Category Archives: Uncategorized

Outback Australia, one step at a time

2017-05-26 09.49.20The trail never ends, last week was 8 days walking around Uluru, through Kata Tjuta and along sections of the Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges in central Australia. Sleeping in tents or in a swag under starlit skies impossible to comprehend or describe. Campfires at night with wonderful food, drink and company.

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and beauty wherever one looks – rock or water, harsh or gentle in nature.
2017-05-21 13.37.33Sunsets and sunrises
2017-05-25 07.09.40and the iconic, sacred rock
2017-05-17 18.01.46in ever changing colours, especially the red we all know and love.
2017-05-18 07.25.13and looking down from the summit of Mount Sonder, a 3 hour night time ascent with head lamps.
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A wonderful time of reflection in desert silence, no phones, no distractions.
and an ever-growing appreciation of the 40,000 year old civilization which inhabited and managed this land.
Where next? Scotland in July, for ‘something completely different’, but where next
in Australia? That path is unknown.

Like falling out of a window

Yes, it’s been seven months since I blogged. Shame on me, though I do have excuses. It is one year since I had a melanoma removed. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like falling out of a window [a thousand other metaphors or similes come to mind] and ‘so far so good’ as I haven’t yet hit the ground. My quarterly check three days ago showed NED = no evidence of disease and no need to come back for four months.

You want more excuses? In July I had two related operations, nothing to do with cancer, ‘just bad luck’ consequences of the original melanoma operation. Successful, albeit with a long period of enforced inactivity.

Still not happy? Okay. This week I completed the first draft of ‘Stopping Time’, my novel about the challenges confronting modern universities; that is, the pressure to do more with less and to be more commercial, competitive and ‘relevant’ while maintaining core values of academic freedom. One hundred thousand words of pure gold. Maybe.

No more excuses.

Now it is decision time. Time to cross the river, not the Styx fortunately. The photo is one of many river crossings when I was hiking in the Flinders Ranges in September perfectly timed to coincide with a ‘once in 50 years’ weather event. Three ops and you gotta keep going through flood, storm, whatever.

Anyway, I digress. My decision, my metaphorical river to cross, is this. Which of my two manuscripts do I revise first? ‘Death on the Camino’, the one with potential but needs more work [according to an editor] and which is my first love? Or ‘Stopping Life’, the one which my mentor likes and which is probably more commercial and topical? The heart versus common sense.

Time for a walk in the rain and a spot of pondering…

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Kakadu dreaming and rock art

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Some paintings are 20,000 years old, depicting the creation of the world at the dream time; some depict the spirits at the heart of their belief system and the last are 150 years old and show the arrival of the white invaders and the end of the world they had known for 40,000 – 50,000 years.

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In between I see a kangaroo being hunted and a painting of one of the giant kangaroos which once roamed Australia, plus dreaming characters good and bad, as central to their belief system as ours to us.

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I write these few words from a well of ignorance and a renewed respect for our indigenous culture, the longest surviving in human history. I knew I knew little, truth is I knew virtually nothing of a culture we have done our utmost to destroy.

Humbling. Equally humbling was the experience of hiking for a week through a land which appears utterly inhospitable – bone dry and hot half the year, inundated by monsoons half the year – and learning a little of how a culture flourished here for thousands of years.

A wonderful holiday and a privilege.

 

 

 

The business of universities: a work of fiction

What is a university today?

This –

hallowed halls

or this –

business

Hallowed halls or a corporation? Ivory towers or big business?

Yes, these days a university is both and I was part of that transformation of higher education from the 1980’s to 2007 and as a consultant in Asia and Europe until 2013.

Since I left full time university life, starting out as a lowly fixed term lecturer, later as a professor, Faculty Dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Director of various public and private companies linked with universities, I have wanted to write a novel about the massive challenges taking place in universities in the Anglo world and increasingly in Europe and Asia with the decline of government funding, the growth of ‘user pays’ and the treatment of education as a private rather than public good within a broader neo-liberal philosophy where the market rules.

Until now I remained too close to the subject to be able to write a fictional account of the challenges and dilemmas facing Australian universities in particular as governments reduced funding and universities were forced to become entrepreneurial, business oriented and market driven. I rode that wave for 20 years and think I left just in time with a sliver of my soul intact.

My story? A prestigious Australian university has failed to adapt and faces funding shortfalls and the loss of key academic staff and research areas unless it can access external funding fast and lots of it. A Chinese businessman needs to move assets overseas, fast and lots of it. A match made in heaven or is life never this simple?

5,000 words written and loving it – oh and if you’re reading this, you may be in it …

Writing from trauma

I am taking a break from my novel set on the Camino. The ms was never intended to be autobiographical though it drew on my experiences and encounters walking across France on the Via Podiensis and across Spain on the Camino and drew on a personal interest in dying with dignity and assisted suicide. Not to mention experiences of madness and death and all the other stuff of everyday life.

It was not until I received editorial feedback praising some parts of the ms and criticising others, that I realised how intensely personal and introspective the novel had become. It seems astonishing now that I never realised how entrapped I was in old wounds/traumas and their working out in fiction.

So I am putting the ms aside for a year to gain distance and perspective, maybe to undertake workshops on writing about the past. The novel, I repeat, is not ‘my story’ per se and is not a memoir except in a psychological and existential way I was too blind to see until I was poked in the eye from editors. While I let it lie for a year, I am contemplating attending ‘memoir writing’ workshops to learn skills of perspective and especially of extracting the universal from the personal.

In case you think you’re now safe from my scribbling, not at all.

I have begun writing a novel about universities and commercialisation, a topic dear to my heart for 10 years. See my next blog post for further information.

Decisions …

I described in my previous post the response of an editor to my novel ms set on the Camino. That person believes it can work well as a travel narrative and currently does not work as fiction, essentially being too introspective, intense and ‘Gothic’. I accept much of her criticism, albeit surprised she detested sections of my novel which published authors [not editors or agents] have praised in writing workshops. Fair enough, opinions differ and this editor is a professional whose assessment I should take seriously before deciding on my next step. After all, this is my first attempt at writing fiction.

But…

At a book launch last week, an acquaintance [a highly successful fiction writer] asked after my Camino ms, I summarised the opinion and after prodding, revealed the identity of the person. Her response – ‘Oh, everyone knows x never likes that stuff! X always goes for -‘. Followed by first rate gossip and a faint glow of affirmation on my part.

Alright, nothing new, nothing to be seen here, move along please. Publishers have preferences and profiles, make decisions good and bad and their worst mistakes become the stuff of folklore and we wannabe writers have a good laugh. I am not kidding myself, I know my ms needs more work. The frustration is receiving such contradictory feedback.

What next?

Revise my novel ms? No, I need to leave it for minimum six months to gain some distance from it.

Write a Camino travel book? Nope, the world has enough.

Start a new blog devoted to the people – fascinating, mad, appealing, romantic, annoying – whom I have encountered on various pilgrimage paths? Yes. Watch this space.

Write a university novel? I have had a story in mind for some years and maybe now I have the perspective to write it after four years out of the game. Again, watch this space.