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Helplessness and people power

Last night, one of the last images I saw before I went to bed was of a terrified Chinese toddler being held at knifepoint in the street by her father. The horror of that situation was not distilled by the frozen photo, the detached computer screen, or the fact I could flick away when I chose. Horrendous fear and suffering were transmitted in an instant.

I hadn’t searched this out. I wasn’t planning to read the news at that point. But it broke its boundaries and affected me. As did the Four Corners story this week, which I found out about thanks to twitter. I’m grateful I didn’t have to watch that footage, because I know it would still be haunting me. The photographs I did see were enough.

No one has taught me how to deal with these moments. I have had to teach myself, because, quite frankly, they have brought me to my knees at times. And the way I have come to terms with this is by becoming a more conscious guardian of my emotions, knowing when I can take action and when there is nothing I can do. From what I could gather (the article wasn’t clear), the little Chinese girl was rescued. Twelve hours later, the news has moved on, and I can’t even find it on the same site. I’m pretty sure I won’t ever know what happened to them.

However, with the push to ban live exports, there were at least petitions to sign. Where once upon a time I would have felt this was a fairly unremarkable gesture, I don’t any more, because of the emergence of a few amazing, energetic sites that have recorded some brilliant, measurable breakthroughs as a result of people power. Sites like Avaaz.org and getup.org.au (who ran a live exports petition), and organisations like the Wilderness Society (who send you the results of their actions) are doing a great job of bringing some critical issues to our attention. And despite the desperate, depressing news they bring to my door, they make me feel that there is something small but very important that I can do. They wouldn’t exist unless we were all choosing to add our names to causes we believe in. This weekend my family will be going to climate change rally in Perth on Sunday (there are also rallies in Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney), thanks to the information and reminders from GetUp. Our voices might be small, but they all count, and I’m buoyed by the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

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Friends and family readers

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 7th April 2010

For the past eighteen months I have been telling family and friends that my book will be published. Before that I was just ‘writing a book’ – an oft-heard phrase. I think many of them have grown so used to hearing about this mythical book that it will actually be quite a surprise when they see it on sale. However, waiting for family and friends’ reactions is in many ways as daunting as waiting for the reviews. Because they read it from a different perspective, knowing me and my story. And because I can’t scrunch them all up and throw them in the bin if I don’t like what they say! Although, I’m not sure I can even trust their feedback – after all, I don’t think I would tell anyone I was fond of that I thought their book was a load of rubbish – at least, not if I wanted to remain on speaking terms.

I also realised a while ago that there’s another potential problem with having people I know read my book. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger problem for me or for them really. The question is: how many of them will be looking for themselves somewhere inside the pages? Sure enough, when my mother had finished reading Come Back to Me, one of her first comments was that she hoped the character of Chloe’s mother wasn’t modelled on her! I was pleased to reassure her that it wasn’t the case. None of my characters have been modelled on anyone I know, though no doubt at times I have drawn on my own experiences with people to help me to look further into a character’s actions and motivations. But it’s very general – believe me! Although perhaps I should do a quick friend tally now, and see if anyone stops speaking to me in the next few months – the reason why, whether valid or not, might just lie within the pages of my novel.