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10 May 2009

First Pink Review!

The fabulous Steph at Hey, Teenager of the Year! has just become the first ever reviewer of Pink. I like the bit where she says "The distinct theme of this novel is 'it's okay if you're not sure' - not an issue that's common in YA literature at the moment, but which is masterfully handled in Pink."

Those of you who aren't super-cool teenage bloggers and didn't get ARCs have to wait until August to read it.

Also, how cool is the new Girlfriend Fiction ad? I want that T shirt.

Allow me a little narcissim

I keep going to schools and things and people don't recognise me because my author photo is old and I now have different hair. So I got Dad to take some photos to try and get a new one.

Which do you like best?

I'm not sure I like any of them.

08 May 2009

Parallel imports

For those of you who didn't see last night's Lateline debate between Garth Nix and Dymocks CEO Don Grover on the proposed lifting of Australian territorial copyright, here are the salient points.

Firstly - what's territorial copyright? What are parallel import restrictions and why do we have them?

Basically, there's a law in Australia where, if a book is published in Australia within 30 days of it being published overseas, an Australian bookseller cannot import and sell the international edition. Now there's a proposal to remove that restriction. The people in favour of getting rid of it say that it will make books cheaper - we all know that books are cheaper in America, we can see so on Amazon.

But why are books cheaper over there? Two main reasons. The first is that the US is a much bigger pond than Australia. There's more people to buy books, therefore publishers can print more, at a lower cost. The second is that, because of the big pond, most books in the US come out first in hardcover (which is expensive), and then later in a very cheap mass-market edition, printed on very low-quality paper with inferior binding.

In Australia, we generally don't print in hardcover, because there aren't enough people to buy the books to make it financially viable. But that means our first edition paperbacks are pretty high-quality - usually a B or C format, and on good quality paper and embellished covers.

So why not remove this territorial copyright? What purpose does it serve? A few, actually. Firstly, both the US and the UK have full territorial copyright - they don't even have the 30-day rule. They fully protect their publishing industry and authors against imports from other countries. The only country, in fact, to remove its territorial copyright is New Zealand, a country with almost no local publishing to start with. And there is no evidence that it has resulted in cheaper books.

But here's the main reason. If it is cheaper to buy an overseas edition of an Australian book, chances are the consumer will do it. Which means that the Australian publisher doesn't get the money, and the author gets a much lower royalty. With less money flowing through Australian publishers, they become unable to support the smaller books, the niche books. The books that might not sell a squillion copies but are still worthy of publication. Australian authors will turn to the US and UK markets for publication, instead of publishing locally first. In order to appeal to overseas markets, the Australian-ness of their stories will be stripped away.

Dymocks CEO Don Grover has this to say: "I don't think the Australian consumer cares (about buying Australian products), they care about price". He obviously has a lot of respect for his customers.

And let's talk about booksellers for a moment. Customers are already shopping in an international market - you can order any book you like from the US or the UK as an individual, online or through your local bookshop. Australian booksellers are already having to compete with and - so why shouldn't they be allowed to import cheaper books?

Because if we did lift the restrictions, how long do you think it would be before an sprang up? With a US-owned Amazon warehouse in Australia, how many Australian booksellers would be able to compete with the scale of Amazon, without the overseas shipping costs? Not Dymocks, that's for sure.

Ex-Premier Bob Carr is a member of the Coalition for Cheaper Books (along with such august establishments as Coles, KMart, Big W and Dymocks). He says that our current comparatively high book prices are resulting in kids who don't read*. He says that the average book price is $35, which is driving consumers away from buying books for their children. This is a very irritating non-sequitur. Because sure, if you average out all the books in the bookshop, including coffee-table books and cookbooks, the average price is $35. But go into the children's and young adult section of a bookshop, and you will be unlikely to find many books that cost over $20.

My next book Pink, is set in Melbourne. It mentions Flinders Street and trams and the GPO shopping centre and many other places. When it gets published in the US, it won't be set in Melbourne anymore. The footpaths will be sidewalks. The Mums will be Moms. Maths class will be math class, and Ava's high school will no longer be named The Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence, after an ex-Prime Minister. And that's fine, for my US readers. I understand why those changes need to be made. But for Australians to have to read the de-Australianed version because it's cheaper? It's just wrong.

(this post is a modified version of my submission to the ACCC)

*Will somebody think of the children! Let them have cheap books! Mandatory internet filters will make them big and strong and put a rose in every cheek... Or is that Vegemite?

05 May 2009

Inanna and Ereshkigal

Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of sex, love, fertility and warfare. Her sister was Ereshkigal, queen of the Underworld, and Inanna wished to visit her.

Before she left, she told her uncle Enki, god of craft, water, intelligence and creation where she was going, in case she got into trouble. Then she dressed for her visit in a turban, wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads, a royal dress, a golden ring and a lapis lazuli measuring rod.

The gatekeeper of the first gate of the Underworld informed Inanna that she could only pass if she handed over the measuring rod.
'Why?' asked Inanna.
The first gatekeeper shrugged. 'It is just the way of the Underworld.'
Inanna handed over the rod and passed through the gate.

At the second gate, the gatekeeper asked her for her golden ring.
'Why?' asked Inanna.
The second gatekeeper shrugged. 'It is just the way of the Underworld.'
Inanna handed over the ring and passed through the gate.

At the third gate she surrendered her beads. At the fourth, her necklace. The fifth gatekeeper took her turban and the sixth her wig. At the seventh gate she removed her dress, and arrived before her sister naked, all of her power stripped from her along with her jewels.

Ereshkigal was not the the most loving of sisters. She was jealous that Inanna could come and go as she pleased, when she, Ereshkigal, could never leave the Undeworld. So she declared that Inanna was to be turned into a corpse and hung on a meathook.

For three days and nights, Inanna's rotting corpse hung from the meathook. And then her uncle Enki started to worry about her.

He took the dirt from under his fingernails and made two tiny creatures who were neither male nor female. He whispered to them to appease Ereshkigal, find Inanna, and sprinkle her corpse with the food and water of life.

The fingernail-creatures were so tiny that they passed through all seven gates of the Underworld unnoticed. When they found Ereshkigal, she was moaning and crying like a woman giving birth.
'The terrible pain!' she cried.
'Oh!' said the fingernail-creatures relied. 'Poor you! You must feel terrible.'
'I do!' said Ereshkigal. 'It hurts so.'
'Tsk tsk,' said the fingernail-creatures. 'You're being so brave. You are wonderful.'

Ereshkigal was so grateful for the sympathy of the fingernail-creatures that she asked them what they wanted. They replied that they wanted the corpse of Inanna.

They sprinkled the rotting meat with the food and water of life, and revived Inanna, but Ereshkigal declared that she couldn't leave the Underworld unless someone took her place. She then sent demons up to the surface to find someone to replace Inanna.

First they came across Nincurba, Inanna's priest, who was mourning for Inanna. Inanna refused to let him take her place, as he had been there for her. Next the demons found Cara, Inanna's beautician, also in mourning. But Inanna refused him too, as Cara had always been there for her. Then the demons came across Dumuzi, Inanna's husband. He was dressed in nice clothing and enjoying himself even though his wife was missing presumed dead. Inanna frowned and let the demons take him.

And so Inanna returned to her home with the memory of hanging on the meathook fresh in her mind, the memory of how it felt to be stripped of her clothes and power. And a renewed appreciation for the people who she loved, who loved her back.

03 May 2009

When the Moon is in the Seventh House

I had my astrological chart done yesterday. It's not really the sort of thing I'd normally do - it was a birthday present from some friends. But it turned out to be very interesting.

I don't believe in astrology. I don't think that what time of day I was born affected my personality. But I think that there are common experiences of being a human, and therefore humanity has common stories. These stories - myths, fairy tales, fables - are useful in interpreting our own lives and stories, and understanding what it means to be human. So astrology is a bit like that - it's a fictional construct, but a useful tool to help us understand ourselves a little better.

So here's what I learnt about myself yesterday. I'm an Aries Sun, Aries Ascendant, Aries Mars and Aries Venus. This is a lot of Aries. I am headstrong, fiery, bossy, curious, creative. I'm independent but not alone. I have a Taurus Moon, which makes me take all my Aries energy and ground it, turning it into something practical and valuable - like writing books.

Anyway. One of the most interesting things that the astrologer said was my relationship to the feminine. She said that other bits of my chart indicated that part of my "quest" was to champion the feminine, and bring it to the fore not as an opposition to the masculine, but as an equal, a compliment. Which resonated quite a lot given the ranting I've been doing lately about women's stories and female protagonists.

The astrologer also told me the Sumerian myth of Inanna and Ereshkigal, which I shall repeat here later this week, as it's one of my new favourite stories.