blog 98: In which I say something (but not much) about my WIP.

I was thinking the other day (yes, it does happen occasionally) that every new thing I’ve written has been different in some fundamental way from everything else that has gone before it.

For example …

My first published book The Running Man was a very serious YA novel.

This was followed by the Ishmael books which were comedies.

Then came Dinosaur Knights which was an action-adventure story with a touch of sci-fi and history.

Next was You Turkeys which was my first chapter book for early readers and also my first illustrated book thanks to Nahum Ziersch. Hi Nahum!

Just a Dog was different because it was my first book for middle-grade readers plus it had an 11 year old boy as the first person narrator

The Eric Vale series and their spin offs the Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series were different again because they were in a cartoon/comic book/graphic novel style and they were the first books I shared with my son Joe as illustrator.

My most recent book The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and Me is a light-hearted teenage novel like the Ishmael books but it’s different from everything else I’ve done because for the first time it features a female character Maggie Butt as the first person narrator.

And in September 2017 I’m happy and excited to say, my first children’s picture book Rodney Loses It! will be published by Scholastic Australia with fabulous illustrations by Chrissie Krebs.

All of which brings me to the current WORK IN PROGRESS – my unauthorised autobiography with each copy personally handwritten in crayon on recycled butcher’s paper!

Wait, wait, wait.  Calm down.  Don’t get too excited. It was all just a cruel joke that went too far. I apologise without reservation. (and next time I promise I’ll book ahead with my apology.)

I never really like to talk much about what I’m  currently working on until it’s all finished. I’d be hopeless in a writers’ group. But what I can say is that my WIP is a semi-serious teenager novel with a 16-year-old boy as the narrator. So in that respect it’s similar to the Ishmael books although not with as much exaggerated humour.

The two main points of difference for the WIP from everything else I’ve had published, are that firstly, it’s  written in the present tense and secondly, all the action takes at one place on the one day – around eight hours to be more precise. The setting is a university open day for future students.

Here’s one I visited earlier this month for background research and inadvertently got myself enrolled in three university courses …

               

So far I’m on about my fourth draft. I think it’s getting there. Maybe 75+% of what I feel it could be. So there’s still a bit of improvement to go yet before I’m ready to let someone else read it (after my wife Adriana who is always my first reader) and pass their judgement on it.

And the next project after that?

Well I guess, ironically (or is it paradoxically) given the theme of this post, if all goes to plan, the next project actually won’t involve me doing something different.

Instead it will be a return to something I haven’t done since my first novel The Running Man was published in 2004 – and that is, to write a completely serious dramatic story. A story that might be set again in my home suburb of Ashgrove and could even contain some slender plot threads that link it ever so slightly to The Running Man.

Well that’s the plan, but of course there’s no guarantee that will actually happen because I’ve been going to write that serious YA novel for about the last six years now, and every time I’ve thought that I was ready to start, some other story has always managed to push its way in ahead of it.

But that’s the way it goes. You don’t find stories. They find you. And often they can be determined and stubborn little buggers who demand to be heard.

So while I think my next project will be a serious YA novel, you know what they say about the best laid plans of Mike and men …

Cheers
Michael

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blog 100: In which I post the stunning conclusion to my 2 week odyssey in WA WA Land!

(* If you missed my blog about Week One or you want to recap go HERE.)

Author’s Log: Star Date Saturday June 3/Sunday June 4.

PREVIOUSLY on my Western Australian trip with Lesley Reece presenting writing workshops on behalf The Literature Centre, I had just returned to Fremantle to stay in the Centre for the long weekend.

You can read all about the wonderful work of the Centre here but as mentioned in the last blog it is housed inside the walls of the Old Fremantle Prison in what used to be the hospital section. This is the view from the back veranda of the Centre.

 

I’m pleased to say that I handled my time inside the Big House with ease. I mean it’s not like I became obsessed with locks and walls and stuff…

If you ever go to Fremantle a tour of the Old Prison is well worth taking. Although I must admit I found their advertising below terribly misleading.

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Seriously, I searched both sides of the prison and for the life of me I couldn’t see the Pyramids of Giza or The Great Wall of China anywhere. Quel disappointment!

While released on weekend parole for good behaviour, I checked out the beautiful buildings and sites of old Freo…

…including the statue located between the football ground and Fremantle Markets which commemorates the best mark ever taken on a roundabout while dislocating an opponent’s neck…

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…and this iconic Freo street art which clearly depicts ‘some kind of an animal’…

…as well as this sculpture which I think marks the site of Fremantle’s grizzliest ever murder.

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Back at the Centre I prepared for the week ahead by successfully doing all my washing – once I figured out which way the clothes line drying thingie went.

I also spent time perfecting my justifiably famous Shadow Art Performance entitled “One-Armed Man with Llama”.

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Author’s Log: Star Date Monday June 5 – Wednesday June 7.

Lesley and I flew from Perth airport and arrived at Port Hedland around 6.00pm. Checked in at the Esplanade Hotel.

Port Hedland is the world’s largest bulk tonnage export port, exporting 372.3 million tonnes per annum. World’s largest! Bet you didn’t know that. I’m pretty sure it’s also the home of the longest trains in the world.

P.H. is a heavy industry town of course but during our stay the weather was lovely and mild, and the  skies were crystal clear, so it had a stark, eerie beauty – especially at night.  

They tell me it’s salt but I’m not convinced. Over the two days we were there that already huge mound doubled in size.

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At Hedland SHS we had great writing workshops with Yr 7/8 and Yr 9/10 students from the Centre’s Talented Young Writers Programme as well as afternoon sessions with junior and senior indigenous students taking part in the Follow the Dream Programme.

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Author’s Log: Star Date Thursday June 7.

We left Port Hedland and were transported around 400 kms through the magnificent Pilbara to Newman by our fantastic Taxi driver Mick who is originally from Romania.

The ever-changing landscape was spectacular and check out that sky!

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Author’s Log: Star Date Friday June 9.

The final day of writing workshops with small groups of Yr 7/8s and Yr 9/10s at Newman SHS. A great way to finish the fortnight.

Left Newman airport at 4.05pm and arrived in Perth at 5.50pm. Spent the night back at the Literature Centre.

Author’s Log: Star Date Saturday June 10.

 

Left The Literature Centre and the beautiful clear skies of WA early in the morning and flew back home to Brisbane and the Sunshine State.

Where it was raining. And still is, as I write this.

A big thanks goes to Lesley Reece for inviting me on the Talented Young Writers Programme for a second time and for her guidance, support, companionship, good humour and sheer hard work  over the two weeks.

Thanks too to the teachers and librarians at the various school for their support and friendly welcome.  And of course a huge congratulations and thanks to the awesome kids in all the workshops whose enthusiasm, co-operation and love of writing made my job a pleasure. 

The Literature Centre does an amazing job supporting Australian authors and in encouraging and nurturing young writers right around WA. None of it would exist in the first place without Lesley’s foresight or continue without her passion and dedication and that of her wonderful support team at the Centre. If you know anyone with spare cash looking for a good cause tell them about the Literature Centre. They are in desperate need of funding to continue their wonderful work and programmes. 

Cheers
Michael

ps: I had the great pleasure of spending some time at the Literature Centre with the super-talented writer, artist, musician and composer Matt Ottley. He even played some flamenco guitar which he has done professionally in the past. He was brilliant.

I am not brilliant, but I leave you with a brief video of me attempting some simple 12 bar blues on Matt’s expensive flamenco guitar in front of a wall of Matt Ottley artwork. (Naturally I never played a note in his actual presence.)

All my life I’ve suffered for my music. Now it’s your turn.

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blog 99: In which I visit WA WA Land – Part the First.

This is a log of the first week of my two week trip to Western Australia presenting writing workshops as part of The Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers’ Programme.

Author’s Log: Star Date Sunday May 28.

Woke up dull and early Sunday morning. Departed Brisvegas 8.40am. Crossed the wide, brown land. Views from window confirm both width and browniness of Australian landmass. Arrived Perth WA approx five and a half hours later. My decision to fly rather than undertake the journey on foot seems totally vindicated.

Three hour wait at Perth airport before next flight to Albany. Spent the time eating, relaxing, reading and navel-gazing. Ceased navel-gazing after third warning from airport security that navel gazing must be limited to my own navel. What’s the fun in that?

Eventually joined at the airport by Lesley Reece – Founder and Director of the Fremantle Literature Centre (TLC), champion of Children’s Writing and Australian Children’s Authors for over twenty years, Order of Australia recipient and all-round remarkable woman. We fly to Albany arriving at 5.15pm.

After eating at a nearby Indian Restaurant, we call it a night. (Although to be fair, we probably weren’t the first ones to come up with that description.)

Author’s Log: Star Date Monday May 29.

Youth Literature Day at Great Southern GrammarAll day writing workshops with approx 60 Yr 9-12 students from various schools. Lovely kids. All goes well. Great way to start the week.

In the afternoon I walk around Albany town centre and down to the harbour. The water is like a mirror. Only wetter. And much more difficult to hang on a wall.

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Author’s Log Star Date  Tuesday May 30.

Second day of workshops at Great Southern Grammar. This time with around 110 Yr 6 – 8s from a variety of schools. Awesome kids. Great day.

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Important toilet and fire drill info being imparted.

Depart Albany by plane 5.40pm. Arrive Perth 6.50pm. Stay at Hotel near airport overnight.

Author’s Log: Star Date Wednesday May 31.

Leave Perth 7.00am. Fly to Geraldton . Arrive 8.00am.

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They really shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble. It’s embarrassing!

At John Willcock College for a Young Writers’ Day with 45 Yr 6 students.

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Lesley casting a spell on the children.

During the day I discover to my horror (but not surprise) that my ‘friend’ and fellow author Barry Jonsberg who has presented writing workshops with these same students a few months earlier has attempted to poison the kids’ minds against me by telling them that I ‘sucked’! BUT in a totally unexpected counter move, I somehow manage to turn the tables on him by actually ‘not sucking’!

As evidence of my suck-less status I’d like to table two short extract from the student feedback sheets.

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Perhaps this could be my epitaph. “He wasn’t great, but at least he didn’t suck.”

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Take that Baz! As you can see from the second comment it’s obvious that my talent can only  be adequately encompassed by the use of double superlatives! From now on I will be referring to Barry as Mr Ninety-five Percent.

Once again the kids were beautiful and it was a pleasure to work with them.

At night I made Lesley Reece AM watch some of State of Origin 1.

It was the first time in her life Lesley had ever watched a Rugby League match. She assured me it would never happen again and in future if she wished to witness a no-holds-barred contest she would stick with Master Chef. (Secretly though I think that Lesley, like me, was just heart-broken that the Mighty Maroons didn’t win. I’ll be sending her an email just before the second game to remind her to get her Queensland supporter’s jersey on.)

Author’s Log: Star Date Thursday June 1.

Second day of writing workshops at John Willcock College. This time with about 35 yr 7/8 students.

Yet another bunch of wonderful, inspiring young people (except at the start maybe when they were super keen to inform me that Barry Jonsberg told them to tell me that I ‘sucked’!) Baz is the gift that keeps on giving!

Thanks to the lovely library staff for the author display and for the masses of delicious homemade food they forced me to eat. In the sessions I attempted to put the students nerves at rest by doing a writing activity based on FEAR.

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Author’s Log: Friday June 2.

Youth Literature Day workshop at Geraldton Senior College with 45 yr 9-12 students.

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Caught up with the school’s librarian and fellow author and friend, Dr Glyn Parry  which is always a lot of fun. Glyn’s a terrific storyteller with some wonderful and at times eye-popping stories to tell!

Another really enjoyable day of sessions.

I feel so fortunate to get to work and spend time with so many enthusiastic, friendly, funny, dedicated, co-operative and talented students. Have not got a single bad word to say about any one of them. Great, great kids and a real treat and honour to get to  hear their words and stories.

A big thanks and shout out also to the magnificent, over-worked and often under-appreciated (by some) teachers and the more-than-worth-their-weight-in-gold librarians and TLs who help and support all the students.

Thanks too to Geraldton (and Albany) for turning on the beautiful weather and for the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

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Departed Geraldton by plane 6.10pm. Arrived Perth 7.15pm. Taken in our driver Peter’s very comfortable taxi to The Literature Centre which is housed inside the Old Fremantle Prison.

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And that’s where I am now and will be until Lesley and I fly out on Monday afternoon for another week of talks and workshops this time in Port Hedland and Newman.

More about all that and my two and a half days in Freo in the next blog.

Cheers
Michael

ps: A lot of authors I know who have stayed here at The Literature Centre inside the Old Fremantle Prison say that it’s haunted and have posted messages on my Facebook page obviously trying to scare me.

But seriously, do I look scared to you?

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blog 98: In which I tell of some things that have happened.

DISCLAIMER: Ok from now on whenever I start a new blog, I’m not going to even mention that in the previous blog (and every blog before that) I apologized for the long time between posts, made a firm and sincere promise that I would definitely blog more frequently, and then … well obviously didn’t. Let’s just take that as a given in future so we can all move on.

Right. So since my last blog, here’s SOME THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED …

# My wife and I have gone on a bit of a fitness and diet kick to lose a few kilos and get fitter. It’s going well so far. I’m just a shadow of my former self and my wife is so slim I haven’t actually seen her for weeks. At least I’m assuming that’s because of the diet …

Anyway, here’s a recent picture of trimmed-down me on the day I auditioned for the lead role in the live action version of Kung-Fu Panda. Sadly I didn’t get the gig because apparently there wasn’t enough light and shade in my performance. Can you believe it? And of course, that’s my svelte wife standing beside me.

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# I’ve had some great school visits recently at Mt Gravatt SHS, Brisbane State High, Marist Ashgrove, Ambrose-Treacy College, Emmaus College Jimboomba and St Aloysius College Sydney. Thanks to all the students and staff for making me feel so welcome.

They are all terrific schools of course, but for views it’s pretty tough to beat the one below from the library windows of St Aloysius in Sydney. Hi to Serena and all the team there!

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# I attended the Romancing the Stars event organised by Book Links Qld at Nudgee College. As always it was a lot of fun and on the night I also had the honour of launching Brian Falkner’s exciting new book Shooting Stars.

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At Romancing the Stars with author Ben Long (Ready, Steady, Hatch!)

# I had the pleasure of being one of the Book Slammers (along with Megan Daley, Chris Bongers, Trish Buckley and others) at an event put on by the CBCA Qld branch. For the Book Slam you are required to choose a book from the 2017 CBCA Notables List and spruik it for 3 minutes in any way you like. At first I considered bringing my guitar and singing my slam, but then I thought, “These poor people have never done anything awful to me. They don’t deserve that.” So in the end I presented it in poetry form.

My chosen book was Glenda Millard’s beautiful The Stars at Oktober Bend. There were 20 verses in my slam poem. You’ve never done anything awful to me either (that I’m aware of!) so here are just the last 10 verses.

Deep within Oktober Bend
The Nightingales are hiding
A family shattered by the past
Their secrets not confiding.

A father dead, a mother gone
And papa locked in jail
A loyal brother armed with love
A grandma sick and frail

So goes this tale of broken lives
Of shameful deeds and malice
Of courage, love, of letting go
All told by broken Alice

A girl whose words die on her lips
From things once cruelly taken
A poet with a shattered voice
By brother not forsaken

Until inside the poet’s world
A running boy appears
Whose secret past is sad and harsh
Awash with guilt and tears

Can poetry set them both free
And ease their pain and sorrows?
Can yesterdays be held at bay
By hope of shared tomorrows?

Will broken boy and broken girl
Find healing in each other?
Can broken sister learn to share
The love of loyal brother?

Could it be true that we can’t mend
Until we show we’re broken?
And are the words that scar us most
Those ones we leave unspoken?

All these answers you might find
Upon the tale’s unfolding
But lose your heart you will, like me
Within the book you’re holding

And so, I recommend to you
This story, true and tender
My vote goes to Oktober Bend
My heart belongs to Glenda

# My wife and I spent a few lovely and relaxing days with some good friends at beautiful Caloundra Beach on the Queensland Sunshine Coast .

# I continued my daily walks around the neighbourhood – except for the days when the creek ate my bridge …

… and on my walks I continued to take random photos.

# My wife Adrie (95% of the work) and I (5% of the work) did catering for our son Joe and daughter-in-law Rita’s month-long film shoot of six new episodes of their hilarious You Tube comedy series THE VOID. They finished up doing the final green screen shots at our place last night.

You can watch lots of Joe and Rita’s fantastic ARTSPEAR productions HERE  including the entire first season of THE VOID and their hugely popular (215,000 subscribers and over 20 million views) TOON SANDWICH MOVIE TRAILER SPOOFS.

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# As far as writing goes, I’ve been busy working on a new teenage novel (male narrator this time) where the action takes place over just one day. I’m into my 4th draft and each draft has made me a little happier so that’s a positive sign. I’m also really looking forward to the release of my first picture book with Scholastic Australia in September.

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This is a shot of me not working at my desk.

 # I was really pleased to see The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy Cyber Boy and Me make the Older Reader’s Shortlist for the WAYBRA Awards. Thanks guys! Also really happy to learn that the book will be published in Germany by Carl Hanser and translated once again by the amazing Dr Ute Mihr. She has already worked her magic on eight of my books. Speaking of Germany, it was great to receive copies of the hardback German edition of Eric Vale 3 from Carl Hanser/dtv.  Joe and I love these editions.

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# And lastly, following on from my previous blog where I foolishly gave into the enormous pressure and posted a picture of myself with a giant fruit ice block that so many people had been demanding for so many years, I now find myself inundated with bizarre photo requests!

So this time I’m posting these two photos in response to the countless requests I’ve had for shots of me with Bruce Lee and me pointing at a sign that says, ‘The revolution will not be televised’.

Enjoy.

And keep those photo request rolling in!

Cheers
Michael

Apart from all those trivial things above, I just want to end by saying that all my love, thoughts and prayers, and that of my wife and family, go out to Megan Daley (Children’s Books Daily) and her beautiful family in a time of incredible loss and sadness. 

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blog 97: In which I wake up and realise that 2017 has started already!

Hi All.

Well 2017 is already well underway so I thought I should blog something before I missed it completely.

In terms of writing, it’s been about half a year since my last book The Pain My Mother Sir Tiffy Cyber Boy and Me was released and I’m really happy with the way it’s been received. You can see some great reviews HERE.

Of course these are just the really favourable reviews (or the best bits carefully edited from the luke-warm ones). The ones that accused me of committing crimes against literature, I shredded, raked together in an enormous pile and incinerated in what my neighbours described as “a very tasteful and moving ceremony”.

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Currently I’m writing (in between watching tennis) a semi-serious YA novel. Haven’t decided yet what it will be called, but the working title is My Current Semi-Serious YA Novel. I like to think of it as a boy meets girl romantic comedy with a dark heart. I also like to think of it as a Nobel Prize winner, but that’s probably going too far.

Here’s a photo of where my Work in Progress is being progressively worked on.

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One of the exciting things for me about 2017 is that my first PICTURE BOOK will be released!

I think.

I haven’t heard an actually released date yet. Can’t say too much about it except that it may or may not involve a furry animal and that I really like the illustrations that I’ve seen so far. (Not by Joe Bauer this time.) They’re even better than my alternative Eric Vale illustrations!

scan0085This year as always I’ll be visiting schools and attending a number of festivals and literary events. (Just in case you were wondering, yes, I’m always happy to get paid to travel to exotic locations. So don’t hold back on those invitations!)

You can check the current state of my bookings by going to this page of the blog: BOOKINGS 2017.

You can contact BOOKED OUT SPEAKERS AGENCY and inquire about booking me at any time of the year. But if you’re particularly interested in a booking in AUGUST, which is usually a busy and packed month for authors, I will be in:

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BRISBANE (Book Week) from AUGUST 21-25

ADELAIDE from AUGUST 28 – SEPTEMBER 1

There are already a few dates taken so it’s best to get in early if you can. (Of course I could just be saying that to panic you into booking. But I’m not. Truly. Come on, is it really that hard for some of you believe that there are people out there who are keen to have me visit? Oh … I see … well that’s pretty depressing.)

Anyway, I’m also looking forward in May/June to visiting Femantle, Albany, Geraldton, Port Headland and Newman in Western Australia as one of the guest authors in the Talented and Young Writers’ Program which is run by The (fabulous) Literature Centre in Fremantle.

And just a reminder that in February BOOK LINKS will be running THREE of their very popular and fun ROMANCING THE STARS evenings. You can check out the details of all three HERE. (In case you wish to avoid it, I’ll be attending the one at Nudgee College on Feb 23 where I’ll also be launching Brian Falkner’s new book Shooting Stars.)

As far as my own reading goes I’ve started off the year with a series of autobiographies.  I really enjoyed Jimmy Barnes’ and Bryan Cranston’s books and now I’m running with The Boss.

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And finally to all those people who have repeatedly emailed me asking why I’ve never posted a photo of myself with a giant fruit ice block – here you go.

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Now stop harassing me!

Cheers
Michael

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blog 96: In which I meet SHINTARO!!!!!!!!!! and live/love to tell the tale.

If you were a kid like me growing up in Australia in the 60s you would probably remember a very popular TV show from Japan called The Samurai which featured a samurai warrior named Shintaro Akikusa and his Iga Ninja side-kick Tombei the Mist.

Maybe like me and many others you too became obsessed with the show and loved Shintaro as your hero for the rest of your life.

If so, we are definitely soul mates, and this blog is mainly for you .

Why did The Samurai make such a huge impression back in the 60s? Why did so many people love it so much and have such fond memories of it?

Well firstly I think it was because we’d never seen anything like it. We were used to shows from America and heroes like Superman or Tarzan or the Cisco kid or any number of other cowboys, but nothing like the high-action adventure and excitement, and the strange, exotic nature of samurais and ninjas in 18th century Japan.

Everything was new. Everything was surprising. It was a show where any bent-over peasant hobbling down a country lane and hidden beneath a big lampshade-like hat, could suddenly transform into a deadly Fuma, Puppet or Koga ninja!

But as magical and surprising as the ninjas were with their strange weapons and ‘tricks’ and their flashing swords (and shuffling feet!) and the ability to leap backwards to great heights, the big attraction of the show for me (and I suspect most others) was the hero himself Shintaro Akikusa.

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What I loved about Shintaro so much was his style, grace and poise. Even when he was in the heat of battle, fighting for his life against a dozen deadly ninjas, he remained like some kind of action-man ballet dancer – a master of his craft, always in control. He had no super powers to help him out, just his intelligence and the skill and expertise of his flashing blade.

And on top of that, he looked great! I mean, nobody had the daring fashion sense of Shintaro. Plus he had long flowing hair and a ponytail even before The Beatles! He was like no other hero I had ever seen.

I guess that’s why I liked him.

But I think why I loved him was because he was unerringly honourable, loyal, humble and true. He was a warrior who fought by a code of ethics and showed respect to all, even his defeated enemies. He was also a defender of the weak and the put upon. As a kid I think I realised that I could never be Shintaro, but I still wanted to be like him. That desire never really left me.

These days I do lots of talks in schools because I write for children and young adults and I often tell the groups I’m speaking to how when I was in primary school my first goal in life was to be a samurai. I also say that I knew I could never really be a samurai, so I had a back-up plan. That was to be a ninja. I show them images of Shintaro and Tombei the Mist.

It’s not surprising therefore that there are more than few samurai and ninja references sprinkled throughout my books.

For instance, in Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel the character Razz mentions that he’s a big fan of a band called Tranz Phat and their song Ninja Love. In that same book there’s this description of an unusual boy called Melvin Yip:

Not only did Melvin firmly believe that he was the best Volleyball player in the entire school, somehow he had managed to convince himself that he was descended from either a long line of Japanese Samurais or some secret society of Ninjas. This was despite the fact that the Yips actually came from Malaysia not Japan and that Melvin himself was born in Australia. Reality wasn’t exactly Melvin Yip’s strong suit.

All of that would have been perfectly fine except that Melvin liked to display his Ninja and Samurai moves on the volleyball court whenever possible. This meant that every now and then when the ball came his way, he would leap into the air, scream ‘Yeeee-aaaaaa!’ thrash his arms at it and then land back on the court where he would pose for a few seconds, crouching ninja-like before springing nimbly backwards into position. The rest of us meanwhile had to try to figure out where the ball had gone. It was hardly surprising therefore that Melvin Yip was known in Volleyball circles as the Psycho Samurai or the Nutcase Ninja. He wore both titles with great pride.

And there are other examples. The short story The Knitting Needle Ninja that I contributed to the anthology Rich and Rare below, is based on a real (and for my brother, an unfortunate) incident which resulted indirectly from my love of The Samurai as a boy.

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In my younger readers’ book Derek ‘Danger’ Dale and The Case of the Really, Really Magnetic Magnet, Derek battles an evil group calling themselves the Notoriously Nasty but Nevertheless Nifty Ninjas. They are headed by a female commander named Cherry Blossom Lotus Flower Rosebud Tinkerbell the Merciless (aka Her Supreme Nastiness for short). (All following illustrations by my son Joe Bauer.)

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In the story Eric Vale Super Male when the main character Eric needed to have a favourite superhero, I created a half-ninja, half-nuclear-powered-robot called the Nuclear Ninjarator.

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And because that whole story was all about superheroes and the nature of heroes, I dedicated the book to my own hero. scan0028

Then a year or so ago I joined the SAMURAI facebook group to seek out like-minded people who share my love of Shintaro and the show. It’s also been great sharing memories and memorabilia online.

Not long after joining the group I went to a meeting in Brisbane and got to see what has to be the Holy Grail for Samurai fans – the actual wig worn by actor Koichi Ose in the series!

It was given to Brisbane man Gary Renshaw who graciously brought it along and told me his incredible story of meeting ‘Shintaro’ in Tokyo and being gifted with the wig. (A Japanese TV show later came to Brisbane to film a segment on the group that eventually aired in Japan.)

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Then, even more amazingly we found out that thanks to the huge efforts of another member David Lovegrove, ‘Shintaro’ (Koichi Ose) himself had heard of our fan club and had written us a letter of thanks.

To my dearest Australian fans of The Samurai,

It is really my great pleasure to know that you have a fan conference of The Samurai (Onmitsu Kenshi) today in Brisbane, Australia, even though a half century has already passed since the first airing of the program in Australia. I am deeply impressed.

I came to know that The Samurai was going to air in Australia when I was just preparing for The Samurai in Kyoto. After a while, the program gained popularity in Australia, so I was asked to visit Sydney and Melbourne. I remember very well that I entered the Sydney Airport in the costume of Akikusa Shintaro. I had changed my clothes in the air plane! If my memory is correct, I heard that the Beatles had also visited Sydney one week before my visit. If there had been more budget, I could have been able to take a lot more fellow actors and show real samurai and ninja to the Australian fans.

When I think back on my days of acting The Samurai (which is also the name of your Facebook club), I can recall hundreds of untold interesting stories. I can tell you at first that all the ninja’s paraphernalia needed a lot of work and time to prepare before shoot. At one time, there was a close-up of a shot when thrown stars and arrows struck near my face. They were thrown with piano wire, of course, not by someone’s actual hand. Honestly, I was very scared. They could have struck my face, you know, if something went wrong. I was terrified also when gunpowder exploded near my body.

It was the middle of winter when we went to the Izu Peninsula for a long shoot. Izu is a resort area near Tokyo and is famous for its hot springs. However, I had to be in the freezing waterfalls for a while. I could survive such a torture because I was young. I jumped into a hot spring after the shot and felt extremely comfortable.

I heard from Mr. David Lovegrove that there is the Shintaro wig at Mr. Greg Newman’s house today. There is nothing left in my hand that was used for The Samurai. I gave even a sword, katana, whensomeone asked me to have it as a present. When Mr. Gary Renshaw said he wanted to have something for his memory, I gave him my only and last wig. I am very glad he still keeps it. I am also very glad to hear that Ms. Nikki White has maintained a website for all The Samurai fans.

I have so many stories that I cannot tell them all at one time. I would love to tell you about them sometime when I meet you. I have a wish to visit Australia again before it becomes too late;-)

Thanks again to all of you.
With Love,

Ose Koichi

Well, I really thought it couldn’t get any better than that. But then we got the news that Koichi Ose himself was coming to Sydney and wanted to meet with his Samurai fans!

That meeting happened yesterday (Sunday 11th December) at the Rydges World Square Hotel for a limited audience of 30 dedicated and excited Shintaro devotees.

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What a day! And what a beautiful, generous, gracious and humble man – just like the character he played 50 years ago. Just like you would want him to be.

We all got to hear Koich Ose answer questions about himself and the show (via a translator).

Then we had the opportunity to have individual photos taken with him and have memorabilia signed.

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And we all got to sign the white coat he wore especially for the occasion! (see my name up there near the collar?)

During the afternoon Mr Ose was reunited briefly with his famous Samurai wig.

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At the end of the meet and greet we all posed for a group photo and then it was finally time to say a sad goodbye to an absolute legend.

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It was touching to see Koichi Ose so grateful to be remembered in the land Down Under after all these years and to see him so moved by the love shown to him in the room.

In the emotion of the moment, words failed him and we were left only with the beautiful tears of a Samurai.

No translation was necessary.

Thanks to everyone who made the day possible especially David Lovegrove, and to everyone who shared it with me.

It’s not everyday you get to meet your hero. But yesterday I did.

And I’m still smiling.

Cheers
Michael

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blog 95: In which I suddenly realise it’s December!

It’s the last month of 2016. If this year is following the pattern of previous years, by my calculations, that means it’s December!

Back on September 12 when I last wrote, I ended my blog with this bold statement:

I’m making a resolution to do shorter weekly blogs whether I’ve got anything to say or not. So that should be riveting. Still, I think you’ll agree that this is an excellent resolution, which I guess is why I have made it so many times before.

By my calculation I should therefore have posted around 12 of those ‘shorter weekly blogs’ by now. Well that didn’t happen. So here, in their place, is my regular, hastily-thrown-together, shambolic three monthly catch-up. (I mean really, what did you expect?)

Some random things that have happened since we last met.

  • Nine years after it was first published Don’t Call Me Ishmael was up for a KOALA AWARD which was exciting. It didn’t win, but just look below at the brilliant company Ishmael and his friends were keeping! Congratulations to the winner Morris Gleitzman for Soon and to the Honour Books My Life As An Alphabet by my good friend Barry Jonsberg and The Last Thirteen #1 by James Phelan. koalashortlistyears7to92016
  • I had my last two school visits for the year – Hi to Albany Creek State School and Eaton’s Hill! This year in total I had over 50 days at schools and Festivals around Australia – plus 3 weeks in China! – and every day was a really positive and enjoyable experience. (For people interstate  who might be interested in a school visit in 2017, I will definitely be in Adelaide 28 Aug – 1 Sept and Melbourne 14 Aug – 18 Aug. All bookings through BOOKED OUT SPEAKERS AGENCY. I’m at home in Brissie for Book Week 21 Aug – 25 Aug.)

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  • I attended the first Big Lit Quiz organised by Jenny Stubbs and the folks at Book Links and held at Padua College. A great fun afternoon that I hope will become a regular event.
    I was part of a crack authors’ team called Writers’ Bloc (get it?) featuring the amazing talents of Chris Bongers, Sam Wheeler and Richard Newsome. Unfortunately all their combined amazing talents weren’t enough to overcome the handicap of having me on the team and we finished in a position best summed up as ‘nowhere near first’.
    The highlight of the day  for Richard (and very possibly the highlight of his life) was winning a video on ME! Richard informs me that as a viewing experience, it makes an excellent coaster. He was even kind enough to send me photographic proof …

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  • At home we had a huge tidy up of our garage and we installed some super-duper* (*technical term) new space-saving shelves. Here’s one of the many ‘shelfies’ I took on the day. Bwahahahahahahahaha!  Go on, it was worth reading this entire blog just for that. Gold! img_20160928_172939

     

  • My writing hero and writing inspiration His Bobness was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Never in doubt, with daylight second. Cheers Bobby!
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Ard at our 50 Birthday Bash party for Bob in 1991.

  • We survived this storm and when it was done the sky turned orange. I’m pretty sure it was a dress rehearsal for the End of the World.

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  • I continued to go on my fairly regular early morning or late afternoon walks but as you can see, when we hit summer down under in Oz, things really start to heat up. I’ll need to be careful. I wouldn’t want to lose TOO much weight.

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  • We went for a quick drive up to Mt Coot-tha lookout which is not that far from where we live. If you’re ever in Brisbane make sure you go there. You can get something to eat and drink at the Cafe or Restaurant and check out the wonderful views of ‘Brisvegas’. img_20161129_113937a
  • And finally, on a very sad note, Australia and world of picture books and children’s literature lost this most beautiful, talented and hilarious of ladies. Vale Narelle Oliver. Loved and missed by many.

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Well that’s about it. A lot of other things must have happened that I’ve forgotten about (was there something about an election in America?) but I think it’s high time I put you all out of your misery and signed off.
I won’t insult your intelligence by yet again promising that from now on I intend to post much more regularly, but you know, deep down, I sort of secretly do.
HOWEVER, if because of circumstances probably within my control I don’t actually get around to doing another blog before the largish, jolly, bearded man calls (no, not me!) I just want to say this: Thanks so much to anyone who has taken the time to read any of my rambling blogs and from Ard and me and all the troops we wish you and yours a love and laughter-filled Christmas and a very ‘Hoopy’ New Year.

 

 

Cheers
Mike

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blog 94: In which I quickly recap the past 8 weeks – with beaucoup de pictures!

A lot has happened over the last 8 weeks. Not much writing I have to admit (ie none) but plenty of writing-related things.

For example …

# I visited a number of schools in and around the BRISBANE/IPSWICH region, such as Ipswich Girls Grammar, St Edmund’s College, Corinda SHS, St Agatha’s Primary School and Brisbane Bayside State College and had a great time talking to the students.

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# I spent 5 very enjoyable days up in ROCKHAMPTON (the BEEF Capital of Australia!) visiting schools with all these lovely writing and illustrating colleagues.

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With Julie Fison, Majory Walker, Meredith Costain and just one of the many BULL statues in Rocky.

With Julie Fison, Majory Gardner, Meredith Costain and just one of the many BULL statues in Rocky.

On our day off I took in the beautiful classic Queensland architecture …

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… visited the Rocky Zoo (where fortunately the wildlife was more impressive than the punctuation) …

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… took a selfie with this guy …

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… indulged in a balanced lunch featuring both HOT and COLD items from the Fast Food Unhealthy-Eating Pyramid …

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… and watched the sun go down in the zoo’s beautiful lake and gardens.

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One very sad note for the Rocky trip was the absence of this beautiful man, the wise, intelligent and talented writer/illustrator Kevin Burgemeestre.

Kevin passed away shortly before he was due to join us on tour (and be my apartment buddy for the second time around). While he wasn’t with us physically, he was certainly in our hearts and minds, and the memories from our previous trips and meetings, and Kev’s gentle, infectious personality will stay with me for ever. 

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# After the Rockhampton trip I had a week of school visits in MELBOURNE City of Literature and The World’s Most Liveable City for the 6th year in a row. 

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A big shout out to all the staff and students of Camberwell HS, Overnewton Anglican Community College, Western Heights SC, St Bernard’s College, Keysborough College, Emmaus College, Waverley Christian College and Broadford Secondary College, for being so welcoming and for making the busy week so enjoyable.

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Waiting for the rest of the troops to arrive – St Bernard’s College Essendon.

As well as speaking at schools in and around Melbourne, my visit to Broadford Secondary College took me out into the beautiful Victorian countryside where I met Kane the Amazing (and apparently slightly gluttonous) Reading Dog and signed a book for him. I really thought he would have gone for Just a Dog but he preferred The Running Man. Maybe he liked the idea of chasing someone.

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While I was (freezing) in Broadford I also took a photo of this. Can’t remember now if it was some old pulping thing from the paper mill, a prototype nuclear bomb or the underwater vessel from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Either way, I’m glad they had it fenced up!

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Other highlights of my time in Melbourne were getting to spend time with my daughter Meg  (who is into knitting in a BIG way) and son-in-law Ryan  (no, it’s not a jumper for him) … 

 

… seeing this sculpture of a man fighting a giant boxed-shaped cow in Sunshine (the meaning of which I think would be pretty self-explanatory to any art connoisseur) … 

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… and sharing this touching moment with my wife and daughter.

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After Melbourne it was back to Queensland for a quick trip to TOWNSVILLE  as part of a series of regional tours organised by Julie Gwynne- Jones of the Ashgrove Literature Festival. These are the views I had from my hotel – but sadly for just a day.

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While in Townsville I had a terrific time at Oonoonba and Kirwan State Schools talking to the awesome Year 1-6s about You Turkeys,  Eric Vale, Derek ‘Danger’ Dale and Just a Dog. Great, enthusiastic, hilarious kids.

After Townsville it was a quick trip back to MELBOURNE and my pleasure to chair a panel called Nature and Place at the Melbourne Writers Festival on behalf of the WILDERNESS SOCIETY and their ENVIRONMENT AWARDS for CHILDREN’S LITERATURE. The panel consisted of the wonderful Graeme Base (Animalia, The Eleventh Hour) and Lisa Kennedy (illus. Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy). 

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# Then it was back to beautiful BRIS VEGAS and three days at The Brisbane Writers Festival.

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View from the Green Room at the Brisbane Writers Festival.

It was fantastic to be part of this year’s festival. I had three sessions at festival venues and one online session for Queensland State Schools. My session title was Don’t Call me Maggles. I spoke about Ishmael from Don’t call Me Ishmael and Maggie Butt from my latest novel The Pain, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and Me. I also attended the State Finals of the Readers Cup and was Quiz Master for the night. Well done to the 15 finalists from nearly 600 schools from all around the State

Thank you to everyone who came and helped sell out all my sessions. It was fantastic to talk to and meet so many friendly and enthusiastic readers. A big congratulations and thanks to Julie Beveridge and the other festival organisers and to brilliant smiling army of volunteers who looked after us and made everything so easy and enjoyable.

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Readers Cup State Finals.

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# Meanwhile at home in our Brisbane backyard a year after building it and hoping they would come, they did. YAY!

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And LASTLY if you’ve been cursing the unfairness and emptiness of your life because you don’t own an Eric Vale or Derek ‘Danger’ Dale inspired T-shirt (and haven’t we all?) then curse no more and wash your mouth with soap!

The original designs you see modelled so elegantly below, plus others by the amazing JOE BAUER and ARTSPEAR ENTERTAINMENT are now available for purchase!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not only that, but there’s additional t-shirts and merchandise available inspired by Artspear’s comedy sci-fi feature film AUSTRALIENS (available here on DVD!) and their hugely popular movie trailer spoof YouTube channel, TOON SANDWICH.

To see all the available items GO HERE.

TOON SANDWICH now has over 100,000 subscribers. Why not check out the 15 hilarious movie trailers already posted and see why they’ve had in excess of 22 MILLION views! *Parental Guidance Recommended 

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That’s it. Sorry for the long post. Thanks for getting this far. Unless of course you didn’t, in which case I don’t know why I’m even bothering to talk to you since you won’t be reading this anyway given that you obviously have the attention span of a goldfish!

I’m making a resolution to do shorter weekly blogs whether I’ve got anything to say or not. So that should be riveting. Still, I think you’ll agree that this is an excellent resolution, which I guess is why I have made it so many times before.

Cheers
Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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blog 93: In which I play catch-up yet again.

It’s been quite a busy few months since the last update, so very briefly here are some things that happened.

  • My awesome daughter the Meg- star married a man whom we also love.

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  • I spent a terrific week in Perth at St Mark’s Anglican Community School.

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  • Along with many other authors, publishers and supporters of the Australia Book Industry  – including Morris Gleitzman – I spoke at the Productivity Commission hearing in support of maintaining the present Parallel Import Restrictions.

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  • Along with my wife and other members of my family I travelled overseas to stay with my sister at her beautiful home in London and to attend the wedding of her elder son in southern France. Despite a few missed trains, a fantastic few weeks!
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Wherwell Village

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Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

  • Son Joe (illustrator for the Eric Vale and Derek ‘Danger’ Dale series) and daughter-in-law Rita’s hilarious independent sci-fi comedy AUSTRALIENS was released in the USA in July by Midnight Releasing and a special limited Blu-ray edition was also released in Australia by Monster Pictures who are distributing the Australian and UK dvd version. The film has been receiving a lot of great reviews which it certainly deserves. Congratulations to everyone who contributed to the making of the film. See ARTSPEAR ENTERTAINMENT for all of Joe and Rita’s other projects.
  • As for my writing, I had some good news regarding the official ‘go ahead’ for my next publication. I’m excited by this because it’s different from anything I’ve done before. More on that later.

 

That’s about it as far as highlights go. I have a quiet couple of weeks ahead of me before a busy 5 weeks or so of school visits around Brisbane, up in Rockhampton and Townsville and down in Melbourne. I also have three days at the Brisbane Writers Festival and a brief appearance at the Melbourne Writers Festival where I’ll be chairing a panel for the Wilderness Society featuring Graeme Base and Aunty Joy Murphy.

As far as writing goes I hope to start on a new YA novel soon. My only problem is that I have the skeletons of three possible story ideas fighting it out for attention in my head – a serious drama, a romantic comedy and a dystopian adventure. Not sure which one to commit to. Any thoughts?

Till the next blog.

Cheers
Michael

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blog 92: In which I put on my serious face and talk about PARALLEL IMPORTS

What are Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs)?

At present in Australia, the UK and USA, an author owns territorial rights to their work. This means that they can sell their book to one publisher in Australia, one in America and another in the UK, and those publishers have an exclusive right to sell that book within their market only. Booksellers can therefore only buy bulk copies of a title from the publisher who has rights in their own territory, so Australian booksellers purchase from Australian publishers.

Once again here in Australia the PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION is recommending that these rules be abandoned, allowing bulk copies of books to be sourced from any market in the world, at any time, thus removing the Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs) that currently exist.

So why does the Productivity Commission want to remove PIRs?

They claim it will make books cheaper for consumers even though in the last Productivity Commission report on this issue they admitted that firstly, they couldn’t guarantee book prices would actually fall, and secondly, if they did fall, they couldn’t guarantee the booksellers would pass those possibly lower prices on to consumers!

So in summary the big benefit of removing PIRs is –  lower prices that may or may not come, but if they do come you may not get them anyway.

(I think you could also question whether books are really that expensive in the first place. My first book was a year or so in the planning, two and a half years in the writing and another year before publication. You can buy it for the price of a few coffees or a cheap meal. You can also read it for free from your local library. I get less than two dollars if you buy it, substantially less again if you borrow it.)

What are the COSTS of removing PIRs for authors, publishers,the industry in general and all Australians?

I’ll use a personal example. My book Don’t Call Me Ishmael was published by Omnibus Books/Scholastic Australia in 2006. Even though they bought the World Rights my publisher only has the territorial rights to publish in Australia and NZ. I was very fortunate that the book was subsequently sold on to other publishers in the USA and UK. Under the present rules, copies of those overseas editions can’t be imported in bulk into Australia for sale, but individuals can still order copies via Amazons etc.

So what would happen in this case if PIRs were removed like the Productivity Commission wants?

Well first of all my Australian publishers would now face competition from those imported overseas editions. So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t competition fair and reasonable? Well I don’t it is in this case. My Australian publisher is the one that has taken the greatest risk in publishing my book in the first place. They have devoted their time, resources and money to the development and thorough editing of the story from the original manuscript to get it to the highest possible publishing standard. Is it fair that overseas companies should be able to just jump in and take advantage of all that work and then undermine the local publisher’s hard-earned profits by having free range to sell their overseas version back into Australia?

And another problem arises from this. Since removing PIRs would substantially erode local sales and profits, it would act as a strong disincentive for Australian publishers to pursue and sell overseas rights in the first place.

I have been able to move from being a full-time teacher to being a full-time writer, because of income earned through royalties, PLR & ELR and payment for school visits and festivals. A big factor in making that move possible was gaining those royalties from overseas sales in countries such as the USA and UK. I am very grateful to the International Rights Department of Scholastic Australia for their efforts in selling on these rights. But why would they want to continue to do this if it just came back to bite them through a flood of competing imported editions? In the case of DCM Ishmael, the American edition didn’t sell as well as expected so it’s likely without PIRs that copies of this edition would have been dumped cheaply on the Australian market to the great detriment of the successful Australian edition.

Another important reason why I wouldn’t like to see the UK or USA edition of DCM Ishmael  sold in bulk here, is that they are not the same as the Australian version. In both the overseas editions, uniquely Australia words and expressions have been removed and replaced, and in the case of the US edition, boys in an Australian school now play a game of American Football instead of Rugby Union!

Surely it’s important to all Australians that our kids see themselves, their country and their language in texts they read? I feel honoured that DCM Ishmael is set as a text for middle grade classes in lots of Australian schools. Occasionally I visit a school and I see a student with the US or UK edition which must have been ordered online. I think it’s sad that a student will not be reading an Australian story as it was originally written. If PIRs were removed, whole classes or year levels could be doing this.

I totally reject the Productivity Commission’s recommendations regarding removing PIRs. I don’t think unfairly undermining Australian Publishers’ profits will make them more productive. I think what it will do is force some out of business and cause widespread job losses in what is at present a very efficient and successful industry. And I also fail to see how reducing the opportunities for authors to get published or for published authors to earn a living (average author income = $12,900) will make them more productive either.

Cheaper books would be nice, but not if the real price you pay ends up being far too high.

And finally, as for the suggestion in the Report that authors should retain copyright to their work for a measly 15-25 years after its creation (rather than the 70 years after their death which is presently the case), well at this stage I’ll give the Productivity Commission the benefit of the doubt and just assume that that’s some kind of a very sick joke.

Cheers
Michael

PS: Read what Tim Winton and Richard Flannagan and Jackie French have to say (so much more eloquently and powerfully than me) on this issue. You can also read what the ASA (Australian Society of Authors) have to say and more importantly, sign their petition HERE.

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We’ve been fighting this for years.

 

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