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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

And at last, a post for 2011!

March 29, 2011

As I have said before: when I fall silent here, it's because I'm working. I have completed a book (Curious Minds) to third draft stage in the past four months, and I have also been in New Zealand's North Island (we have grandchildren there).
Sunset, Paihia on the Bay of Islands. Charles Darwin came here, so did James Cook, and so did my Cornish Boy. most probably. Nice place, but I had to see it to see what would work.

And we needed to look at thermal areas. This one (Orakei Kotako) was visited by Ferdinand von Hochstetter, an Austrian geologist who was in Australia and New Zealand in 1858-9.

These Austrians get around. Frederick Hundertwasser had a holiday home near Kawakawa, and offered to design their new toilet block, probably the most-photographed in the world.
In the past four months, I have written additional material for Australian Backyard Naturalist, and most importantly, I have finally dragged my old journal into a modern blog format.  It's not very adventurous as yet, though you will find links further down to several audio clips and also to three clips on Youtube.
The stuff below this is a bit of a mess, because I just hacked the old journal up, pasted it into Word,  cleaned up the links a bit and dropped it in here. I think this resulted in some rogue legacy formatting.  Sorry about that, but it wasn't a core activity.

Some of the links may be dodgy, so I will leave the  original version online for now.  You can get to it here.  If you want to see what else I have written without ploughing through all of this, the portal to my writing site is here. That also has a number of pointers to other areas of interest.

I hope to find the time to go back and retrofit a few more pics, but I'm in the calm before travelling: we will leave our younger son to sit the house and the plants while we head off to the USA, Morocco and Spain for about seven weeks.

As well as completing a major book for adults, with the working title Curious Minds, I have been working on some spin-offs from The Monster Maintenance Manual. Some of those are the subject of negotiations, the other is a rather wild account of the later life of Count Henry Blenkinsop, seen here, bearing a remarkable resemblance to me.

Many people believe that Blenkinsop died after being pursued over the Reichenbach Falls, by some of the monsters he created, on the night of May 4, 1891, it has since been shown that he was rescued by an Englishman wearing a deerstalker cap who happened to be in the vicinity.  This man, who called himself Doyle, accompanied Blenkinsop to Australia, where he devoted himself to developing a high explosive derived from eucalyptus oil.

Blenkinsop was unaware that the great powers of Europe were well aware of him and a large number of well-known people visited him at different times.  I have acquired the papers he left behind, and the story is absolutely astounding.

I have three books I want to write for the adult market (as previously noted, Gold, Ingenuity (mad inventions) and one other, still under wraps, and the Cornish Boy project is still in my mental list of things to do, now to be a set of four solid books for the teen/YA market, historical fiction much closer to the truth than the Blenkinsop yarn, and set in the mid-19th century.  I plan to give some thought to these ideas while bouncing around the Sahara and along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. (Note to burglars: the children are minding the house.  Sorry about that!)

(FREE PLUG: We use Explore Worldwide quite a lot, because they are low enough in budget to make spoilt and pretentious whingers shy away, they have an itinerary and they manage logistics, the guides know what they are doing and we have somebody to rely on if things go pear-shaped, plus lots of walking. Mostly Brits, Australians, Kiwis, a few north Americans, but delightful company.)

All of the entries for 2010

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. 

Who's that with the GG?  Can't be Macinnis—he's wearing a tie. AND a suit!

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. 

 I managed to pick up a copy of the German '100 Discoveries' while passing through Zurich. We got on the Eurostar in cool London, emerged into a heat wave in Paris, changed trains after two hours, got to Zurich with half an hour to go and I got lost with the wheels falling apart on our cases, but we made it to the hotel, scurried to the bookshop and made it with 10 minutes to spare.

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. 
Hydraulic miners in California used nozzles like this to direct water and bring hills down so they could extract gold from the wash.
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.

The second half of 2009

December 27, 2009
The cover of the recent Korean edition of
Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World.
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. To be blunt, if we cared about money, we'd do something else, because unless you write good quality bad fiction (no, there isn't a contradiction there: the stuff in teh page-turners I'm talking about is always well-crafted), the money isn't going to emerge.

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. 

This is my favourite design.
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! 

[Note in 2011: sadly, these ended up only getting a marginal mention in the book.  Most of the microscopy went, but I am adding that material into this blog, and I hope to follow up with lots more of the advanced stuff. You will find most of the key tardigrade information in an entry called Hunting the Elusive Tardigrade.]

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 tiny animals down. Incidentally, the plaster is damp (I soak it in water for several minutes, then pour off the excess and blot the plaster dry), so that will help to keep them alive when they fall through the mesh. 

Tomorrow, once the plaster is set, 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
Over 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.  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 . . . it's a terrible life, but somebody has to do it!
An ordinary house fly, seen under the microscope.  This is actually a composite of a number of pics taken on different focal planes.

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.

A microtome made from a large bolt and matching nut. The details on this appear in this blog in 2011 in an entry which has a self-evident title.
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.

* * * * * * *
This blog covers quite a few different things, so I tag each post. I also blog about history, and I am currently writing a series of books called Not your usual... and the first two have been accepted by Five Mile Press, The offcuts appear here with the tag Not Your Usual... . For a taste of Australian tall tales, try the tags Speewah or Crooked Mick.   For a miscellany of oddities, try the tag temporary obsessions. And language us covered under the tags Descants and Curiosities, while stuff about small life is under Wee beasties.

The first half of 2009

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: here are the links.

Making a pooter

Catching animals

About the book
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! You can see the interview I did there, if you want.

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, who said nice things

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!

The events of 2008

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
Even Estonians love their lawns!
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. 
Cathedral, Tallinn, Estonia
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.

The entries for 2007

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 in the Premier's History Awards 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
These topiaries were at the royal palace at Ayutthaya.  I rather liked their lawns, as well.
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!