This is me. I write books for adults and children, and sometimes, I even win awards.
I also talk on the radio sometimes and sometimes I do a bit of magazine work. Journalists, you can find me on Facebook and Google+, though I only confirm friendship with people I know. Check out how to get my email address at the end of this page, but read carefully! I am also a Goodreads author, which means you can find out what I am reading. BE WARNED: to be my Goodreads friend, you need to pass a fiendish test first, and even then, I am careful not to gather those who are just out to get "scalps". If you have 900 other friends, forget it, but if you are a keen reader and can't crack the test, track me down! On Twitter, Flickr and Webshots, I use the handle McManly, and maybe in other places as well. It was a nickname that I acquired some years ago, and related more to where I live than anything else. If you want to know what I am up to, read my blog. My travel blog is at http://mcmanly.livejournal.com/.
I am usually hairy, windblown and slightly dishevelled. I have a beard because it saves time otherwise spent standing in front of a mirror, and I trim it with scissors when it gets annoying. I get my hair cut when I happen to see the barber open as I walk by, or when it really annoys me. I prefer to dress casually and read seriously, rather than the other way around. The sort of people I want to impress do not care that much what clothes I wear, and if they did care, I wouldn't want to impress them. Basically, ideas interest me more than shopping or clothes.
Given the choice, I would sooner be outdoors somewhere, preferably away from large numbers of people, listening to good music, and either reading a good book, or planning some writing task of my own, or wandering along, poking my nose up a creek, looking under stones, and generally annoying the wild life or worrying the rocks. That said, I also enjoy being indoors, fossicking for facts on the Web. I have a curious mind (my detractors and friends all say that, though with different intonations), but more of that later.
My real passion in life is science, any sort of science — in the photo seen here, I was out looking at some interesting geology near Wilpena Pound in South Australia. But any sort of science or technology gets my immediate attention, and that is why I mainly write about science-related topics. (Note: this pic is about three years old now. It's not vanity, I just don't have any other shots that please me.)
Christine (hereafter referred to as Chris) and I were married in 1969, and she has put up with me ever since. We have three children, one a solicitor (that's a lawyer, if you are American), one is a post-doc in ecology, one a biotechnology Ph.D., whose work was on yeasts. We both used to be science teachers, though I also taught computing.
I grew up not far from where I now live, on Sydney's northern beaches. I went to school near here, and then took seven years to get a degree, but I picked up an excellent education, and saw into the dark heart of a giant bureaucracy, the Commonwealth Public Service. I spent two years in Treasury and one in the Commonwealth Office of Education, mainly doing the hack work needed to keep overseas scholarship students happy. The Treasury work was interesting, and I learned a great deal about computerised accounting. The work with the overseas students was satisfying, though we were under the thumb of a vile piece of work, one Doug 'Udson, who had to point out that 'is name was spelt with a haitch (I think he inspired those famous timberyard ads). He was an evil despot who harmed many people, but he never managed to get me. I learned the art of ducking.
After I graduated, I was sort of headed towards biological research, but drifted into teaching which I greatly enjoyed. One of my ex-teachers saw me when I was a student, and he guffawed. Pointing at me and choking with mirth, he declared that putting me in front of a class would serve me right. Then he straightened himself up and offered the view that I would succeed in teaching, because whatever the kids tried, I would already have done it. He was right too, which is odd, because nobody knew half of the things that I was behind. My school days were days of misplaced ingenuity, used against the more pompous teachers, and I never got caught. He wasn't ever one of my targets: join the dots.
I taught science for four years at Fort Street, where the students were ingenious little devils like me, and then at Ashfield for two years, where I became a more-rounded teacher. That is to say, I put on weight because I stopped smoking.
Then I drifted into "Head Office" where I did not want to be, and became a sort of boffin, so to keep myself honest, I got involved in writing teaching materials, and that took me to writing textbooks. Along the way, I took ten years to get a Master's in Education, so if you want to talk about using Bayesian probability in computerised tailored mastery testing, I'm your man! One of my findings was so outrageously counter-intuitive that the examiner was about to fail me. Then he thought nobody would be stupid enough to say that unless it was right, so he checked, and I passed. (By the way, if the time I took seems questionable, I was always excellent at the use of by-laws, thanks to a grounding given to me in early 1964 by future High Court judge and all-round good chap, Michael Kirby. Two degrees, seventeen years, and all of it legal!)
Then I found a case of fraud in science while I was working on an idea for a book. That led to me starting to do radio work when I was invited to do a talk on it, and things progressed from there. I found myself promoted to Principal Education Officer without once brown-nosing, but that was unusual, and I knew there was no future advancement for me there if I gave honest and fearless advice, as is my tendency. It was a potential dead end, and aside from that, I had no wish to climb the greasy pole. I wanted to write.
So from there, I moved to the Powerhouse Museum, but the excellent people I went there to work for moved on, and were replaced by disastrously second-rate people, complete duds, as anybody who was there at the time can tell you. Still, I suppose the new people gave me a good model of bad management which stood me in good stead when I was head-hunted into a management consultancy. Still, that was no way for a science-loving story-teller to make a living, because one was expected to be polite to clients and tell them all their ideas were brilliant. I left after a couple of years to do some serious writing, and somehow ended up at the Australian Museum for several years.
I then got back into teaching in the classroom in 1994, but by mid-1999, there was administrative leprosy about (another stupid mismanager, who had replaced the boss I had gone there to work with). Basically, I'm an aging info-hippie, with laid-back ways that get up the noses of self-important nobodies. I had left the Department of Education, because all I could see ahead of me was a procession of clashes with fools. I left the Powerhouse for much the same reason, and now, once again, I found myself confronting a very small mind indeed.
I had already had an invitation from elsewhere, so I left to join an online encyclopedia company as a science writer. My day job mainly involved writing on science, technology and mathematics, but I also worked on other innovative projects — and when I got home, I wrote other things. Now I just write what interests me, but I tend to chase the odd interesting thing wherever it leads. The day job fell apart when a couple of slick operators took over the company and shafted all the staff. I grabbed up my pensions and switched to writing full-time, and life has been remarkably pleasant. I choose my publishers with care, and don't have to be polite to people who don't deserve it. Oddly, given my overtly superior attitude, I am polite to most people, because I find that they warrant it. I simply don't appreciate incompetents trying to tell me how to do my job. or making use of me in petty little power games.
I have a rule for choosing to respect people: I will respect any person who knows more than I do about any subject that interests me. Because I have a curious mind, there are few things that don't interest me, so most people merit my respect. If your only expertise is in 19th century shovel design, it's just possible that I will avoid you at any second prospect of an encounter. On the other hand, if you know about wear patterns in those same shovels, I may well seek you out, because there may be something there for me that relates to the wear patterns on Neolithic flint sickles. And even if I can find no ground to respect you, I won't treat you with contempt unless you try to push me around. Many have tried, none has succeeded.
On the other hand, offer me a new idea, and I will be your friend for life. Demonstrate wit or ingenuity, show me a new phenomenon, a new connection, something which makes me take notice. That's all I ask.
This is because the habit of chasing inter-connected ideas has stayed with me. So when you read what I have to say about goitre, for example, you will also be able to see the painting which appears as a thumbnail on the left, Resurrection, by Piero della Francesca, in which Piero is one of the sleeping guards (you can see him here on the right), something we know because the guard, like Piero, had a goitre (that's the lump beneath his chin).
My books are full of stuff like that, the little-considered byways that were probably crucial at some point in the past. If I dealt with that Piero painting, I might go on to how iodine was discovered as a result of shortages of gunpowder in Napoleon's France, and the meaning of "cretin", and what that has to do with goitre. Some reviewers, the ones with short attention spans, don't like this style, but they are probably the sort of people who think I should wear a suit.
I have recently been told that the saying I learned at my mother's knee (or some other low joint) does not actually talk about "gladly making fools suffer", but I'm too set in my ways now.
The home page of this set is here. That page has links to all recent and current projects.