study of writing and children's literature and - if I'm being honest - I'm very aware that I might be seen as treading on some toes by weighing in to the conversation. Bloody upstart.

Of course, I know most of this is completely in my mind. Without exception, all the academics that I've met in the last couple of years at conferences, festivals, symposiums and other such functions have been nothing but lovely and supportive.

But that doesn't kill the nerves, though. I think only time and getting a few more of these under my belt will do that.

*For anyone not familiar with the workings of academic publishing, it goes like this: you submit your piece to your chosen journal who then send it out to (usually) two or three anonymous peer reviewers - other academics familiar with your field. They read the article, make any suggestions that occur to them, decide whether or not your arguments and / or data are academically sound**, and recommend either for / against publication in the journal. Once (if) it's published, you get points from the national research assessment bodies, which earns your university money, which means you get to keep your job. Which is nice.

**or, alternatively, full of shit.


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