Sunday, February 3, 2013

Moving on ... to the new Annals of Annabelle

I've started a new blog, "The All New Annals of Annabelle" which will take up where this one left off.  The new one is more literary in flavour but hopefully will appeal to readers of the old just as well.

To have a look, go to  See you there!

Friday, January 25, 2013


Tasmanian Devils have an undeserved reputation as being nasty, ferocious little varmints you'd be wise to avoid.  As a threatened species, considered to be on the road to extinction like their distant cousins the Tasmanian Tigers, they've attracted a lot of media attention in recent times. 

Life is precarious for these creatures for a number of reasons.  For the last ten years or so their numbers have been decimated by a rare infectious and deadly facial cancer.  As well, they too often end up as road kill, predisposed as they are to scavenge for the carcasses of other animals on Tasmania's heavily tourist populated roads.  This has always been the case, but in combination with the inroads of the cancer, it's a far more serious threat than previously. 

For an as yet unknown reason, those animals that inhabit the north-west of Tasmania have proved more resistant to the disease than their counterparts in other regions.  Now however these apparently hardier little critters are likely to be impacted by the newly approved mine proposed for the Tarkine region in the north west.  With this combination of adversities, the odds are really stacked against them. 

This is unlikely to be a populist cause, and unless you're a nature conservationist or environmentalist, it may seem just one more of the endless problems we're asked to get concerned about.  The devils have gotten rather a bad rap, not being the most appealing of animals when pictured with their jaws gaping, and the graphic documentaries showing the cancer sufferers'eaten away faces have probably done little to endear them to lovers of the cute and cuddly.

Other than seeing them dead by the side of the road and the stuffed version in souvenir shops across the island, we didn't encounter them on our recent trip until the day we left Cradle Mountain and visited Devils@Cradle

 Devils@Cradle is a world class animal sanctuary located adjacent to the World Heritage area of the National Park and is an amazing place.  In a largely natural environment of eucalypts and flora unique to the region, the sanctuary provides a safe habitat for the devils, as well as other native marsupials, including quolls, wallabies and wombats.

As the only visitors, when we arrived we were lucky enough to get a personalised tour of the facility which housed a number of devils of all ages including babies.  These animals are part of what's called the Captive Breeding Program administered in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government's "Save the Tasmanian Devil Program", an initiative to help sustain genetic diversity in Australia's native animal populations.

The program also conducts orphan rehabilitation through taking in abandoned babies and hand rearing them to maturity, either to stay in the sanctuary or be released back into the wild.  The wildlife carers are exactly that, caring and expert in their knowledge of and skills with these unique creatures. 

While there, we were amazed to see the level of rapport between our tour guide and the animals, which allowed her to pick them up and cradle them like kittens.  Far from being the ferocious miniature man-eaters they can appear to be, we learned they only seem that way because of their huge jaws, fearsome looking teeth and the spine chilling cry they emit when afraid or threatened.  In this case their bark is a good deal worse than their admittedly not inconsiderable bite!

It would be a tragedy to see the devils go the way of the tigers, which are now only a distant and mythologised remnant of our history.  Apart from the fact that these animals seem to have gotten an especially raw deal over recent years, as a part of Australia's world renowned and unique native fauna, what's left of them must be preserved.  Let's not allow them to be crushed for ever under the advancing tread of so-called progress. 

If, like me, you want to be a devil's advocate, check out "Save the Tasmanian Devil" for ways of supporting them.  

Monday, January 14, 2013


The so-called E-book Revolution has been around for five or so years now (precipitated by the introduction of Amazon's Kindle in 2007), but just how much of a revolution is it? 

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal referred to a survey of book readers that showed only 30% of respondents had read even one e-book in the past year.  Another research study showed only 16% of Americans had purchased an e-book and 50% said they weren't interested in buying one.

So, despite such predictions as the death of the book, the demise of book shops and the imminent bankruptcy of traditional publishers, it appears the printed book may be holding its own.  As an avid reader, my experience is that after an initial burst of enthusiasm, the wave of e-book fervour is ebbing.  Like others, I got carried along by the initial excitement of instant accessibility, portability, cheaper prices and the unfailing appeal of the new.  My Ipad is groaning under the weight of numerous books languishing un-read in techno-space while the influx of printed books, which I consume one after the other as if trying to set a  record, hasn't lessened in the least. 

I'm basically disenchanted with the whole e-reading process.  I do too much gazing at a flickering screen already, and prolonging this activity for the length of time it takes to read a book is pure tedium.  As well, jabbing at a hard, unfriendly screen to flick backwards and forwards just accentuates the disembodied nature of the activity. 

Books are tactile, living, breathing organisms.  They look nice, they smell divine, they feel warm and substantial in your hands and they give you something to do with all those bookmarks.  Besides when I read, I like to scribble and scrawl in the margins, turn down the page corners, poke yellow notes in places to go back to, all of which I'm told you can do electronically.  But it's not the same.  Even if I manage to master the keystrokes to take a note, I lose track of where they've gone.  And if, like me, you love the extra fathomless dimension shelves of books bring to a room, those little simulated versions on your tablet are a paltry substitute. 

These are all fairly self-evident objections.  A more philosophical argument in favour of printed books was recently proposed by Nathan Hollier in "The Conversation", and hinges on the idea that the digital reading experience is detrimental to our ability to concentrate.   Opening the gates to the digital playground of a tablet, which reading an e-book demands, he suggests, means you make yourself vulnerable to the lure of everything else that's on there too.

An impairment in concentration might not seem so dire, except when you consider that lowered levels of focus and the inability to concentrate are linked to stress related illnesses, which are proliferating in our society.   One of the triggers for faulty cognitive functioning appears to be a surplus of options, an overload of information, a cornucopia of visual, auditory and intellectual stimulants, the very conditions fostered by our wealth of digital accessories.

The digital age, Hollier says, has become an "age of distraction".  Without concentration, there can be no intellectual development, no thought that can truly be considered rational.  Focus means first of all capturing a wandering attention, becoming adept at bringing it, like a straying toddler, quickly into line. 

E-books purport to offer a rich reading environment.  A universe of books, both old and new is literally at your fingertips.  A few easy clicks of the keyboard and a book you suddenly get a whim to read is open before you.  It's exactly this technological powerhouse though that's the problem.  

As Hollier points out, Web2 technologies, with their hyperlinks, file sharing, animation and graphics  capabilities, have opened up a smorgasbord of  "side orders" to the main course of the book.  What we're getting bombarded with is more, more easily and faster.  Is this necessarily better?  We're told this is a transformative experience, opening up worlds of previously unimagined possibility.  But is it opening up, deepening, revealing;  is it expanding the level of immersion or just shallowing it out?  There is such a plethora of riches, we become spoiled for choice.  Our thoughts flit across the surface of subjects like an insect over water, never staying still long enough to absorb anything but an ephemeral glimmer.

In comparison, reading a traditional book is a singular activity.  The very nature of fixing the eye on a three dimensional, solid object held in the hands, controlled only by your own manipulation, forces you into a kind of rapt communion with that particular collection of pages, curtailed within their cover, inaccessible and separate from any exterior distraction, influence or interference.  For that piece of time, for better or for worse, you and that book are symbiotically joined. 

As well as concentration, reading is an act of contemplation … of other worlds, other characters, other ways of being.  A book is a small window into a world without horizons.  The armchair traveller is no less a traveller because he flies beyond his lounge room on the pages of a book, rather than as a passenger on an aeroplane.  And the travelling experience is a lot more congenial, avoiding as it does the need for booking flights, packing, boarding gate checks and other such indignities. 

It doesn't take much to put me off my game when I'm trying to compose my thoughts.  A case in point, even as I write this, I'm startled by the chime of an email hitting my inbox, immediately sending my already tenuous train of thought skittering wildly off the rails.  And all so I can learn that the Target Back to School sale still has some great bargains. 

The digital age is bad enough.  My own age is another cognitive impediment.  Grasping the thread of a coherent thought and holding on to it is becoming as arduous these days as trying to thread a needle.  Not having any inclination for sewing, I can happily dispense with the latter activity, but not the former.  Conceiving an original idea, tracing its progression in some sort of logical form and then transcribing it articulately is pivotal to the activity of being a writer.  My ideas too often emerge from the mental haze like diaphanous wisps, hover for a tantalising moment just beyond my reach and then dissolve into the ether like fairy floss on the tongue, leaving nothing but a faint forgotten sweetness.

If favouring printed books over e-books is going to help me in my fight against the great mental decline then there's no argument.   If the thought of the e-books I've wastefully purchased but not read bothers me, I can placate my conscience by thinking of all the reading material I'll have next time I go away somewhere.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


With crystal balls in short supply, looking forward is at best speculative, and at worst purely wishful thinking (New Year's resolutions anyone?)  Still, with the refreshing picture of turning over a new leaf that the flip from 31st December to 1st January brings to mind, we all like to indulge ourselves in the somewhat bipolar activity of reviewing the old and anticipating the new.

In terms of the new, if the recent influx of joggers, walkers and cyclists in the streets is anything to go by, many of us are embracing the New Year: New Me idea.  Not least among them I too have vowed to get more exercise, adopt not just one but two AFD's (alcohol free days) per week (gasp!), bitch less and empathise more, write in this blog regularly (ha! I hear you say), not take criticism and rejection personally and other such absurdly unrealistic, not to mention unoriginal, figments of someone else's imagination.  What's important about any of it I suspect is that it keeps us subscribing to the idea that, with sufficient motivation and determination, we can take control of our lives, notwithstanding those hefty slabs of it that are beyond our grasp.  Reaching however never did anyone any harm and illusory though the concept of self revitalisation may be, it  feels good to give it a shot.

A friend of mine recently adopted the phrase "shameless self promotion" in describing her venture to put her current, very exciting writing project, as they say "out there", by means of a personalised website.  At the risk of being (again) unoriginal, I'd like to take a similar approach (ideologically at least) to my own writing.

What this means is convincing myself, first of all, and then that many headed monster, the market, that I've got something worth selling.  My natural instinct has always been to hide my light under a bushel (whatever the hell a bushel is), a practice that leads to fumbling in the dark and getting stepped on.  

Shameless of course implies being prepared to let it all hang out, without fear, timidity, anxiety or any of those other self-defeating inhibitions I imbibed at my mother's knee.  It means letting go of the idea that trying to flog your work implies seeking favours to which you're not really entitled, embracing the idea that if I think my work has merit, I shouldn't let anyone else convince me it hasn't, and finally abandoning for ever any fantasy of achieving perfection.

As much as the ability to string words together, a writer needs persistence; that vastly underestimated quality that probably takes you further than any other.  I recently found a perfect (ok, pretty good) analogy for the persistence a writer needs in a quote from Edward Hoagland's "The Courage of Turtles".  Here it is:

"Turtles .... don't feel that the contest is unfair;  they keep plugging, rolling like sailorly souls - a bobbing, infirm gait, a brave, sea-legged momentum - stopping occasionally to study the lay of the land."

So for me, it means cut the whingeing and whining, stop resenting other writers' successes, forget expecting anything to be fair, listen to valid criticism and let the rest roll off like the proverbial duck and reminding myself every day that writers write.  Pausing, like the turtle, every now and then to take stock is allowed.  Stomping off in a huff, thinking I'm a loser isn't.  It's as simple as that really.

I haven't devoted any space here to reviewing the old, but if you've read previous versions of the blog you'll pretty much know last year was a biggie, in that I got married, practically finished off my Masters and moved gratefully into semi-retirement, which pretty much sums it up.

At this time of year, the coming months shine with promise, especially as we surge forth renewed and optimistic.  I don't know what will unfold but I doubt I'll get many clues from crystal balls, astrological charts or Chinese horoscopes and if ever I'm tempted to waste time looking, I hope I remember this quote from Shakespeare

"The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars.
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Underlings arise! Let's make 2013 the year of shameless self promotion!!