Monthly Archives: March 2006

Oily fish and happy bacon

March 30, 2006

I’ve got a bit of time to kill before I leave on holiday and thought I might share this with you. In the paper a couple of days ago I was reading about how researchers have questioned the efficacy of omega-3 fats on health. It’s long been considered that a good intake of omega-3’s (primarily found in oily fish like tuna and mackerel) have positive effects on the incidence of heart disease and cancer, among other things.

Naturally, as human nature dictates, once this claim was made omega-3’s started appearing in everything from supplement capsules to white bread and claims about the remarkable health of eskimoes, with a diet heavy on fish, were bandied about willy nilly. The results from these latest research studies, however, could find no strong evidence that omega-3’s had any effect on total deaths, heart disease, cancer and strokes. They also cited that commercial fishing has depleted the world’s fish stocks by around 90% since 1950.

Woah, time to stop eating the fish, right? Maybe not. The same article mentions in passing that in the same week a study found that omega-3’s helped to stop the spread of prostate cancer to other parts of the body.

So, we should eat fish? What about the rapidly depleting stocks?

Worry not, for in the same paper, just two days later, a story headlined “Here’s a pig to save your bacon” appeared. Can you guess the connection?

Yep, you got it. Scientists at Harvard Medical School, the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre have created a cloned pig that makes it’s own omega-3 fatty acids. Bacon that’s good for your heart? What about the results of the studies cited just days previously? At least the pork chops might be good to prevent the spread of prostate cancer to other parts of the body. Although, according to the article, no one knows whether omega-3’s consumed from pork would have the same effect as those consumed from fish. And presumably, this is the same effect that is being continuously promoted and denied, even within articles of the same newspaper just days apart. Ain’t science fun?

The Harvard people are also developing cows with omega-3’s in their milk and chickens with the fatty acids in their eggs. Even though the evidence of it’s necessity is still being debated. The truth is, no one knows anything for sure, but we’re all a bit too proud to admit to that.

I dream of the day when there’s just one giant animal that contains everything good, genetically modified to be the single food type we need. It could cultivate fruit, vegetables and grain within it’s omega-3 laden lean muscle tissue and have balanced carbohydrates and protein. We could get rid of all the other farm animals and vegie patches and just have fields of these giant superfood beasts wandering happily around. And they would even taste good.

Or we could stop wasting all this time and money and just continue eating a sensible balanced diet that we all know works perfectly well. But, I suppose, where’s the fun in that?

Magic Casements

March 26, 2006

This past weekend was the ‘Magic Casements’ speculative fiction festival at the NSW Writer’s Centre. It was a good day. There was a decent turnout of people and lots of great discussions and workshops. RealmShift was being sold there along with loads of other great spec fic by the good people from Infinitas Bookstore.

I got to meet lots of other great authors and editors in the genre, including Sean McMullen (and his writer daughter Catherine), David B Coe, Terry Dowling, Cat Sparks, Jaiden Glendenning, Richard Harland, Donna Hanson, Robert Hoge and more.

RealmShift sold a few copies during the day, which was great. Now hopefully those people that bought it will enjoy it and tell all their friends. That’s the way the wheel keeps turning. I also gave away loads of little cards bearing all the details about the book – I was on a mission of shameless self-promotion.

At the end of a long day I went to dinner with a bunch of the people mentioned above and others. It was a real treat to be able to talk about our passions in such a relaxed atmosphere and to talk about things other than writing too, for the first time that day. I was honoured to be in such company.

Next on the agenda for me now is a holiday. I’ve got about ten days away coming up, leaving on Thursday. The time will be spent resting my aching body and enjoying the first real break of more than a few days that we’ve had in a couple of years. I’m looking forward to having some space to think and make more notes for the follow-up book to RealmShift, which I haven’t had a chance to work on for a while. And it will be great not to train or teach for more than a week and let all these little niggles and aches in my muscles recover.

So if you don’t hear anything on the blog here for a couple of weeks, don’t panic. I’ll be back, fresher and sharper than ever. ‘Is that possible?’ I hear you cry. By the gods, yes it is.

G & A Gallery drawing show

March 23, 2006

The drawing show at G & A Gallery had it’s opening last night. It was a good show, very well managed by Zuza Zochowski along with Gretchen and Alan at the gallery. I’ll add a couple of photos from the show.

You can see our work in the background here:

Not a bad turnout at the show:

G & A Gallery is a really good space and I think that Gretchen and Alan will make a good job of running it. Definitely a gallery to watch.

Big White Box

March 21, 2006

I recently discovered this site:

It’s a beta version of a new system where people, professionals and amateurs alike, can upload their photographs. The photos are then stocked on the site for sale to anyone that wishes to buy them, for any purpose, private or commercial. The real beauty is that for every picture sold some of the profits go to the photographer and some to a charity (photographers can choose betweem Oxfam, Care and Save The Children).

From the site:

“BigWhiteBox is a not for profit project. Our income goes to 3 charities, each of them is a part of the Make Poverty History coalition and a member of the Disasters Emergency committee.”

The site has only been up a few weeks, but it could be something well worth your support. After all, you can get a few photos out there, possibly make some coin and donate to charity. That’s got to be good for everyone, right?

Have a look and make your own decision about it. Let me know what you think.

People do not make a fuss about nudity

March 19, 2006

I was reading recently about a new DVD the Dutch are issuing to potential immigrants (as part of an entrance exam) to give an insight into Dutch life. This way immigrants can see if Holland is really a place they would like to live.

It’s easy to see that the DVD is obviously targeted at countries where the cultural norm is not similar to that of the Dutch, hence countries that do have similar values are exempt from receiving it.

The DVD contains a two hour long film and includes some interesting scenes. One is a scene of an attractive woman sunbathing topless with narration saying, “People do not make a fuss about nudity.” Another scene explains that homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals, with an accompanying scene of two men kissing in a meadow. Why are they in a meadow? Perhaps homosexuality in a field seems more acceptable than men kissing at a bar or in the comfort of their own home. Anyway, that’s not really the point.

Not surprisingly, people are suggesting that the DVD is deliberately discouraging immigrants from Islamic countries. Abdou Menebhi, of Emcemo, a Moroccan interest group in Amsterdam, suggests that the DVD is not education, but provocation. Dutch officials deny that the film is targeted at discouraging Muslim immigrants, yet insist that they want all applicants to consider whether or not they would fit into a culture as permissive as theirs.

They have a point. And targeting countries with known aversions to their way of life is quite reasonable.

If you don’t enjoy looking at naked women (or, at least, if your religion suggests that you’re not allowed to enjoy looking at naked women) then why would you ever consider moving to a country where naked women are quite common. Similarly, if you really did enjoy looking at naked women (or naked men for that matter) and you had no religious doctrine to suppress that desire, would you ever consider moving somewhere that insists women stay indoors dressed in a sack? Of course not. You certainly wouldn’t move there and then make an enormous fuss about how offended you are. You would be asked, quite reasonably, why the hell you moved there in the first place.

If you don’t want to see men kissing in meadows you can either avoid meadows, or avoid countries where men kissing is accepted as normal. After all, avoiding meadows is no guarantee of avoiding men locked in loving embraces.

I think the Dutch are being quite fair and honest in their approach. They are simply saying, “This is how it is here. If you don’t like it, don’t come.” If I had a religious, cultural or personal aversion to snow I wouldn’t move to Greenland and then complain that my cultural sensibilities are being insulted every winter.

And this got me thinking. Maybe all countries should make one of these DVD’s for potential immigrants. I’m an immigrant myself, and I moved to Australia fully aware of the culture and lifestyle. I moved here because of it.

So, let’s have DVD’s from all countries giving a run-down of what to expect. Britain could issue a DVD warning people not to expect any kind of recognisable cuisine or sunshine. Australia’s DVD should ensure that people realise they will be required to select a football code as their primary religion and string entire sentences together into one long word. New Zealand could warn people of their special relationship with sheep. Japan could point out that 60 hours is the minimum working week and showing any emotion in public is forbidden. America’s DVD should inform people that they are moving into an evangelical fundamentalist Christian dictatorship. And so on and so forth.

And every permissive, progressive country should include the topless sunbather and male meadow love scenes along with anything else they deem relevant. This will ensure that anyone who considers that women are not allowed to express themselves or that people of a different sexuality should be vilified can stay where they are or go somewhere else with a medieval worldview.

After all, it is ridiculous to go to Greenland in winter and complain about the snow.

RealmShift update update

March 17, 2006

Further to yesterdays update, RealmShift is now also available from the good people at Gleebooks, in Glebe. Again, you can buy off the shelf or contact them for mail order.

It’s been a busy week for me and RealmShift, and a pretty positive one at that. Keep watching this blog. I promise to post about something other than my book soon!

RealmShift update

March 16, 2006

RealmShift, this year’s best novel, is now available in Australia (and internationally, for that matter) through two fine book stores – Infinitas Bookshop in Parramatta and Galaxy Bookshop in Sydney City. You can go in to buy off the shelf or contact them for mail order sales.

Go on, you know your life is not complete without a copy.

Art and Kung Fu – a collaboration

March 15, 2006
Halinka, my wife and extremely talented artist, has had this idea for some time of trying to get the movements of the footwork of Kung Fu down on paper as an artwork. It’s something she’s toyed with for ages but never really followed up on. Last week she was asked to be part of a large group drawing exhibition. This turned out to be the opportunity to put her idea into practice, and she roped me in to help.

After some thought, she got some large sheets of paper (which was pretty much determined by the requirements of the group show – A1, or a little bigger if necessary). We then decided that Chinese calligraphy ink would be the most useful and in keeping with the idea. Subsequently, after my class had gone home one night, we stayed back and taped some sheets of paper to the floor. Halinka then painted ink onto the soles of my Dunlop Volleys (shoe of choice for Sydney Choy Lee Fut practitioners – we should get sponsorship!)

Once I was all inked up I stepped up onto the paper and performed Kung Fu techniques, from basics through to a couple of more advanced set forms (parts thereof), letting my feet act like calligraphy brushes to try to capture the movement.

The results are pretty cool. I’ll attach a couple of pics below. At least one of the pieces will end up in the drawing exhibition to be held at G & A Gallery in the near future.

Word absurd

March 13, 2006

I’m repeatedly dumbfounded by the bizarre things I read in public places. One of these things is to be found on the “No Fun Allowed” sign at Bronte Park.

Let me explain. I live in Bronte, in Sydney’s east, right near the beach. There is a park behind the beach. A place for fun and exuberance you’d think. Well, apparently not. Waverley Council has erected signs informing people of all the activities that are not allowed in Bronte Park. These banned activities include no companion animals, no ball games, no skateboards, bikes or rollerblades and so on. Basically, all the things you’d usually use a park for aren’t allowed. Don’t you love living in a free country?

However, the thing that has always dumbfounded me the most about this sign is the part that says, “No Kites or Kite Activities”. Flying a kite is obviously too much fun for Waverley Council to allow. But what other activities are there for kites? Surely saying “No Kites” is enough without the added qualifier of “or Kite Activities”. Kites are pretty much a single-activity item, or so I thought. In case you’re finding this sign hard to believe, here it is:

So I just had this particular item logged as one of those public absurdities that we seem to be surrounded with these days. Then I came across this story in the Sydney Morning Herald ( yesterday: Kite festival grounded as deaths rise :

“ISLAMABAD: It is one of Pakistan’s great parties – a joyous spring festival in the southern city of Lahore where partygoers crowd on to rooftops under a riotous sky filled with fluttering kites.

But this year the age-old celebration of Basant has been cancelled amid worries about killer kites, knife-sharp strings and ominous threats to prosecute teenage “terrorists”.

Punjabi officials announced the kite-flying ban, in effect ending this weekend’s festival, after seven recent kite-related deaths. Most victims had their throats cut by sharpened kite strings coated with ground glass or metal filings. The latest to die was a four-year-old boy who bled to death in his father’s arms last week after their motorcycle was entangled in a kite string.

“A healthy sport is being turned into a game of death,” said Punjab’s Chief Minister, Pervez Elahi, offering a reward for information about vendors who sell glass-covered string. Those responsible for kite-related deaths would be punished under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws, he said. By Friday, Lahore police had arrested 74 kite enthusiasts.

The age-old sport, which requires considerable skill, has acquired a dark side in recent years. It has turned into “kite duelling” – trying to knock a rival’s kite from the air by slicing through his or her string. Enthusiasts have spurned cotton strings for glass-coated versions, often strengthened with chemicals. The upgraded strings can be as knife-sharp and have deadly consequences for anyone who comes in contact with them.

Every year the press carries gruesome accounts of deaths and injuries caused by kite flying, often of young children or motorcyclists whose throats have been cut by low-flying kites. A ban on sharpened string has been widely flouted and public alarm has steadily mounted.”

So I can’t help wondering if Waverley Council are onto something. Are they concerned about Sydney residents taking up the practice of killer kite competitions or are they just so paranoid about litigation that they can’t bring themselves to let anybody have any fun? It’s a conundrum you may want to consider next time you’re in a park near you. Just be sure to sit very still and don’t make any sudden moves while you consider it. There may be a council worker nearby that might interpret your movement as you having some kind of fun.

The story so far.

March 12, 2006

I thought I’d better fill you in on the story so far with regards to the publication of RealmShift. The novel has been written for some time and I originally tried the route of traditional publishing. I managed to get an agent that believed in the work; one of the best agents in Sydney, in fact. However, she was unable to place it with a publisher. Harper Collins came very close to publishing it, but changed their minds at the last minute.

Publishing these days is all about the money and not about the art. The same can be said of most creative pursuits, of course, which is why we’re bombarded with atrocious films, music, books, plays and so on, while the really good quality stuff is usually found in the indie markets. With RealmShift and Harper Collins, it seems that the timing was wrong.

Getting picked up by a mainstream publisher these days is a combination of many things. You need a good quality manuscript and a talented agent to sell it to an in-house editor. Then that editor has to sell it again to the publishing group as a whole, which includes the marketers, accountants, sales guys and everyone else involved with every aspect of the business. I expect the cleaner and the lunch lady have a say if they happen to be around. Sometimes an editor can love a book, but fail to sell it at this meeting. Sometimes it’s just a case of bad timing due to other books currently on that publishers list. Maybe it’s just the alignment of the planets that day. For whatever reason, a great book can slip by. That’s what happened to RealmShift.

So the book was shelved for a little while and I worked on other things and wondered what to do. Then I came across the indie underworld of books – the Print On Demand self-publishers. Suddenly I had complete creative control from front to back cover, which suits me fine. I put the book together, bought the ISBN and launched it. I’ll have to do all my own marketing, but that’s not so different to publishing the old fashioned way. Whether a debut book floats or sinks is almost always down to how much the author chooses to promote it and the amount of effort they put in. The publisher will give them six weeks of backing and then walk away. That’s business.

Critical acclaim is what really makes people take notice of a book and RealmShift is starting to get that in spades. With any luck I’ll be able to make this work and flip the bird at those traditional publishers that turned me down. Let them come begging to me when the book is a roaring success. A lot of self-published books have picked up a traditional publisher that way.

I think it was Samuel Goldwyn that said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” So I’m working hard because I know that RealmShift is a great read. And slowly, more and more people are agreeing with me.


The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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