The Land of Nod

The night before last the Wonder Dog kept interrupting my sleep by throwing up. He’d let me sleep for about an hour and then away we’d go again. Not sure what set him off but I’m guessing he either found a rotting bird or mouse carcass out in the garden, or it might be the fluff from inside his toy cat. He keeps disembowelling the animal and eating the wadding. Anyway… Between him and an over-active bladder, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the Land of Snooze. Last night I went to bed a little earlier, to make up for lost zzzzz. The WD threw up again but this time only the once that I was aware of. (He was fine during the day so I’m beginning to wonder if it’s some sort of mind game he’s playing with me.) He woke me up this morning carrying on like a mad thing: barking, yapping, howling and running around, leaping off furniture. I lurched awake, yelled at the  mutt and tweaked the corner of the curtain to see what had caused him to explode. I was expecting a horde of visigoths invading the front garden. What I saw was a car towing a boat, parking on the other side of the road. I spoke some very choice words to my least favourite animal and then staggered off to check the clock. I wanted to see what ungodly hour he’d got me out of bed. It was 10.50 am. Oooookaaaaay… I guess I was more tired than I first thought. I had a weird nightmare a few nights earlier. One that made me lurch awake, gasping in fright. I haven’t had one of those in years. I usually dream bright, colourful, slightly weird dreams that, at worse, leave me intrigued. This one made me sit up in bed, gasping, with my heart fluttering like a wild bird. I think it started off like my usual imaginings but ended with a man in a business suit, and a yellow tie, invading my home to come and “get me”. I’d woken up in fright just as he’d grabbed me. When I went back to sleep I finished the dream by clunking the guy on the side of the head with a frying pan. It reminded me of a similar dream I’d had back in late 2011, shortly after the cancer diagnosis, when I dreamed someone entered my house to get me. He was sent packing but he warned me that he’d be back. I guess even prophecies in the Land of Nod come true. Aren’t our subconscious minds fascinating things? I actually thought the cancer thing wasn’t bothering me that much because I’ve been so well. And, I really have. And, I’m really doing okay. I’ve even felt a little guilty that, apart from the tiredness and the change in my taste buds – come back coffee, I miss you – I’m so well. (I know I’m weird but that’s just how it is.) I find it interesting that for me the scariest villains aren’t the fellas in biker leathers, or the ones with muscles and scarred faces. (Sometimes those guys are complete pussy cats.) For me, the scariest villains are always the clean-cut, ultra-polite dudes in a suit. Which is weird because I love to see a man in a suit. Go figure. Anyhoo…sleep and dreams and nightmares are fascinating. The things our brains get up to while we’re trying to get some kip! I’d better have an uninterrupted sleep tonight or there might be one less Wonder Dog in the world tomorrow....

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Orwell, the prophet.

I heard something on the news the other day that immediately made me think of George Orwell, the author of 1984, and Animal Farm etc. I can’t remember the full context of the item, I think it was about our army (or the American army) reviewing current interviewing techniques. They mentioned “enhanced interrogation techniques”. I asked the Old Boy, “What’s that?” He said, “Torture”. Sure enough, we were then shown footage of someone being “water-boarded”. (You know, if anyone other than a soldier was doing that to a person, it would be called attempted drowning.) I am appalled that our (and their) armed forces are still employing “techniques” used in the Middle Ages. Everyone knows you can’t trust anything a person says under torture. They’d tell you black was white and a dog could play the flute, just to stop the pain. These are fellow human beings that are being treated in this way. They might be fighting for another country; they might have different ideologies, or religion, or whatever but nevertheless they are the same species as us, living on the same little blue planet. (Oh yes, I know I’m naive blah blah blah.) It got me thinking about Mr Orwell, his novel 1984 and his invention of “newspeak”. When I read it years ago, I thought it was prophetic of places like the then Soviet Union or North Korea. I never thought it would be applicable in a democracy like ours (or the USA). For those who haven’t read the book, here are some examples of newspeak:- The Ministry of Love = the secret police, interrogation and torture. The Ministry of Peace = the Defence Department; the Ministry of War. The Ministry of Plenty = the bureau that kept the population in a state of constant economic hardship. The Ministry of Records = the department that “rectified” the past; ie, they rewrote history to align with the ruling power, “Big Brother”. I heard the army chap talk about “enhanced interrogation” and I wondered what George Orwell would have thought. Would he be delighted with his prophetic ability or would he be shattered that his satirical novel was coming true? There are other examples of newspeak in our culture. For me, the obvious one is “Protection of our sovereign borders”; the practice of turning back the boats of asylum seekers. As well, asylum seekers/refugees are now called “illegal immigrants”.  According to our government, Australian borders must be defended from these hordes of people trying to come to live in our country. How dare they attack us with their rickety, over-crowded fishing boats! Why, if we didn’t send out the navy to repel them, we could be overrun by people desperate to become Australian citizens. Perish the thought. And this makes me think of Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which he gave us the slogan, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” Why, George, you really were a prophet. How scary is...

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The lucky country

It’s election day for my state’s government. I hope the local candidate that I voted for gets in because he’s a hard-working, community conscious dude who does a great job. I’m fairly confident he’ll do okay as the local community appreciate and respect him. I’m not so sure his party will get into government. But, either way, it will be a quiet day. We don’t need police or the army guarding our polling booths. Every citizen over 18 years of age can (and must) vote regardless of gender, financial wealth or lack of it, religious persuasion or ethnicity. We don’t need special protection for any woman who wants to go out in public to vote. Whichever party wins, there won’t be any rioting in the streets by the losers.  There won’t be any burning of vehicles, smashing of shop windows, or building of barricades. No one will lose their life over the election. The worse that will happen will be some monumental sulking and a few extra drinks consumed by those who missed out. Then, after a few days of “Where did we go wrong? How could we have campaigned better? Why did the people vote those clods in?”, it’ll be back to life as normal. The loser has 3 – 4 years of campaigning as the opposition, with the hope that things will be different in the next election. I’ve heard a number of people complain that this particular campaign has been rather ho-hum; even a little boring. I say, “Hallelujah for that!” I watch news footage of rioting, shooting, tear-gassing, water-gunning, rifle-shooting at people protesting in the streets over their government (both for and against) and I thank God I live in a boring democracy. Just think of the recent troubles in Egypt, Thailand, poor devastated Syria and now the Ukraine, and ask yourself: How did I get so blessed to live here? No wonder asylum seekers are paying people smugglers to put them on leaky, over-crowded little fishing boats and risk sailing across pirate-infested and then navy-infested waters to get here. Here’s to a peaceful, uneventful, slightly boring election and may they always be so....

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My “prickly” friend.

Leanne was my “prickly” friend. Her life seemed to lurch from one source of pain to another: her husband had an accident and as a result was paralysed; she lost her job; she developed severe agoraphobia; she lost another job; she began to question the foundations of her life, including her faith; she developed a chronic thyroid condition; her marriage became stressed; her self-esteem plummeted; she moved out of home; she found a job in another city; the boss bullied her; she lost the job; she struggled with mental health issues; she found another job in another city; she seemed to be making some headway in dealing with her issues but then she died suddenly in her sleep. Leanne had a brilliant mind. She wrote beautifully but could never bring herself to submit any of it in case she’d be rejected. She loved music, philosophy, politics, history, literature, theology and fantasy. She adored Chinese food. We would spend many an afternoon discussing books and music and fashion and dogs and God. She would read the drafts of my work and not be afraid to call a spade a bloody shovel. “Wendy, this is definitely good B-grade stuff. You can do better.” “Wendy, I love this idea, the character’s great, but when he talks he sounds like he’s five years old. You’ve got to change that crap.” She’d tease me about my willingness to follow “traditional religion” and I’d tease her about her devotion to Cliff Richard. She wasn’t always easy to get along with but she was insightful, challenging and incredibly generous. At times she’d leave me feeling very inadequate. Other times I’d come home deeply saddened by the way her life was going. Sometimes I’d come home singing, bouyed by her enthusiastic encouragement. I am thankful that I had her in my life for so long and I’m devastated that we won’t grow old together. I think she would have made a fascinating and entertaining old lady. I also think she would have no idea just how much she’ll be missed. I just wish she could have found a bit more happiness before she went. Farewell, prickles. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.  ...

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Why the violence?

The other day someone asked me why I put the violence in my book. It’s a good question and one I wrestled with while I was writing it. Can I, considering my value system and moral code, include violence, swearing and sex in my writing? This is particularly pertinent when writing for the youth market. Although I know many adults will (and have) read the book, does that allow me more leeway or is it still an ethical issue? Swearing isn’t such a big issue with this book because it’s set in an alternate world, where the language is naturally going to be a little different. Although there is no sexual activity apart from kissing, so far, there is the scene in the military barracks where the girls are abused. (If you haven’t read the book, I’d like to point out that although much is implied only a little is described.) Some people have told me they found the violence in the book, shocking and disturbing. My response: hallelujah! Violence should be shocking and disturbing. The thing is, I’m writing about a cruel, militaristic society that steals children from their homes and forces them to become tools in their military campaigns; child soldiers. I couldn’t tell this story properly, truthfully, if I didn’t include some violence. Children, and adults, in these situations are regularly placed in terrifying, demeaning and life-threatening situations. If I wrote this story as a boys’ own adventure, without once mentioning their suffering, the moral dilemmas thrust upon them and the violent cruelty used to compel their compliance, I would be doing all children who are really in this situation, a terrible disservice. I dislike books that include gratuitous violence (and sex, and swearing) as a form of keeping the plot moving along, of “spicing things up”, or as a marketting ploy. That goes against everything I believe in. But if I’m going to write stories that resonate with people, that have something to say and that tells the truth about the world and the people in it – even when it’s set in a different universe – then I must include some of the dark side; some of the appalling things we do to each other. We can’t tell stories of grace and hope if there is nothing in them that challenges these ideals. The fact is, the world has many dark places which need a light shone into the heart thereof. I want to tell those stories. What is more, I think young people are very aware of the world around them. They know it can be a dark and frightening place. It’s an insult to their intelligence to suggest otherwise. They know life can be overwhelming. They want to know that it’s still possible to have hope. That they can overcome. That life is worthwhile. And, I hope my stories go a little way towards shining that light. Well, that’s my two cents worth. I wonder what you think, dear reader....

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