How to reboot your childhood imagination

A writer needs a vivid imagination. The superpower of childhood is a fantastical imagination but it is easily lost. Neuroscience provides an explanation for this.

In The Wisdom Paradox Elkhonon Goldberg explains that a child’s Right brain dominates until the age of 6 years. The Right brain deals with uncertainty, double meanings, metaphors, duplicity, the unexpected, the new. It thinks in pictures but, significantly, it is mute or it would be arguing with your Left brain, the language hemisphere, all the time.

Anything is possible for the Right Brain. The Left brain specialises in language. It sorts, judges, pigeon holes. It is trying to make sense of the world. We are conscious beings. We have to understand what is happening around us or, basically, we are mad. Your Left brain takes over your thinking after  6 years of age as language kicks in. You don’t have to lose your childhood imagination but if it is not used …. it fades away.

I loved maths. I studied Science engineering at university. I taught maths and chemistry for 10 years. All that maths set up railway tracks in my brain which I had to follow in logical steps to the predetermined destination.

I wanted to write. I needed my thinking to be reckless, crazy. It took me 3 years of reading to derail my mathematical mind. I read, in order, historical romance, Erotica ( one fictional glistening, muscled, well-endowed plantation slave still brings a warm smile to my face), science fiction, war memoirs, Russian novels and biographies of strong women.

Finally, I dumped the rail track thinking. Ideas pop out of my brain now like fire flies hovering over head. I have to prune them down to write a coherent piece. The first books i wrote were about my childhood. I relived it. I could walk into my families kitchen, open cupboards and see what was inside. More importantly, I could hear the voices. So Yes! I’m a little crazy. It  helps.

Your memories and the many worlds of your imagination are all there waiting for you to explore. All you need is a little practice.

If you want to reconnect with that vivid imagination of your childhood this clip by called Run Boy Run by Woodkid is SENSATIONAL. Watching it, I was 10 years old again.

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Love the middle-aged, morose, driven crime novel detective.

Love crime novels. Love the middle-aged, morose, driven crime novel detective. Here are just a few of my favourites in this category: Morse, Lewis, Bosch, Wallander, Rebus, Perez, DCI Banks,  Frost,  Foyle,  Cannon,  Montalbano,  Harry  Hole,  Jesse  Stone,  George  Gently, Longmire.

Readers keep sending more names. Add Vera (fits the bill despite being female) and Jack Irish.

Spasming Vaginas, Dark Web News, Erotic IQ. Melbourne, we have to talk!

I nearly overdosed on Melbourne as you will see. But worth every minute. Here is the article  I  wrote  for  Independent  Australia.  You  will  find  all  the links to the various events here. I was a guest at TEDx Melbourne. 

I wanted to be Annie Oakley when I grew up. I think this might be why!!!

One day last week I overdosed on Melbourne: 17 Tedx Melbourne talks and performances at the  conference  centre,  South  Wharf,  and  then 1 0 The Moth Melbourne open mic stories hosted  by  comedian  Cal  Wilson  at  the North Melbourne Town Hall. Throw in some single-origin coffee, boutique tea, smashed ava, mini-chirizo burgers, wine in tumblers and whinging about the weather  and  I  experienced  that  singularity moment,  Melbourne’s unique edgy, bookish, intellectual, artsy vibe condensed into one day.

Spasming  vaginas,  erotic  IQ, buying  drugs  on  the dark web, playing soccer on top of Mt Kilimanjaro. These are parasitic stories that invade your thoughts and colonise your brain. But, of course, I’m getting them all mixed up together when they are quite distinct. The TEDx talks cover the intellectual turf. They promote edgy ideas.

The theme this year was Rebels, Revolutionaries and us and criminologist Dr James Martin put a convincing case that buying drugs on the dark web improves safety. It’s a sort of eBAY for ecstasy with supplier ratings and product returns. Laura Young organsied 60 women from 25 nationalities to play soccer on top of Mt Kilimanjaro. My favourites were architect Mond Qu who  invented  an  island  off  Mexico  and now has it recognised by Wikipedia with maps and pics. That’s Fake Geography, I guess, and Lisa Leong the rapping, ABC DJ corporate lawyer, who wants to make lawyers less robotic. Fake optimism, perhaps.

The Moth open mic sessions, which have been popular in the states for some years, delivers personal – very personal – stories. Participants  tell  true  stories  from their lives in 5 minutes. Could  you  imagine  standing  in  front  of  an audience talking about discovering you had a spasming vagina via awkward moments dating through Tinder? Then there was the girl who dated boys always waiting for her kiss-bliss moment to discover she was, happily, a ‘massive’ Lesbian. Is The Moth a platform for over sharing or authenticity?

I  asked  one  participant  what she gained from the experience. She had suffered a break down, driving for Uber while she recovered. ‘It’s a sort of therapy’ she explained. So telling your story to people who listen is, perhaps, the therapy you need when you are not having therapy.

My fascination with these two events is linked to an interest in starting a deeper conversation. Four  years  ago  I started  a  Salon  with  a psychologist friend, Dr Doris Brett. We called it the Sybils’  Salon  after  the  Sybils  who  had wisdom and insight and predate Plato. We devised some  questions  and  asked  10  strangers  to  share their stories in a non-judgmental, non-competitive space. That’s when the magic happened. Women who hardly knew each other dropped their usual defenses and told stories, wonderful, hilarious, sad, heroic stories about their  lives.  Energy  filled  the  room  and  the  buzz remained with all of us for hours. Indeed, research is now showing that connecting through face-to-face conversation is as good for our physical self as it is for our psyche.

Meanwhile, research by University of Arizona psychologist, Matthias Mehl, found that people who engaged in deep conversations, rather than endless small talk about the weather or TV shows, rated higher for happiness and  life  satisfaction. You  know  how much weather small talk  we  do  in  Melbourne.  If  it’s  not  the  weather,  it’s  football. Melbourne, we need to go deeper. Ditto the rest of Australia.

But how do you start a conversation? The TEDx Melbourne talks will be posted online. The Moth  sessions  are  continuing  in  Brunswick. Or you could try one of the openers from the Sybils’ Salon. These questions get taken home and raised around dinner tables and even ten year olds have chimed in. A sample question, for instance, is: ‘The Fairy Godmother is able to make  it  to  your  birth, has remembered to bring her magic wand and can bestow upon you one gift and one gift only. It can be a talent, a life circumstance or anything you choose. What will it be?’

Ask someone today, even a ten year old, you might be surprised at the answer.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Naming Your Novel

The Porn Lite novel Fifty Shades of Grey unleashed a flood of books parodying the title. My favourite  was  about  men’s  sheds  called,  naturally,  Fifty Sheds of Grey.  Even in those genres considered more worthy – neither Fifty Shades nor Sheds of Grey will appear on the school curriculum – novel titles often follow a trend.

So here are 7 of the most recent and annoying novel title trends along with a few titles to avoid:

1. Curious and Cute

The  Curious  and  Cute  Title  genre  problably  started  way  back  with The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. So ethereal. So ‘don’t know really what it means, do you?’. Now we are over run with incidents, cute or curious or both.

The Curious Tail of the Dog in the Night

The Lost Time Incidentals

The City of Elevators

The Fault in Our Stairs

The Ministry of Utmost Incompetence

2. Incongreuous

This genre takes two nouns that have nothing to do with each other and slams them together to  garner  interest, I guess.  Grapes of Wrath  by  Jonh Steinbeck is  an  early contender. Eventhough the term ‘grapes of wrath’ comes from a line in The Battle Hymn of the Republic it still makes no sense even as a metaphor. Grapes just don’t conjure wrath-like images. Angels, God, emperors or armies might do the trick. But not grapes or gooseberries or cumquats.

The Gladioli and the Squid

Of Mice and Menopause

Milk and Sticky Stuff that Isn’t Honey

3. Three Small Awkward Words

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult  and more recently Big Little Lies by Liane Moriaty all fall into, what is now, a definite title genre. Other names to avoid include:

Small Big Headaches

Damn Long Forks

Joy Lick Boots

4. Things especially Lost Things

We started losing things way back when, according to Milton, we carelessly lost the big one in Paradise Lost. Reading  Marcel  Proust’s In Search of Lost Time lost  a  great deal of time for readers of the seven volumes. Since then we have lost cities (eg. The Lost City of Z by David Gran), lost innocence all over the place (There are many such titles) and lost lots and lots of children. (eg. The Story of the Lost Child  by  Elena  Ferrante).  But  mostly, it seems, we just lose things. eg. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan or things are structurally unreliable. eg. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

The Irrelevance of Small Things

Where the Wild Things Get Their Haircuts

When bad things happen to people who don’t expect bad things to happen

5. Wives and Daughters

When  Amy  Tan  was  out  of  joy  and  luck, she turned to daughters in The Bonesetter’s Daughter. If the bonesetter stuffed up, then The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates knew her dad had work to do. But it is the wives of  Senators,  Shoemakers,  Soldiers, Saddlemakers,  Railwaymen,  Prisoners,  Poets  and  Lighthouse  Keepers,  who  are  long suffering. Obviously,  women  still  cannot  live i nteresting  lives  of  their own and  are made interesting by their husbands form of employment. Really? Here are some titles to avoid:

The Axegrinder’s Daughter

The Clairvoyant’s Wife (He knew. Why did he marry her?)

The Ex-Husbands New Wife (See bad things happen above)

The Daughter who would not listen to the Preacher’s Wife

6. The Man 

From The Old Man and the Sea  by Ernest Hemingway to  A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt to the  Man with the Golden Gun  by Ian Fleming there have been plenty of reasons  why  a  man should tie up his man-bun, go to his man cave and settle down for a good read of his ‘man’ book. Anytime now we might see the following on the book shelves:

The Man with the Annal Itch

A Man Called Inkblot

The Man with the Golden Gut

A  Man for All Seasonings (It will be a cookbook)

7. The Girl 

The Lost Girl  by  D. H. Lawrence  gave  literary weight to the book with ‘girl’ in the title. The Girl in the Title! That could be a literary book title today, but ‘the girl in the’ title genre has been done to death. eg.Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The  girl  on  the  train wasn’t even a girl. She  was  an  over  thirty,  misrable,  dysfunctional alcoholic. The book should have been titled ‘Girl on a Train Goes into Rehab’. Nevertheless I bellieve the following titles are still available:

The Girl with the Turkey Tattoo

Girl with the Green Moustache

The Girl with the Glowing Eyes (Really, it was just blue screen reflection)

Other Titles Currently Available:

All That I Could Hum

The Crack in the Big Thing

The Light Below the Other Big Thing

D is for D’Oh!

The Spy who came in for Mother’s Day

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for Someone Who Gave a Sh**

The Budgies of War

On Her Majesty’s Silver Service

Billionairres are for Bonking

The End of the Thing that I Should Never Have Started

The First Rule of Book Club. The sex discussed in Book Club stays in Book Club.

Sex  sells  books. And I’ve made a study  of  the  sex  that  sells books. There are two types. Firstly,  there  are  the  Boys’   Own   Adventure   Stories.  In  these  Blockbuster  books  with embossed  gold  author’s  name  above  the title, a name which should leap out at you in the airport bookshop shouting ‘buy me, I’m a big, ballsy, blockbuster adventure book. Sshhhhhh!’ That is  the  sound  of  testosterone  eminating  from  the  hero’s  armpits. These  books  are generally written by blokes for blokes and  offer a peep show view of a well-packaged Male Sex Fantasy.  In  a  Boys’  Own  Adventure  Blockbuster  our  hero  has  sensational  sex  on the second page with, perhaps, a stunningly beautiful nurse in a bi-plane over the trenches in  France  in the  First  World  War to  the  accompaniment of a battlefield soundtrack. The  sex  takes  one paragraph before he ressumes his  testostrone-feuled  life -threatening  but heroic adventure, which  continues  at  a  clipping  pace  until  his  next  rapid-fire  sexual encounter, probably with a besotted milk-maid in a barn near where his bi-plane recently crashed. This could istart with a hand job. Those milk maids do have rare talents.

Meanwhile, in the  Girls’  Own  Romance  Novel,  aimed obviously at the chic-lit aficionado, the Female Sex Fantasy ambles aimlessly over many pages. Our  hero  and heroine meet in the first chapter and  are  then  tragically  separated  for  the  next  17 chapters. They finally meet  again  in  chapter 18, declare  their  true  love  and  have  sex in  an historical setting, perhaps  in  an  old  castle  that  our  hero, The Earl of Essex,  recently  inherited among his many estates. But they don’t  just  jump  onto  each  other’s bones. The  sexual  tension must build until the air is  fraught  with  anticipation. There  will  be  a  small  break  in the middle of Chapter 18 for  a  sensual  meal  with  flowing wine, furtive  glances and a searing accidental  contact  of,  say,  his  finger  tips  brushing  her, um,  wrist. When  the  shagging  finally takes place  it  will  be  in  an  historical  four-poster bed and the process from the first kiss to the Halluhejah chorus will take an entire chapter.

This  is,  of course, my  take  on  the genres. But I am grateful to Judith Newman for throwing more light on Male vs Female literary sexual fantasies. In her article, Dear Book Club: It’s You, Not Me  (MAY 11, 2017)  in  the  New  York  Times, she  told  the story of one couples Book Club that  came  to  grief  following  a  discussion  of  the  sex in Cormac McCarthy’s  “All the Pretty Horses.”  According to book club member Elizabeth St. Clair, a lawyer, “the main character is staying in a bunkhouse, and over the course of several nights a gorgeous strange woman comes to his bed and has sex with him. The men  in  the  group  thought  this  was the most romantic thing ever — dark, anonymous sex with no consequences.” The men in the book club thought this was a very romantic scenario.

The women just roared laughing. ‘Guffawing’  was  the  term  used. No woman, they argued, would turn up to have anonymous sex in the dark with a man they couldn’t see. Was he old? Was he diseased? Does  he smell? Was  he a psychopath? Moreover,  he  was  in  a  remote cabin, in a bunk bed. Are you joking? This  is  not going to happen. Apparently, the men were offended.  Arguments  ensued. St Clair  suggested  this  set  the  seed  for  the  end  of  her relationship.

So there it is. Enjoy  reading  your  blockbuster  novel.  But  try  to  remember the first Rule of Book Club. The sex discussed in Book Club, stays  in  Book  Club. Or you might find yourself very lonely tonight.

It’s the End of the World. Again.

There’s an energy crisis in Australia today. I hate to say ‘I told you so’. Actually, I really, really enjoy telling you I told you so. Here is the article I wrote on this topic in 2008.  My main point was DON’T LISTEN TO THE POLITICIANS. WE NEED A RELIABLE POWER SUPPLY.

The end of the world is coming to Melbourne.  Again.  In  the  1959  film,  On  the  Beach, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner waited in Melbourne to die  from radiation poisoning. Now, according to friends, life as we know it will end soon for us. Let me explain. I hang out with engineers. They’re strange folk. I’m married to one so I know. They do  calculations in their heads. My beloved, HRH, doesn’t yell at us to ‘turn off  the  lights’. He  lectures us on how many mega watts will be consumed over a  20-year  period. The family tends to turn lights off just to shut him up.

My friends and some  esteemed  institutions  are  hot and  bothered about power outages. Summer has been hellishly hot. Power  consumption  hit  a  record  in Victoria on the 10th January. It was, admittedly, a 40 degree scorcher, but schools and many businesses were shut. In  the  meantime, folks  are rushing out and  buying  air  conditioners.  But each new swishing, hissing unit adds a burden to the system.

There’s   no   power   crisis   claims   Rob  Hulls  while  advising  Victorians  to  turn  off  air conditioners. There’s no power shortage say suppliers while explaining recent blackouts as problems  with  individual  electricity  companies.  You  can  believe  them  or do the maths yourself.  Victoria  has  a  supply  capacity  of  around  10  million  kilowatts.  Let’s  assume Melbourne has 1 million households-a conservative figure- and that we all want to be cool, which we do. If every household installs a mid-range 10 kilowatt unit, at peak demand, air conditioners alone will use up our State’s full power supply capacity.

READ MORE HEREIt’s the End of the World. Again

Here is an earlier, more light hearted peice I wrote for the Canberra Times in 2006.

READ HERE: It’s the End of the World. Take 1.