A writer who wants accounting to save the world Reply

By Melanie Suzanne Wilson

Jane Gleeson-White always knew what she wanted. Since she learned to read, writing was her passion. At the age of 10, she decided she wanted to be a writer.

Jane Gleeson-White pic

Jane Gleeson-White: a fascination for how the world works. Picture by Michael Thomas

While Jane’s literary influences are classic titles, she says they were pop culture when released. Her listed favourites include Shakespere, Tolstoy, George Elliott, Homer, Patrick White, Agatha Christie, and Harry Potter.

Jane identifies with authors from previous eras. “They were the best selling of their day. They were writing about their day.”

But she didn’t just want to live in fictional literary land; Jane wanted to bring the real world alive.

She says she became interested in the anomalies of capitalism since studying economics in the late 1980s.

“Given that I was completely addicted to reading novels from when I could read, you’d think I would have written a novel.” Instead, she became fascinated by how the world works.

She says she goes to popular culture for inspiration. She got addicted to Harry Potter just like everyone else. Mystery stories capture her attention. More…

The rise and rise of the world’s biggest author Reply

By Lauren Ziegler

James Patterson

James Patterson has sold more books than Stephen King, Dan Brown and John Grisham combined. Picture by Rankin

“Hi, I’m Stephen King,” says James Patterson with a cheeky grin, at his sell-out session at the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

The audience giggled as the 68-year-old playfully readied Sydney’s Town Hall for a dazzling hour of anecdotes, one-liners and insight into the mind of “The World’s Biggest Author”.

For some, the nickname ‘the Henry Ford of books’ might seem like a slap in the face for James Patterson. But for the writer, it signals an accurate, highly profitable career. As we learned on the night, James Patterson has sold more books than Stephen King, Dan Brown and John Grisham combined. Totaling more than 305 million books sold to date, his unbelievably prolific bibliography spans thriller, comedy, young adult fiction, children’s books and science fiction.
When his on-stage companion for the night, Ray Martin, asks, “It’s been said that printing a James Patterson book is like printing money. Is it that easy?” The writer happily replies with a simple “Yes.” More…

Winning narrative tells us things we don’t know Reply

By Ben Nielsen

Jenan Taylor Guy prize pic

Jenan Taylor, this year’s winner of the 2015 Guy Morrison Prize for Literary Journalism

Dying is expensive. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission estimates that a basic cremation costs around $4000, and the most elaborate burial is about $14,000. So, what options are available to those who can’t afford to die?
Jenan Taylor, who is a postgraduate journalism student at Monash University, spent a fortnight with the staff of Bereavement Assistance, a charitable funeral parlour in Melbourne. There she was given a rare insight into the preparations and private ceremony of a woman who had died of cancer.

“I think it’s surprising to see what sort of care is given to someone who can’t afford anything,” she said. “It is confronting, especially for me with a middle class background; when I’ve gone to funerals there has always been a big ceremony and there were always people to give a send off.”

Ms Taylor was inspired to write the feature article ‘Dignity and the Art of the Downsized Death’, in response to her experience at the funeral parlour and as a tribute to mortician and ‘carer of the dead’ Kathy Hodges. She was declared the winner of this year’s $4000 Guy Morrison Prize for Literary Journalism following the launch of the UTS Writers’ Anthology at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. More…

Death didn’t become her Reply

By Loren Smith

“Husbands, wives and arsenic. Turns out they go quite well together.” So lightly began Caroline Overington’s otherwise solemn and impassioned talk on her latest book, Last Woman Hanged: the Terrible True Story of Louisa Collins at the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Caroline Overington pic

Caroline Overington: her book “a letter of thanks”

In it, Ms Overington narrates the story of Louisa Collins, twice-married, mother of 10 and notorious victim of capital punishment. Before being brutally hanged in Sydney in 1889, an all-male court tried Louisa a world record-breaking four times for the murders of her two husbands. She swore her innocence until the noose was taut.

And that’s not even the most astonishing part of Louisa’s story. Her execution triggered one of the first documented instances of public feminism in Australia, leading to groundbreaking female civic victories. “Less than 15 years after Louisa Collins was hanged, Australian women would become some of the first in the world to get the vote … less than 20 years later, Australian women were standing for Parliament,” Ms Overington told the Bitesize Lunchtime Talks crowd on Tuesday.

“A lovely little flirt,” Louisa was persuaded to marry at a young age. There, in “swampy, very foul smelling Botany, she fell in love. Unfortunately, it wasn’t with her husband,” Ms Overington jokes.

Soon after her husband discovered the liaison, he mysteriously died. Louisa almost immediately married her lover. Then he, too, abruptly fell ill and died, exhibiting the same pre-mortem symptoms. Overington recounts, “She sat by his bedside, wailing.” More…

In the age of magic Reply

By Tania Kanaan

Ben Okri

Ben Okri: exploring the power of the human condition and the chemistry between imagination and reality.

Excitement was in the air at the Sydney Writers’ Festival as fans lined up outside the Roslyn Packer Theatre, to hear Ben Okri speak about his latest novel, The Age of Magic. One of the foremost African authors and winner of the 1991 Prize Booker, the renowned author talks with interviewer Michael Cathcart about his latest fictional fantasy.

The Age of Magic
explores the wonders of life, the power of the human condition and the chemistry between imagination and reality. Michael Cathcart begins by asking about the unique one sentence chapter. To which Ben Okri answered, “It was initially about three and a half pages long, however I decided that it had the same value in just one simple sentence.” Then he added, “It also leaves the reader wondering where the rest of the chapter is.”

Ben Okri described the age we live in as a mixture between an age of consciousness and an age of history. It’s a mixture his novel tries to encapsulate through the notion of Arcadia.

Born in Minna, Nigeria in 1959 and educated in both Nigeria and England, Ben

Okri’s poetic vision and philosophical description of life does not go unnoticed. He described his Nigerian childhood as one filled with magical stories, emphasising that story telling was a significant part of his life and that it has had a substantial influence on his work. More…

In the end: living the best possible day, every day Reply

By Jennifer Haines

Atul Gawanda pic

Dr Atul Gawande: people have priorities besides living longer. Picture by Tim Llewellyn

Sarah Thomas Monopoli was just 34 years old and pregnant with her first child when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Within one year, after enduring a litany of painful and increasingly desperate treatments, she was dead.

Boston surgeon and regular contributor to The New Yorker Atul Gawande wove Sarah’s story as “a patient whose care I regret” into the Sydney Writers’ Festival discussion of his latest book, Being Mortal, about illness, medicine and what matters in the end.

This moving account of a young mother who had significant medical intervention even as it became obvious that she would not survive, weighed heavily on Dr Gawande, who noted that for the last months of her life “she was so weakened, she couldn’t hold her baby”.

Though having afforded Sarah every offering of modern medicine, Dr Gawande couldn’t help but feel he had failed her.

Embarking on his surgical career, Dr Gawande loved nothing more than a problem to fix. But over time, he found himself stymied by patients whose problems were really just the conditions of ageing, infirmity or terminal illness, and not solvable with more or better surgery. In fact, such interventions often dramatically decreased patients’ quality of life, leaving them unable to enjoy the time they had left. More…

Ahmad Al-Rady on the power of the spoken word. Reply

By Natalie Freeland

Ahmad Al-Rady, founder of the Bankstown Spoken Word movement, is distracted. He seems perpetually in a rush. Twenty minutes ago, he swept into a crowded room and, with a winning mix of charm and eloquence, won over the audience with beautiful spoken poetry. As he talks, his face lights up, his gestures reinforcing the symmetry in his words.

His deep, expressive voice softens as he paints images in the air: a letter to his grandmother in Iraq; pictures of love and of hurt; nervous fluttering in the stomach; the sad progression to becoming strangers. They are moments that most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about with our closest friends, let alone in front of 50 strangers.

Ahmad Al Rady pic

Ahmad Al-Rady: “A lot of people just want a poem; they just want to write and get up and say their piece.”

Being vulnerable in front of an audience isn’t particularly daunting for Ahmad. To him it creates this kind of rawness that overcomes any embarrassment.

“It’s the fact that you remind people that we all make mistakes, we all feel,” he says. For him, the spoken word achieves that, reminding people of the universality of the human experience.

Thoughtful and charismatic, Ahmad, 24, seems the life of the party. With a big boyish smile and dark friendly eyes, he’s reminiscent of the guy who was in every school – as  school captain, top of the class, the most valued player in the footy team.

He laughs and says, “Yes, I was kickboxing and I did amateur fights. I was school captain and I was on the footy team. I can’t sit still. I’m too restless. I get bored with things quickly.”

This becomes obvious considering his life right now. He is co-creator of the Western Sydney poetry slam, completing his master’s degree in podiatry, taking part in a panel discussion at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, compiling his debut book of poetry, contributing to the Bankstown Youth Development Service. It’s all in a day’s work for Ahmad.

“I guess I see so much opportunity. And I think, I’m only here for a short time, I might as well have a bit of everything on the buffet,” he says.

Ahmad’s first poetry slam was in a Glebe pub. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he was entering the NSW Wales state finals. More…

When a book is special, like an orange Reply

By Cara Wagstaff


Zoe Sadokierski: the packaging of a book prepares readers for what they are about to experience

“I bought an orange once when I was in Japan. It was wrapped in several layers of beautiful rice paper, and then placed into a little box. The box was an extraordinary piece of paper engineering that folded into itself so it closed without tape or string,” Zoe Sadokierski said.

Ms Sadokierski, an award-winning book designer and writer, studies the evolution of books in today’s digital age. She believes the physical form of a book is just as important as what is written on its pages.

“The thing about an orange is that it doesn’t need packaging. It already comes in a natural wrapper – its skin. It smells good and looks appealing.

“Opening the box and unwrapping the delicate layers, each one a slightly different texture, was a beautiful experience. It felt like Christmas.”

Ms Sadokierski used this experience as a metaphor for the material form of a book. “A book is perfect. It’s light and portable. It doesn’t require electricity or software updates.”  Similarly to unwrapping the orange, the packaging of a book prepares readers for what they are about to experience.

“A publisher once teased me by saying you could wrap a good book in a brown paper and it would still sell. What he was trying to say is that a good book doesn’t need fancy packaging, it is already a perfect thing.”

She said e-books prove this. “We are buying a book as a text, opposed to a book as an object. ” More…

Go online or reinvent: the future of secondhand bookshops Reply

By Jasmine Crittenden

Readers used to travel a long way to visit The Book Collector. Before closing in July 2008, it was Parramatta’s busiest secondhand bookshop. Among the 10,000-strong collection, customers ferreted around for first edition Biggles novels, out-of-print war diaries and antiquarian Australiana.

tamara Kennedy

Grand days for Tamara Kennedy

“I remember people actually shedding tears on the last day, bringing us chocolates and flowers and cards. One lady was sobbing,” says Bill McLennan, who had co-owned and managed the business with his wife, Barbara, since 1993. “But it just wasn’t viable anymore. We were continually facing rent increases, which the landlord didn’t feel the need to justify. The last time it happened, we decided to pull up stumps.”

Mr and Mrs McLennan trucked the best of their goods to their home in Castle Hill, from where they now sell via online marketplace AbeBooks. “We miss the customers – getting to know their likes and needs – and the excitement when they’d come across something unexpected.”

Australia’s secondhand bookshops are disappearing. It’s not only exorbitant rents causing booksellers to struggle to survive, but also the fierce competition enabled by the Internet. AbeBooks alone lists more than 100 million titles. This means both cheaper prices and the proliferation of books previously thought rare. Finding a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird is merely a matter of typing a few words into a search engine.

John Tipper, editor of Collecting Books and Magazines, says, “Initially – in the late ‘90s – the Internet pushed prices to astronomical heights, in respect of rare children’s titles. But, by 2006, eBay led to a flow of books, which grew rapidly due to the number of collectors, dealers and ‘runners’ (non-collectors, whose sole interest is buying valuable items cheaply and selling directly to dealers) rummaging through deceased estates, op shops and church fairs. More…

Crowd funding to help save endangered birds Reply

By Jasmine Crittenden

A crowd funding campaign to save three of Australia’s endangered bird species exceeded its $40,000 target within the first three days and, with two weeks to go, has raised more than $65,000. “It’s just astonishing. I was sceptical it wouldn’t get off the ground,” says Dr Dejan Stojanovic, a conservation biologist at the Australian National University and co-coordinator of the campaign.

Dr Stojanovic and his team plan to buy 1,000 nesting boxes and ship them to Tasmania, to protect swift parrots, 40 spotted pardalotes and orange-bellied parrots during breeding season. In April 2014, Dr Stojanovic co-published a study in Diversity and Distributions demonstrating the groundbreaking discovery that swift parrots, which nest in the hollows of mature trees, are vulnerable to sugar glider predation in deforested areas. Approximately 2,000 swift parrots and fewer than 60 orange-bellied parrots survive in the wild.

Spotted pardalote

The beautiful little pardalote: hope for the future. Photograph by David Jenkins used under Creative Commons licence

Yet last month, Environment Tasmania’s Pulling a Swiftie report found that the Tasmanian Government’s support of logging in five areas in the state’s southeast ignored advice from scientists in the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment. The scientists had warned that logging would result in the loss of important swift parrot habitat, contradicting the Government’s objective of “ecologically sustainable forest management”.

“It’s so frustrating,” Dr Stojanovic says. “I can bang on about how endangered swift parrots are and how we know the threats are being exacerbated, but until there’s a genuine attempt to implement environmental policy, then what’s the point?

“We turned to crowd funding because we want to act urgently. If nothing is done, the swift parrot population could collapse within 16 years. Besides, the funding available to scientists usually requires a high research impact, which doesn’t necessarily equate to an on-the-ground conservation impact.” More…