Archive | writing RSS for this section

My new work profile.

I am now officially an editor… From the company website:

A grab from the Biotext website, as it was in May 2017.

A grab from the Biotext website, as it was in May 2017.

Further updates as they come to hand…


This week I started work at Biotext, a company that specialises in writing and editing complex scientific documents. It’s incredibly exciting — it’s the kind of opportunity that does not often come along. There’s a huge amount to learn, but that is part of the enjoyment.

As the name suggests, their focus has often been on biological material, though in the broadest sense — agriculture, environment, and medicine feature strongly. I’m hoping to increase the expertise in the physical sciences.

I looks like a chance to bring together science and writing, and it has come along at a time when I was on the lookout for a new job.

Good luck to me!



Word madness: Can’t save, won’t save. ‘A file error has occurred’

Word's useless error message. Notice the 'Was this information helpful'. What do you think?

Word’s useless error message. Notice the ‘Was this information helpful’. What do you think?


Got this error, and they had the temerity to ask me if it was helpful. Pricks. Anyway. Could not save to new name. Could not save to external media. Could not save elsewhere on C:. In short, could not save.



One bit of advice I have read is to wait till Word does an autosave, then kill Word using task manager. Then when Word is restarted it will give an option to rescue the file. Sounds dangerous to me. Waited but save did not come.

First thing I did was print to PDF with all track changes and everything visible so I would at least have a record of what the file looked like.

Then created a new blank file. Tested that it could be saved. Yes. And in the same folder as the original file. (I knew that should be OK since I printed to PDF into the same folder).

Went to file I wanted to rescue, with track changes visible and all comments visible. Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C
Went to new empty doc and pasted. Got text and comments but not the track changes information. Well, that is still useful as a backup.


Now, it should be possible to make a copy with track changes information.

Another handy way to copy the text is to use the spike. Word users are so familiar with using the Clipboard to cut, copy, and paste information that we often forget about the spike. This is an area of Word that acts like a secondary Clipboard, with some significant differences. (You can learn more about the spike in other issues of WordTips or in Word’s online Help.) To use the spike to copy and paste text with Track Changes markings intact, follow these steps:

  1. In the source document, select the text you want to copy.
  2. Press Ctrl+F3. The text is cut from the document and placed on the spike. (If you wanted to copy, not cut, then immediately press Ctrl+Z to undo the cut. The selected text still remains on the spike.)
  3. In the target document, place the insertion point where you want the text inserted.
  4. Make sure that Track Changes is turned off in the target document.
  5. Press Shift+Ctrl+F3 to clear the spike and insert the spike’s text into your document.

So I went to source document ant hit Ctrl-A, then Ctrl-F3.

Opened blank with same template, track changes turned off (it is by default I think).


But does not save! The problems have come with it!

So that does not help.

Now, if I turn off track changes and accept all changes, I can save the document – so it is a bug somewhere in Word’s track changes code.
If the problem occurs again, can try the spike method with the different aspects of track changes turned on and off, to narrow it down.

So no satisfactory solution discovered. I do not know what change I put in that caused the issue, and it has never occurred before. So… I dunno. The above ideas are just partial solutions.


Solutions to problems nobody asks about.

Last one, I promise. Olympia SF De Luxe

Uh oh. I’ve now got four. That counts as mania. This one was on ebay for $10. It had a sticky ribbon tensioner that prevented the ribbon from feeding, and has a few marks, and the case is perished a little and missing the handle of the zip, though the zip works. Came with a Pelikan eraser, too. Not too bad.

Olympia SF De Luxe. About 1963, I think.

Olympia SF De Luxe. About 1963, I think.

The reviews are good for these. Indeed, now that have a Hermes, an Olivetti, a Brother and an Olympia, I feel that I have a god cross-section of the more common good-quality brands. Enough!

While it needs a bit of attention, it is clearly an impressive machine. It has visible margins, a spring-up paper stand, a carriage lock that works from the top, a good-sized return lever, ribbon selector, a ‘1’ key, metal reels on the ribbon, line spacing selector. Pretty much everything except a tab key, which is not something I miss, and more of an office machine feature anyway.

On unsticking the tensioner, the ribbon started to feed. It was too faded to be of any use, and I get the impression from the sticking that the unit had been in storage and unused for a very long time and could use a little oil. ‘q’ and ‘y’ seemed to stick a bit, with the typebars not returning after a strike; but ths improved with a little use, and with moving the touch regulator all the way to ‘+’. And if things do stick, due to stickiness or hitting more than one key and them jamming, the margin release key doubles as an ‘unstick’ key; very handy. ‘G’ sits a bit low on the keyboard as if its stalk is bent, but works fine. The rubber grommets that seat the lid are completely hardened and crumbling away.

Olympia SF De Luxe text example.

Olympia SF De Luxe text example.

But these are quibbles that can be sorted out with a little care. The key press is very short and definite. It is carriage shift (the paper goes up and down, not the typebars), but on a portable, small machine like this the weight is not a problem. The bell is clear, the whole design careful and extremely well thought out, and the feature set remarkably rich. The text is extremely well-aligned, though even with a new ribbon not very dark. Dark enough, however. In summary, a very fine machine.

Made in Wilhelmshaven by Olympia Werke AG, (Western Germany). Ser. 95-701687 (really good photos of an essentially identical one here).

A real carriage shift.

A real carriage shift.

Scrappy case.

Scrappy case.

Steel reels

Steel reels.

The ribbon feed. De Luxe.

The ribbon feed. De Luxe.

Book binding in Goulburn, and George Ivanoff speaks!

On Saturday 12 Nov in 2016 I attended the inaugural Goulburn Readers Writers Festival. It was small but very well done, and bodes well for the future. The two events I went to were the bookbinding workshop, run by Erika Mordek of the National Library of Australia, and a talk on his career so far by George Ivanoff. Both were excellent. George is an enthusiastic and engaging speaker, and extremely down-to-earth about the writing business. I’d recommend any aspiring author who wants to make some actual money out of it (a tough gig!) listen to him speak if the opportunity arises. He did not waffle on about literary theory or self expression. He talked about how to make a living by writing stories. Writing for the education market, taking the opportunities when they come and running with them as hard as you can, making connections and then delivering on time as promised every time, so you get a reputation as reliable. And writing and writing and writing so you keep getting better.

And I spent about four hours learning about bookbinding, sewing pages together. I have not concentrated so hard for so long in ages. The presenter, Erika, was enthusiastic, and relentless in her encouragement and in pushing us through the task. Key phrase — ‘trust your eye’. Erika runs courses at CIT, and works as a book conservator at the NLA — so she knows her stuff. We went from a pile of pages to a completed little bound notebook. We started, though, by sewing together our notes.  Here is the cover of the notes booklet:


The little instruction booklet, on which we first tried sewing a signature.

The little instruction booklet, on which we first tried sewing a signature.

So lesson #1 was a sort of ‘booklet stitch’, which was remarkably simple once you were told what to do and potentially quite useful of itself. Then we started the main project — sewing six signatures of three folded A4 sheets each into a hardback notebook. There were a lot of tricky little things, but mostly it takes patience and method — like make sure there are no blobs of glue on the work surface before you put the book down…. Anyway, the final result looks like this:

The final notebook. Not bad for a first try. They supplied nice papers and cloths and everything.

The final notebook. Not bad for a first try. They supplied nice papers and cloths and everything.

So you can see the cloth spine, the decorated paper that was used for the cover, and some of the inner bits showing at the bottom edge, where I did not make the blue bit quite big enough….

What you can’t see are the stitches that hold it together, the endpapers, the card that stiffens the covers, the card that stiffens the spine…. There’s a lot in there that is not immediately apparent to the eye.

It was a fascinating experience. I fully intend to try to make a few more little volumes, and sooner rather than later so I don’t forget too much.

Oh, and the sordid subject of money? George’s talk was free and the workshop was $10 — for four hours tutoring by an expert, and all tools and materials supplied and a little notebook to keep at the end.

Impossibly good value.


Well done, Goulburn.

NaNoWriMo 2016: InNoReMo

Well, I posted on NaNoWriMo in 2014 and 2015 so I thought I ought to in 2016 even though I’m not doing it this year. Why not do it this year?…

…Because I already don’t revise and rewrite enough. I have done very little with the 100,000 words that are the legacy of he last two years, and while you can’t polish a turd, I need to ensure that they are irredeemable before I erase them from existence and churn out more verbiage. And if they are not irredeemable I should do some work on them.

So, for me this is not NaNoWriMo, it is perhaps NaNoRewriMo. And given that the event it now international, it should really be InNoRewriMo, but that is even less pronounceable than the original. ‘InNoReMo’?

(Note to event organisers in the USA: ‘The USA’ is not synonymous with ‘the world’. Events that happen outside the USA are not ‘national’ USA events, and when only teams from the USA are eligible to compete, it is not a ‘World Series’.)

I stand by my conclusion that the event has some value but only for people who have reasonable expectations. Should one of the 50k blodges of text I blatted out in previous years turn into something decent, the event will have done something worthwhile for me. Since I wrote them largely to gain some idea of how I can handle a longer narrative, I got some useful experience. Since I did not write them expecting to produce salable copy, I was not disappointed when I did indeed produce drek.

But that’s enough drek for now.



Productive For Whom? The Productivity Commission and Copyright in Australia.

So some months ago the Productivity Commission of the Australian Government released a draft report on ‘Intellectual Property Arrangements‘. The summary of recommendations can, as of October 2016 when I write this, at least, be found here:

It suggests that copyright should expire much sooner…

DRAFT FINDING 4.2 While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.

Many books are still valuable properties of the authors at 15 years out. An author writes a book at 25 and loses their own rights to it when still only 40 years old? Under such a recommendation, once a book is 15 years old, the publisher (any publisher?) can make money from it, a bookseller, a wholesaler, Amazon (poor, living-on-the-breadline Amazon) can make money from it, but not the person who wrote it. Madness. At least let them own it until they die. I agree, 70 years past death is a bit generous (is that the Walt Disney provision?) but at least let an author own their own work while they’re alive.

How about this one:

DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 5.2 The Australian Government should repeal parallel import restrictions for books in order for the reform to take effect no later than the end of 2017.

So while the UK and the USA and nearly every other major market in the world has such restrictions, we should remove them, handicapping our own industry. This one does make sense in one perverse way; we have already killed off manufacturing in Australia, and are currently in the process of killing off agriculture, by opening up our market to other countries who do not open up to us. No, of course I am joking; this one does not make sense. It might make books a little cheaper (though I doubt it. I can’t see the handful of big publishers (who such a change would put in an even more powerful position) passing on any savings; I don’t think there is real competition), but it will mean that Australian stories are harder to find at any price. Now, a significant amount of what the report suggests is not unreasonable, but some things are untenable. I wrote a submission to the commission, on the draft report, which I discovered is available freely on the web Please ignore the typo in the second paragraph (winces). Since it is freely available, I reproduce it below, because I can.



May 23, 2016

To whom it may concern:

I’d like to address the issues of copyright and parallel imports, though I am not a commercial author, editor or publisher or working in the industry at all.

Lifting of parallel import restrictions will reduce the number of locally made, written and published books. The case of New Zealand makes this clear, where multinational publishers have closed NZ offices. Since major players like the USA have parallel import restrictions, it is not like we are even creating a level playing field. It may be time to open an international dialogue about PIR, it is not time for self-destructive unilateral action. Unless we like the idea of local voices being even more maginalised.

As to ‘DRAFT FINDING 4.2’, this is clearly a discouragement to create. It is also absurdly inequitable. It may be true that most works have a short commercial life, but this is far from universal. How can the commission simply assume that all books have the same pattern of sales? Many books go through multiple editions over twenty, thirty or more years, especially in technical fields. Successful books by living authors remain in print for decades. Why after 15 or even 25 years is it acceptable for a publisher to make money from a book but not the author? What gives the publisher more rights than the actual originator and creator of the work? This priorities are, well, backwards.

And if an author does not want a book back in print, they need to keep that right, too. An author’s reputation is a major asset. Allowing publication of early, inferior works, or of works that the author no longer believes in, against the author’s wishes, has the potential to damage their reputation and hence livelihood. One can easily imagine a well-resourced publisher putting a non-copyright version of an early work up against a newer book by the same author, capitalising on the publication of the new book, but paying no royalties and possibly muddying the waters and reducing sales of the new book, which after all has to pay royalties where the out-of-copyright edition does not. That is not equitable. Maybe it is or is not a bad financial decision for an author to not allow a work back into print – but it must be their decision.

Just because it is easy to reproduce a work, especially in the electronic age, does not make it right. It is easy to slap a baby; that does not make it right. We download stuff for free all the time, legally and easily. We must guard against the attitude that we should get stuff for free just because it is easy.

Productivity includes ensuring that the creators have a position from which to create, otherwise there is no industry, no productivity. While it may be true that artists and writers are driven to express themselves, that does not mean laws should be changed to make them easier to exploit. If they cannot make a living from their work, they will do it part time or not at all, and we will all be the poorer.

Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing, but in this case it is swinging too far.

Best wishes

Darren Goossens



Shouting at the void.

Look for Briefs.

All I know about writing (is it III?)

Look for briefs.

The blank page is a terrible thing, but a quick look at various online resources (Ralan, Duotrope, whatever) that list open anthologies looking for material will often show up venues that are looking to collect stories around a particular theme. Straight away the writer has somewhere to start — a constraint that offers structure and directs thought. (And if the antho takes reprints, the writer may have something in the shelf they can send, too.) There are also some magazines that focus more narrowly than others, or have a mission or mandate. These include (a very non-exhaustive list):

Not One of Us
The First Line
Expanded Horizons

It’s always possible to arbitrarily pick a topic, but the advantage of working to a brief is that it is set externally and fixed, and it has a deadline, both good things to work within to develop discipline. And unless the remit is extremely narrow, the story should be submittable elsewhere if it does not make the cut. And it can be submitted elsewhere for one very simple reason — it exists.

Anyway, anything that gives a jumping-off point has its uses.


The empty page is a troubling thing.


In Your Face, a not-quite impartial review.

First, a statement of conflict of interest: I have a story in this book. Having said that, I can easily talk about the strongest stories without mentioning my own…

The front cover of <i>In Your Face</i>. Yes, it's ugly.

The front cover of In Your Face. Yes, it’s ugly.

The book sets itself to tackle potentially distressing subject matter, things that challenge what we think is ‘right‘ by showing the justification for the dark side, for example. Or just hideous mental images. It contains the long and somewhat contentious ‘Wives‘ by Paul Haines, and it and some of the other pieces (‘No Fat Chicks‘ by Cat Sparks, the story that triggered off the whole book, for example) ask us questions about the fundamental nature of human beings.

We are animals. For tens of thousands of years, might did make right. The ancient Greeks for all their civilisation kept boys for their pleasure — not something acceptable where I live. Mores change. What is universally ‘good’ or ‘bad’? The man who rapes a lot of women will ensure that his genes stay in circulation, and is thus anything but a perversity when viewed against the imperatives of survival and evolution.

We’ve been civilised for the blink of an eye. We have decided that some of these things are wrong only yesterday, in evolutionary terms. We have to try to control ourselves using our intellects, but should we be so surprised that it so often breaks down? No, not really. Should we think about this when we punish people – men – for crimes? Hard questions to look full in
the face.

Is tolerance really a virtue, or just the top of the slippery slope, asks Ian McHugh, in ‘Tolerance’, a story that opens ‘The paedophiles are protesting again’. ‘Home and Hearth’ by Angela Slatter is one of the most powerful pieces. It asks unflinchingly about the limits of parental love.

A clutch of stories look at the unseen implications of leaving our children a world in dire straits, when we are fighting the planet itself and there are no spaces left for niceties. And some, like Alan Baxter’s ‘Bodies of Evidence’, conjure up some gruesome scenes, enough to make me (not the toughest of mind’s eyes, I must admit) squirm.

I’m extremely pleased to be in this book. Not just because for me any story that sells is a minor miracle, but because the quality of the company is so high, the production values are so high, and the book aims to do something more than the already-tough-enough task of assembling some worthwhile reading material. Nearly every story worked for me (the strike-rate is very high), and every single one made me think about my assumptions, about maybe how I was, despite my best efforts, still a creature of the darkness as well as the light. We all think about doing wrong. We all act out of base motives sometimes. It’s hard to look that in the face.

The editor, who set out to confront, trigger off new, challenging thoughts, and at the same time to entertain, has succeeded, and succeeded comprehensively. Even if she was silly enough to buy one of my stories…

Available as ebook and large format paperback in most of the usual places, but here is the publisher page.

Born to be mild…