dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
[livejournal.com profile] promiseoftin asked 'What got you into journalism/writing'? This was a bit of a complicated, two-stage process. It's also worth saying that, aside from blogging and the odd bit of reviewing on my reviews blog, I'm not really a writer or journalist any more. But I was for a long time, and for a longer time before that, it was the only career I imagined for myself, and everything I did was geared towards becoming a reviewer/journalist.

I have to admit that, in hindsight, the main reason I gravitated towards journalistic writing as a career was the fact that both my parents are journalists. My father is a very prominent Australian political TV journalist, and my mother is a radio broadcaster; both have been working as journalists for over forty years. Growing up, basically all the adults around me were journalists, so that I developed this unconscious perception that to be an adult with a job meant being a journalist. It helped that reading, writing, and analysing the written word came naturally and easily to me, and that I was encouraged in this, particularly by my mother, who was always telling me that as long as I could write, I would always have a job. By the time I was in my teens, she was pushing me to submit reviews to newspapers and write for student papers, and I was enthusiastically doing so.

That is what underlay my entry into journalism and writing - parental example and encouragement. How I actually started working in this field is quite an embarrassing story. At one point, when I was sixteen, I was having yet another discussion with my mother about books, sparked by what I believed to be a terrible review of my favourite book series, His Dark Materials, in the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. Mum, who was always one to push and encourage me in ambitious directions, said that I should write a letter to the reviewer explaining why her review was flawed. I wrote an incredibly pompous letter to this poor woman - the children's book editor of the Sydney Morning Herald! - and, to her credit and my eternal shame, she wrote back. Instead of telling me I was being ridiculous (which was very kind, given that in the letter I accused her of not having read the book she reviewed), she asked me if I thought I could do a better job, and offered me the opportunity to review The Amber Spyglass along with two other books that had been my favourites of that year. My review was duly published in the Sydney Morning Herald's yearly roundup where multiple reviewers talked about their favourite books of the year, and I was paid normal reviewer rates. Please, please, people trying to get into writing and reviewing - don't do what I did. I found the letter years later when clearing out my room at my mum's house, along with the letter the editor had written back, and it was absolutely mortifying to read. Most editors are not going to behave like her!

That review was a one-off. I didn't really get a permanent newspaper reviewing foothold until, about two years later, I was having another discussion with my mother about books, writing, and ideas, sparked by a documentary on Roald Dahl that was playing on the TV in the background. I was insisting to my mother that J.K. Rowling owed a debt to Dahl, and that the Harry Potter books were part of a clear tradition of British children's literature that also included Charles Dickens. Mum suggested that I pitch this idea to various newspapers, and, as a new Harry Potter book was about to be published, one paper - The Canberra Times - eventually agreed to publish it. What followed was a ten-year career writing reviews for that paper. They were a great paper to write for, because, until 2013, they had the most amazing literary editor, who was incredibly supportive of her writers, gave me pretty much free rein to write about whatever I wanted, interview whoever I wanted and review whatever I liked in however many words I saw fit, and would make space in the paper for any review, interview, or commentary piece, whatever the length. She was a real mentor to me, and really helped me find my voice as a writer and improve my reviewing skills. I also did a stint on the student newspaper at the University of Sydney, wrote a review of the final Harry Potter book for The Age, and blogged for the ABC Radio National Book Show's blog.

All through undergrad, I was determined to become a journalist or newspaper subeditor. All this writing was intended to get me to that point, and I also did a two-week internship at The Canberra Times as a trainee journalist, where I published scintillating stories on crises in rural dentistry, children's soccer tournaments, amateur theatre productions, and so on. And when I graduated from my undergrad degree, I sort of fell into a subediting job at The Canberra Times by accident, mainly because I was panicking about what to do, asked if they needed any subediting help over the summer holidays, and somehow ended up with first a part-time, and then a permanent full-time job.

And I hated it. I have never been as miserable in my life as I was during that one year as a subeditor. [livejournal.com profile] catpuccino and [livejournal.com profile] angel_cc will know what I mean, because they had the misfortune of living with me. Looking back, it was the perfect storm of awful working environment (tense, like all newspapers, because of the decline of print media and the resulting loss of jobs), too many changes to my life, and the escalation of the depression that had plagued me since I became an adult, rather than journalism itself, and if I had been less depressed, or could have stayed in Sydney, or worked for a different employer, things might've turned out very differently. But as it was, I didn't last long as a full-time journalist, and fled to the welcoming arms of academia, emigrating to the UK, and thence to the life I have now as a librarian. Throughout all this I continued to churn out reviews for The Canberra Times, as I had done while an undergrad, and as a subeditor, and during the year I worked four other jobs. I only stopped reviewing for them in 2013, when Fairfax (the company that owns pretty much every paper in Australia not owned by Rupert Murdoch) had mass layoffs, including my wonderful editor. We reviewers were offered the opportunity to continue writing for the paper, but, with a drastically reduced features section, and features editing being run out of Perth by an editor who seemed unequal to the task ahead, I could see the writing on the wall. I have not been paid for my writing since. I still love to write, and I miss the ease and fluency with which I was able to put together a review, particular during the middle years of my time writing for The Canberra Times, when I frequently produced multiple reviews in a week. I was incredibly privileged - I got paid to interview Garth Nix, Jeanette Winterson, John Marsden, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Sophie Masson, Gillian Rubinstein, Shaun Tan, and others. Many of those authors were childhood heroes of mine, the writers of incredibly formative books for me, and meeting them as an equal to talk to them about their writing was an unbelievable experience. Making a career out of writing and reviewing was never on the cards - it always seemed to me a very stressful and precarious way to earn money, and even though my former editor has often told me she thought it a shame that I didn't make a huge effort to pursue a career as a freelance writer, I prefer the security of a full-time job and regular paychecks. I really admire those who do - it's a difficult road to follow.

I hope that answers your question, [livejournal.com profile] promiseoftin!

I still have spots available for more December posts. You can make suggestions for topics here on Dreamwidth or here on Livejournal. Multiple suggestions are very welcome.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I'm taking my turn at that meme that's been doing the rounds, the one where you're assigned an age and answer a few questions which contrast your life then with your life now. [personal profile] naye gave me 18.

Answers behind the cut )

It was really great to do that meme. A lot of the things that caused me great distress at 18 had obvious fixes in retrospect, but I wouldn't have lived any other way. It makes me happy to see how far — literally and metaphorically — I have come.
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Birth: Stop wrapping your arm around your neck. You're hurting your mother.

0: Yes, your parents are at present a rock music journalist and a foreign correspondent flitting all over North and South America. Don't worry. They won't expect you to ever be that cool.

1: Don't worry. The vacuum cleaner can't hurt you. Neither can the blender. Neither can the food processor.

2: Don't worry. The cracks in the ceiling and in the tiles of the bath aren't ants. Neither are the black lines painted on the floor of the swimming pool. They can't hurt you. The cicadas make a really loud noise, but they're tiny little insects, not one giant animal 'as big as a bear'. It's not your fault your mother didn't explain that in a way you understood. The cicadas can't hurt you.

Your aunts are going to allow you to walk around them in circles, talking at them. They will draw pictures of the stories you tell them. They will transform the couches on your front patio into two horses that take you on adventures. Your grandfather will build you a bedhead and swim with you in the ocean, and your grandmother will tell you stories. Your other grandfather will build you a bookcase, and your other grandmother will sew clothes for your dolls. You will be surrounded by cousins. This will be more precious to you than gold.

3: Stop being jealous of your newborn sister. She is amazing, and you will love her very much.

4: Don't worry that you hate preschool. There is a boy there who hates it even more, so much that he will spend every lunchtime attempting to climb over the fence and escape. One day he will succeed. Your mothers will bond over their children's reluctance to be at preschool. Years later, his mother will be your mentor in your first 'grown-up' job.

5: Don't worry. You will learn to read. It will happen suddenly, and it will feel like a thunderbolt resounding in your head, and you will be astonished, and it will lead you into a thousand other worlds.

6: 'Just ignore them and they'll stop doing it' is the worst piece of advice you will ever be given.

7: The way they treat you is not okay.

8: The way they treat you is not okay.

9: The way they treat you is not okay.

10: This new friendship group is great, but it will not survive one of its members returning to East Timor. Sorry about that.

11: The way they treat you is not okay.

12: You've cut your hair and pierced your ears and changed your name. That's a good start. These new friends you've made in high school seem pretty great. You might want to hang onto them.

It's okay that you love Hanson. You don't need to be embarrassed.

13: The way she treats you is not okay.

14: The way they treat you is not okay.

15: He's not a mind-reader. Tell him how you feel about him.

16: He's not a mind-reader. Tell (this different) him how you feel about him.

17: You're right. You have found your tribe. Hold on to this feeling. You will feel it again, but not for a very long time.

18: You're right. Leaving Canberra does feel like cutting your heart out. You are going to take six years to get over this, but I promise you that eventually you will feel that same sense of place in Sydney.

19: Your mother is amazing, but you don't need to take all her advice.

20: How you're feeling is not your friends' fault.

21: You are making really good academic choices.

How you're feeling is not your friends' fault.

22: I wish I could say 'don't move back to Canberra', but if you didn't, you'd never meet the sraffies, and you'd never go to Cambridge, so you're going to have to grin and bear it.

23: You have made the best and bravest decision of your life.

Remember what I said about finding your tribe? Yeah, you've found them.

24: What he did to you was not okay.

25: You will never feel such extremes of emotion again.

He saved you, but don't make it mean more than it should.

One day, you will be grateful to him for walking away when you couldn't.

(Late 25 and) 26: Hold onto this one. He is what home feels like.

27: Don't move to Heidelberg.

28: Applying for JRFs is a waste of your time and limited emotional energy.

29: See! You were capable of getting a PhD.

30: I'll get back to you in December.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I was given these six questions by [livejournal.com profile] christinafairy as part of a meme. Answers are behind the cut.

Questions and answers )

Please comment if you would like six questions of your own.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
Kingston (later Griffith) Public Library, Canberra
This was my local public library when I was a child, and it was like a treasure box to me. It was in Kingston until about 1993, when it moved to a bigger and better location at the former Griffith Primary School. It had the most amazing children's and YA collection, and I discovered many of the most meaningful books of my life there (The Girls in the Velvet Frame! Of Nightingales That Weep! Shadowdancers!). As a teenager, I began every school assignment there, reading the relevant entries in encyclopedias in order to find reference books (my cohort was on the cusp - the internet existed, but it was all but useless as a reference tool). But the truly amazing thing about this library was its librarians, and how dedicated and passionate they were. Every weekend, two of them hosted a reading group for children, where they would read stories aloud and run activities. They were really knowledgeable about children's books and genuinely loved children and encouraged them to read. I wish I'd been able to go back as an adult before they retired and told them how much they meant to me.

The truly sad thing is that in 2007, the ACT government shut down Griffith Library due to a perceived lack of use, leaving the entire inner south of Canberra without a public library. The real reason was that the rest of the old Griffith Primary School site was being used as lucrative conference spaces, and the government wanted to cash in and use the space occupied by the library in order to make more money.

Narrabundah College Library
This was my school library during the last two years of secondary school, which in the Canberra public school system takes place in separate schools to the four earlier years of high school. There was nothing particularly revolutionary about it - it was a fairly average public school library, with an okay range of books, dial-up internet that crawled slowly, and a couple of librarians who seemed to know the name of every student.

What was special was the library as a space. College was the first time that we, as students, were given free periods (the timetable functioned in such a way that if you took the recommended six subjects per trimester, you ended up with one free period on four out of the five school days). We were allowed to do whatever we wanted during the frees, and I often wound up in the library with a bunch of friends, ostensibly 'studying', but in actual fact playing cards, drawing in our exercise books, reading novels or gossiping. One of my friends once wrote a poem based on snippets of every conversation she'd heard in the library during her free period.

In other words, the library was our space. The social life there moved at a slower and less urgent pace than on the oval, in the quad or cafeteria, where the push and pull of high school politics and diplomacy exerted more force. The library was a space where we could take a break from worrying about the overwhelming drama of our social lives.

Fisher Library, University of Sydney
The first thing I did in the orientation week at uni was take a tour of the library, as I was anxious to know how to use it. I remember walking in and feeling as if I'd died and gone to heaven. I'd never seen so many books in one place.

Back in the dim dark days of 2003, the library had an eight-floor research library (where books could be borrowed for two weeks by undergrads) and a four-floor undergrad library (where loans were only for a week), a bunch of computers (which always had a huge queue - this was in the days before laptops were common on Australian university campuses, and those that were were extremely heavy). There was also a special reserve area, where course coordinators would move set texts for their courses. Books in special reserve could only be used in the library, and only borrowed for a two-hour period, which did a huge amount to ensure equal access. That said, some of my fondest memories of undergrad were engaging in vicious recall wars with fellow students, as we fought to borrow a limited number of set texts. I used to be particularly ruthless about going in at the start of term and borrowing whatever Shakespeare text we would be studying in the various English classes I was taking.

I got to know the contours of Fisher particularly well. I haunted the two or three cases covering medieval Celtic literature, and knew exactly where to find the history books that were relevant to my Jewish Studies course. Whenever I had to do translation for my Medieval Irish class, I'd take the huge Dictionary of the Irish Language down from the shelf and sit near a ground-floor window, furiously trying to figure out how the spelling of Old Irish words might have changed in Middle Irish texts. In other words, Fisher was the library that taught me how to be a student.

In the years since I graduated, Fisher has got rid of most of its books, to the extent that it's impossible to do any form of postgraduate research in the humanities there. This breaks my heart.

Goyder St Community Library
When Griffith Library got closed down, the people of the inner south of Canberra were so incensed that they decided to do something about it. The result was a community library, run by volunteers out of a demountable building on Boomanulla Oval in Narrabundah. I lived in Canberra during the early stages of Goyder St's existence, and through a series of coincidences, got involved.

In 2007, I had moved back to Canberra basically because of a quarter-life crisis panic. In retrospect, it was a terrible decision, causing the depression I'd had on and off since the beginning of my adult life to reach almost intolerable levels. Cut for a little discussion of the effects of depression ) Anyway, somehow, I remembered through the desperate fog of my mind that I had joined a Philip Pullman fansite several years earlier, and logged back on. I was extremely fortunate that the denizens of that site were truly amazing people who gave me the sole reason to get out of bed that year. Every evening I was in chat with the few European night owls, and [livejournal.com profile] lucubratae, who was the only other Australian on the site, and who, serendipitously, lived a short walk away from me in Canberra. Pretty soon, I'd met up with him in person - the first internet friend I'd ever met 'in real life'. And he volunteered at Goyder St. Pretty soon, I'd been roped in.

In those early days, it was chaos. The volunteers had more enthusiasm than technical library know-how. No one knew how to catalogue, internet was erratic, and there were tensions among the different volunteers. Many residents were outraged at the closure of Griffith Library, wanted to do something to help, but had no time to volunteer. Instead, they donated vast numbers of books, often of poor quality, creating a huge backlog of cataloguing work for the volunteers and contributing to the cluttered, claustrophobic atmosphere of the building.

The point is, for one shining moment, enough people were angry enough to come together and do something to make their corner of the world a little bit better. And I was carried along with them. The community library got me out of the house for something other than a job that made me anxious and miserable, and for that I will always be grateful.

English Faculty Library, University of Cambridge
While the main Cambridge University Library is more imposing (it's a copyright library and thus has a copy of every book ever published in the UK, as well as an impressive collection of rare books, maps and manuscripts), the English library had much more of an impact on my life. Not only have I spent the past six years researching there, using its excellent collection of books on Celtic Studies, it's also responsible for my current career as a library assistant. In the first year of my PhD, I decided to take a job at English as a weekend invigilator in order to make a bit of extra cash. I loved it so much, and the assistant librarian and librarian were were such inspirational and helpful mentors that I decided to go into library services, rather than academia, after finishing my PhD.

The librarian in particular is just exemplary. She goes out of her way to make sure that English is exactly the library that its users want. She holds training sessions in referencing and editing software and other research skills. She holds weekly tea-and-biscuits sessions for students, a way for them to take a short break from their studies and relax over a hot drink. There are beanbags in the library for students to sleep on. There are poetry competitions, Easter eggs at Easter, sweets and chocolate during exam term and the week when dissertations are due, annual surveys whose results are collated and then responded to in comprehensive reports addressing the main points raised and explaining what, if any, changes will be made. In other words, it's exactly as an academic library should be: a community where everyone's voice is heard.

I love libraries so much.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I've had about a million tabs open on both my laptop and iPad for ages, so I felt I should make a linkpost in order to get rid of them. The result will probably be fairly incoherent.

First up, What We Talk About When We Talk About Hating Garden State by Jesse David Fox. I can't quite work out what I think about this. My thoughts about Garden State are so confused and muddy. When I watched it (the first and only time), it spoke to me profoundly. This was before I really thought about issues of representation, had heard of (or noticed) Manic Pixie Dream Girls or had any understanding of mental illness.* And I've heard all the criticisms of the film, and they are extremely valid. And yet...

There are a lot of movies, much worse movies, that are as emo, as self-aggrandizing, and that feature an even more manic manic pixie dream girl, but Garden State is the one we talk about. Have you seen the well-soundtracked garbage that was Elizabethtown (the movie that first inspired the term "manic pixie dream girl")? And that's the difference — Garden State was good enough to define the things that we come to hate in certain movies (and certain characters and people). It's become a symbol for its blend of quirky, twee, morose, earnest, precious, hipsterness, and it's resented for it. We've confused its influence for cliché.

This is true. Everything Fox says in that article is true. But it doesn't really excuse Garden State (or Girls, or any of the other texts criticised in the article) its flaws. But I think it's a valid point to keep in mind.

This next post by the DIY Couturier, 'Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You're Depressed' is like a thunderclap of awesome. Obviously I should warn you that the post deals with issues of depression, so stay away if that's something you don't want to read. But it was the first time that I saw someone deal with the day-to-day struggle of depression in such a compassionate and empathetic way. It made me cry.

This piece of art is simply extraordinary. Read the information at the bottom, as it explains the minor controversy surrounding attribution for the art and quote it contains.

My awesome friend [livejournal.com profile] lucubratae has a profile up on the National Young Writers' Month website, because he is amazing.

I signed up on Deviant Art simply so I could follow this fabulous webcomic by Pika-la-Cynique. It's called Girls Next Door, and it's a rather hilarious scenario in which Sarah from Labyrinth and Christine from The Phantom of the Opera are housemates who live in the same building as (among others) Jareth and Erik and thus have to confront their stalkers on a daily basis. The whole thing takes a very light-hearted approach to stalking and harassment, which ordinarily would irritate me a lot, but the concept is so cleverly executed that I overlook that particular issue.

Yesterday's A Softer World hurts my heart. Read it. Read the alt-text especially. Weep.

--------------
*I remember in high school getting into a screaming row with a friend about medication for mental illness and just generally Not Getting It. I wish I could take those thoughts and words back.
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
It is unbelievably cold here. When I was running this morning, small flakes of snow were falling, although they melted when they hit the ground. Our house is very poorly insulated, and as a result I've had to wear a hat, gloves and scarf while inside.

I kid you not )

It's absolutely breathtaking to run in such weather, even if I have to suffer icy-cold limbs and frequent nosebleeds as a result. On the weekend, I can sleep in slightly later and am able to run once the sun has risen, but during the week, I have to run before 8 o'clock. This means that it's dark when I set out, and by the time I'm making my return back along the river, the sky is starting to turn a delicate mauve. The trees are bare, the grass is muddy and greenish-grey, and the river is dark and swollen. It's an absolute joy to be outside in that landscape. I've never enjoyed summer, although I do love swimming in the ocean, so I'd say this is the perfect climate for me right now.

Term starts next week, and I'm going to be flat out. I've set very strict deadlines with my supervisor, as I'm determined to finish and submit my thesis within the next six months. Every week I'm either giving her a chapter to look at, or meeting her to discuss that chapter. I'm happy with how the current chapter is looking, but no doubt she'll find things to criticise. I'm also picking up three new students who need a couple of supervisions each (supervisions are the Oxbridge system of teaching, whereby the student writes one essay per week on a prearranged subject and then meets to discuss the essay one-on-one with a supervisor, who is usually a postgrad student. In our department, first- and second-year undergrads take six subjects per year, and third-years take four, so they tend to be extremely busy with supervision essays), and I also have to give two lectures. The supervisions are generally easy, but writing lectures takes quite a bit of time. I also go back to work in the library this week, although I may not have as many shifts as last term.

I've added Kundalini yoga to my exercise regime on top of the Hatha and Iyengar classes I'm already doing. It's very different, and involves chanting and meditation. I think doing as much exercise as possible - especially stuff involving meditation - is going to be very helpful in keeping my anxiety and depression levels low during a potentially stressful time.

I reviewed The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn), and you can find the review here.

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rushes into my heart and my skull

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