The reality of writing

Please note: this page is no longer being updated.

I have copied everything here to my blog, Old Writer on the Block, and since November 2010, new material goes directly there.

In 2002, I decided that it might be instructive to record some of the exciting (only joking!) affairs in the daily life of somebody who earns a living by scrivening. It will not be riveting reading, but if you are going to write nonfiction, this is the sort of thing you will have to do. This is reality of a warts-and-all kind. Please note: I am not really so far up myself I can look out between my teeth to check the weather, but in outlining the daily bibs and bobs, it does begin to sound like a cross between that and Diary of a Nobody. You don't know it? Shame!

My aim is to try to give an honest account of what it is like to spend your days as I do. To be a writer, you have to be a bit of an egomaniac, but I don't think you can be an effective writer if you don't know yourself, and your limitations. However, to save people having to work all the way through, all the new stuff will always be at the top. That way, you don't need to wade as far . . .

Then there is my occasional travel blog but mostly, check out Old Writer on the Block.)

November 3, 2010
I have finished all the trimming of text, the polishing of words, the honing of discourse, and I have attended to all of the dreary administrivia of photography and art work. Writing is fun, but there's always hack work to do. Still, Australian Backyard Naturalist is near as can be to done. Two hours before I signed off on the text, with 24 hours of picture-shovelling to go, I had the go-ahead on a new book.

That, however, stays under wraps for now. Suffice it to say that it bears some relationship to other books I have done, and it's for adults—though some of the sorts of children I write for would enjoy it as well. More later.

October 27, 2010
The long gap means I have been busy. Australian Backyard Naturalist turned out to be twice as long as I had planned, so I have just done major surgery on it. Now I am listening to machine-generated MP3 files of the chapters as the final stage in the process, so I can have it out of the way before The Monster Maintenance Manual comes out next Monday. I listen to all my books as one of the final stages, because listening makes most of the editing slips that I have made show up. Then I get Chris to read it.

The next book? Two possibilities at this stage, one for older readers, one for younger readers. I will do them both, Real Soon Now, but which comes first? Even I don't know. And there are several possible dark horses that may leap out of the shadows and seize the lead.

August 21, 2010
I am back from New Zealand, coming back via Brisbane, where I was lucky enough to pick up the Children's Book Council of Australia 2010 Eve Pownall award for Information Book of the Year! Next up, catching up on stuff before I head for the Flinders Ranges and Lake Eyre. I managed to almost tie up the loose ends in Backyard Naturalist while I was in New Zealand
, and I gathered some excellent material on gold in New Zealand, but the next book is still a matter for some thought. The South Australian trip may decide it for me.

Note that I said "lucky enough". That wasn't false modesty, that was an honest assessment. I was very lucky with the editor, designer and other support staff at the National Library of Australia. It was a good book, I always knew it would be, but you need a publisher with vision to come up with the idea, and then you need a support team.

July 31, 2010
Well, it's been a while between drinks, as they say. I'm just back from seven weeks in Britain and Italy, gathering material for several possible books, and I am into a major recasting of Australian Backyard Naturalist, splitting most of the chapters and getting the wording just right. August will see me in New Zealand, Brisbane and the Flinders Ranges, so I'm afraid my carbon footprint this year is a big one. I still haven't decided which book will come next, but I am making progress on several of them.

March 30, 2010
I was present today at a function in Sydney when the short list was announced, and my Australian Backyard Explorer is in the 2010 Eve Pownall short list. Results will be announced on August 20.

The large gap since my last post reflects a busy time. I have been working through drafts 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Australian Backyard Naturalist, as well as checking the page proofs of the Monster Maintenance Manual. I am now doing background reading for a history of gold: it appears that I will need to read or dip into some 300 books and probably read twice that number of research articles, some of them going back into the 17th century.

This will be a social history of gold and its effects, as filtered through the mind of a science writer. Our friends Theta and Gerry Brentnall took Chris and I to see the damage done by alluvial miners in northern California in the 19th century, and made me aware that this damage led, in the end to the world's first environmental legislation. I'm going to take my time with this one, but given that gold has been taking on a more key role in the plot lines of the Cornish Boy project, I expect to either start work on that again, in parallel, or launch straight into it when Gold (that's a working title only) is done.

Coming soon: news of a publication date for the Monster Maintenance Manual.

December 27, 2009
By December 23, I had completed the second draft of Australian Backyard Naturalist and I am now working on the third draft. In the past week, I have had two surprises: the first was a Korean translation of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World which I had known nothing about. Then on Boxing Day, I checked my spam trap, the email address that appears on my public pages, and found an email from Germany. It seems that 100 Discoveries has been translated into German, and will be on sale in July 2010. I sold the rights to that one, so no royalties, but writing isn't all about money and I was paid well for the rights in any case. Mainly, I think writers care about the money because it's evidence that people are reading what we write.

December 17, 2009
This morning, I completed the final touches on the returned edited manuscript of Monster Maintenance Manual and sent it back to my patient editor, Shelley Kenigsberg. I'm working along on the completed first draft of Australian Backyard Naturalist, and I have bought the new camera, though I have yet to take it out of the box. Been busy, see? I have also had some nice reviews that you can see at Australian Backyard Explorer: you can see them at that link.

Three Youtube clips have now been posted by the publisher, the National Library of Australia. In the first, I talk about the truth that underlies the explorers' stories and reveal some of my motivation for telling those stories. In the second, I show viewers how to make a pooter, a device used to catch small insects. Why? Well, most explorers went out with a number of aims, and one of them was to make "scientific collections". The third clip shows me using some home-grown equipment to catch insects in the grounds of the National Library, last southern winter.

December 7, 2009
I have sent back the corrected edits of Monster Maintenance Manual. By this, I mean that I have mainly been through and agreed to the edits of the editor, commented on a few, questioned a couple and provided new text in the points where it was needed. Today, I went to Sydney for Christmas shopping, to arrange some travel for next year, and to buy a new camera. Coming home, it was a bit hot to correct the draft of Backyard Naturalist so I read some mathematics instead, looking for reminders of things I might do. That was how I came across the following comment from Bertrand Russell. He said that said that a mentor had given him:

…various simple rules of which I remember only two: "Put a comma every four words," and "never use 'and' except at the beginning of a sentence." His most emphatic advice is that one must always re-write. I conscientiously tried this, but found that my first draft was almost always better than my second. This discovery has saved me an immense amount of time.

We hates him, we does. Re-writing is essential for me! That does it: Russell's Paradox is banned from The Book of Numbers. Just as well, given the way I have struggled in the past to understand Russell and Whitehead.

December 2, 2009, a bit about editing
Life comes in rushes. I have just returned from Briskepticon, the Australian Skeptics' convention in Brisbane. On the plane coming back, I read the Naturalist draft but I also sketched out some of the plans for a new book, probably to be called The Book of Numbers, which has been lurking at the back of what passes for my mind since I saw a travelogue about Paris on SBS. No, I'm not saying any more about that one just now.

I arrived back to find that the edited ms of the Monster Maintenance Manual was in my inbox. So I have Ingenuity briefly on hold, the Backyard Naturalist draft to check, Numbers to think about and the Monsters ms to work through. Shelley Kenigsberg has edited my work before, and she is marvellously thorough, which is what is needed, but it makes for a bit of a slog. Books don't emerge like a bean shoot sprouting out of the ground: they need lots of meticulous work to get them right. I have worked in editorial roles in the past, and my golden rule is that the editor is pretty much always right, even when he or she doesn't "get it". If the editor doesn't understand, the writing is bad, but the suggested change may not work: that means the writer needs to stop, think and rephrase. More often, the editor does get it, and changes, usually the suggested ones, are made.

It is a very stupid writer who gets on a high horse and rejects changes, because the writer is too close to the work, and cannot see the flaws. As an educational bureaucrat, I used to, as I said then, conduct 51 choirs, all composed entirely of prima donnas. These were the HSC examination committees in the state of New South Wales, and I and my team of editors were put in place because the committees had been missing mistakes because they saw what they expected to see. It wasn't stupidity, it was just human nature. Anyhow, the result is that I don't argue with editors. I may reason or plead, but if they won't budge, I go with what the editor says.

The editors I work with are all happy to take my MS Word files and mark up the changes with "Track Changes" turned on. Typically, I read the amended text for sense, skim the deletions and insertions and then select a block of text and click to approve all the changes in that block with a single click. I also have "Track Changes" turned on, so the editor can look at the file I send back and react further as necessary. The editors also add comments from time to time, maybe explaining why a change was made, or asking a question. I attend to these as well and add comments (in italics) within their comments, or occasionally, add one of my own. It's all SO much easier than a battered bunch of paper with scrawls all over it. Sometimes, technology is incredibly sweet for writers.

November 22, 2009
As usual, the delay in coming back is an indication that I have been busy. Two major presentations, one in Canberra, one in Sydney, and two books in the air. I finished the first draft of Australian Backyard Naturalist yesterday, and I have printed and bound a copy to take away to Brisbane for a conference next weekend, where I will be addressing the question: If Darwin did not exist, would it be necessary to invent him?

Now I will be working on that, and also on the Monsters book and Ingenuity. And enjoying summer.

September 12, 2009
Notice how these posts are getting more frequent? I'm having a bit of trouble getting down to the disciplined setting-out of ideas because I'm having too much fun. Chris (my other half) and I went out to Camden, more than 100 km away to visit a generous tardigradologist, Dr Sandra Claxton, who has spent more than thirty years working on these tiny animals. She shared with us her ingenious methods for extracting tardigrades from bark scraped from trees, I had a try, and succeeded. I'm stoked!

components of a Bereles funnel the assembled funnel Today, I have been working on a Tullgren funnel (also called a Berlese funnel), based on a 1-litre plastic milk bottle. I will add a photo later, but I wanted a stable and cheap arrangement. I cut the bottle in half, poured a layer of plaster of Paris into the base to make a flat surface that I can see my catch on (and also to make it more stable), then turned the top part into a filter funnel, using an old wood chisel to chop out the flat part of the cap, leaving just the screw part. Then I cut a piece of fly wire and clamped it to the top with the cap screw-ring. This was one of the tricks I learned from Sandra Claxton, and I have a few more plans for the same trick. One of the lovely things about science is the way scientists share ideas and techniques.

If this description doesn't make sense, look at the pictures. You can see the components and an untouched bottle on the left, along with an assembled funnel in the right-hand picture. The idea is to put some leaf litter in the funnel, then lay a cover on the funnel, and apply a gentle heat source like a 25 watt incandescent light bulb to drive the tine animals down. Incidentally, the plaster is damp, so that will help to keep them alive when they fall through the mesh.

Tomorrow, once the plaster is dry, I will give it a test run, and take pictures of it in operation and add a picture or two of my 'catch'. What actually shows up depends a lot on where I take my samples.

September 8, 2009
hairy caterpillarOver the weekend, I ported across the two spreadsheets I have for Ingenuity and Australian Backyard Naturalist into Word, and got the rough formatting done, though I will leave Ingenuity to mature for a bit. Try this sampler of crazy inventions to see some of the things that may end up in it.

Today, when I went out to check for mail, I spotted a small and very hairy caterpillar on the path. Right now, I take every opportunity as it arises, so I'm always coming home with odd bits to photograph. So I fetched a dish and a brush, and gently collected the caterpillar. As a rule, the hairy ones cause discomfort or pain, so I treated it with care and set it down on a book in the sun to take a shot with the macro lens. The light was sharp and bright, but some of the detail was lost in the shadows.

I decided that what was needed was some light from the other side, to fill in the shadows, so I went and got a mirror and called my wife to help. We lit it from two sides and quickly learned something new: when lit by sunlight from one side by the sun and from the other by reflected sunlight, a caterpillar gets hot and takes off. Anyhow, I got a few nice action shots of a caterpillar trying to pass itself off as a racehorse.

I'm putting some of my nicest shots up on Webshots, and so far I have Plants (please admire the dandelion), Rocks, earth and stone,and Cape York. I have started the animals one and put some token shots in there, with more to come soon. There are a few other albums as well, and there will be more in the fullness of time.

September 5, 2009
I am now hard at work on Australian Backyard Naturalist, the sequel that was mentioned below. As part of this, I have bought two new microscopes, I'm about to choose a new digital camera, and I have ordered a 3 megapixel specialist camera to match the microscopes. This is my monocular microscope, and this is the binocular microscope. The book dungeon is now also a lab, and i am spending more time poking my nose into invertebrate habitats. This is the sort of stuff that I enjoy . . .

My aim will be to introduce young readers to the vast array of life that is all around them, including mites on their foreheads, and methods for doing things like keeping spiders and even making a microtome. As you will soon realise, I have a lot of stuff to hand in my web site, but there will be much more in this book. Tardigrades, onychophorans, springtails, ant lions will all be there, along with ideas on how to catch and keep these wee beasties.

Those, however, are just a few of the starting points. Meanwhile, I am still researching the ingenuity book and getting it into shape.

August 6, 2009
The publicity is going well for and I have even been in the Sydney Morning Herald. Yesterday, I had an email from the National Library of Australia, and there will probably be a follow-up to Australian Backyard Explorer. Details later, but I'm hard at work on the plans.

I have just posted the zipped explorer quotes database online. This is the flatfile DB that I used to create both Australian Backyard Explorer and Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools. This is in Excel format and draws widely on Project Gutenberg sources, as well as material that I laboriously transcribed by hand. It is available for use and sharing in all educational or self-educational contexts. It may be shared for free, but I claim compilation copyright and will pursue vigorously any person who tries to sell it, unless they have discussed the matter with me first and shown that they have added value to the product. I am always approachable to those who share my ethical standpoint.

The main advantage is that the quotes are sources and given keywords, so that references to caymans, caimans, crocodiles, saurians, alligators, allegators and alegators all shoe up if you search on the right key-word. It was created for personal use, so it's a bit idiosyncratic, but play with it!

July 13, 2009
Well, I'm most of the way through the interviews for The Lawn, and I'm just back from FNQ. On social networking sites, I generally use the handle McManly, and you can see a bunch of my photos rather muddy-looking on Facebook or rather spiffingly on Webshots—look for the newest folder, with yesterday's date on it. While I was away, The Lawn had a good write-up in The Age
, and before I left, I recorded an interview with ABC Radio National's Phillip Adams.

June 25, 2009
Four days ago, I signed off on the Monster Maintenance Manual, and I'm beginning to ponder about what comes next. Probably the ingenuity book, but you never know: things don't always happen in the expected order. The last few days have been fairly intensive on the publicity trail, as I have been plugging The Lawn. Now it is time to traipse off for a couple of weeks, then I come back and do the same thing for Australian Backyard Explorer. It's all good fum, but yesterday, I sat in "the tardis", a remote studio booth at the ABC and talked to New Zealand, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, Hobart and Port Macquarie, one after another. My voice held up.

Now I'm off, though, to investigate Far North Queensland and gather some atmospherics for Cornish Boy, which I still haven't entirely ruled out.

June 5, 2009
The clock is ticking. The Lawn comes out on June 26, and seems to be getting good reactions in the marketplace, and the publicist is setting stuff up for me. This means mainly getting around the radio stations to talk the book up. Australian Backyard Explorer comes out in early August, and I have been down to Canberra to record some short clips about some of the activities in the book, to go on Youtube (I will make this an active link later).

Meanwhile, I am off to Noosaville next week for Reality Bites at Embiggen Books in Noosaville, where I will be talking about Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World and Darwin in general. A couple of weeks after that, I am on a general look-around trip to Cape York. This relates to a couple of future possible books and also to the on-hold or stalled Cornish Boy project: perhaps I will find what I need to re-start it.

Or maybe not. I'm mainly doing finishing touches to the monster books and doing some intensive research on the ingenuity book. There is no shortage of amusing material to be had out there!

April 26, 2009
I set myself the task of writing a quarter of a million words of good-quality first-draft of the Cornish Boy by a certain key date. I succeeded, but it has become apparent that far more research will be needed, so with the equivalent of four out of eight books drafted, I have put the whole project on hold. Instead, I am working on monster books for young readers of any age and a study of how ingenuity goes bad, when inventors get the bit between their teeth and gallop wildly off in all directions. This will, in part, mine some of my discard files from previous books, the bits that were more amusing than relevant—which is an oblique way of saying that this will not hesitate to use the curious, the amusing and the downright bizarre, from the boofery of rocket scientists to the chutzpah of circle-squarers, that daftness of the food adulterers and those who would have the British government fashion a giant lawn-mower to make mincemeat of the Germans in 1918 or the bloke who was charged with faking a headless chook. I will also draw on material tracked down for a few partly-drafted books that never happened, but which contained good material, and all sorts of stray bits that I tripped over and noted down.

March 22, 2009
Happy birthday, dear blog. Now we are seven. I started March 18, 2002.

Well, I am now 185,000 words into the Cornish Boy series, and getting into the swing of it. The planned nine books have dropped to eight, because there wasn't enough material to sustain a full book on one important story. As the book preceding it was giving me some trouble, I am now trying to stitch the two together. I liken what I am doing now to a sculptor getting the clay in place: the shape is sort-of right, but new ideas are constantly occurring, and the final product will, I hope, be gold. That amount of word-hacking adds up to almost two complete books in just over six weeks, so as you can imagine, there's a lot of reshaping to come. It is, after all, first draft stuff.

My Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World has rated a mention in The Age, but alas, still no reviews in the major press.

The Lawn is now printing. I have seen some of the designs, and I'm delighted. The same applies to Australian Backyard Explorer. We are now casting around for an artist for Monsters

February 6, 2009
Good grief! Look at the time! A couple of wins for me: first, a comment in the Toronto Mail and Globe. I found out about this after somebody saw something on a list about two books with similar titles. As Jean has met me and known me on a list since about 2001, she alerted me to the other book. Then somebody quoted Stan Consultant.

Second, I was in Dymocks, just before Christmas, and there was Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World on the "best seller shelf! Seems they just had an over-stock, but keep it a secret! Shhh!

Third I walked into the ABC shop in Sydney's QVB and found not one, not two, but three of my books on the shelves at the same time. Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, The Speed of Nearly Everything and 100 Discoveries. Given the short time a title stays on the shelf, that's good.

I have just signed off on the page proofs of Australian Backyard Explorer, and proofed the first formatting of what is now officially The Lawn.

I am now 85,000 words into the Cornish Boy series, and taking a pause to plan more strategically, now I can see where I am going. Sort of. The first three books are all under control, and several of the others are in hand, one or two need to be looked at harder, and I need to do more reading.

Fiction is different, because the characters also play a part. I have had occasions in the past when the words headed off a different way, but I decided to add a real-life person known as Scrammy Jack: I decided that if Dickens could make Mr Micawber a magistrate in Australia, I could promote Scrammy Jack. Before I knew it, Scrammy Jack had acquired a haughty wife, and edged aside two other people. It's a new world!

December 16, 2008 (Beethoven's Birthday!!)
The best part is always getting that first advance copy in your hands. Last night, as we were dressing before setting out to see Manon with the Australian Ballet, the doorbell rang at 4.30 in the afternoon. It was a courier with the first copy of 100 Discoveries. So that's another damned thick square book out of the way—and a handsome piece of work it is, too!

Yesterday, I wrote the first two scenes for the Cornish Boy series. The purpose of these early scenes is to develop the characters more fully. Already, it has proved necessary that one villainous character should be just an apparent villain who turns out to be decent. Logic demands it, and in reality, most people, even the malignant ones, do have their saving graces. My mistake was to base him on a real 19th century British aristocrat combined with a pompous 19th century social climber and political schemer. (If you care, David Carnegie and George Grey.)

In fiction, people as one-dimensional and stupid would be dismissed as unbelievable. I am planning about nine books in the series right now (this may go up or down), and I have the plots for all of them set down in timelines. Before I finish the first, all of the others will have a solid framework of chapters, part-chapters, scenes and vignettes. That's just the way the series is growing. This is my baby, and I don't plan to sell it until I know the whole series will work.

December 9, 2008
Once again, a longer break than planned, because I have been busy. The Australian Backyard Explorer project has eaten more editing time than I expected, but this is happens with some books, and they end up being better for it. The lawn book has been edited and gone off to design, the The 100 Great Discoveries of Science is now out (I think — I haven't seen a copy yet) as 100 Discoveries: The Greatest Breakthroughs In History which is what I must call it hereafter, and Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World and The Speed of Nearly Everything are both out in Europe. Not much reaction so far.

The monsters project is ahead of schedule, and I am back working on the Cornish Boy project, which is now largely sorted. This will be a number of books, and I have found it necessary to have the plots for all of them worked out, so that is what I am doing. Real writing work will start after Christmas, and I will be on 2UE at 2:30 on December 28 for Sydney listeners and anywhere else that Kearns and Robbo are heard.

September 30, 2008
Today, the lawn book goes in, and I am well into the monsters project — and planning the one after the monsters.

September 26, 2008
Clear air at last! I have finished the lawn book, taking it through five drafts, listening to it twice, courtesy of the TextAloud, which converts text to mp3 files. One last read over the weekend, then off it goes. Next, I need to wade through about 320 pictures taken over the past six years, choose the A and B teams and caption them.

Meanwhile, I have made a start on the monsters, I am plotting the historical fiction and planning the research that will be needed for it, and beginning to gather data for two adult "histories of things" which may or mat not come after that.

Releases will be fast and furious: as I mentioned in the entry below, I have two books out in Australia this year, the same two in Britain, and The 100 Great Discoveries of Science in the US in December, with releases in Australia and the UK early in 2009..

August 17, 2008
Just after the last entry, I headed off to Europe, from where I have just returned, just in time to pick up an Honour Book award in the Eve Pownall awards of the CBCA. That was on August 15, and I got home on August 14 to find my advance copy of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World awaiting me, and a handsome bundle it is. That book and The Speed of Nearly Everything will both be released in the UK on November 17, "Mr Darwin" (family shorthand) will be out in Australia in October, and "Speed" in November.

I finished the page proofs of The 100 Great Discoveries of Science in Stockholm, while waiting to fly to Tallinn, Estonia, so that is now off my hands. I am working on edits of Australian Backyard Explorer, about 1/3 of the way through a social history of lawn, and planning a big children's book for the year's end, which will be published next year,

After that, I may at last get down to the YA (that's writer/librarian shorthand for "Young Adult") historical fiction series that I have been playing with for the past two years, maybe three. It will draw (in part) on unused research from Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World and Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, but using a number of locales I have been through in the past decade.

June 10, 2008
As a rule, a gap in the entries indicates either that I have been travelling, or I have been busy with a book. I have, in fact, been very busy indeed, with four books, plus researching a fifth and planning a sixth.

Writing a book goes in stages. There is the initial planning, writing a proposal and sometimes a sample chapter and getting a contract (which I have just done with book 6). Then there is the research phase (which I am in with book 5), followed by repeated drafts, and I think I finished that process with Australian Backyard Explorer yesterday, so after some checking today, I will send that off to the editor.

Right now, I am in the middle of responding to the edits in the fourth of five batches of The 100 Great Discoveries of Science. The editing process is in some ways the hardest. My publisher uses freelance editors with tungsten carbide minds, and they spot the inconsistencies, the sloppy prose and the muddy thinking, and draw up changes or lay demands. My policy is that the editor is there to make my book better, so it is rare for me to knock back a change. I could do so, because the edits come back to me as a Word file with all the changes "tracked", so I have to accept or reject each one.

You need a thick skin at this point, because each change you accept is an admission that you, the writer, made a mess of something. I am the ultimate pachyderm, but I have to check each change in case my prose was so bad that the correction has inserted an error. One portion this morning was so bad that I turned off tracking, threw everything out, wrote it from scratch and flagged the text as new. Being a writer is no job for a prima donna! — usually, if you knock back an editor's change, you are being an idiot.

I am in a hurry to get these edits tested, checked and out of the way because in three days, the page proofs of what used to be The Fast Book will arrive for me to check through. It is now called The Speed of Nearly Everything. I did that checking a week or so back on Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, which I think I can safely say has now left the building.

From here, I need to finish those edits, then I will do some more research on the next book, due September 16, and get ready to fly to Europe for a bit of research and a bit of relaxing, with the trusty laptop along so I can work on the December title, which is mostly written, but needs some tweaking. More on those later.

Some of the process things that never get set down: because I write history, I am continually frustrated by the lack of detail on how things were done. So I suppose I should do the right thing by later generations!

I start in a spreadsheet, entering quotes with a number of other fields. I have to be very careful to label the quotes, because I also add my own draft paragraphs, and I don't want to start accidentally adding other people's paragraphs in. I am sure that most cases of "plagiarism" are no more than sloppy research, but I don't plan to ever be shot at. There are three standard fields, chapter, part and number that I sort on to get material into order. and by the time I am ready to write, there will often be 50,000 words or more, ready to be dumped into a Word file to be drawn on. While I am colour-blind, certain colours stand out well (blue and orange, for example), so some of the text is also colour-coded.

Then I write in Word on two computers, my Wintel desktop with a 24" monitor, so I can have two files side-by-side, or I can rotate it to have a portrait screen with one file above the other, or a whole page in Word. I always back everything up to my lightweight MacBook and I use that when I am away from home base, transferring all recent files back across when I get home. I have now started using TextAloud to convert text to mp3 format, because listening is by far the best way of proofing. I used to read it aloud myself, but with a long-term sore throat I needed a better way to do things.

I transfer large files by uploading them to a file transfer site and notifying the recipient that it is there. Smaller files go attached to an email. The National Library ms is profusely illustrated with thumbnails, which makes it about 5 meg (too large to attach) -- the full-size illustrations will just about fill a CD, so I will send those by mail, along with a spreadsheet that identifies each pic, its source and copyright/permissions details and any comments I may wish to make. For the most part, I communicate with my editors by inserted comments, which are a bit like "Post-it" notes.

Hey ho, time to get back to the editor's thoughts!

April 1, 2008
I have been short-listed! Kokoda Track: 101 Days has been shortlisted for the Eve Pownall award, sponsored by the Children's Book Council of Australia. We will see, but even getting that far is a feather in the cap.

March 14, 2008
It is almost six years since I started this. I suppose it is a blog, but back when I started it, who had heard of blogs? So it remains as my journal.

Much has happened in the past few weeks. The edits of The Fast Book are done, I have submitted The 100 Great Discoveries of Science and await the edits on that, and I have a contract for Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, previously referred to as 1859. Those are all with Murdoch Books under the Pier 9 imprint.

On the side, I am working on a book with the title Australian Backyard Explorer, to be published by the National Library of Australia, and I have a go-ahead for a juvenile series, but more of that anon.

January 22, 2008
Turmoil erupts!! I have just finished working through the edits of The Fast Book and I am waiting on the last batch. By furious effort, I have finished the next Murdoch/Pier 9 book, The 100 Great Discoveries of Science (working title, and the ms is variously in 4th draft (10%), 3rd draft (25%) and second draft (remainder) as I work through it on a sort of zone refining process.

It is a very episodic book, so I can deal with discoveries on their own. The catch is that many lead on to other later discoveries, so I am weaving a narrative structure into it.

The reason for stopping to add an entry is that my BIG book of 2007, variously referred to as 1859 or Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World (both working titles, but it is a history of science and technology, as it was in 1859) was knocked back by Allen and Unwin, because they could not see it selling. I have had news today that Murdoch/Pier 9 like it and will offer me a contract, so the bubbly will flow tonight. That will give me four books with them, with another one to come out later this year.

December 5, 2007
I have just recorded a short talk for Perspective which will go to air on December 11. I seem to have "Fast Book" safely in the hands of the editor, and I have completed 20% of the first draft of the next book, which I am still neglecting to identify. Four other projects are getting attention at the moment, but I have no idea as yet which one will get the push.

November 11, 2007
Well, The Fast Book is off my hands for the moment, Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools is in the shops, I am doing a bit of radio promotion with more to come, and I have spent the past 48 hours doing picture research for 1859. I knew most of the images I wanted, but tracking them down, checking copyrights and writing captions is a soulless and thankless task — but like indexing, you get cursed if you don't do it right. Now back to the last revision (I am a bit past half-way, and still finding bits that should never have got through) and making the changes that are needed.

October 22, 2007
I finished the first pass of The Fast Book last Wednesday, but as generally happens when I go all-out, I will need to do a big re-write. I now have my copies of Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, due for release on November 1.

October 10, 2007
Well, I missed out on the top spot last night, but I was in good company, and I am pleased to have got as far as I did. Chris and I went to the dinner at Government House. The Bogong moths were out, the flying foxes were out (I tried to persuade a couple of people that the large fruitbats were also moths, but to no avail). As we walked down to GH, I regretted that it was not built a little later, when Gothic Revival was all the go, just to match up with the bats.

Today, I reached the halfway point in the draft of The Fast Book. I don't think I have mentioned that one before: it is an eclectic look at fast and slow things in our world -- including snails, chameleons' tongues, the causes of Cerenkov radiation, centrifuges, the effects of temperature on a dijeridu, glacial flow, the movement of tectonic plates, supersonic botflies, running footmen, pyroclastic flows, scramjets, tidal bores, the postal services of Cyrus of Persia, the bulls of Pamplona, steamships seeking the Blue Riband, moose cavalry -- and much more.

Today, the first copy of Australia's Pioneers Heroes and Fools arrived, so I am sitting here with my eyes shut, just feeling the heft of it. Holding a new book is a special feeling!

October 8, 2007
The first review of Australia's Pioneers Heroes and Fools is out, from Australian Bookseller and Publisher.

When bushwalking, I often wonder who discovered first that a plant was poisonous? For Australia's early European explorers, it was usually a case of finding out the hard way. Macinnis, a science and history writer known most recently for Kokoda Track: 101 Days, takes us on a tour with those explorers, rediscovering the hardships and tribulations they faced and the decisions they made. The story is an interweaving of the journeys of many explorers, comparing the situations that most found themselves in: finding food and water, relating to Indigenous Australians, mapping, trying to find the inland sea, and dealing with the political situation back home. The excerpts from the journals of the explorers are proof of just how treacherous--and sometimes how amusing--the expeditions were. The usual suspects are all present--Burke and Wills, Stuart, Oxley--but also the lesser-known explorers: Creaghe (a woman), Horrocks (who died when shot by his camel Harry) and their Aboriginal companions and guides. This book is a 'who's who' of exploring in Australia. It reads more like a novel than the average work of nonfiction. Readers with an interest in Australian history and exploration, not to mention bushwalkers and hikers, will relish it.

Reviewer: Tristan Blattman, special sales manager at the UNSW Bookshop.

September 10, 2007
For the past fortnight, I have been sitting on the embargoed news of an award short-listing that is now official. The award is a fairly prestigious one, The Young People's History Prize, a part of the 2007 NSW Premier's History Awards. Suffice it to say that I am chuffed. I note that I am joined on the short list by Lili Wilkinson, whose book, Joan of Arc was also published by Black Dog Books. The other title, John Nicholson's Songlines and Stone Axes is from Allen and Unwin. I am chuffed to keep such company.

Now we three await the final results. Me, I will be out in the Pacific, working on a manuscript (the fifth draft of 1859), fiddling with plans and turning them into an early draft (The Fast Book) and digging for data on a project yet to be announced.

Here is what the judges said about Kokoda Track:
Peter Macinnis gives an insight into the experience of the Kokoda Track through the eyes of not only Australian soldiers but also war correspondents, military generals, Japanese soldiers and the people of Papua New Guinea . He creates a detailed and well-rounded overview of the events that took place on the Kokoda Track in 1942. Punctuating the text with first person interludes, Macinnis offers readers the opportunity to empathize with participants and interpret events from a multitude of differing angles and perspectives.

Kokoda Track: 101 Days functions on several different levels: as a factual reference of events that took place during the Kokoda Campaign, giving extensive details of battles, terrain and tactical decision-making; as a thought provoking chronological narrative of the determination, courage and endurance of a group of Australians fighting to protect their country; and as an opportunity for young people to appreciate the contribution and sacrifice of all participants of this campaign on both sides and at all levels of command.

I have cleared the last proofs of Australia's Pioneers Heroes and Fools.

August 6, 2007
I am back from travels in the US and Germany, with lots of good material for several planned projects. I have joined Facebook, and the cover for Australia's Pioneers Heroes and Fools may be found in my book covers album, as yet incomplete. I am now flat out on The Fast Book, a new project for Murdoch Books that will remain undescribed for now, and revising the fourth draft of 1859.

June 27, 2007
I have finished revising the 1859 book (yet to be titled), and I have also completed the manuscript of a look at the pioneers, heroes and fools that we call the explorers, and that has been accepted by Murdoch Books. My aim was to look more at the methods they used, and like Kokoda, it was based on an earlier work that failed because I lacked focus. I spent two weeks in the Kimberley with the two mss, without actually doing all that much to them, but I gathered some ideas. I have two more books to complete by March next year, and right now, I think I will get there easily. So long as I don't lose focus . . .

To help me with that focus, I am off shortly to the US and then Berlin to do some digging for the first book I will do after next March (subject matter withheld for now), but I am also starting to move on the historical fiction series that I mentioned before. Mainly, I am firming up the sequence of steps that get the hero from Cornwall to Australia. Most of the factual matter will come from the two books I have just completed. but as yet, i have no publisher.

April 19, 2007
Life is still good. Having started the new book on 1859 from detailed notes that often included first drafts, I have finished the first draft, worked right through it, and now I am ready to print it off and take it away with me. I have operated on the edge of tendonitis/RSI since 1981, when I typed up my Master's through three drafts, something over 100,000 words in all, and right now, it is starting to bite. Time for a break

I currently have the next three books lined up, the next one researched and roughly laid out, and two behind it that will take me to libraries all over. Now I am starting to negotiate the one after that.

On the good news front, I find that my juvenile poisons book is on the NSW and Victorian Premiers' Reading Challenge lists, and also on the ACT Chief Minister's List. That means more kids get to read and think.

March 23, 2007
Life is good. First, there is this review from the Sydney Morning Herald, a couple of weeks back:

Kokoda Track: 101 days
By Peter Macinnis
Black Dog Books, 176 pp, $16.95

Classed as juvenile nonfiction, this is a gripping book that will fascinate both adults and young people. It gives a vivid sense of what it was like for Australians who fought on the Kokoda Trail across the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua in July-December 1942. The Japanese aim was to take Port Moresby and use it to neutralise Australia's value as a base for the Americans.

The heroes are the men of the 39th battalion, an Australian militia unit similar to the army reserve, and the 2/14th and 2/16th AIF battalions. They fought a strategic retreat, slowing the Japanese down until reinforcements could be brought back from North Africa and the Japanese pushed back.

The villains of the book are generals Douglas MacArthur and Thomas Blamey, pontificating back in Brisbane. The lowest point came when Blamey accused the men of the 2/14th and 2/16th battalions, who held the trail for weeks, of 'running like rabbits'.

Macinnis' _101 days_ joins a small library on the subject. The maps and illustrations are excellent.

-- Sydney Morning Herald, March 10-11, 2007, 'Spectrum', "Short Nonfiction", page 35

And I am under way with the next book, the one I have been secretive about. I started just on a week ago, having all of the research and many draft passages in a spreadsheet, and I have completed 16,000 words in the past seven days. That is first draft, and it will still change quite a bit, but I think I have enough head start to offer a brief description. 2009 will be the sesquicentenary, the 150th birthday, of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, which people like Richard Dawkins will tell you changed the world.

I don't disagree with that, but the world was already changing, and altered in many, many ways during 1859. Both Riemann's hypothesis and the Rankine cycle were developed that year, lawn tennis was invented, regular mail steamers began running from England to Australia, several Australian colonies had elections with full adult suffrage, the first oil well struck oil in Pennsylvania, gold was found in New Zealand and the US, the first railway ran in 'the Cape Colony', Canada had 1000 miles of railway in a single run, the Suez canal was begun, and a battle was fought between two nations where the armies were commanded by the nations' rulers. And some idiot proposed using solar-mirror fused blocks of sand to build a tunnel across the Sahara, so people could cross the desert safe from heat and simoons. The Great Eastern was launched, they hanged the last of the patriots known as the Indian Mutineers, the French invaded Saigon, the Russians invaded the home of the Chechens, and a stupid Englishman released rabbits in Australia. In America, they hanged John Brown, in London, the unions saw that united, they would never be defeated, when they outlasted a vicious lockout by the building employers of London.

Actually, there was quite a lot more, all of it working to make the world much smaller and more compact, and just a bit more democratic and free.

Now I am deliberately going slow, as I have found that when I rush, I produce stuff that reads badly. Softly, softly, catchee monkey!

February 26, 2007
The Kokoda book is out, and I had news today that it is a nominee for the 2007 NSW Premier's History Awards, in the Young People's History Prize. There is a long way from a nomination to a win, but one can live in hope.

More importantly, there was a news story about the book in my local rag, the Manly Daily, and that identified my suburb, which was enough to provoke a fascinating call from a man who wants to write a book himself. Normally, to be honest, I would wish the caller well, and run for cover. It's a long, particularly hard road to walk, and if I am going to do all of the books I want to do before I get too batty, I need to be selfish. The story, though, has me entranced. His story is about his uncle -- they were both in the navy at various times, but his uncle left him the most amazing documentation. So I am going to help him a bit.

I have also taken on an HSC student to mentor. The student is attempting an advanced level in poetry -- I know about the basics of scansion, enough to write light verse and limericks that really work, but I am no poet. I know a few poets, I know my poetry, but I am tackling this task with a bit of trepidation. It's the sort of thing that keeps you young.

Meanwhile, I have my contracted next book, and I am doing an outline for another book, basically a quirky social history, but the one with the contract will be a blockbuster, so I need to start drafting that soon. There is an external time-scale in the form of an anniversary . . . (note, later: that was an oblique reference to '1859', which has a 150th anniversary coming up soon)

January 27, 2007
I have the Kokoda book coming out next month, the Korean edition of the poisons book out in May, and I am heavily into the research for the Allen and Unwin book that I am still not saying much about, other than that it is about the history of science and technology. I am also working on ideas for three other books, doing outlines and sample chapters. I still don't know if any of those will fly.

I am off to northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia tomorrow, with a few book-related thoughts, but this is mainly to see the area. I am taking a few plans with me, but this is mainly a break to clear my mind. But yes, I am taking a couple of outlines with me to think about.

And some good news: It's True! You Eat Poisons Every Day has been added to the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge list. This is better than when the Victorian Education Department vetoed an article of mine on 'Villains' because one of my female villains was the alleged axe-murderess, Lizzie Borden (as in "Lizzie Borden took an ax . . ."). Not suitable fodder for children, they sniffed, the puny-minded, whey-faced, scramble-brained poltroons!

December 17, 2006
We have just moved house, my wife and I. We are of an age where down-sizing was called for, though now we are in the new place, it looks as though more possessions will need to go, but not the books. I am now at that comfortable phase where the government regards me as retired, but I ain't. I finished the move on Friday, and spent the rest of the day going over the proofs of Kokoda Track: 101 Days, plus much of Saturday and a goodly part of Sunday. Now that is cleared, and I am back on the other big project, the one that I remain secretive about. The signed contract for that arrived on Friday, so it is all systems go!

November 14, 2006
The Kokoda history has been saved. That is the one I referred to as a total dog a few weeks back. It was a dog, but it isn't now, because I scrapped the whole thing and started again. You have to be prepared to do that, from time to time, and this was one of those times. The people at Black Dog Books were good about it, gave me a few pithy comments, I added my own, and took it from there.

I have been doing some serious reading on the history of science project, but we have sold our house and bought a new one, so packing all the books and other stuff and moving comes first -- we need to be settled into the new place by Christmas. I will try to find the time to add a short page about it, some time soon.

My time has been divided between reading old copies of The Times and Scientific American online, printing out the relevant bits, and then adding these to my database spreadsheet thingy. I have the chapters worked out, so new bits and factoids are assigned as I find them. At the same time, I am noting key issues to hunt down elsewhere, and I am trying to spend two days a week out of the house, hanging around libraries, reading more stuff online, reading microfilm (ugh!), burrowing in books, journals, and even old PhD dissertations. Another reason for going out is that I have no intention of becoming a recluse! I also have a working title -- Seahorse Teeth and Gutta Percha but that will change (if only because it doesn't say much about what the book is really about!).

October 23, 2006
If you want to know why this has been so quiet, don't be misled by my Sydney tourism site. Yes, that has taken some time, but basically, I haven't wanted to talk about what I have been up to, because none of it was definite. One of the books that I wrote last year was a total dog, so I threw out the manuscript and did it again. I think it's OK now.

I am well into the research for a major history of science, but I don't plan to talk too much about that for now, and there is another book on the blocks. I still have a scheme to do some historical fiction, and the research for the major history will come in handy there, as both cover the same period.

July 20, 2006
I am back, with lots of ideas, lots of notes, but now I need to sort out what I do next. I need to choose one project and run with it, but most of last year's work was a waste of time, because I just wasn't writing well. The research was good, but none of them will go without a re-write.

May 13, 2006
I am getting ready to travel overseas, gathering material for a couple of projects that I will say more about later. I will be seeing a number of Greek islands, Athens, Vienna, Plymouth, Cornwall and a pub in London between now and July, plus a few maritime museums in various places. That is why I have been getting this lot cleaned up.

April 16, 2006
Writing is one of those things that happens best in good conditions. The careful observer may note something of a gap here: since the last entry, my mother has died of cancer (I was the only child, so had to carry the burden of her need to blame somebody for the condition she was in and then I had to clean up her estate), and then my grandson Callum was diagnosed with a genetic condition (Wiskott Aldrich syndrome) that was ultimately fatal. He died six days ago.

So one way and another, I haven't done a lot of good writing in the past 12 months, and I am only now coming slowly back to pick up the various plans that I had. More on that later, but the exploration book bombed badly, and the Kokoda history is flawed. I will be looking shortly to see if they can be rescued.

I haven't been completely inactive. The Killer Bean of Calabar is now being translated into Russian and Korean, and I have produced a juvenile book on poisons which I wanted to call Poisons for Children, but the publisher wouldn't let me! I have also been doing journal and magazine work and some radio talks. There have been no major projects, though I have been doing a Sydney tourist guide on the Web which may end up as a book.

I have also been in Hawaii (volcanoes, island biology, tsunamis and stuff), Indiana (friends), Memphis Tennessee (just looking, though I discovered a marvellous museum on Mud Island) and Oxford Mississippi (talking about sugar and southern foodways with the Southern Foodways Alliance). Since I returned, the American edition of Killer Bean, sold there as Poisons, has come out in paperback. This link has the details and some reviews. I did a librarians' conference in Albury, and we had children's author Lynne Cherry as a house guest for a few days -- I met her in Washington DC at a geophysics conference in 2002.

July 3, 2005
I have just been through perhaps my most productive period ever. I have finished a re-draft of the Kokoda history, filling in a few gaps, I have completed the first draft of my history of exploration and sent that off to the publisher. In the past three weeks, I have finished off the second and third of three books on doing science projects. For about five years now, I have maintained a page on this topic that draws 100 gigabytes of downloads a year (half a million hits by 200 kilobytes), so I thought I might as well do some books to fill in the gaps.

My plan is to do three "how to" volumes at basic, intermediate and advanced level, and these are now all complete. The next step is to do about six books on individual areas of science, but first, I need to find a publisher (always a bit of a hard slog), and that is what I will be doing in the next few weeks. Most of that will be waiting time, but there is the germ of an idea for a series of Australian historical fiction lurking in my mind, and I have a big science encyclopaedia project that has been sitting on the hard drive for years, so I won't be idle. That aside, it looks like I am off to the USA in late October to talk about sugar — more on that later.

A mate of mine, Australian poet Mark O'Connor, is working on a translation of Shakespeare into modern English: later this week, I am going out to NIDA to hear a read-through of his Troilus and Cressida. Later, I will add more on that, but Mark is retaining the structure and story, even the internal rhythms, but with modern language to tell the tale of "the Coalition of the Willing that sailed to Asia to teach Troy a lesson, and the intertwined love story of Troilus and Cressida." Hmmm.

Ah well, at least it gets me out of the house — I have no intention of turning into a recluse, but I can see how it might sneak up on you. Thud! Ouch! Hmmm, I'm agoraphobic, all of a sudden! Not for me, thanks . . .

Oh yes, and as part of the science projects thing, I have been building a nice resources page for people.

May 19, 2005
Well, another book done. In late March, I had a contact from a publisher I knew from somewhere or other. When I realised that plans had changed for me, I sent out an "available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, anything" email to anybody likely to be needing a scrivener. I thought I would cast the net around and see who needed me.

This is where it helps to have runs on the board, books that can be seen, and reviews. Anybody wanting to check me out is likely to find this page, which alerts them to some of my capabilities, and points them to reviews. In this game, you can't afford to be a shrinking violet: you need to advertise!

Anyhow, Andrew Kelly from Black Dog Books got back to me to ask if I would be interested in doing a book on the Kokoda Track campaign of 1942. I had been more or less in the Kokoda area, many years ago, so I said yes, and began reading. There are many books on the subject, but my task was to write for a young teen audience, which I have now done (there is more about that in the April 20 entry).

That is now out of the way, so as of today, I am casting around for the project to do next. There are about thirty titles on the list of want-to-dos, but many of those will never go any further. I think it is time I finished that book on Australian exploration, though islands look good.

On another front, the US Edition of Poisons is now out, and people are saying nice things about it, and the first references on the Web to the Polish and Slovak editions are now findable. As details are uncovered, I add them to the Killer Bean of Calabar page.

April 20, 2005
Well, it is now almost three months since I gave up my day job. Instead of writing full-time for an encyclopaedia and part-time on books, I have been writing full-time on my own projects. Well, mostly my own projects: I have recently completed a fairly large lump of work for a CD-ROM on World War I for my old employer. This was more research and text acquisition than original writing, but it came from my having a fairly detailed knowledge of the period.

That meant I knew where to dig for original documents and accounts of the war, and where to source the (true) claim that tanks "arose as an irregular side development of the armoured-car branch of the Royal Naval Air Service work". That material has now come out on CD-ROM. War seems to be following me around, because I told a few old mates that I was available, and out of the blue came a request from another publisher to do a book for young people about the Kokoda Track.

I do not agree that writing for young people is a lesser profession. I have just completed a book on poisons for young people (you'd better believe it!) and it has given me a fresh insight into the question of poison. This new book was for Allen and Unwin, who published my Killer Bean of Calabar, so there was a bit of an overlap, but there was a different emphasis, with a much stronger requirement from me that I explain the principles, briefly but effectively. I needed some new research for it, but it was mainly rethinking.

There is a surfeit of books on Kokoda for adults, but these all have many assumptions about what the readers know. I will not be doing an adult book on the subject, but in some ways, I think it might be worth doing an essay of maybe 2000 words first (that takes me 13 minutes to read as an Ockhams Razor talk) to identify the central theme, then I would do a book for young people on the same topic, around 20,000 words (which will get the story lines sorted), followed by the adult version, coming in at about 60,000 words, and benefiting from the prior compressions.

One of these years I will try the three-step plan, but for now, Kokoda will just be the young people's book, centring mainly on the amazing achievements of young Australians, sent into the jungle with inadequate equipment, support and training by a gutless, amoral crook named Thomas Blamey. The man was a liar, a coward and a bully, and it will be an interesting challenge to tell the truth without letting this fellow's bastardry detract from a tale of amazing heroism, where the Australians defeated crack Japanese jungle fighters, the jungle, and their own stupid general, who was aided and abetted by an even nastier piece of work, 'Dugout Doug' MacArthur.

It became obvious to me in the first month of no day job that it is a trap to work on one project — I get bored, so I am at present:

  • Working on completing the Australian exploration book, mentioned below: it needs a bit more research, some polishing and picture research;
  • Researching the Kokoda book;
  • Working on a series of shorter books on science projects to go with my projects Web site;
  • Producing Trivia Night quizzes to order;
  • Polishing up the disasters book; and
  • Plotting up a few other ideas that are too nebulous to list yet. Several of them are for young readers.

March 26, 2005
I have now completed the first draft of the book on human-generated disasters that I started in mid-February. I will probably write another 10,000 words, then delete 15,000, and I am still finding fascinating addenda, like the 35 pounds of fossils that Scott and his Antarctic party hauled — if that had been food, they would have made it to the next food depot, and so survived. The US edition of Poisons is getting its first reviews, and I am working on a couple of ideas, as well as a series of books on science projects. It is nice to be able to control how my time is applied.

This week or next, I will get back to the explorers — I simply cannot work full-time on one project without getting stale.

February 8, 2005
The proofs of the US edition are long gone. Today, I checked through the copy for the cover, and signed off on that -- and I got the news that there will be a Slovak edition as well (translated, of course!). Bit by bit, I am getting all of my favourite bits of the world. Since I wrote my last entry, I have switched from day-job writer doing books after hours to full-time writer, so there are more new books about to be hatched . . .

December 14, 2004
Regrettably, I did not slow down fast enough, and I have been through something not far off writer's block — I just had no urge to write left in me. I have been "back on the horse" for about the last two weeks, but I basically blew six weeks of writing time at what is usually my best time of the year. That hurts, but there was a grandson in the middle of it all . . . so pardon my smug grin.

Still, I have managed to get through the changes for the US edition, nothing major, just fiddly, and now I am waiting on the proofs. The cover looks VERY swish: you can see it on the Killer Bean of Calabar page. Meanwhile, the next book is beginning to form up.

October 9, 2004
I have completed about 50,000 words of draft text for the next book, and now I have slowed down, as I now have a clear view of what extra research is needed, in order to tell a story. The US edition is looking real: it is already listed on

September 17, 2004
I have finally started writing the next book. In a sense, I have been writing it for a while, because I now have a database of 4500 selections from the people we call the Australian explorers, something over 800,000 words -- 10 or 12 times the size of the book I will be writing from them, and it isn't finished yet. All the same, I have started tentatively writing chapter headings and introductory paragraphs for them, a total of about 3000 words, much of which will bite the dust before I am finished, but this is the way I take the clay of raw data, and shape it into a story. I described the database in my June 5 entry above. I am now adding material from photocopies of manuscripts, either accessed first-hand, or through transcriptions.

Out of curiosity, I looked today to see who else publishes with my new US publishers, Arcade — take a look at the names I am rubbing shoulders with!
As my Welsh forebears would say, there's posh . . .

Selected Arcade authors

  • Daniel Barenboim
  • Ingmar Bergman
  • Melvyn Bragg
  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Alistair Cooke
  • Lawrence Durrell
  • Umberto Eco
  • Sir John Gielgud
  • Russell Hoban
  • Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing
  • Jean Medawar
  • François Mitterrand
  • Octavio Paz
  • Shimon Peres
  • Marquis de Sade
  • Françoise Sagan
  • Raoul Wallenberg
  • Malcolm X

September 1, 2004
And even more good news from Marie: we are going to have a Polish translation in 2005. Now all I have to do is fiddle a book-signing in Cracow -- it is a beautiful city.

July 22, 2004
I had a phone call today -- Arcade Books in the US want to do a hard cover edition! And Marie Baird at Allen and Unwin who sells the rights to books tells me that this greatly boosts her chances in other areas. Apparently Arcade have an excellent name, and reputation, so I am more than a little chuffed.

The reality is that I do a split with the publisher on the payments (which is good, because they are motivated to gouge a good deal for us both, and I am no horse trader), and on the other hand, it is not bad, because they have negotiated a sliding scale, so if we sell well, we will all be happy. Which brings me back top the perennial question of motivation, and yes, I think we writers all want our books to sell, in part because even writers like money, but also because it tickles our ego to reach more readers. It isn't just about money: if it were, I would write bodice-rippers, but the money is no impediment to my wearing a cheesy grin.

July 17, 2004
Today's entry is an important one for young writers: look after your health!

This morning, I have been to the physiotherapist to get my neck straightened out. This happens every few years, when I am heavily involved in more than one project, and the past two months have seen me furiously engaged in productivity both at home and at work, both on Australian exploration and on a new way of looking at science education. The end result has been excruciating pain, and there are several sources for this: poor posture because my desk chair had slowly dropped from the best level (something I have only just realised), twisting to one side to look at marked-up hard copy of earlier drafts, and having my monitor too low.

Remedies: replace the chair, raise the monitor a bit more, and get a document holder that sits above the monitor. It will cost a bit, but so does physiotherapy, and so does lost sleep from neck and back pain. I have only myself to blame, because I have lived with this since about 1980, when I got it from typing up my research that went into my Master's degree, and because I have nagged work colleagues about their practices for years, and taught ergonomics to students. There can be no short cuts!

If you are a full-time writer as I am (well, actually, I am an overtime writer :-) you have to expect problems. It goes with the job, like a ballet dancer's bunions. It doesn't mean you ignore it: you have to fight it all the time. Get in first and stave it off. John Appleby, my physio, has just read off my history to me, and spoken strong words.

The good news, though: I have my first review of The Killer Bean of Calabar, which appeared in The Australian today. I picked up a copy on the way home, and you can see it here.

July 10, 2004
Well, the book is quietly out: not much reaction as yet, though more people seem to be looking at my site, which has to be good. On Monday, I start talking to radio programs, all over Australia, mainly from the safety of the Tardis, an empty ABC studio in Sydney, from which I can pretend to be in any part of Australia. We will wait to see what the reviewers say. Meanwhile, my database of explorers has exceeded 600,000 words, and I am only a third of the way through, at a rough guess.

June 5, 2004
I have been working on a database of excerpts from the journals of the explorers for about a year now, and it is now up over 2600 entries. My latest addition has been Leichhardt, and I have started on Oxley. I start with the e-text of a journal, and I pick key passages that go into a spreadsheet, along with a whole collection of keyword codes that I can later convert to real key phrases to assist in searching. I have created it to help me in my writing, but I think it will end up being as important as the book.

I am using a flatfile database design (for now -- that may change), but the keywords (metadata, if you prefer) make it easier to find related bits in other journals: for example, most of the "explorers" followed clear paths laid down by Aboriginal feet, just as wilderness walkers follow wombat tracks in some areas, or the pads left by kangaroos in the patched hills of central Australia. This involuntary assistance by the original custodians is never mentioned in school books, probably because historians don't get out enough. I have a code, \ap, that translates to "Aboriginal paths" to link such entries. I am toying with asking my publisher to add a CD-ROM with this collection on it to the book. In the mean time, I have sent a copy of the draft version to a Victorian school, so they can try it out and play with it.

June 1, 2004
Back from my travels, refreshed and bubbling with ideas, I have today received my first copy of The Killer Bean of Calabar, and I am well pleased with the way it looks. This is what you write for. I have also discovered that a kindly government, having established Public Lending Right and Educational Lending Right, has paid a nice little sum into my coffers to recompense me for lost sales caused by copies being in libraries. Now comes the run-up to the release and promotion of the new book, and a bit of time in the library, working on the new one.

April 10, 2004
The order of books to come is now set: first, a close look at the methods used in exploring and mapping a continent, mainly about Australian work, but with occasional looks at parallels in North and South America, Africa and Antarctica. Some of the travelling research for this will also see me looking at the book I have planned to come after that, which will be a rather technical look at islands. The page proofs of The Killer Bean of Calabar have been checked, and now I am off to look at the biodiversity of Cyprus, the siltation around Normandy and some archives in Paris. It is time for the children to move back in and mind the house.

March 9, 2004
The corrected proofs have gone off for what can now be officially announced as The Killer Bean of Calabar and Other Stories, due out around June (it has its own page now). There was a story in the Toronto Globe and Mail, yesterday, saying that I was about to publish my third one-word title in a row, but that is only because I kept calling it "the poisons book". It ain't so. Out of the blue, I have been working on a serious science education project, with no idea of where it may be published, but it needed doing, but I look as though I will be going ahead on islands next, or maybe some of the more curious aspects of exploring Australia. Put it this way, I have started reading, and I plan to get away from Paris long enough to take a look at the problems around Mont St Michel. On the other hand, I have been reading the journals of William Carron, who survived the Kennedy expedition, and Wills, who did NOT survive the Burke and Wills expedition. I have enough curious techniques to sink a battlefleet, like people who regarded camel's feet as a delicacy. It seems the old explorers were a lot more interesting than the way they were taught in school.

Getting down to it, right now, I have four well-worked out plans for books, an almost complete manuscript, a completed manuscript, and a detailed plan for a children's series: I think it is time a couple of them happened.

January 27, 2004
I am still uncertain what to write next. I have three strong ideas, and I am working on each of them to a certain extent, but with travel to Singapore, Cyprus and France planned for later this year, islands are beginning to look more interesting. One of the other ideas involves a series of books for children on a subject to be announced later, but it is beginning to shape up. This is a fiction project, but while fiction requires research, in this case, I have just about all the research I need, already to hand, thanks to my past zoological training. I am hoping to dovetail two projects.

November 19, 2003
Well sometimes things change. I am proceeding with the exploration stuff for online, but I have dropped the idea of a book. The stuff I want to do just doesn't work in print, and what I could do in print would not be very different from a lot of other books already in a crowded market. No matter, it will be an excellent online resource. Instead, I am looking at a rather more strongly science-based topic, and beginning to think again about the islands book. I should get the edited poisons manuscript back this week, and I should know in a week or two what the next project will be. Rockets is due for release in the US in May 2004, and has had a couple of nice reviews — less than I would have hoped for, but it's a bit specialist, so I have to console myself that it appeals to people like me.

September 25, 2003
I have now seen the edits of chapter 1 of the poisons book -- Emma has chopped more than a third of it, and it is really beginning to work. I have lost some choice anecdotes, but it was much too wordy. Meanwhile, I am well into the next project, a look at how Australia was mapped from 1606 to 2006 -- and I have been in central Australia, riding a camel to the south of Oodnadatta, getting a feel for what it was like to explore or prospect on a camel, and chasing around the Mortlock Library in Adelaide.

My mate Ramki in Chennai has been developing an absolutely brilliant interactive front end in Flash, because this will be a Web site, a CD-ROM and a book, all working together. We have been working on Eyre's journal as the first example/test case, and we are starting with a map of Australia, with the route traced by Eyre, a few hot spots that show what was happening at different points, leading into a major slab of Eyre's journal. The aim is to bring people to primary source material, but also to interweave the different accounts and link the common themes that occur. So I am busy . . .

I am still doing radio talks about Bittersweet and also about Rockets, I need to be on top of the poisons book, and I will soon be into picture research for that, while getting stuck into exploration and mapping — when I retire, I plan to complete two books a year, so I am going to have to get my head around even more things at one time.

August 5, 2003
Things are moving fast: I am off to Adelaide, Coober Pedy and William Creek in just over four weeks to experience camel-travel in the desert as part of the exploration book, and I am developing an exploration timeline that I will put a link to in the near future. I will also be going through archives in Adelaide. On current plans, I can do much of the research in Sydney, but I will need to get to Canberra and Melbourne, and possibly Perth and Brisbane to read stuff. My emphasis is on the ways Australia was mapped, and my aim is to look at the methods used to survive, to map, to record information, and to navigate. I will be looking at coastal and inland exploration, right down to modern satellite mapping.

July 25, 2003
Later, I shredded the other chapter that seemed OK, and ditched parts of it, while moving other bits around. The discards file is close to 10,000 words already, and it will get bigger. Meanwhile, we have thrown out the title that got me going. I wanted to call it Mr Pugh's Breakfast Table Book, a reference to the character of Mr Pugh in Under Milk Wood, who read Lives of the Great Poisoners at the breakfast table, and dreamed of killing his wife. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the book moved away from being lives of the great poisoners quite a while back.

Plans for the next book have changed, and I am looking at a major history of Australian exploration. Once again, it will involve some travel, but more of that later. The last couple of weeks have involved a number of radio interviews, some from the ABC's "Tardis", a single-person studio at Ultimo in Sydney that makes it sound as though you are in Adelaide or wherever, instead of Sydney. Others have been by phone, and while those people have all said nice things, they are a self-selected sample, because people who did not like the nook would not bother. The amazing and flattering thing is that most of them seem to have read the book! Still, we will have to wait and see what the reviewers say in the next few weeks.

June 21, 2003
Well, one of the two chapters I thought was OK has just been shredded and distributed around the other chapters or into the discards file, and the book is beginning to work the way it should. Writing means rewriting -- you'd better believe it!

June 15, 2003
I have my advance copy of Rockets, and actually getting the finished product in your hand makes it all worthwhile — a bit like picking up a baby for the first time. Yesterday, I finished a second pass through the poisons book, today, I completely pulled it apart, except for two chapters that worked, and rebuilt the pieces to create two new chapters. It is still a bit wooden, but it is anatomically correct, just needing some life. I have started serious research on the title for 2005, and I am planning the pictures for the poisons book. Tonight I need to write a 1300-word piece on rockets to go in Australasian Science to get some extra publicity for the book.

June 9, 2003
It is a holiday Monday, and I am half-way through the second draft of the poisons book. The project I hoped to get accepted failed at the last hurdle, so I will put it back in the bottom drawer, and come back to it some time. I now have a firm plan for the book after poisons (mid-2005 release) and the makings of an outline, and I have a clear notion of an excellent title for the book after that (mid-2006), and each of them will involve some travel. More of those later, but the 2006 book was conceived as the result of a question about public footpaths by a librarian. Publicity time for Rockets is drawing close, with release in a month, so I should see an advance copy any day now.

May 19, 2003
The cycle moves along. The first draft of the poisons book is almost finished -- it is up to 76,000 words, and I don't like some of them, but that's normal, so I will send it to Emma the Editor and get some feedback. I am doing a talk at the local library tomorrow, where I will unveil the title. I now know who will be doing the publicity for Rockets, which should reach me in last-final proofs Real Soon Now. Printing and distribution happens remarkably fast for a book that has been developing since about October 2001, with research. I found out too late that some serious people sat down for a discussion of Bittersweet last month -- I was holidaying on Lord Howe Island when they met, so I guess it wouldn't have happened, but the mischievous side of me would have liked to be there. Probably best to avoid such occasions -- one might hear ill of oneself :-).

May 8, 2003
I have completed the index for Rockets, and I am back worrying at the first draft of poisons — I want to get Emma Cotter, my editor, to have a dabble in it by about May 19, and after that, I will add some more text — the last chapter is incomplete but I may take it apart and move the stuff elsewhere. Then I can get back to the bottom-drawer project. Tonight, I have to dig out a mugshot of me for Rockets, do the blurb draft and some nonsense about me to go inside the book. The question now is whether I will mention my Black Belt in bog-snorkelling. Decisions, decisions . . .

May 1, 2003
I am working my way through, indexing Rockets -- I use Word for this, and a macro of my own making, since I over-wrote the original one, to mark up the key words in the manuscript. then I insert page breaks to make the page numbers match, click in the right place, cut and copy the index to a new file, special paste it as unformatted text, clean it up and send it off for final editorial stuff.

I am about halfway through cleaning up the first draft of poisons, but I have left that for a few days to get Rockets complete. I have some interest in the "bottom-drawer" manuscript, but it is still too early to say more. I know what the book after poisons is likely to be, though. Again, it is a bit early to say more, but it combines geology, biology and a few other things.

April 10, 2003
Well, Bittersweet is out in the US as well as in the UK -- I got a bit of a buzz when I tripped over a listing from a French bookshop that offers books in English. In the next few days, I will do the last bits for the pictures for Rockets, which is the confirmed title, and I have 62,000 words in first draft for the poisons book, so I will be taking a holiday on Lord Howe Island with Chris, and the manuscript will follow me. I have a title for the poisons book, but I won't say what it is, just yet. It will be time soon, to think about the book after that. Maybe water, maybe something to do with the way the earth works, maybe not. Who can say? I recently pulled another ms out of the bottom drawer, and I am trying to get some interest in it.

The 62,000 words is really a bit like the clay piled up on the potter's wheel: it has something of the right shape, but it needs to be beaten, bashed, pinched, squeezed and worked over, then it needs to be fired and glazed. There is still a long way to go . . .

February 25, 2003
The cycle winds its way through another year. I have a publication date of July for Rockets (that is to be its title), and I have seen the blurb and art work for the cover, Sylvia Milne in Chester and Even Flood in Norway tell me has just shipped their first pre-orders of Bittersweet, and I am more than half-way through the research phase on poisons, with some 1500 entries in the database (including quite a few short passages that will go straight across), and everything is going ahead nicely.

The database is worth a comment -- I use a simple word processor on an Apple e-mate to do the bulk entry -- I can work anywhere with it, and it is ready to start in three seconds. I just put tabs between fields, and worry about the rest later. Then I transport that file by serial cable connection to a Wintel machine as RTF, open it in Word, convert the text to table, spell-check it, then copy and paste into Excel. It may sound complex, but it makes life incredibly easy for me — it's what I call "smart lazy", putting effort into avoiding effort. There is nothing that requires a relational database, so I just do flatfile in Excel. Each entry is, in effect, an index card, and I list chapter and chapter code in separate columns, and sort by that. Later, I will paste slabs over into Word, make up chapter files and export those to the e-mate, so I can do word processing wherever I like.

My other big fear is losing stuff, but I use a laptop and the Internet to move and store copies of key files on my work computer -- and I store work files at home, as well — and there are even a few strategic CD-ROMs, just to be on the safe side.

February 5, 2003
I have now completed most of the research in the next book, though I will be digging for more all the way to July. The general subject: poisons. The contract is signed and I have the advance. About 1500 words are written: the introduction and the conclusion, and most peculiarly, I have a final title — the rockets book has only just been given a final name, which is under wraps for now (but see Feb. 25).

January 15, 2003
I later found it on the US Amazon site when a good friend in Washington tracked it down. Thanks, Mary Lou! I have sent back the rockets book proofs, so now I am into some serious reading for the next book.

January 7, 2003
The news is now in, and Bittersweet has been listed with Amazon in the UK. The US release is still a few months away (May, actually) with UK release in March. I have been rather busy researching the next book, and I have just finished going through the edited ms of the rockets book. More on the next book in a month or two, but the contract is signed.

November 17, 2002
Well, that's a longish break between reports, but I have managed to complete the rockets ms (it ended up at 80,000 words, less what gets cut). It has now gone off for editing, I have completed the initial picture research and printed off copies of the digital photos I want to include — I shoot at 4 megapixels, which will work in print. I have known for a while that Bittersweet would go to Britain in March next, but I heard two days ago that IPG will release it in the USA in May, 2003.

I am now into the next book, and for the first time, I have a title first, though more of that, and the subject, later. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to telling some rather ripping yarns about matters with quite a lot of science — and history — thrown in. I hope to have that one finished by June, 2003, but I plan to take my time over it. Early December will see the edited rockets ms come back, and I will need to see then whether it needs extra writing.

September 24, 2002
I have been chasing last bits and pieces for the rocket book, doing rewrites on the bits I didn't like, and I am waiting for the editor's first comments on an earlier draft. Then there are all the boring bits like making sure the references are all there, and beginning to think about pictures. I have been trying to find out about a hint that two Australian explorers, Burke and Wills, took rockets with them, so far without luck, but I pinned down a use of rockets in the Maori Wars in New Zealand. And I have started talking to people about the next book . . .

August 27, 2002
A good friend found a whole string of reviews for me, and I have added them to the reviews page. Aside from being described as an accountant in the Cairns Post, I am happy with them. At the moment, they are just dumped in there — but I will clean them up later. For now, you can see the whole thing, rather than the snippets they will become.

August 20, 2002
I have a completed draft, but I am already finding extra bits and pieces that need to fit in. I expect to add more as I read through that on the screen, then I will print it out, make scrawls all over the hard copy, make those changes, and finally, read it aloud to myself from the screen. Then it is over to editing, and I am beginning to think about the next book — there are three possibles at the moment.

August 15, 2002
I am close to completing the first draft, as floods rage through Dresden and Prague, two of the places I visited while I was planning this book. Right now, I am telling the V2 story, and that involves concentration camps like Auschwitz, and places like Dresden, largely laid waste by Allied military vandals. No side was guilt-free in World War II.

Some things are hard to forgive, but I take comfort in the Berlin Wall, reduced to the status of a tourist attraction, and Warsaw, rebuilt in accordance with paintings by Canaletto. The human spirit will triumph! Now all I have to do is to put that in words. And tomorrow, we will know if the scramjet trial went well or not.

August 3, 2002
Rockets have been a major part of my life lately — I flew over to Adelaide and drove up to Woomera to see a launch of a rocket carrying a scramjet test rig. One account of this will be found on an ABC site.

Ever so slowly, the book is creeping to completion. I seem to keep finding new aspects that need to be broached, almost as fast as I close other bits off. Depending on the results on the scramjet test, that could prove to be a history-making feat as big as the Wright Brothers first flight at Kittyhawk in 1903, and Goddard's first rocket launch in 1926, and I may need to reshape the book to include this new generation of rockets.

July 13, 2002
Well since then, I have done about six more radio interviews, and some television stuff to come, but the real buzz was being in a university library today, and just happening to see a copy of Bittersweet sitting on a desk — so I have one reader at least, or maybe just somebody who looked and put it down in disgust.

And why have there been no additions? Because I am flat out researching the next book, and thinking out the one after. Aside, that is, from posting some stormy opinions on what literacy and reading are all about. Jen McVeity and I are both on the same teachers' list — Jen is a fiction writer, I write non-fiction, but we both have a clear idea of why we write, and a phobia against people using our writing for sterile exercises in the classroom. So we have had a bit to say against the Dark Forces.

June 20, 2002
I did a radio interview today with Margaret Throsby. (Afternote: In the process of doing that talk, I mentioned the delightful Arthur Burrage, and in early August, I had a letter from him, thanking me for recalling his time as an ABC announcer.

June 19, 2002
I did one radio interview today at Radio East Sydney, with another at the ABC tomorrow, one on the weekend, and about four next week. The good part is that only people who like the look of the book will bother — so I am getting a bit of a buzz from it, but what about when the reviews come in? Ah well, if they are bad, I will recall Sibelius, who observed rather acidly that nobody ever erected a statue to a critic (and try not to recall that nobody has ever erected one to me, either!).

June 15, 2002
Yes, a big gap, there. I have just got back from overseas, mainly gathering material for the book on rockets. The battlefields of Gallipoli (where rockets would have made a difference), the walls of Istanbul/Constantinople, the plains of Poland, Kepler's haunts in Prague, where he wrote the first science fiction novel about space travel (Somnium), the plains of Poland where V2 rockets were tested, Dresden, some parts of which are only now being rebuilt. Then it was on to Ireland where the Duke of Wellington lived (he hated rockets, but is central to my story). Budapest failed to work as a source (though an excellent place), but Wellington material in Ireland made up for it.

Then on to Washington DC for the Library of Congress, and a chat to some geophysicists, and a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, then down to Baltimore with assistance from Kim Klein, a most excellent friend at the Washington Post, so I could see where the line "the rocket's red glare" comes from in the US national anthem.

After that, it was off to Worcester Massachusetts to look through the papers of rocket pioneer Robert Hutchings Goddard, so I could see how he fended off spies, and then to Sacramento California to talk to retired rocket chemists and engineers. I would not have had all that if a good friend, Theta Brentnall, had not been able to set it up for me. Aspiring writers are advised to cultivate friends!

Home today to find a small feature on Bittersweet in the magazine section of The Australian. The book is now released, and I await the first reviews with some trepidation. I have a schedule of radio interviews for the next few weeks. Writing may be fun, but to make it work, you have to be willing to go out and talk about it . . . as I said, you have to be a bit of an egomaniac to be a writer, so the talking is no great burden. In the US, I encountered a cable channel, CSPAN-2, which offers talks and readings by writers, sponsored by bookshops and videotaped for replay.

Not all is brightness: among the parcels of books and papers I have been sending home to myself was one that I had not sent: a package of copies of two of my children's books which have been remaindered. Seeing a book remaindered, taken out of circulation, is a real blow to any writer. Seeing two remaindered at once is cruel indeed. Still, they had five or six years in print, and will have touched a few minds — and some copies will probably be used for another five years or so, until they wear out and are discarded.

April 16, 2002
Just as I was getting my car out of the garage, a van pulled into the driveway. I have my very final too-late-now page proofs, and the book has gone to the printer. Because I am off overseas, leaving the children and the dog to mind each other and the house, I have been closing down lists, and sorting a few basics. I now have four firm ideas for books, three of them to follow after rockets, which now exceeds 30,000 words, and that is about all I will do. I have been corresponding with amateur rocketeers all over the world, and getting their ideas on the important bits. It is amazing just how much people will share, and I have a few possible leads to follow in the US.

April 2, 2002
Today I have created a short radio talk to record when Bittersweet comes out, covering a few of the highlights, and I have just had the PDF file. It all looks good, and I have been through my marked-up copy of the ms, making the page breaks match. Now I will have to fire up the laptop, because the main machine, for some reason, makes a mess of the indexing. The PDF came from Melbourne (typesetters) to the publishers (many suburbs away) and then me in about half an hour, and by the time the publishers open up tomorrow, the index will be there. And you couldn't do THAT in the bad old days . . .

April 1, 2002
Well, progress is less than I had hoped. I am up to 24 000 words of reasonably clear text, rather than the 35 000 words I hoped to have, but I have been working in some of the more difficult areas. I will probably be close to 50% of the final target by tonight. The main point is that while I set a sort of target, I don't stress out if it is not met, and I don't furiously churn a few thousand words to meet the target.

I have now located the places of interest in Prague and Budapest for a rocket-minded person, and got well and truly sidetracked into the geology of Prague. I have also started marking down the geological sites I want to get to in Ireland — the forthcoming trip is going to yield two books, not one.

The very last proofs of Bittersweet should arrive on Tuesday as a PDF file: one last look, re-do the index, and off it goes: I have already seen the cover art. It is bits and pieces trickling through like that which make the work worth it, but the Big One is having a completed book in your hands.

24 March, 2002
Chugging along, doing some reading and some thinking.

22 March, 2002
I completed the drawings last night, did a spreadsheet for the illustrations for Bittersweet, added captions, identified the sources, and added in an illustration I found at Fisher Library the other day — it was from a book dated 1650, so there are no copyright issues. The same library visit netted me some good material from 1825 on rockets, but also stuff on railways and canals, smallpox, Australian natural history circa 1825, and Wellington's battles in Spain. I don't know when or where these will be used, but when you see good material, you grab it, because sooner or later, it will fit in somewhere.

Today, I took the corrected page proofs, the finished drawings and all of the additional references to the publishers. You try to be a sophisticated adult at times like this, but when I came out of their offices, I felt like dancing down the streets — and it was raining! So instead of dancing, I portled along, humming an off-key version of "Singing in the Rain" and getting odd looks — either I was louder than I thought, or the silly grin was showing. The book is finished, so far as I am concerned, except for one last look at page proofs, Rachel, the publicity person was very positive, as the Allen and Unwin people are all along, and everything is going well.

This is the sort of thing you probably would not think about, but all writers have doubts, even apparent egomaniac extroverts like me. A good publisher knows this, and swats the doubts before they surface. I suppose if you want to be cynical, they have invested money, and don't want it to come unstuck, but I have always had very positive vibes from Allen and Unwin. Even when they sent me rejection slips on past proposals, they were positive :-)

So: farewell to sugar for now, and back to the rockets again. The draft contains some 19 500 words of more or less complete text, in several separated strands: I need to build these strands, tie them together and get a good idea of what the book will say, and I have one month to do it before I fly off to Turkey, leaving our (adult) children to mind the house. My target is about 55 000 words, so if I can do 2000 words a day, that will get me to about 80 000, and then I can start hacking back. But tonight, we are off to have dinner out: we have earned it.

19 March, 2002
Well, I got bogged down in the trivia of many, many pieces of paper, so the drawings didn't get done, but I sorted a few other things out and spent two hours trying to source engravings that I wish to use as illustrations. Now I know where there is a book that will tell me where to find them, and that the library is open late on Thursday. Tonight, some drawings must happen!

18 March, 2002
Phone call to inhouse editor, we got the illustration problems solved. Tonight I will draw two pictures, and finalise the rest.

17 March, 2002
Just about all day on the proofs, sifting through, sorting sources for quotes that I had missed, found one more real error that the proof-reader missed (decode for decide). Deal with exciting questions like punctuation.

16 March, 2002
Chasing missing references from the bibliography of Bittersweet, looking over the proofing editor's comments. She has found two errors I missed, I have found one she has missed, and she has made large numbers of sensible corrections. (In fairness, the one she missed was in Spanish :-)

15 March, 2002
Emailed my inhouse editor, Emma, about illustrations. The page proofs of Bittersweet arrived back. Wrote 1500 words on rockets, mainly assembling interesting quotes, some of which will be turned into narrative. Then tried to find the River Bug in Poland, because I hope to see it when I go there in a couple of months — some brave Poles hid a V2 rocket in its muddy waters during World War II.

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