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: (teen wolf)
This post is going to be a bit Isobelle Carmody-heavy. The final Obernewtyn book came out, and I am not okay.

Monica Tan interviews Carmody in The Guardian:

Elspeth’s question is how to exist in the world, to be what she is and to find people who would allow her to be what she is. I think it’s everybody’s question to find a place in the world and to find your tribe, but the world itself has to find a way to let groups of people exist with one another.

Fran Kelly interviewed Carmody on Radio National:

[Readers write to me saying] they feel they survived childhood because of those books.

I appreciated this post by Jill S, 'Dragons and poison chalices':

I’m gathering my community of support. We are small but mighty. And this community reminds me daily that there are people in the world who can support my dreams and don’t feel threatened by them. So when you find someone who cheers you on, wholeheartedly, without fear that you are going to diminish them, cling tight.

I highly recommend 'A Cup of Salt Tears', a new-to-me short story by Isabel Yap.

I appreciate the work that Natalie Luhrs does in keeping records, bearing witness, and holding people to account. This report on the recent World Fantasy Convention was excellent:

In my experience, when many con-runners talk about best practices, what they mean is the way it’s always been done–and the way they’re most comfortable doing it.

Mari Ness' post about problems with accessibility at the con (namely, that it was abysmal) is also an important read:

Because, unfortunately, this is not the first disability/accessibility problem I have had with conventions, or the first time a convention has asked/agreed to have me on programming and then failed to have a ramp that allows me to access the stage. At least in this case it wasn’t a Disability in Science Fiction panel that, incredibly enough, lacked a ramp, but against that, in this case, the conrunners were aware I was coming, were aware that I use a wheelchair, had spoken to me prior to the convention and had assured me that the convention would be fully accessible, and put me on panels with stages but no ramp.

Aliette de Bodard offers her thoughts on the (long overdue) decision to replace the WFA trophies with something other than Lovecraft's head:

It’s not that I think Lovecraft should be forever cast beyond the pale of acceptable. I mean, come on, genre has had plenty of people who were, er, not shining examples of mankind, and I personally feel like the binary of “this person was a genius and can do no wrong/this person is a racist and can therefore do nothing of worth” doesn’t really make for constructive discussion. (but see above for the “we should give everything a fair chance” fallacy. I’m personally not particularly inclined to give reading time or space to a man who thought I was an abomination, and I will side-eye you quite a bit if you insist I should). It’s more that… these are the World Fantasy Awards. They’re not the H.P. Lovecraft Awards, so there’s no particular reason for him to be associated with them: doing so just creates extra awkwardness.

And on a much lighter note, this story is just the most Australian thing ever: paramedics in Queensland have stopped asking patients the name of the prime minister, because nobody can keep track.

“We would ask patients that question because it gave us an idea of their conscious level and ability to recall events,” Mr Abood said. “But the country’s prime ministers are changing so often, it’s no longer a good indication of their mental status.”

Mr Abood once asked a patient to name the prime minister, only to be told: “I haven’t watched the news today.”


I had a good laugh at that.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
Canny readers will have noticed that today's post contains three weeks' worth of material, and is posted on a Thursday instead of the usual Friday. While I have no excuse for skipping several weeks' posts, I should explain that I will be spending most of tomorrow on a train, and felt it would be easier to post today instead.

Amberlin Kwaymullina: 'Let the stories in: on power, privilege and being an Indigenous writer'.

Here is a Q and A with African writers of science fiction at Omenana. I found some of the questions (from students at Simon Fraser University, Canada), to betray some rather ill-informed assumptions on the part of the questioners, but all of the answers were illuminating.

Tansy Rayner Roberts' Continuum 11 speech: Fantasy, Female Writers & The Politics of Influence.

'In The Rustle of Pages', a short story by Cassandra Khaw.

I loved this poem, 'A Visit With Morgan Le Fay', by Sofia Samatar.

Via my partner, this review of the new Channel Four show Humans.

Aliette de Bodard has begun posting regular 'Shattered Wings Thursday' posts, which consist of related content for her upcoming novel House of Shattered Wings. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts in this series.

One of my former academic colleagues, Myriah Williams, who works on medieval Welsh manuscripts, has written about the rather surreal experience of having her research attract wider attention in the mainstream media.

YA Books Central is running a giveaway for Serpentine, Cindy Pon's latest book.

No Award posted about Australian kids' TV show themes (Lift-Off forever!).

'The Definitive Oral History of How Clueless Became an Iconic '90s Classic'.
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: (le guin)
Content note: death of a grandparent )

This is technically a eulogy, which is why some bits might read oddly for an LJ/Dreamwidth entry.

--------------------
*Note: The grandchildren call my grandfather 'Tony'.
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.

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rushes into my heart and my skull

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