My Blog

Early Epiphany

Sunset Panorama

Recently, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Safety II (stay with me…)

I was looking into something called “Safety II”.  Now, as a dyed-in-the-wool system safety engineer, I’m used to the traditional approach to safety.  You think about what ought to happen when you obey the rules; everything else is a deviation, a mistake, or an error: deviation is failure.

Safety II doesn’t look at it like that.  Instead of imagining work done in a perfect world, it looks at work as people do it, for real.  There is often little difference between work that results in a good or not so good.  This leads to a much less rigid way of looking at things.

Functional Resonance (just a bit more…)

My epiphany came when I tried a technique called Functional Resonance Analysis Method, or FRAM.  This is popular with fans of Safety II.  I tried using it to analyse a scenario that I had struggled with for a long time.  None of the other techniques that I tried worked, perhaps because it involved creativity, and the old techniques could not cope with that.  FRAM did cope with it, and how!  From the beginning, I was drawing simple diagrams and learning from them, getting insights into a problem that had eluded me for months, even years.  I am still riding this wave.

Now, FRAM isn’t magic, and it’s not the answer to everything.  It’s not the one method to rule them all, but it did challenge and enlighten me.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM): Precise, or Just Narrow?

As an engineer, I’m used to using science and maths to get my job done.  There is a right answer and many wrong answers to every question.  2+2=4, always, without exception, no deviations allowed.  I find that reassuring, comforting even. Correctness, precision, accuracy; I like these things.  But not everyone is like me: shocking, isn’t it?  For a lot of people, precision, rules, one right answer where every other answer is wrong – these things are a big turn off.  Many people dislike the rigidity of science and maths and find it excluding – prejudiced even.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not talking about those who chose to deny scientific fact because of some dogma. I’m talking about ordinary people, who are turned off by the rigidity of science.  I guess that’s why we spend so much trying to make STEM attractive to girls, for example.

Creativity

A lot of people feel uncomfortable with this narrow approach. They spend a lot of time being creative, furthering relationships, enjoying music, art and literature: me too. I can enjoy these activities without analysing them, seeing them as problems to be investigated and solved.  In fact, it’s best not to even try.

Maybe I need to loosen up and accept that I can’t have, and don’t want, precision all the time.  After all, fuzzy logic and fuzzy decision making have been used to develop Artificial Intelligence, taking mere rule-following machines and changing them to become…well, we’re not quite sure yet. The point is that thinking, intelligence – from a human perspective, anyway – requires more than logic and precision.  Edward de Bono, a modern guru of thinking, says that real decision-making needs emotion. Mere facts are not enough to make value judgements.

Epiphany

Nor can reduce everything to an equation, or to physical, ‘scientific’ evidence.  I was reminded of this when I did jury duty recently. The judge explained that we had to assess the facts – we should not accept anything presented to us as fact, even if she said it!  We had to decide what was fact and then decide what we could infer from those facts.  In the law, the ‘intent’ of the accused is a key ingredient to be decided. The jury had to infer what the intent of the accused had been, even though we could not see into their heads, and they either would not speak or plausibly denied their guilt.  We had to do infer intent based on circumstantial evidence.  We did.

So this epiphany, this new experience, has helped me to pull together a whole bunch of other experiences, old and new, and discover (create? synthesize?) a whole, new way of seeing things. This way is not as reassuring or simple as 2+2=4, but I like it nonetheless.

So that’s my epiphany.  I know it’s a bit early – not quite right.  Sorry.

Invictus – are you a winner?

Recently, I was lucky enough to go to the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.  One of the events that I saw was a men’s 1500 metres race, featuring six veterans with a range of disabilities – some had two legs, some had one leg and a blade, and one guy had two blades.  Later that day, we saw the TV coverage of the race, and it showed the few seconds when the Australian ran across the finish line to win.

The Athletics Track.

But that wasn’t the real story

On the first lap, the competitors were bunched together, with an American guy at the back.  He had lost both legs above the knee, and he had to move his blades with a side-to-side gait that looked like really hard work.  But this guy was big and strong, and he never looked like someone struggling to keep up, he looked like someone who was biding his time, waiting to make his move.  On the second lap he did so, and on the straight, right in front of the crowd, we went wide and overtook the pack to take the lead.

He didn’t just get in front but got 10 metres clear of the rest of them and stayed there for most of the race. He looked unstoppable and it was thrilling to see him go.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite keep it up.  As he tired, the Australian veteran, who had been in second or third place for the whole race, made his move on the final lap.  He crossed the line well in front of everyone else, and sadly the brave American guy, who made such a bold, gutsy run, didn’t finish in the medals.  I admired the Aussie for running such a clever race, and the American for his strength, guts and big heart.

That wasn’t the end of it.  After the guys who won medals crossed the line they went back to encourage and support the others across, including the guy in last place who been lapped by everybody else earlier on.  That story, that drama, never made it onto the TV screen.

Missing the Point

The next morning, we watched the news summary on ‘Sunrise’ an Australian TV program, which reported the results from the athletics event of the day before.  Some Australian athletes were named, for example, one guy who “won gold in the 100m, gold in the 200m, gold in the 400m, and gold in the 1500 metres”.  The only reporting was of those who were winners, who were champions.

This completely missed the point of Invictus.

The joy of the games was watching people compete.  Watching the teams go nuts as they cheered on their comrades (I never knew that Danes could get so excited).  Watching people come first or in the middle or last and being wildly cheered and celebrated no matter how well they did.

The point of the games was it that it took men and women who were broken, who lacked meaning in their post-military lives and gave them purpose.  It turned them into contenders, even though their bodies may never be whole again.  Invictus gave them something to focus on and a goal to aim for.  It restored a discipline, which had ordered their lives and given them direction in the past.  (These are their words, not mine.)  Hopefully, these men and women, whether they win a medal or not, will go on to apply this new sense of purpose in other aspects of their lives, after Invictus.  Many already have.

The exception to this reporting was the ABC evening coverage of the games, which did a great job of getting the ethos of Invictus across.  Thank goodness for public service broadcasting.

Lessons

There are probably two lessons here. The obvious one is that there is no substitute for being there; watching something vicariously, through a screen, or hearing someone else talk about it just isn’t the same.

The less obvious lesson is about the Australian tendency to celebrate winning and winners to the exclusion of all else.  This puts pressure on our sportsmen and women to win at all costs.

I suspect that it was this pressure that caused the Australian cricket team to indulge in ball tampering last season.  I can’t help feeling that the huge wave of anger directed at them had more to do with the fact that they were caught, not because they had done something wrong.  They had failed at what they were required to do, which was to make us all feel like winners.  They were supposed to maintain the illusion that one can win all the time, without cost, without compromising one’s principles.

Winning at All Costs

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull

When the ball tampering scandal hit, Malcolm Turnbull, the then Prime Minister, said he was more concerned about sledging.  (For the uninitiated, “sledging” is where players verbally abuse the batsmen, to put them off.)  I think Malcolm had it right. If sledging is a legitimate part of the sport, then what age do we teach kids to say “I shagged your wife” to another sportsman?

When we first came to Australia, we were shocked at how the media tore into the cricket team if they didn’t win.  The TV news would talk about any old billy-bollocks first, and then mention in passing that Australia was losing, or “looking to come from behind for a win”, as they would say!

It’s not just in cricket.  When the Olympic team flew home from London 2012 the medal winners were separated from their teammates.  The winners flew home in business class, and the rest in economy.  It’s all part of our “winning at all costs” mentality.

Invictus – a Better Way

Well, I can say with confidence that, in Invictus, I saw a better way – a better definition of winning, and of what it means to be a winner.  I shall look forward to seeing the next Invictus games, which will be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 2020.  I might have to watch it on the TV in the middle of an Australian night, but it will be worth the wait.

Adelaide Writers

Welcome, Writers!

I hope that writers feel comfortable here.  I write speculative fiction, but I enjoy all kinds of fiction and non-fiction, as you can see…

My bookshelf

Writers’ Groups

I am a member of several writers groups, for example, a little Facebook group called ‘Writers of Adelaide‘.  There are six other members, so far, and here are some links to their blogs:

Ryan Peck: https://adelaidedad.com/

Dean Mayes: http://www.deanfromaustralia.com/

Jennifer Sando: http://www.jennifersando.com/

Heidi Arellano: https://marissakeller.blogspot.com/

Mary Louise Tucker: https://mltatlarge.me/

Fontella Koleff: https://crossbordertales.wordpress.com/

Adelaide Writers’ Group (AWG)

We meet monthly to critique each others’ work at the Cumberland Arms Hotel.  Ask to join our (closed) Facebook group page for details, or try the SA Writers site for information on other local groups.

Back to my writing projects!

Science Fiction Fans

Welcome, Science Fiction Fans!

You’ve probably found this page via a search engine, and you’ve come to the right place – I’m a fan too.  I’m also a writer of science fiction and you can find out about my projects here.

You are welcome to leave comments and questions in the ‘reply’ box, below.  I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Best Regards, Simon

Anatomy of a Writer’s Block

Writer’s block.  It’s a cliche, it’s not real – is it?

This Writer’s Block

In 2010 I started writing my first novel.  (We’ll forget about the train wreck of a novel I wrote in the 1990s).  It was planned as part of a trilogy called When I Was, Other Than, What I Now Am, which is a quote from a short story by Greg Bear.

Greg Bear, SF Author
Greg Bear

By late 2012 I thought I had finished writing When I Was (HO-HO-HO, I’m still working on the latest draft in 2018) and I moved onto Other Than.

With the benefit of hindsight, this book was probably suffering from Second-system syndrome.  I deliberately kept the first one simple, with one main protagonist and everything written from his point of view.  Not so with number two! There were three main protagonists and multiple points of view.  Did this contribute to the problem?  I’m still not sure.

Anyway, all seemed to be going well.  I was using a detailed chapter plan, a first for me as I recognised the complexity of what I was taking on.  The words came easily and the characters, who I knew well from book one, were doing most of the work for me.  By March 2013 I was 30,000 words in and then … nothing.  I just ran out of steam and could go no further.

What Happened?

Looking through the files from then it was a very creative time.  I sketched out ideas for several novels, including one that evolved into Jubilee (a current work in progress, see this page) and another book in my planned alternative-crime series, The Oxygen Thieves, which is still on my to-do list.  Perhaps I just burned myself out.  After all, we’d just moved to Australia with a stroppy teenager (don’t try this at home) and I was just setting out on a five-and-a-half-year roller-coaster ride on a massive project at work.  (Incidentally, this ride comes to an end at the end of this month: synchronicity, anyone?)

In the end, I wrote my way out of the block, by starting a new project, writing the first 12,000 words of The Daedalus Soul; since then I’ve built this story to 50,000 words.  Eventually, I was able to go back and take the first draft of Other Than to 80,000 words and a conclusion.

Postscript

Sometime later I discovered that another name for writers’ block is the thirty-thousand [word] doldrums.  My grateful thanks to Emma Darwin and her excellent blog site This Itch of Writing.  As always, Emma provides wise advice and a useful perspective, from which the aspiring writer can see a way ahead.  Thanks, Emma!    Emma Darwin, patron saint of struggling writers

Emma Darwin

I am now returning to Other Than in order to complete it (note to self: must learn to FINISH a novel).

Review – The Artisan Heart

The Artisan Heart

Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organized by Bernadette.
When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.
A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, Genevieve, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own.
As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.

I have just finished reading ‘The Artisan Heart’ by Dean Mayes.  It’s a contemporary romance set mostly in the country Victoria town of Walhalla.  It is Dean’s fourth novel.  I should reveal that I’ve met Dean at Adelaide writers’ events, in various pubs, and he is a thoroughly nice guy!  (On this blog I have briefly reviewed his previous novel, ‘The Recipient’, which is a thriller with subtle supernatural elements.)

I was very pleased to be able to get a signed advanced copy (not a freebie, by the way), even though romance is not a genre that I would normally read.

Review

The novel opens in dramatic fashion with a betrayal, followed by a violent confrontation in the emergency room at Adelaide hospital.  The damaged protagonist returns to where he grew up.  He seeks shelter in a familiar place and with old family friends, but must also confront old pain and loss.  The romance at the core of the story grows slowly, but steadily, before the dramatic interventions of previous partners threaten to ruin everything.

One of the novel’s strengths, which it shares with ‘The Recipient’, is how it makes you care strongly for the characters, so strongly that I am reminded of novels by Neville Shute.  The two main characters are strong.  They are sympathetically drawn, but they are not without their faults, they carry scars from past relationships and they did not get on so well in the past.  These factors and many others mean that they are fully and satisfyingly realised on the page – and in the mind’s eye.

The cast of supporting characters is also vividly drawn, some at more length than others, but always to good effect on the plot and this reader.  The disability of a key supporting character is sensitively dealt with, heightening the sense of peril at times, but without being patronizing or clichéd.  The town of Walhalla and the surrounding hills also play their part and are well presented.  The slightly claustrophobic small town is hemmed in by the mountains, forming a cauldron for the romance and drama.  Economic use of description adds realism and atmosphere without getting in the way.

Dean adds his medical knowledge into the mix and several twists that stop the romantic story arc becoming predictable or too comfortable.  All these elements – plot, characters, setting, description and so on – are skilfully combined into a satisfying whole.

Conclusion

As I said at the start I would not normally read a romance, and this book is quite different from Dean’s previous novel.  Nevertheless, I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen next Dean brought another element to the fore and kept me anxiously reading right to the end.  Thus fed and entertained, I shall be more open-minded in my future reading!

The Artisan Heart will be available in print and digital from September 1st, 2018.
See Dean’s website for details…

Life in Adelaide: a Source of Inspiration for Writing

How is life in Adelaide a source of inspiration for your writing?

My Take On it

Members of the Writers in Adelaide group have been asked to contribute to a ‘blog chain’ on the subject of Adelaide as an inspiring place to write or inspiring me as a writer. I’ve just come back from the UK where every day was hot and sunny, and I’ve returned to a cold wet and windy Adelaide.  There are British programs on the TV.  I’m confused!

A Good Place

Adelaide, Jacarandas, Rainbow, Spring
One of My First Photos of Adelaide

Putting that aside, the Adelaide that I’m used to is good for writing.  It seems an open place to me, as the streets are wide, the houses are spread out and there’s plenty of parklands.  There is room here, room to think – room for my mind to roam and seek big ideas. The climate also helps, because we can keep our houses open (okay, maybe not in winter), open into the garden and the wider outside; we can look around, relax, explore, see the sights, do stuff and meet people.

Connectivity

Adelaide is a close place, a connected place.  Surprisingly for a city of 1.5 million people, everyone seems to know everyone else, usually via two or three acquaintances. I’m constantly amazed at how someone I know is also known by somebody else that I know, with apparently no reason for them to be connected: yet they are.  This is also conducive to writing because it reminds me that good stories are about people, characters and their connections.  A compelling story gives the reader empathy with our characters and their relationships and how they are motivated – driven – to act accordingly.  How we love to discover these connections, especially when the characters would rather they remained a secret.

When I was in the UK writing was a solitary existence, which was fine as I’m comfortable with my own company.  However, when I came here I joined Writers SA and found the Adelaide Writers Group, one of many here, and I haven’t looked back since.  I found a friendly group of people who give me positive criticism and support me, and in return I critique their pieces, learning about writing and growing my skills as a result.  Now, I know that there are writers’ groups all around the world, but I associate Adelaide with this sociability, meeting people down the pub who are also interested (okay, obsessed, let’s be honest) with writing.  Mixed together are earning writers willing to share their knowledge and my fellow amateurs.  Some of them are on this blog chain, and it’s my pleasure to be part of it.

Summing Up

So Adelaide is a good place to write, but it’s also inspiring in itself.  At the start of this post, I mentioned some similarities and differences between Adelaide and the UK, where I’ve spent most of my life, and about half of my writing life.  Adelaide feels like a cross between the UK and USA to me, familiar enough for me to feel at home and different enough to appreciate.  This mix is stimulating, and it’s led me to question a lot of things about life that, I guess, I had just taken for granted.  Coming here has changed who I am and challenged what I identify with.

Let’s hope it improves my writing!

What Others in the Blog chain Said…

Book Review

Hi all,

I have been lucky enough to be asked to review the latest book by Adelaide writer Dean Mayes, called ‘The Artisan Heart’.  Now, everyone in Adelaide knows everyone else via two or three other people, so it’s no surprise that I know Dean.  I met him down the pub at an Adelaide lit drinks thing put on by SA Writers, and he’s a thoroughly nice bloke.  Now that I’ve disclosed that I’m biased…

…let’s get on with the review.  Well, sort of.  I am reading The Artisan Heart and thoroughly enjoying it so far, but I’m not finished or ready to review it.  Feeling a bit guilty about being so slack in my reading, I thought that I would mention Dean’s previous book ‘The Recipient’.

Review: The Recipient

The Recipient, Dean Mayes, Review, Novel, Thriller
Cover picture of The Recipient, by Dean Mayes

This is a contemporary thriller with a subtle, but important supernatural element to it, and sat mainly in Melbourne: so far, quite different from the Artisan Heart.  However, it also has strong, nuanced and believable characters, which Dean gets you to care about very quickly.  He reminds me of Nevil Shute in that respect.

The book also delivers on the thriller front, with a tough, driven heroine, who gets herself into some dangerous situations. There are also some interesting family dynamics, several characters who may have mixed motives and a well rounded, but lethal, villain.

Anyway, I hope that I’ve whetted your appetite!. Now I must get on with reading The Artisan Heart!

Cheers, Simon

Grants Information for South Australian Writers

Yesterday I went to an event run by the Arts South Australia on grants from their Independent Makers and Presenters Program (IMPP).

My thanks to Jennifer Sando on Writers in Adelaide for the tip-off!

Introduction

It was an open panel discussion about project and professional development funding opportunities for independent writers.  About fifteen of us got to learn more about IMPP funding categories, and we got inside tips on how to present a competitive application.

The session focused mainly on Project Grants, for – you guessed it – specific projects and on Individual Development Grants for mentoring opportunities.  A lot of the advice was along the lines of “read the handbook and do what it says”; a handbook or guide is available on the website for each grant category and the ones I read were clear and helpful.

Good Advice on Grants

However, there was also lots of other good advice, for example:

  • You can’t apply for funding to do things that are part of an existing course;
  • Include a one-paragraph synopsis of your intended work;
  • What is your inspiration? What are you exploring?
  • How are you pushing (your) boundaries? Why is this work a strategic choice for you?
  • The Arts SA staff encourage applicants to get in touch with them (contact details on the IMPP website) – indeed few applications succeed without this;
  • The Arts SA staff will read applications for first-time applicants (but NOT in the final week before the submission deadline;
  • You should begin writing your application at least six weeks before the deadline; and
  • About one in three applications succeed!

I felt greatly encouraged to “give it a shot” and apply, even dare I say to try something out of my comfort zone – why not?  Peter Grace and Julia Moretti of Arts SA were excellent, as were Arts South Australia peer assessors Dr Cameron Raynes and Dr Danielle Clode, who had themselves won such grants in the past.  I also know some un/published writers who have won these grants, so there is hope for us mere mortals!

Panel Members

https://arts.sa.gov.au/sites/default/files/public/styles/flexslider-mid/public/field/image/cloderaynes_0.jpg?itok=X1TmIHQr

Dr Cameron Raynes is an Adelaide based writer and educator. His published works include First Person Shooter, The Last Protector and The Colour of Kerosene, for which he received the prestigious Josephine Ulrick Literary Prize in 2008. Cameron currently teaches Aboriginal History, Contemporary Aboriginal Issues and Creative Writing at the University of South Australia.

Dr Danielle Clode is the author of numerous literary non-fiction publications, including Voyages of the South Seas, A Future in Flames and The Wasp and the Orchid. She is the recipient of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for non-fiction, Whitley Award for popular zoology and has been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia award. Danielle is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University.

Further Information

For further information contact Julia Moretti, Arts Development Officer, Independent Makers and Presenters Program on julia.moretti@sa.gov.au