Think your writing doesn’t need editing? Think again!

 

Authors often pour more than their heart and soul into a book or an article. They may put their own money into a project too, especially if they self-publish or enter a partnership publishing arrangement. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see glaring  and embarrassing typos, incorrect word use and clumsy sentence structures in published books. Using a good copy editor and proofreading thoroughly are sensible investments in an author’s work, and not optional extras.

Not all editing oversights are as catastrophic as Penguin’s 2010 proofing error which left a recipe calling for ‘salt and freshly ground black people’.  The entire print run had to be pulped, at a cost of about $20,000.

And you thought spellcheck or editing software would do the job…

CBCA judges’ comments on editing

I read the judges’ comments on the 2017  Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for older readers. This is what they had to say:

‘… many of the books are flawed by the inclusion of the kinds of grammatical errors that are in common oral currency… There are also occasional misuses of words… all solecisms that could have been eliminated with more attentive editing.’

These are published works submitted for a prestigious award.

The judges also said, ‘… a few novels that were otherwise excellent lost their place on the Notables list through flaws in their internal logic and character consistency; these issues should be attended to by close editing…’

Use a comprehensive editing service

copy editing

Proofreading is vital

If you’re planning to submit your manuscript to a publisher, enter a competition or self-publish, it makes sense to use a professional editor. At the very least, use an experienced proofreader. If your budget can possibly extend to a copy editor, it’s a wise investment. Better still, use an editor who provides a comprehensive editing service so that your structure, content, language, style and presentation are the best they can be for your readers.

John Hockney’s memoir The Hockneys: Never Worry What the Neighbours Think to be published in October

John Hockney’s memoir is to be published in October 2019 by Legend Press. I was honoured to edit it before submission. It’s a very satisfying aspect of my work to help writers  get their book published.  Legend Press includes top Australian writers Mark Brandi and Alice Pung on its list.

John Hockney is a professional storyteller and brother of the artist David Hockney. He  helps others to write their life stories. I met him at a wonderful workshop he ran in the Blue Mountains. I went on to work with him on his manuscript before he submitted it for publication. That it took only a couple of months before it was snapped up is testament to what  a great story he has told.

John Hockney: storyteller

Before I did his workshop ‘Your Life – Your Story’,  I heard John talk about life with his brother, world-renowned artist David Hockney. David’s exhibition Words & Pictures opened at Blue Mountains City Art Gallery in October 2017. I remember thinking, ‘He should write a book’.

John Hockney tells his story going back two generations. His grandfather was a founding member of the Salvation Army in Bradford in England’s industrial north. His grandmother would made him a cup of cocoa with whole milk – not the watered-down variety he had at home – after he had dragged home her shopping in his billycart.

You would expect that the world-famous artist David might dominate the book, but John gives every member of his brilliant and eccentric family their due.  His father, who liked to wear brightly coloured stick-on dots on his bow tie, was always true to his moral compass. His sister Margaret produced an art work of a squid squashed on her scanner. It was accepted in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The theme that they never worried what the neighbours think runs thorough the book.

With his closely observed detail and exceptional storytelling,  John Hockney combines the two essentials of memoir or autobiography: have a great story to tell and write it well. It’s often funny and always honest and true. My understanding of what life was like in  post-war Britain was so enriched. My appreciation of what it means to be part of a family – in all its crazy complexity – was deepened immeasurably.

The book is available in hardcover from Book Depository.

Once, I was fourteen. Remembering growing up under apartheid


I wrote this from a prompt – The first time – at a class on Writing the Real with Mark Tredinnick.

The first time I went into the black part of Pretoria, I was fourteen. My friend and I were bored by the boys we hung out with, tired of their talk of 50cc Hondas and Deep Purple and the Northern Transvaal rugby team. We wanted an adventure. So we decided to go to Marabastad, a kilometre or so from the city’s cold heart, Church Square.

We took the whites-only bus to our usual stop and walked the rest of the way. Department stores and record bars gave way to a street of little shops selling shiny two-tone shoes, colourful saris and rough grey blankets. Indian shopkeepers tempted us with cheap Levi’s and novelty tee-shirts, but we weren’t there to buy. We were exploring. As we walked down Boom Street, the dead air began to carry the tang of masala and coriander. Soon these gave way to the herbal smells for which we had no names that drifted from the stalls where traditional healers bought their muti.

Gone were the empty, silent streets we knew. Marabastad was full of people who looked like our maids and gardeners, but weren’t. Women strolled past with babies in blankets tied to their backs. Old men called out to one another across the street. I knew the sound of their words, but I didn’t know their language.

Here, nobody adjusted themselves to the expectations of white girls. Teenage boys kept on slouching down to the takeaway. Children giggled in surprise at seeing us there, then mock-shimmied and jived to the kwela music bubbling from a narrow doorway. That afternoon, for the first time, I understood that I was the minority.

The Soweto uprising was still a year away. Apartheid would endure another twenty. Visiting a black township would become fraught and often dangerous. But on that afternoon in 1975, I saw life, real and throbbing and fragrant and unconcerned that I was an ignorant fourteen-year-old white girl from the suburbs.

How to interview like a maestro

Sarah Kanowski is a presenter for ABC Radio National’s very popular Conversations. This was in the Review section of The Australian, May 11-12 2019. It sums up beautifully how to interview somebody.

“Find someone who has an interesting story to tell. This will be almost everybody. Greet your guest warmly, offer them a cup of tea and make sure they are sitting comfortably. When they are ready you may begin. To ask a question, make it a question – not your own opinion. It works best if the questions are short and open-ended: Why? What happened next? What did you see? What could you hear?  Have a sense of where you want the conversation to head but keep an ear out for the unexpected. Don’t worry about what you are going to ask next, listen instead to what you are being told. Listen also to what your guest is perhaps not saying in the answers they give. Ask about that. Look for stories, zoom in on the details that shine, but don’t get stuck on the trivial. Notice when your enthusiasm sparks. Let curiosity and empathy be your guides. Prodding is OK, pushing is not. Don’t approach  your guest like a boxer in the ring; don’t try to make them trip on their shoelace. If they sit back in their chair and gaze out the window while talking, this is a good sign, They are turning away from you and walking back into their memories. If they find themselves hit with grief, don’t interrupt. Give that sadness space. Join them in the joy. Without leaving your seat, stand next to them as they look (with wonder, curiosity, regret) at this thing that is their life.”

How can an editor help you to create standout documents?

‘What does an editor do, exactly?’

I’m often asked what my role as an editor involves, and why anybody with a reasonable standard of language proficiency would need to use one.

Because we understand different things by the term ‘edit’ in various areas of publishing, I thought it would be useful to outline them here.  My job as a freelance editor involves working at three levels.

1. Substantive editing 

This is a big-picture edit.  I will look at the structure of your document,  its suitability for your audience, overall clarity and completeness, and assess whether your writing style is the best one for engaging your readers. A substantive edit can also involve checking copyright issues, such as whether permission is needed to use quotes and images. A substantive edit can also  identify other possible legal issues, such as  defamation.

2. Copy editing

At the copy editing stage, I focus on the mechanics of the writing. I take a more detailed look at clarity, completeness and style. I work to make sure the piece is consistent in its use of spelling, punctuation, headings, captions, tables and other features. I check sentence structure, spelling, headings, hyperlinks, continuity and all the inner workings of a piece of writing. I make sure that your document is consistent with your organisation’s house style as set out in your editorial style guide. (If  you don’t have one, I can create a style guide for you to use.)

3. Proofreading

We’ve all seen those (sometimes cringeworthy) errors in final documents. When you have read something many times over, it’s hard to see them. Proofreading is a final read-through for typos, spelling and punctuation errors, style mistakes, working links, sensible page breaks and the like. Sometimes the final version is checked against an earlier version. A thorough proofread weeds out any  errors so that they don’t make it into the final version of a print or online document.

 

You may need all three levels of edit, or just one or two.

Contact me about your structural editing, copy editing and proofreading needs.

‘Our waste, our responsibility’: Federal Budget’s $250 million step up

I wrote this for Clean Up Australia after this year’s Budget announcement.

Last Tuesday’s Budget, although short on environmental measures, included some good news – an extra $250 million to update Australia’s recycling infrastructure. 

Turning waste into jobs

Clean energy and recycling were listed as one of six priority areas for manufacturing in the next 10 years. Treasurer Josh Frydenburg framed the measure in terms of creating 10,000 jobs and helping the environment. He said the improved infrastructure would stop more than 600,000 tonnes of waste ending up in landfill. Improved infrastructure would help the industry to sort, process and remanufacture paper, glass, plastics and tyres.

By 2024, the plan is to spend $190 million on the new Recycling Modernisation Fund and $24.6 million to improve waste data and reporting.
Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley called the measure ‘A once in a generation opportunity to remodel waste management, reduce pressure on our environment and create economic opportunity.’
Australian-made recycled products in government infrastructure projects compulsory. ‘All of these actions continue to encourage at best a closed loop system. If we are serious about transitioning Australia to a circular economy, then emphasis must be given to the design of products’, she said. 
Josh Frydenberg quoted Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the August 2019 ban on exporting our waste – plastic, paper, tyres and glass – ‘it’s our waste, it’s our responsibility’.

So what can you do to take responsibility and help close the recycling loop? 

Clean Up Australia’s National Packaging Targets include to have 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in use by 2025 and 50% of recycled content included in packaging. To truly close the loop, we need to grow the demand for recycled materials. Take a look at our guide to buying recycled and Step Up by buying recycled.

How to go waste-free for “Hallowgreen”

I wrote this for the Clean Up Australia website.

Halloween is creeping up fast. COVID-19 considerations aside, the scariest thing about it is the spooky amount of waste we create. But with a few small tricks, we can cut down the waste and treat our kids – and the planet – to a frighteningly good 2020 “Hallowgreen”. 

With a bit of forward planning we can avoid single-use costumes, non-sustainable decorations and excessive plastic packaging on lollies. And then there’s the small matter of cost: last year Australians spent around $159 million on Halloween confectionery alone, according to manufacturer Mars Wrigley. Here are some ideas about how to Step Up (and stay safe) this Halloween.

Plan ahead

Buying at the last minute makes it much easier to fall into the trap of filling our trollies with stuff that is not reusable, full of plastics and excess to our needs. It helps to plan ahead to buy what you need well before Halloween is upon us. Think of things like food, packaging, decorations and costumes. Planning well ahead is especially important for anything that is best bought online.

For example, compostable paper bags to put treat lollies in are a waste-saving idea and can be bought in bulk online and shared between households. Green Pack sells a variety of sizes and styles, with 500 costing under $10.

Hold a pre-Halloween craft and costume session

Get together with friends and neighbours well before 31 October and host a costume swap. Your witches hat that feels so last year might be just the thing for somebody else to wear. Spread out your dress-ups on the lawn, add a few old sheets, a broomstick and your torn garden netting, and you’re on your way to having scary ghosts, dangling cobwebs and flying witches.

The internet is full of great crafty ideas for using old egg cartons, cardboard boxes and milk bottles. Start collecting what you need to make decorations that repurpose bits and pieces that were destined for the recycling bin and give them one more spectacular outing. Then have a creepy craft session and start creating your decorations.

Make decorations out of recyclable and reusable materials

Turning your house into a haunted mansion for the night is one of the best parts of Halloween. Reuse the nets from bags of fruit and vegetables to make webs in the corners of your windows. Add some handprints on the glass in ‘blood’ (use water-based red poster paint) to complete the effect.

Cardboard boxes can be turned into gravestones, an old sheet or tablecloth slung over a wooden post makes a spectacular ghost, and sticks and string can be woven together to make spiderwebs.

Most supermarkets will sell huge pumpkins at Halloween. But they’re not naturally in season in Australia, unlike in the US where the pumpkin carving tradition originates. Why not try a watermelon or pineapples this year? What you don’t eat can be turned into compost (if you don’t have your own bin, you can find out if somebody near you will take it at ShareWaste).

If you don’t have time to make your own decorations, at least avoid balloons and glitter. Balloons are made of plastic, and can fly off into pristine areas where they damage both animals and the environment. Glitter is actually just ready-made microplastics that damage sea and soil. Also steer clear of stick-on plastic ‘eyes’; it’s just as easy to draw or paint them on.

Make your own costumes

Most of the ready-made outfits on sale in discount stores and supermarkets are made from synthetic fibres that won’t ever break down entirely. Quality is often poor, meaning reuse is impossible, so they’re best avoided. Use your imagination – if you didn’t find something to suit you at your costume swap session, scour the op shops or online sales sites such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace. Mix it up – something from the pyjama rack may make an excellent zombie getup, or an adult t-shirt could be the basis of a kid’s creepy costume. If you’re really serious and don’t mind laying out upwards of $50 a pop, costume hire shops are an option too.

You can even make your own fake blood and avoid the plastic packaging and possible toxins in commercial ‘blood’. There are plenty of simple recipes online.

Why not go the whole waste-free way and dress the kids up as a Litter Monster? Gather up some waste around where you live and incorporate it into your Halloween getup.

Choose treats wisely

If you have the time and inclination and you aren’t expecting floods of trick or treaters, making your own treats to give away is the least wasteful way to stop those kids from tricking you. But realistically, most of us aren’t going to manage hours of baking and decorating and will head for the confectionery aisle. There are almost no choices to suit the average budget that aren’t wrapped in plastic, but some are better than others. Buying in bulk means less packaging per treat, so choosing the largest bag helps. So does avoiding lollipops with plastic sticks. Or splash out a little on a reusable jelly bean dispenser, which offers a no-touch way to get treats into the hands of little wizards and fairies.

You may choose to support brands that are using the Australian Recycling Label on their packaging. Pop a few lollies into paper bags (wash hands well first) and give them out that way to avoid the possibility of spreading germs.

Or how about giving out healthier alternatives such as mandarins with faces or chocolate-dipped strawberries? And a paper bag full or homemade popcorn is delicious, healthy and low-cost.

Carry treats in a reusable bag

The shops are full of plastic lolly bowls, buckets and bags for kids to put all their treats into, but it’s easy to avoid them. Decorate a reusable shopping bag or fabric tote, use an old pillowcase, or take along a wicker basket to collect all those yummy treats. Remember to take home all the packaging for proper disposal too!

Set up a Halloween recycling station

Have some boxes on the way out where your visiting trick or treaters can drop recyclables and bin items that must go to landfill. You could decorate them to point out the scary things that happen when you don’t recycle! Mark the boxes clearly to sort recyclables, conditional recyclables and non-recyclables. You may include a bucket for food scraps that can be composted too. This can keep waste from your streets and ensure it ends up in the correct waste stream.

Be COVID-19 safe

We don’t need to make Halloween any scarier by ignoring COVID-19 restrictions. Check the regulations that apply in your state or territory just before 31 October and be sure to follow the rules for social distancing, hand washing and the limits on numbers for social gatherings, both indoors and out.

On the bright side, it’s a great opportunity for everybody to make a statement with their COVID-19 masks. Reusable Halloween face masks come in a huge range of designs and there are plenty for sale online. Try Etsy for starters. 

What will you do this Hallowgreen?

There are so many ways to Step Up at Halloween. These are just a few. What will you pledge to do to reduce your waste?

Share your Step Up action by taking a selfie, sharing it and tagging @CleanUpAustralia #StepUptoCleanUp

To win a medal at the 2020 Paralympics, just train like crazy and then try your heart out. Oh, and make sure no pandemics shatter your plans

I interviewed Ella Jones, Paralympic contender, in 2019. Now the games are postponed to 2021.

Ella Jones’s selection to represent Australia at the World Para-swimming Championships after only three years as a swimmer is evidence of her extraordinary persistence.

The 18-year-old has never let conforming – or her disability – get in the way of success.

Three short years ago, Ella Jones would not have picked herself as representing her country in an international swimming competition. In April she got the news that she’d made the Australian Dolphins team.

The teenager is heading for the World Para-swimming Championships in London in September, one of nine new members of the 34-strong squad.

A good showing in London will see her in line for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. The achievement is all the more extraordinary as Ella, who has cerebral palsy, only began swimming at age 15.

“The most exercise I’d done before I started swimming was running after the ice-cream truck,” she said.

“If you’d told me as a chubby 15-year-old I’d make the world para championships, I’d go yeah, righto.”

Ella’s mum, Sharon, persuaded her to try swimming because she needed something to do.

“I was being a right 15-year-old ratbag, every parent’s worst nightmare,” Jones said.

“I’d tried other sports but nothing really clicked.”

She’d had a go at swimming at 14, in a class with six-year-olds near her home in western Sydney. After a few lessons, the instructor told Sharon that she was never going to be a very good swimmer.

Sharon was having none of it and took her to the pool at Springwood in the Blue Mountains. Nick Robinson, who specialises in coaching kids with disabilities, spotted her potential. He arranged with Sharon to train her.

“From the first session I knew she had the ability to go all the way,” he said.

She’s lost 23 kilograms since then. Sitting at the side of the pool in her gym training gear, her blonde hair piled on top of her head, she looks every bit the athlete.

As well as swimming, losing the weight meant cutting out daily trips to the fish and chip shop with her school friends.

“I was so unfit,” she recalls.

“When I got to the end of 25 metres I would hang over the edge, absolutely dying.”

She can now swim five or six-kilometre sets for hours each day and fits in several gym sessions a week. Since her selection for the Dolphins, she has added weekly strength and conditioning sessions with a trainer with who specialises in training athletes with cerebral palsy. She’s had to sacrifice a lot to get there.

For one thing, conventional school had to go by the wayside. She signed up with the TAFE Pathways last year but has had to let that go too.

“I was really struggling to get it all done; struggling to get help. When you train by yourself and you’re doing all your schoolwork by yourself, you want a bit of human interaction,” she said.

She’s now completing a bridging course to study midwifery at university.

Her biggest sacrifices, however, have been social. The bubbly and gregarious teenager finds missing out on birthday parties and the like can be isolating but it’s the everyday interactions she misses most.

“It’s the little things, teenage normalcy stuff like going to the pub for the first time,” she said.

Because of her heavy training schedule and swim meets, Ella didn’t have her ritual first night in the pub until three months after her birthday.

It’s given her wisdom beyond her 18 years.

“You definitely lose friends, she says, ‘but the ones that you lose are the ones you don’t mind losing. I realise now that they weren’t friends anyway. You have to grow up really quickly, but it’s totally worth it.”

Her drive is extraordinary.

Her coach Nick said, “Of every swimmer I’ve had, there’s none that wants to give more time and effort than Ella. I’ve seen her lie on the edge of the pool, shaking like a leaf, not able to move.”

Ella is one of triplets with Daniel and Georgia, and also has an older brother, Joshua. The family is sporty. Mum Sharon and Dad Chris were keen netball and soccer players, and her siblings have followed in their footsteps. They’re close-knit and like to get together with their extended family.

“We don‘t have to do anything big, as long as we’re together,” she said.

“We’re all a little bit crazy and so it’s a lot of fun.”

Her family never treated her differently because of her cerebral palsy, for which she is hugely grateful.

“They’ll have a joke about it, and that’s really helped me to be okay with it and take the piss out of myself.”

Early childhood was tough at times. Her mum would stretch Ella’s legs each morning so that she could manage to get out of bed and get ready for school. Teachers aids would help her move around, but this didn’t stop her being shoved down the stairs on one occasion. Girls didn’t want to play with her because they thought her cerebral palsy was contagious.

“I didn’t have my own understanding of how CP affected my body, so how could I explain that to another kid? I thought you can’t catch CP. If that was the case my brother and sister would have it right now. I was obviously different and got picked on a bit.”

Ever wise and resilient, she adds, “But hey, I think maybe everybody’s got a story like that. I don’t think it was specifically because of my CP.”

Ella’s classification for the para-swimming is S8, for swimmers with full use of their arms and trunk and some leg movement because of how CP affects her, she swims freestyle and backstroke and finds breaststroke too painful on her legs.

Freestyle is her strongest stroke, as she’s predominantly arms-based.

“I lack spatial awareness below my waist,” she said.

“When I ‘m in the water, if I’m not looking at my legs I have no idea where they are.”

Her starts and turns are the same as for an able-bodied swimmer, but she doesn’t get the same distance and thrust from them. Although cerebral palsy affects everybody differently, one of the characteristics of swimmers with CP is that they fatigue easily. Tiredness increases clonus, a neurologically induced muscle spasm that causes shaking.

In London, Ella will swim against only those in the S8 class for the first time.

In Australia there are not enough para-swimmers to hold separate events in each category, so places are determined by times swum. The closer a swimmer gets to the world record in their classification, the more points they win. She’s the only competitive S8 swimmer in Australia and the only female S8 on the team.

For the first time, Ella will swim a race where the winner is she who hits the wall first.

“After a race, I physically can’t hold myself up,” Jones said.

She has a wheelchair waiting for her at the end of the pool, which she uses to get herself over to the warm-down pool.

“I’ll shake for a little bit, and then I just put on my fins, plop into the pool and do my warm-down. And then I’m pretty much good again.”

That’s a good summation of Ella’s approach to life. Train like crazy and then try your heart out. Have the help you need close to hand, fall down in a shaking heap when you need to, and then get up and just keep on going until you win.

A love letter to my gym

Dear Gym,

I have to get this off my chest.

I didn’t appreciate you until you weren’t there, and for that I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me. I admit I took you for granted, acted like you’ll always be there for me. Until you weren’t. Even though it was circumstances that drove us apart, I missed you. At first the longing was vague and occasional – a glimpse of exercise gear in my drawer, my gym bag in the back of the car. These things made me remember you and smile. Then the longing became intense, and I ached for you.

Sure, there were other ways to exercise. Online classes and walking the dog filled the void for a while. At times I thought Zoom classes were right for me. But when the novelty wore off, Gym, all I wanted was to have you back.

And so to be with you again now is a joy. I’ve missed your smooth carpeted floors, the clunk of your weights in their rack, the embrace of cool water in your 25 metre pool.

I know we have to take it slowly for now, not get to close, meet only by appointment. That’s okay with me. You deserve my full effort – I know that now. I’ll never treat you with indifference again.

You may not look like much from the outside, but inside you’re truly wonderful. With you, I’m  strong. I can take on the weight of the world. You keep me afloat. You make me more flexible. I never want to be without you again.

I love you, Gym. 

A casually racist Friday

This is a guest blog post by Dan Hartman, edited by me. Full disclosure: he is my son.

Last Friday, thanks to my white privilege, I witnessed two acts of casual racism on the same day. Acts that, had a person of colour been there, probably would not have occurred.

A group of white men celebrating their good fortune

I had breakfast with two friends who brought an acquaintance, L, whom I had heard them mention but had never met. When I ordered a shakshuka, one of my friends asked what it was, to which L responded, “It’s sand monkey food”. When I said, “uh… I don’t think you should say that”, and another friend asked what “sand monkey” meant, L said, “Oh, it means Arab food. I can say it, because I’m half Lebanese, but that’s actually the toned-down version. Normally you’d say sand n — food.” I voiced my disapproval again, but I had just met the guy and wasn’t prepared to make a big scene or take the conversation any further, so we left it there and changed the subject.

That evening, I had drinks at a friend’s house, with eight others who all knew each other. I’d met most of them for the first time that night. My friend was at a BLM protest that week and we’d all had a brief conversation about it earlier in the night. His friends supported the protest. Later, one of his friends was telling a story about buying drugs from a (black) bouncer in Prague. He said that the bouncer had told him to wait in the back alley and to take note of his face and make sure he buy from him and nobody else. The storyteller said that because the bouncer was a “black c — t¹ and, you know, they all look the same in the dark”, it was hard to be sure he was buying from the same guy. I was pretty uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything in this room full of people I’d just met, and nor did anyone else.

From what I know of these two people, I’d be surprised if either of them didn’t agree they wanted to see an end to racism and racial disparity — as most people seem to. Some readers may be horrified by the events that I’ve described, others might see what was said as harmless jokes.

I’m 28 years old, and I can’t remember any time in my life when public conversation has been more polarised and conflict-laden. As we come out of lockdown in Australia and our Fridays are filled with cafe breakfasts and evening drinks, it’s easy to forget that in the US the pandemic has created a much more macabre background for the current discussion of race sparked by George Floyd’s murder. The video and the subsequent protests, riots and self-perpetuating violence, and the continuing protests and public conversation on the topic, are taking place around the world — and especially on social media.

And it’s clear that private conversation, at least as I’m experiencing it as a middle-class white person with mostly left-wing, university-educated friends, has issues of a different kind, where people make comments that, to many, seem fairly benign.

So how do private and public conversation link up? In the public conversation right now, some people are presenting evidence — statistics, or anecdotes like police brutality videos — for the degree to which this brutality is racialised.

I started writing a different post yesterday which looked at some of the evidence on both sides of the argument, but it rapidly changed from a quick post into the makings of a book (which I’m deeply unqualified to write), as well as something that I think was (perhaps rightly²) likely to spark outrage on both sides, to no gain. So I will avoid talking about those statistics at all.

One thing I will look at, though, is a conversation about the video of Floyd’s murder. I’d managed to avoid watching it until yesterday. Having now done so, I am now even more disturbed by it than I had imagined, despite being mentally prepared, being fully aware of the content, and knowing how others have reacted to seeing it. The video clearly shows a police officer with no regard for the life of the man whose neck he is crushing, and a complete lack of regard for the prolonged suffering of another human being.

Almost everyone in the world has condemned this murder — even Donald Trump — but their reasons differ.

The reaction from the BLM movement and black community makes complete sense to me. Let’s imagine that you’re an average black person in an average part of America in late May of this year. If you’re right in the middle of the bell curve of personal economics, your household net worth is $17,150: just over one tenth of the 50th percentile white household, at $171,000. You may have just lost your job, which may well have been only paying $7.25 per hour to begin with. If you’re one of those who didn’t lodge a tax return last year, or if you are in debt to your bank, you may struggle to get your full $1,200 stimulus cheque, if you get one at all. Then, in late May, a video surfaces of yet another black person having their life unconscionably wasted at the hands of the very people who are supposedly there to “serve and protect” them.

Why would you not break social distancing laws to join the protests in the face of these circumstances? Why would you not join in rioting and destruction against a system that has totally and utterly failed you, your family, many of your friends, and your ancestors, who were likely enslaved? What incentive is there not to attempt to destroy society, when playing by the rules of the society has left you in such a dire position?

But, on the other hand, what or whom does this rioting really serve?³ Destroying the property, workplaces and businesses of complete strangers who have been equally damaged by the pandemic seems totally counterintuitive. And for the not-insignificant number of genuine racists in America and around the world, what better propaganda can you imagine than mountains of footage and imagery of black people stealing and destroying property? If you wanted to increase police violence against black people, what better way than to create violent confrontations between them and police?

And without wanting to go off on a tangent about coronavirus, what do these massive protests do to the credibility of demands for strict social distancing? We are going to be facing the coronavirus for many months or even years to come, and when we consider that the death toll from coronavirus in the US is 118,000 in four months versus 1,000 police killings of people of any ethnicity in all of 2019, we have to wonder which movement is going to save more innocent lives, as unpalatable as it is to think of the trade-off in these terms. But the protestors who burnt down Mineappolis’s 3rd precinct police station are not likely thinking about their actions in those terms. They have seen the social contract ripped up in front of their eyes. This is a last-ditch attempt to have their message heard.

I have seen arguments that the video of Floyd’s murder is not necessarily evidence that the police officer, Derek Chauvin, is racist. He has had 18 complaints made against him, and the only one I can identify comes from a white woman named Melissa Borton. He has been involved in shooting multiple suspects, one of whom was Native American, although investigations apparently showed that Chauvin “responded appropriately”. It’s been suggested that, especially given that Floyd’s murder took place in front of a crowd and was obviously being filmed, this was a murder of extreme negligence, but that Chauvin didn’t intend to kill Floyd.

In following this part of the conversation, I also watched footage of the murders of Daniel Shaver and Tony Timpa, both of whom are white. The videos, like the one of Floyd’s murder, are chilling, but for different reasons. Shaver is bewildered by confusing and seemingly unnecessary commands from his killer, then is shot after begging the police not to kill him and clearly trying to comply with their confusing commands. Timpa is slowly crushed to death by police kneeling on his back for 13 minutes, after he said, “you’re going to kill me”. The officers make jokes as they do so. These videos certainly show a disregard for human life similar in many ways to that shown for Floyd’s, and I’m not sure if we can tell how race motivates them.

But what I wonder is, if educated, middle-class, presumably anti-racist people are casually referring to “sand n — — ”s and “black c — t”s over brunches and drinks in conversation with their left-wing friends, what is happening in the minds of the police officers who, with adrenaline pumping, are restraining the likes of George Floyd or Eric Garner, and hear their cries that they can’t breathe? To what degree do our small conversations enable big inequalities?

While the percentage of people who are overtly racist is not insignificant, I think there may be a lot of damage done in the little moments of negligence in conversations like the ones I have witnessed. Most Black and Indigenous people the world over are massively disadvantaged, and have the odds absolutely stacked against them from birth. If there are any indisputable facts about race, this is one. As anti-BLM proponents will point out, there are plenty of people who manage to ascend from disadvantaged circumstances, regardless of their race. But it’s very hard. It takes a concerted effort on the part of both the society and the individual. If either side doesn’t make that effort, it’s unlikely to happen.

People are marching because they believe society is failing in its side of that bargain. Let’s do what we can to stamp out racism, casual or overt. Be more courageous than I was on Friday; call people out when they do things that perpetuate this cycle. Small conversations can be powerful.


¹Cultural note for international readers: Australians regularly use the word c**t, often affectionately, to refer to acquaintances, and surely to drug dealers. In context, this term may not be as bad as it looks to a foreign reader.

²On one hand, statistics can be dangerous if they unfairly paint the wrong picture: for example, almost all of the data on race and crime come from the very law enforcement agencies we’re talking about. On the other hand, the fact that I can’t even in good faith share evidence on both sides of the debate without expecting backlash from bothsides worries me. How can we begin to have an honest conversation on this topic if nobody is even considering the evidence or arguments of the other side?

³There is talk that the protests were hijacked by far left groups, far right groups, and even the police. This is another important discussion, but leaves the scope of this post (and I don’t know much about it).

Why nobody loves having their writing edited

We’ve all seen the spelling and grammar police at work on social media. They take delight in pointing out your ‘mistakes’, genuine or not. No wonder we don’t really love having our writing edited.

In a social media post recently, a political organisation’s press release appeared with every ‘error’ circled in red (including some things that were not wrong). The aim was to show how stupid the organisation is, and so to discredit everything it does.

In the comments, people expressed their joy at these mistakes. The self-appointed ‘grammar police’ felt entitled to hold others to account, the English teachers were confident they knew right and wrong. The writer had failed an invisible test. Even though the grammar police and the teachers didn’t have it all right either, they shamed the publicity officer who’d sent out an imperfect press release.

People jump on mistakes with glee. Editing the press release would have avoided all this. But too often, people don’t have their work edited by a professional because it feels like having their errors and shortcomings pointed out – sometimes publicly.

I get it, I’m a writer as well as an editor

As a writer as well as an editor, I really do get it. You know the feeling – you’ve paired up with a workmate to edit each other’s reports for the industry event. As your revised document pings into your inbox, your stomach clenches. You open it, dreading that it’s going to come back streaked with red – a typo or two you missed despite spellcheck and a rework of that metaphor you thought was pretty spot-on.

You feel like your work is being marked by the teacher

It’s like having your school essays marked. The teacher has found you out and given you a C+ when you were quite sure you deserved an A. You can almost see the red pen scratching around every error. You feel disappointed in yourself, stupid, wrong. Your colleague’s opinion of you just dropped a notch or seven. How could you have not seen that misspelled word? How did you get the name of your own department wrong?

Making an error doesn’t make you stupid

You’re not alone. Nobody really loves being edited. But being human, we all make errors. And that doesn’t make you stupid. We all have tics in our use of language, words we can never spell and a tendency to overuse terms or expressions. You know the jargon, so you forget that your reader might not. You’ve worked on it for so long that it you can’t imagine it being any other way. A good editor helps with these things. And, depending on the level of edit you’ve asked for, we can do so much more than just pick up errors.

An editor wants you to succeed. The right editor will love what you do. You’re the expert on your subject. We learn so much from you. We want to help you to make your work the best it can be.

We bring our years of studying grammar and style, structure and form to our work. You bring your expertise in your subject. We have revised reports, blog posts, articles and white papers across multiple topics, from frothy entertainment pieces to serious academic works. Editors are the gardeners of the written word. We’re there to landscape your writing and pull out the weeds that smother your ideas and stop them from blooming.

An editor is here to help you

Editors are not there to judge your writing. We think you’re brilliant. After all, you’ve done your research and you know what you’re talking about. We respect you as the expert on your subject. We’re there to work out where your structure could be better, where to cut or change things to make your writing clearer, when to fact check and when to change a tense or the spelling of a verb form. We’re there to make your work clear and suited to your reader.

So don’t choose somebody that makes you feel like an errant schoolkid. Use a professional editor who provides a comprehensive editing service so that your structure, content, language, style and presentation are the best they can be and do the work you want them to do for your readers. Because in the end, they are the ones that matter.

7 productive things to do when business is slow (like write a blog)

The summer of 2019/20 has been hard for so many Australian businesses, what with drought, fires, floods and now the threat of a virus outbreak.

Although it’s hit some businesses way harder than others, lots of us are experiencing a slow patch as a result of the flow-on effect. Even those not directly affected by the bushfires are feeling anxious, angry, and helpless. It’s hard to sit down and write a blog when you’re worrying about your world being on fire!

woman sitting at desk looking bored
Don’t just sit there – get stuff done.
Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

On the upside, it’s a good opportunity to get stuff done that’s been on the must-do list for a while. Here are some things to do with any spare time you might find on your hands.

  1. Get your financial affairs up to date
    Now is a good time to sort out receipts before tax time. I’m planning to upload details of all my deductible expenses to my online tax agent’s app. I’ve also checked my invoices against payments – and even found an unsent invoice!
  2. Write blogs and social media posts
    It’s a good time to get ahead and write a blog (or many) you can use when you’re busy again and don’t have the time to write (yes, it WILL happen). Choose a few ideas, perhaps linked to times like Easter, start of the footy season, Autumn, Vivid Festival, ski season, and have five or six pieces ready to go.
  3. Take a break
    What better time to go on that trip? Travelling solo can be hugely restoring, as you can spend every moment doing exactly what you want to. My tip: join a walking tour if you’re visiting a city. If you’re going in a group or as a family, why not do the Empty Esky thing and support bushfire-affected communities?
  4. Do some networking
    Actually turn up in person – there’s nothing like it. Find a group of compatible professionals and go along to an event. If you can find one that’s running something you can learn from, so much the better.
  5. Do a short course
    Now’s a good time to learn how to work spreadsheets, build a website or speak in public. There are so many really good, low-cost courses online too. Take a look at Udemy and Skillshare for starters.
  6. Tidy your office, computer and phone
    Use the time to file, sort, organise and declutter, both in your physical environment and your electronic one. Delete those emails you will never read and unsubscribe from those that are no longer valuable to you.
  7. Help another business owner
    This is the most important thing you can do right now. Share, follow and like, and think about what else you can do to help. Buy their product. Use their services. In my area, the Blue Mountains, which has been hard hit by the fires and the drop in tourism, a group is planning to collaborate on offering discounts, referrals and affiliate programs via a women’s networking organisation, Women with Altitude.

(Not) Remembering Bob Hawke

I didn’t live in Australia during the Hawke years. I knew nothing about Australian politics; I was caught up in the turmoil of my own country, South Africa.

But I went to the memorial service for Bob Hawke. It was by chance, really. I was in Sydney and the morning news reminded me that this was the day. I was catching the ferry to Circular Quay anyway, so I strolled over to the Opera House for a bit of a stickybeak.

After an hour or so of celebrity spotting, chatting to friendly strangers and snapping politicians alighting from their official vehicles, I felt compelled to stay for the ceremony.

I left feeling rather emotional, and with some unexpected reflections on my adopted country.

After Tiananmen

I can’t claim to be as deeply affected by Hawke’s legacy as the 40,000 Chinese students he allowed to stay in Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre. One of these told me, tears welling in his eyes, how he owed his life to Hawke. Another was there with his wife and daughter. They each carried a bouquet, his daughter’s made up of natives and wildflowers; his with orchids. He showed me the condolence card which read: ‘Always in my heart. As many Chinese students, my life changed forever when Mr Hawke offered us to stay in 1989.’

Xuesu Dai with his bouquet for Bob Hawke

My homeland, South Africa, owes a debt of gratitude to the former PM for his support of economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. I was ambushed by a rush of emotion when he and Nelson Mandela, who was beloved to us as Hawke was to Australia, appeared on the big screen in front of the Opera House steps. Back in the 80s, sanctions were one of the prongs of attack that that led to Apartheid’s downfall. Trade unionist Bill Kelty told the crowd how Nelson Mandela had been buoyed by Hawke’s support. I was a hopeful twenty-something in South Africa at the time. A woman who had travelled from Hobart specifically for the memorial service confided that Hawke had shaped her and her generation. Across the Indian Ocean, he had also played a part in shaping mine.

I had many conversations outside the venue. We agreed: Penny Wong for President, we missed Malcolm Turnbull in the light of subsequent events, and didn’t Quentin Bryce present as the epitome of elegance. The easy friendliness, the lack of pomp and ceremony and relaxed, happy atmosphere was striking. Those who had come to pay our respects and to spot a politician or two mingled with MPs, actors, media personalities and past politicians. Security was undoubtedly there, in the form of police patrols, a helicopter circling overhead and security details for many of the guests. But there were none of the machine guns and flak jackets we have come to see as normal in a post-9/11 world. I reflected on how lucky were to live in  a country where you could walk up to an MP or an ex-party leader and shake their hand and say hi, love your work.

Australia before Hawke

I hadn’t been aware of just how significant the changes Hawke brought were. Before him, Australia didn’t sound much like a place anybody would want to come to. It was shut off from the Asia-Pacific region and in ways to the rest of the world, far away and insular and with a government that wielded more power than is comfortable. Hawke’s granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price reminded us that Antarctica could have been a mining site were it not for her grandfather. One of her first memories is of sitting by her Pop’s side as he pleaded for rejecting the destruction of one of Earth’s last wild places. The four-year-old with a coloured pencil in her hand credits this moment as the start of her journey to being an environmental protector.

As we sat on the steps, around us life went on as usual. People jogged by on their lunchtime runs, groups of schoolkids made their way to the ferries and trains at Circular Quay, looking mildly curious about the crowd of mostly grey-haired citizens on the steps; not concerned enough to stop. Bob Hawke understood that we owe it to these kids, the young office workers out for their midday runs, the baffled tourists, to do better.

‘I don’t exude morality’

Most of the audience would remember a kinder time when politicians were not crucified for their imperfections. Anthony Albanese remembered Hawke saying: ‘I have credibility because I don’t exude morality’. Hawke could be a bit of a boozer, loved a punt on the horses and could lose his temper with people in his office – including Paul Keating – without being excoriated on Twitter. I don’t think Scott Morrison would get away with synchronising parliamentary adjournments with the races, as Hawke did with the Arbitration Commission according to Bill Kelty.

Blanche d’Alpuget, Bob Hawke’s widow, asked that we make his death a turning point in the history of Australia. Everybody who spoke pleaded for us to listen to the young, to take a long view on our children’s future, and to remember that the reforms of the eighties, tough as they may have seemed, made Australia a better nation.