Read a book, reduce your sentence

File this one under F, for “Fucking great idea!” According to the ABC News website, Brazil has started a new program with its prison inmates, and it really is brilliant. It’s the kind of progressive thinking that we really need more of. Inmates in four prisons holding some of Brazil’s most notorious criminals will be able to read up to twelve works of literature, philosophy, science or classics per year and, if they write a book report on what they’ve read, they’ll get a four day sentence reduction for each read. That’s a potential 48 days off their sentence each year.

Prisoners will have up to four weeks to read a book and write an essay, and that essay must “make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing”. It’s pretty obvious that for a lot of poor crimimals, from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, this will prove quite a challenge. After all, the poor and socially disadvantaged, and therefore uneducated, are more likely to end up in the penal system, so this isn’t something that is likely to come easily to most of them. But it gives them not only the opportunity, but also the incentive, to improve their reading and writing skills, better themselves and emerge from prison as an actually improved person. I think they should get more time off than four days per book. A total of a little over a month and half per year might not seem like much if you’re in for a long stretch. But the potential to reduce your sentence by, say, three months a year would be extremely appealing.

Of course, there are all kinds of possible problems and no guarantees of success. Some of the most educated people in the world are nasty bastards with no regard for their fellow human. Mind you, most of those end up in politics rather than prison. (Try the veal.)

But this is a fantastic idea and I really hope it works. I think it will.

A special panel will decide which inmates are eligible to participate in the program dubbed Redemption Through Reading. And that’s a great name for a great concept.

Well done, Brazil. Have a cookie.


AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition winners

Well, it’s all official. The results for this year’s AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition are as follows:


WINNER: “Always a Price”, Joanne Anderton
HONOURABLE MENTION: “Life, Death and Customer Service”, Nicholas Stella


WINNER: “Blood Lilies”, Shauna O’Meara
HONOURABLE MENTION: “Fragments of a Botanical Journal”, Matthew J Morrison

(more info here

Congrats to the winners, and well done to all who entered. The whole thing was blind judged, so myself, Felicity Dowker and Jason Fischer had no idea who’s work we were reading and judging. Kudos to Martin Livings for wrangling all of that like a pro. I was very happy to see that we picked Jo Anderton to win the short story contest, because she’s not only a good friend, but a tremendous writer. She pipped me recently for the Best New Talent Ditmar and has been getting Aurealis Award nominations and all sorts of good stuff. She really deserves this win – her story is excellent. And I’m very pleased to see Shauna take out the flash competition, with another excellent entry. Both will see publication in Midnight Echo magazine soon and will also get a winners trophy.

Many thanks to fellow judges Felicity Dowker and Jason Fischer for making this fairly mammoth task a fairly painless experience.


Maintain the rage

I’ve noticed a funny thing over the past couple of weeks, and ended up becoming embroiled in it a little bit myself. The vast majority of reports I’ve read about Prometheus share my total incredulity at just how shit a film it is. Seriously, lots of people are quite rightly ranting about just how awful it is.

However, there are a lot of people out there who enjoyed it. I don’t really understand how anyone could enjoy such a flawed “story”, however pretty it looked, but there you go. It worked for them, so fair enough. Now here’s the funny thing: a lot of those people have started attacking those of us who hated it.

“Why can’t you leave us alone?” they ask.

“Why can’t you just let people like what they want to like?” they ask.

Well, you can like whatever you want. But I will be quite vocal about how I find that bloody weird and have no idea how a person finds enjoyment in it. Just like some people believe there’s a giant spirit daddy in the sky who cares about them. That kind of willful ignorance astounds me, but whatever floats your boat. Believe what you like.

However, just as it’s your right to claim enjoyment or belief in these things, it’s equally my right to exclaim my dislike of them and my astonishment that anyone could find them good/real/likeable, etc..

“It’s offensive,” people cry! “You shouldn’t offend people’s opinions.”

Why not? Their opinion offends me. Where’s the outcry about people offending me with their claim that Prometheus was a good film? (Well, actually, this is it, right here.) I find the film and its defenders offensive – not as people, but in that particular opinion. It doesn’t mean I hate everything about that person. The vast majority of these people are decent, intelligent, upstanding folk. But they have one particular view that I find nonsensical. If they’re allowed to freely state that view, why is it offensive for me to counter it?

You might have realised by now that I’m no fan of tolerance. Tolerance is a bollocks word, in my opinion (you’re free to disagree with me). Tolerance means tolerating something. Tolerating something means putting up with it, even though we disagree or don’t like it. It’s too often used as a shield against debate. We have to tolerate religious intrusions into secular life, for example, while we still speak out against them. We have to tolerate the idiocy of the lowest common denominator setting the bar for all of us. But tolerance is not the same as respect.

Yes, we’re all in this game of life together and we have to get along, so we do tolerate all those things and more, in as much as it’s everyone’s right to hold whatever view they choose and we can’t tell them to change. Nor can we force them to change, and people who use their view as an excuse to harm or oppress other people are fuckwits who are quite rightly villified. But “tolerance” doesn’t mean we have to agree. Nor does it mean we have to respect those views (and you don’t have to respect mine). It doesn’t mean we can’t speak out against them. Those people also have to tolerate our view too, which we can state as readily as they can.

Obviously, I believe in maintaining the rage (you’re free to believe otherwise and you’re free to tell me so). Without a righteous fury we’d be walked all over. It’s when people stand up and say, “Enough of this shit!” that things change.

I maintain my right to rage.

I maintain my right to expect quality.

I maintain my right to lament crappy stuff.

Let’s go back to the Prometheus thing, and the upset among people who enjoyed it. The upset is with the many being so vocal in lambasting it for being a terrible film. Sure, if you enjoyed it, that’s fine. But you enjoyed it despite all its flaws. You ignored the completely insane actions of the characters, the numerous plot holes, the completely nonsensical premise of the whole thing. You sat there and you enjoyed a $200 million senseless spectacle. Good for you. I’m glad you had a good time, I really am.

But I expect more – especially from someone with the credentials of Ridley Scott, playing in the well-loved Alien franchise. I can’t enjoy what was indeed a fantastic looking film when the characters are complete idiots. I can’t enjoy the incredible special effects when the “story” appears to have been vomited out by a drunken chimp. And I have every right to question the people who can enjoy it despite those things. I will defend to the death your right to your opinion, but I will still question it.

It’s not a character judgment. It’s not an insult to the core of your being. I’m not questioning your right to an opinion or your validity as a person. I’m questioning one particular position you maintain: How can you enjoy such a terrible story, regardless of how good it looks? And if your defence is simply, “Fuck it, I like to turn my brain off and enjoy a pretty movie” then okay. (But seriously, how do you do that!?)

However you do manage to enjoy it, don’t try to tell us it’s a good movie. Don’t try to tell us that the screwed up story and idiot characters don’t matter, or aren’t there. Don’t tell us we can’t lambast that shite and all who enjoy it for being a part of the problem. You’re still good people – we just disagree with you about this. We might disagree with you about other things too. Don’t get upset when we rage against the crap we endured while we expected something better. There’s far too much spectacle over substance in Hollywood, and I’m getting sick of it. Cut back a few dollars on the special effects budget and hire a good writer who will tell a kickass story. In the meantime, we’re going to be pissed off at the rubbish stories that keep getting peddled out.

It’s our right to rage against a terrible film and you have to tolerate that.

NB: I don’t claim to be a flawless, master storyteller, but I constantly strive to write good stories that make sense, with believable characters. If I write shit, I want you to tell me about it, so I can work on getting better.


Judgment Is Coming

After the horrible burn that was Prometheus, I’m very cautious about getting too excited for upcoming films. But there are two things this year I can’t help anticipating. The Dark Knight Rises and Judge Dredd. Based on this new trailer, I have a rising sense of excitement for Judge Dredd. It could actually be very good… Fingers crossed.


Guest post – The Freebie-Jeebies

Today I have a guest post from “Anonymous”. I’m happy to host the occasional anonymous post when a harsh truth needs to be shared. And the subject of this post is something I’ve experienced myself from time to time over the years. Since Anonymous had a book come out a couple of months ago, they’ve discovered a strange yet not uncommon attitude among many people close to them. Many of their workmates, friends and family have expressed a desire for a copy of Anonymous’s book. The vast majority of those people are wonderful folk who, when told where they can purchase a copy, are more than happy to trot off and do exactly that. But there is a percentage of people, larger than you might think, who expect, on asking, a free copy of the book. Like they simply deserve one for… what? Just being there? Knowing you? Like it’s a favour, in a, “Sure, I’ll take one!” kinda way. But no, that’s very much not the case, as Anonymous eloquently explains below:

The Freebie-Jeebies


Simply not wanting a book at all is a totally different matter to asking for a free book. If you don’t want a book, that’s fine, you needn’t buy one. Although I would ask: if a writer can’t rely on friends and family to shell out for their book, who can they rely on?

Similarly, not being able to afford a book is obviously nothing to be ashamed of and not something anyone should apologise for or feel hassled about. If you can’t afford a book, you needn’t buy one.

And lastly, if an author/publisher actually approaches you and says “Here! I’d like to give you this free book!” that is, of course, also totally fine. Take it. Take it and run.

So, we’re working on these assumptions: you know someone who wrote a book, you want the book your friend wrote, you can afford to obtain a copy, and the author/publisher has not offered you a free copy of their own volition – but you want a free copy. You wants it, you wants your precious, and you does not wants to paysies.

Many people I know spend an astonishing amount of money each day on assorted items of whatever (y’know – three lattes, two Sauv Blancs, a burger and fries, a trashy magazine, and a lemon slice later) without batting an eyelid. Now, people may spend their hard-earned money on whatever they like, that’s not the issue – I’m not suggesting people cut down on their caffeine consumption so they can altruistically increase their word intake for the greater good (the greater good).

The issue is: do you know how insulting it is to have your friends (or even just your associates, acquaintances, and that man who just walked past you on the street eating his own navel lint) say to your face that they don’t want to spend a far smaller amount on your book than the amount they spend on trivialities every day; that they want a copy, but that they expect it to be free? Can you see how that might feel a little…I don’t know…rude to the writer whose ol’ buddy ol’ pal is saying such things to them? It says that you don’t truly believe a book has value. That’s what it says. It says that you don’t truly believe my book has value. That’s a horrible thing to say to a writer, and I don’t think anyone would really want to come right out and say that – but they do say it, when they ask for a free copy and express incredulity when said free copy is not forthcoming.

Books do have value. Writing is not something everyone could do if they only had a little more time. It’s a specialised skill, it involves a lot of sacrifice and pure hard work, it contributes much to our society, and it has value. You may have noticed I feel quite strongly about this. Did I mention books have value?

Please also understand that a “free” book is not free at all. Ever. Never ever. Even reviewers don’t get free books. They get books in exchange for payment, just like everyone else (and in the case of ARCs – Advance Review Copies – they accept pre-publication books, warts and all, with possible typos, non-essential bits missing, etc). The difference between their payment and everyone else’s is that their payment comes in the form of them most likely writing a review which may be suitable for use for promotional purposes (i.e. TO SELL MORE BOOKS). Reviewers put a helluva lot of time and effort into what they do. They don’t get free books. They work for their books, just like writers work to write books.

Books don’t grow on magical book trees planted in writers’ backyards. Someone has to pay for that copy you want, and if that someone isn’t you, then it will either be the publisher (who, if they’re a small publisher, almost certainly can’t afford it, especially when multiplied by the number of people who want one), or the writer. You’re asking the publisher/writer to buy their own product so that you can enjoy it without paying. Does that sound fair? Does it sound logical within the context of a business model?

If a writer does happen to have copies of their own books lying around, they’ve probably paid for them (aside from the allocated number of copies they got from their publisher as a form of payment for writing the thing, which will probably not be a massive number of books, and which the writer may understandably want to keep for their own purposes or to distribute to reviewers). So no, you can’t just have one for free from their stash. Again, you’re asking them to buy their own book for you to read. Hey, they might choose to gift you one for whatever reason, in which case, yay; but if they don’t, don’t just demand one like it’s your due.

Things I haven’t said often enough yet: books have value. There’s no such thing as a free book.

People seem to think this sort of behaviour is ok when it comes to the arts. It isn’t. If you were a builder, I wouldn’t expect you to give me a free house, especially as a friend. So don’t ask me for free books.

Now go buy my book.