Thursday, 27 February 2014

Penis Cupcakes and Totalitarianism - the creeping tide of the dobbing-in culture

I logged onto Facebook this morning and got a sad little surprise. My friend Melanie, who shall remain nameless for reasons of copyright, was upset because someone had reported her to Facebook for posting offensive content.

But what was this terrible, awful, horrible content that Melanie posted? The thing that was so shocking that it had to be Removed At Once. Was it torture porn? Torture is apparently considered a legitimate interest by the Facebook people, as it has its own 'interest page' HERE. No, it wasn't torture porn.

Was it something political? Some kind of nasty neo-Fascist image? Again, no, Facebook is all down with fascists and racists. Such as THESE ONES, or THIS PERSON, or indeed THIS ONE.

Was it sex porn? Again no; apparently that's considered quite ok on Facebook: see it HERE and HERE.

Homophobic hate speech? No, apparently according to Facebook that's quite ok, if THIS PAGE is anything to go by.

By now your mind must be all in a tizz wondering what awful thing Melanie posted that was worse than porn, worse than hate speech. Well, I'll tell you. It was cupcakes.

Yes, folks, you heard me. The offending picture was of some cupcakes. Penis cupcakes to be precise. These ones, actually. 

So, what's the message here? That some light-hearted fancy cupcakes are going to poison the minds of our youth? Puh-LEEEEESE. Facebook terms require everyone on there to be over 13 anyway. 

What it makes me wonder about, is exactly when did we get the idea that we were all our brothers' keepers? That it was appropriate or necessary to run about supervising everyone else's behaviour (while leaving our own unexamined) and reporting them all over the place? The world I lived in even twenty years ago wasn't like this. Usually, unless a person's actions directly harmed you, you left them alone, even if you thought they were naughty, or silly, or badly dressed or whatever. Even if they were tasteless, offensive and the like. You left them alone, and then when you did something they didn't like, they left you alone. 

Now it seems we're all rushing about making 'complaints' whenever we see something we don't like. Let's look for a moment at the hidden results of that.


Yes, that's right - when any organisation starts to receive millions more complaints than usual, guess what - they have to employ more staff to deal with them. This drives up operating costs, which are always passed along to the end user, whether in the form of higher prices or increased tax.


Think about the government we have today, and then think about the government we had twenty years ago. How many bits of your life are now subject to scrutiny that used to be considered completely private? Then think about Hitler's Germany. Think about Soviet Russia. People were always denouncing each other in Soviet Russia, and in China too. They'd get sent off to the salt mines or the collective farms just for wearing a different colour hat or not loving Chairman Mao enough. In Hitler's Germany, even little girls were always looking over their shoulders. If you got dobbed in for not enjoying the BDM* enough you were in big trouble. This culture of 'dobbing' is common to all totalitarian states. Its function (apart from getting your citizens to do the dirty work of spying so you don't have to pay Thought Police to do it) is to break down the social bonds that form between ordinary people, and strengthen instead each citizen's bonds with the government, and thereby entrench the government ever more strongly with ever more complete control over the governed.

So yes, it's silly when some self-important redneck complains to Facebook about your cupcake picture. But it's more than silly. It's a sign of a deeply sick culture.

* Bund Deutscher Madel - the equivalent of the Hitler Youth for girls

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

How to Help a Struggling Author - Without it Costing Anything At All!

We've all got them. Author friends. Independently published writers desperately trying to make a living. And we'd like to help. Sure we would. As long as it doesn't cost anything. OK, we might pay a couple of bucks to download an e-book, but we're sure as hell not going to buy 50 copies of the paperback to give to all our friends and relations.

But you CAN give your writer friend some very valuable help, and it doesn't have to cost at thing. Here are the three Rs.

  • Review
  • Recommend
  • Request

OK, so you've read the e-book your friend published. Don't stop there. Sign up to Goodreads (it's free) and post a reader review. Then go to wherever you downloaded the book, and post a review there. Diesel will even pay you a small amount for the review! Reviews are very, very helpful to independent authors.

Another thing is that most of the stores don't actually require you to have purchased the book from them. You can post a review whether you bought it there or not! As far as I know, Smashwords is the only exception to this. But you still can post a review there if you download the book. Most authors will be happy to give you a coupon code for a free download of the book there if you've already bought it somewhere else, and then you can post a review there as well.

So, if you've gone to the small trouble of writing a review, get some mileage out of it!

Here are some links:

Tell your friends about the great book you are reading/just read. Tell your family (well, if it's porn maybe don't tell your mum).

When you post your review on Goodreads, use the recommend function. It will pop up right after you post your review and give you the opportunity to recommend the book to any of your friends on Goodreads. Let Goodreads post your review to Facebook too. Then share that post to any groups you belong to that may find it relevant. For example, I shared the link for David Bell's The Dog Hunters to two groups about Irish Wolfhounds. People in those groups are more than usually likely to be interested in a novel about a famous wolfhound. When you do this sensibly, you will not piss anyone off, but will rather do people a favour.

Share and retweet your friend's posts about his book, of course, and if you have a blog, you might consider posting about the book, or offering the author a guest post or interview (as I do here). 


Any time you happen to be in a library or bookstore, ask for the book.

If it's a bookstore, you needn't get them to order it in - that would be dishonest if you aren't intending to buy it. It's sufficient to look very disappointed and leave without buying anything.

If it's a library, then go for it - demand they get it in. Suggest an inter-library loan. Did you know that libraries will purchase a book that readers are asking for? If you do succeed in getting the library to obtain a copy for you, borrow it immediately. When you return it, make a point of telling the librarian how great it was.

If you belong to one or more book groups, propose the book for the reading list.

I'm sure there will be many more variations on these basic tools. I'd love to hear from readers about what they did to help promote their friends' books.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Review - Freedom of the Monsoon by Malika Gandhi

Last Tuesday we heard from Malika about why she rewrote Freedom of the Monsoon, and today it gives me great pleasure to review the new edition.

As a child, I was taught in primary school about how wonderful the great Mahatma Gandhi was, gaining his people's freedom by peaceful means (although my racist, imperialist teacher couldn't resist a few overtones about how unreasonable it was for the Indian people to resent being invaded and want their country back). But nothing prepared me for the realisation of just how badly the English behaved during their occupation of India.

Freedom of the Monsoon doesn't really focus on the abuse committed by the invaders, but as the spotlight moves about, following the story's main characters, aspects of it are thrown into relief by the edges, as it were, of the light, giving depth and texture to the main story, which relates the lives of two young people living through the period of the Quit India movement.

It's a gentle and moving story about some really nice people, although I did find the abusive husband suddenly experiencing a complete change of heart and never behaving badly again a little unrealistic.

One feature of Gandhi's writing that I really like is the way that she deals with Indian words: by giving the explanation of the term immediately afterwards, in parentheses, rather than using the more traditional footnote. This is a far more reader-friendly technique, and gives the book a friendly, chatty feeling that I enjoyed.

I did think that, as English is not the writer's first language, the book could have benefitted from a more rigorous edit, just to tidy up the inevitable stumbles in language that any non-English speaker is liable to make.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Freedom of the Monsoon is available at AMAZON and SMASHWORDS

Monday, 24 February 2014

Guest post - Cat Caruthers, author of Sorority Girls With Guns, on outlines!

My guest today is the talented Cat Caruthers, author of the stunning debut novel Sorority Girls With Guns. Cat is going to talk to us today about writing with or without an outline.

Cat writes:

A writer friend told me once that the best piece of advice he'd ever heard about writing was, “Always have an outline.” I'll be honest, I was pretty horrified. I know outlines are helpful for some people, but for me they're restrictive and pointless.

Did you ever have to write an outline for an essay in school? I remember thinking how unfair it was that every student was required to make an outline. It always meant twice as much work for me, because I never knew what I wanted to write until I started, and I always had a better idea in the middle of writing. I'd have to go back and change my outline so I wouldn't lose points. Eventually, I just started writing the outline after I wrote the essay. That saved me from writing two outlines, but it was still a pointless waste of time.

I'm not saying that no one should use an outline. There are people, like my writer friend, who find them very useful. Some people have difficulty organizing their thoughts without one. If you feel an outline is helpful, you should use one.

But I'm not one of those people, and when I try to figure out what I want to write before starting, I just end up never starting. The only way I can write anything is if I just make it all up as I go.

So when I wrote Sorority Girls with Guns, I started with only a general idea. The idea was that I'd write something for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month, in case you haven't heard) and actually finish this time. To be fair, I didn't “win” Nanowrimo 2013, because I didn't finish before December. Okay, I finished the rough draft sometime in January, then I spent another several weeks editing. But at least I finished this time!

So I started with the idea of writing about life in a sorority house. When I was in college, I studied journalism, and eventually worked in television and public relations, but I always thought the most interesting stories were the ones that didn't get told.

I also knew that I wanted to write about money and how, love it or hate it, we are all controlled by it. You can claim it doesn't matter, but it will still affect your life. Whether you're rich or poor, the amount of money in your bank account affects your life in countless ways – what you can do, how you spend your time, how others see you.

I wanted to write about a main character who struggles with the have/have not dichotomy on a daily basis. A college setting was perfect for this, since most colleges have students from a variety of financial backgrounds. In any classroom, there are broke students who live on ramen noodles and study at the bookstore because they can't afford to buy $500 worth of books sitting next to kids who drive to school in a Mercedes and spend $500 a week on booze – the good stuff.

So I came up with the idea of a romantic attraction between two people, one rich and one poor. Because of their very differing views about money, they struggle with liking each other and disliking each other at the same time. I wanted to write this story with several twists and turns in the plot, because a sorority house is nothing without secrets.

That being said, I knew the story wasn't going to be primarily a romance. I don't do sappy stories. I'm not a fan of predictably happy endings. I don't mind stories with a romantic subplot, but I get bored reading books in which a romantic relationship is the main plot. No matter what the plot is, I prefer books with a humorous, sarcastic bent, so I knew I wanted to story to have a lot of comedy. For this reason, I decided to aim for chick lit as a genre.

So I started out with a sorority house party, and as I wrote I knew there needed to be some sort of challenge for the main character, Shade, but I didn't know what it would be yet. By the end of the first chapter, I knew: She would be desperate to stake her claim to fame (however fleeting) with a viral video.

I'll be honest: There are pitfalls to writing without an outline. Frequently, I didn't know what to write next, so I just starting writing. If I didn't have a plot idea, I'd write about something I found funny, and usually by the end of the scene I'd have an idea where the plot should be going next.

Where did I get the ideas for scenes? Anything that strikes me as funny or interesting in my daily life gets filed away in the back of my brain under “stuff I should use in a book one day”. And when I have no idea what to write next, I go mentally rifle through that file until I come across something that fits well with the story I already have.

Here's an example: One day, I was out shopping and I saw the most ridiculous-looking pickup truck ever. This thing was so massive, you could park a Hummer underneath it without scraping the roof paint. It had these huge metal poles sticking out of the bed behind the cab – they looked like humungous, vertical mufflers. I don't think they were functional. The truck was painted bright red and was so shiny it was almost blinding. And to top it off, there was this huge antler rack attached to the grille (I'm pretty sure the antlers were fake).

There's a difference between “I'm proud of my truck and want to spend a few bucks on it” and “tacky”. This truck definitely fell into the latter category.

My first thought upon seeing this monstrosity: Nothing says “I'm hung like a hamster” better than a truck like that.

My second thought: I have to use a ridiculous truck like that in a book one day.

And in Sorority Girls with Guns, you'll meet that truck – and its owner. In fact, my assumption about what the truck might be compensating for led to an important plot twist and a lead-in to the sex tape scandal I wanted to include in the story. It also led to a couple of my favorite comical scenes in the book.

Had I confined myself to writing with an outline, I doubt that I would ever have thought to include the truck, its owner and that particular plot point. I don't know how I would have led into the sex-tape scandal, but I don't think I would have done so as smoothly or comically.

There is one important thing to keep in mind when working without an outline: You need to be a diligent editor. You will probably write some stuff that goes nowhere, that fails to advance the plot or entertain your audience. This is okay, because frequently these filler scenes help you get to something that does advance the plot or entertain your readers. These “filler” scenes/paragraphs/sentences are necessary for the creation of your story, but they shouldn't be hanging around after the first edit. If they're still in your novel after your first pass, they will do nothing but clutter up the story and turn an otherwise good novel into an aimless mess.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use an outline is up to the writer, but you should at least consider not using one. One exercise might be to write a short story both ways – first, without an outline, then with one. Which story do you like better? Did anything in the outline-less story surprise you or take the story in a different direction than you expected?

Well Cat, I have to say I couldn't agree more, outlines have their place but I don't think that place is with writers of humour. 

What do readers think? Write with an outline or launch yourself bravely into the unknown? Send us your comments. And don't forget to enter the contest!

Cat's debut novel, Sorority Girls With Guns, is available from AMAZON

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review - Sorority Girls With Guns, by Cat Caruthers

A classically constructed comedy, this first novel by a new author sparkles like diamonds on a rich person's poodle. I laughed out loud many times reading it, and could hardly put it down.

The characters are beautifully drawn and the action moves inexorably to a beautifully satisfying conclusion worthy of William Gilbert, with much drama and many surprises along the way. The writing is so smooth that I can hardly believe it's the author's first work, the dialogue is realistic, and every word is made to count in this wonderful story.

The work is polished, with a very few typos to detract from its perfection. One is left to hope only that Caruthers will prove as prolific as she is talented, and that more books by this gifted writer will follow.

Sorority Girls With Guns is available from AMAZON

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Contest - win a free advance copy of Dance of Chaos

Dance of Chaos, the long-awaited prequel to Gift of Continence, will soon be released. Three lucky readers can win a free pre-publication copy of the e-book.

I was going to use a Rafflecopter thingy for this, but as this is a novel about events happening in the workplace, I've decided to ask readers to tell me a funny story about something that happened at work. The five funniest events will win a copy of the book, and the winning stories will be featured on this blog. It doesn't have to be a crafted story - just a paragraph or two telling of the event. Judging will be on how funny the event is, not on the writing of it.

Email me at with your story to enter. Entries close 27 February.  Winners will be notified by email, and announced on this blog on 1 March 2014.


Friday, 21 February 2014

Ingrid's Haven - Home of Happy Endings

Just north of Melbourne, a little way up the Hume Freeway, thirty minutes past the ring road, is Ingrid's Haven, one of the most unusual cat shelters I've encountered.

Ingrid's Haven, founded in 1998 by Ingrid Arving, is special in several ways.

First of all, it is genuinely no kill. A cat who isn't adopted can live out a long and happy life at the Haven, and many do. Cats who have ended their days still at the Haven are
memorialised on the website, their unique stories told. No one is 'just a number'.

Second, cats are not accepted from individuals. All of the cats at the Haven have been rescued from Death Row, after failing to be claimed from the pound. Every adoption from the Haven saves a life.

Third - it's personal. All cats are named. All are loved. Every cat advertised for adoption comes with his own story. Those stories are known, and they are honoured. Every cat at Ingrid's is a personality in his own right. Many of them recover from traumatic experiences, and the environment is rich and warm enough to facilitate such recovery. A cat adopted from Ingrid's is a cat who's known the best care possible, without an actual family of his own.

Ingrid's Haven receives no government funding, and relies on donations to care for the cats. As well as money, donations of cat food, blankets and warm clothing such as jumpers, are gratefully accepted. You can also sponsor the cats at Ingrid's Haven as a General Sponsor; this makes a nice memorial action in memory of a departed loved one of your own.

Ingrid's Haven is open to prospective adopters every Saturday from 1100 to 1600, and at other times by appointment.

Donations can be mailed to :

Ingrid's Haven, PO Box PO Box 323, Broadford 3658 Victoria.

Tel:     0417 360 700

or bring donations of food, blankets etc to the shelter at Sunday Creek during opening hours on Saturdays. 

For the Ingrid's Haven website, click on the link below.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Review: Changeling, by Karen Dales

The story opens well, gaining instant sympathy from the reader for the poor little baby whom no one wants. We see bigotry in all its ugliness, as the albino child is rejected even by his mother. This part almost made me cry.

The narrative takes off as the child grows into a solitary little boy. It's exciting, it's moving, and the parts of the narrative written from the isolated child's viewpoint are very, very well done. It's not easy, as an adult, to set aside one's experience and write things the way an inexperienced and uninformed child would see them, and I thought Dales did this really well.

Later in the book, the plot thickens as the child is apparently claimed by an evil entity on some kind of alternate plane. Despite various life-changing events, the (as yet unnamed) boy clings  fiercely to a decent way of life. He appears to emerge victorious at the end of the book, but there is a sense of 'unfinished business' - we do not know who the evil entity is, or with what force he will be able to prosecute his claim to the young man's soul.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and despite the fact it has vampires, finished it with great enthusiasm in a single day.

The only criticism I have is that the work is rough, and desperately needs editing. Grammatical errors and inappropriate word choices formed a constant low-level irritant. A thorough edit would be well worth the author's while; the work is certainly worth the effort.

Changeling is available at AMAZON  and SMASHWORDS

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Guest post - Malika Gandhi, author of Freedom of the Monsoon

My guest this morning is the author of Freedom of the Monsoon, a novel about people living through the Quit India movement. Malika has just released a completely rewritten second edition of this book, and today she is going to talk to us about why she did that.

Why I chose to rewrite...

Three years ago, I wrote Freedom of the Monsoon (FOTM), my baby, my debut. I chose to write it for adults, a piece of historical fiction, seen from the other end of the lens – a past that is usually missed out, when that part of history is read about.
When people read of the Quit India movement, and Mahatma Gandhi, they read about politics, about the leaders, and perhaps a little bit of the thousands who became victims in this war for independence.
Rarely does one read a novel that shows the dangers, sacrifice, hopes, and fears of the Indian people during the Independence era. Freedom of the Monsoon does exactly this; it tells the story of people, whose lives changed when Quit India was called by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known as Mahatma Gandhi.

The first edition of FOTM was written with footnotes, extensive notes, and a glossary. This was for the benefit of non-Indian readers. But even if this was a idea for the paperback, it wasn’t so for an ereader experience, as many said the footnotes interfered with the formatting.

Originally, I wrote in five main characters, and to help the reader, I added their names at the top of each chapter, so the reader knew who was talking (the book was written in the first person). I don’t know if this was a factor that stumped the sales of the book, but to make the reading experience much better, I cut down to two main characters, incorporating the other three character’s stories around Dev and Pooja, who are now the main two.

Writing this book was tough, as beforehand I researched many historical facts, through many personal accounts. The accounts were put online, and told by people who had family, who lived in India at the time. Then, taking the stories – not one in particular, but many – I let myself “be” in their stories, in their lives, and feel their despair and pain, which I then transferred into fictional plots for FOTM.

The basic fact was that my book wasn’t getting read by the masses, and I tried to find the reason why this was happening. I changed the format and changed the cover many times – but still no joy. Then, in November last year, I decided to take it off “the shelf”, and revamp the whole novel, and have a professional create the cover for me. I rewrote the book, had it beta read and edited, and checked, and rechecked again, then I hit the Publish button.

I am very happy with this edition, and hope you will enjoy the experience.

 Well I can only speak for myself, but I have to say I am very much enjoying it!

Freedom of the Monsoon is available at  AMAZON.