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Running out of time on a fragile planet: Rod Taylor

The fragile state of our planet prompted author Rod Taylor to collect stories about the impact of climate change in his book Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet. I asked Rod what inspired him to start writing.

Rod Taylor – inspired by nature

Rod: In late 2016 I was an IT consultant, not a bad job, paid well. By night I was a science columnist for Fairfax and doing radio, occasionally for the ABC.


So while things were pretty good for me personally, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of humanity. My scientist friends were telling me ever more alarming news about the state of the planet. Things are looking really grim and we’re running out of time.

Author Rod Taylor

Author Rod Taylor


Then Trump got elected, which is a pretty clear message that a lot of people have no idea of how serious our situation is, often viewing it as a green-left socialist conspiracy to attack our freedom.
What to do? I am by nature a problem solver and it was clear to me that the only way forward is people. People are the solution.


While I am by nature optimistic, this is profoundly gloomy. I can’t live with that, so I decided to write a book.

This book would tell the stories of people who inspire me and, I hope, the reader.

We have a maggot farmer, a politician, a physicist and a guitar-playing part Maori. According to the title, the book charts ten journeys, but really it’s eleven because it’s partly mine too, as I navigated this path.

Thanks Rod.

Rod’s book features contributions from:

The Activist: Simon Sheikh
The Solar Pioneer: Professor Andrew Blakers
The Maggot Farmer: Olympia Yarger
The Accidental Activist: Charlie Prell
The Thoughtful Salesman: Leonard Cohen
The Politician: Susan Jeanes
The Climate Game Changer: Inez Harker-Schuch
The Advocate: Professor Kate Auty
The Lady with a Laser: Monica Oliphant
A Question of Hope: Dr Siwan Lovett

 

Here’s an extract from the book. Thank you so much Rod for sharing this with us.

 

The Activist: Simon Sheikh

Extract from Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet by Rod Taylor

 

Outside it was beautiful and sunny, but it was a bleak day. Donald

Trump had just delivered his inauguration address and already

he was attacking climate science. The world had just broken

temperature records for the third year running, while then Prime

Minister Turnbull was blaming renewable energy for blackouts in

South Australia. All this was just as the nation was about to record

mean temperatures for the month (0.77°C above average) and

eastern Australia would be hit by a run of heatwaves.

 

After reading all this grim news I met Simon Sheikh, but he

was cheerful, friendly and upbeat. We were about to record a live

interview, but it was he who started asking me questions. How long

had I done radio? How did I start writing for the newspaper? What

were my plans for Fragile Planet? I could see he’s a good operator

because of his genuine interest in other people and it was hard not

to be carried along by his enthusiasm. It gave me a glimpse of how

he’s been able to stir people out of their complacency to get them

active with groups such as GetUp.

 

Like anyone I don’t mind talking about myself, but we were

about to go on-air and I needed to get ready, so after a few minutes

I had to cut in, “Hey, I’m supposed to be interviewing you.”

Transcribing the interview later, I was struck by his use of

language, which was peppered with words like “passionate” and

“enthusiastic”. I made a note to learn about how a person could stay

hopeful in the face of relentless bad news.

Simon’s father was born in India and spent time in Pakistan.

 

Somewhere in his heritage is Saudi Arabian, which is where he gets

his surname. On arriving in Australia, his father quickly detached

himself from his ethnic background and assimilated. He’s even

largely forgotten his native Urdu. Sheikh, who was born in Sydney,

says he doesn’t think too much about this, but sometimes wishes

he knew more about his mixed background. He thinks of himself

as Australian and was surprised one day when his wife Anna Rose

told him most people don’t think of him as a “white Australian”.

 

Simon is tallish with soft features and breaks into an easy smile.

His Indian heritage is visible but not dominant. If you meet him on

the street, you’ll see he’s obviously not “full blood white”, but with

the ethnic mix in Australia, it’s hardly noticeable. What stands out

more is his surname, which, with his public profile, has made him

a target for online racist attacks. Even in a multicultural, relatively

progressive nation, some of these forces are just below the surface.

Still, he’s prosaic and shrugs it off. “That’s the nature of modern-day

engagement on things like social media.”

 

His sister Belinda died before he was born and his mother had a

bout of encephalitis when she was much younger. Later she suffered

mental health issues, which left Simon’s father the job of looking

after him. Sheikh describes those times in a Sydney Morning Herald

article. His mother’s mental health worsened during her pregnancy,

and by the time he was born, Simon’s parents were living apart.

His mother was becoming increasingly delusional with psychotic

episodes.

 

Simon had to deal with his mother’s instability such as the

day she set fire to the kitchen while cooking chips. It wasn’t made

easier living in the inner-Sydney neighbourhood. Enmore was a

rough neighbourhood back then and drug and alcohol abuse was

common. It was an unsettling start to life as he recalls, “I’d often hear

huge fights as I lay awake at night. I remember being scared a lot.”

“I slept with an axe next to my bed after being threatened for

not paying enough protection money to a local gang.”

 

When Simon was 10 or 11, his father had a major heart attack

leading to a quintuple bypass. Now the young Sheikh found himself

caring for his father as well as his mother. He says his father “really

didn’t recover full strength for quite some time” and at various

times both parents were dependent on welfare.

For Simon, it was a formative moment that could have gone

either way. In an ABC interview, he told Richard Aedy:

 

[His father] would come back from work, in those years that

he was working, cook dinner, ensure that I was studying, and

then go back home again. Every single day. And that put in

place for me a regimen that was very helpful in keeping me

grounded and particularly in keeping me away from a lot of

the troublemakers that I grew up around.

I had a year or two there where things could have gone

wrong.

 

By Year 7, Simon was showing glimpses of his future life and the

energy that would propel him into national prominence. Already

he had an emerging political awareness and a sense of social justice.

His first rally was against the rise of Pauline Hanson. It was, he says,

something he did with encouragement. “I was lucky in high school

to have teachers help propel that along.”

 

Simon’s impressions from the “fairly poor” community of his

childhood have stayed with him. “I got to see a few challenges faced

by the people around me.” There were sole-parent families and most

parents didn’t manage the finances very well. There were high levels

of drug and gambling addiction. His parents had other problems,

but he’s grateful for the strong grounding they gave him. “I owe a

lot to my dad,” he says.

 

After a day at school, he would go off to private tuition, which

was something few other parents could manage. Today he can

see that it was the commitment of his parents and their focus on

education that got him into university. “They were always putting

every dollar they could into education,” he recalls. “Growing up

the way I did meant I learned to be self-sufficient and to navigate

systems to achieve the best outcomes.”

 

LINKS:

Website: https://tenjourneys.blogspot.com/2020/04/ten-journeys-on-fragile-planetcoming.html

Aunt Jodie’s not-so-little secret

Jordan Bell is a psychologist and educator with a passion for helping children and parents learn about science. She also has a not-so-secret super-hero identity: she is Aunt Jodie of Aunt Jodie’s Guides to (just about) Everything!

Jordan’s first book, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution, gives kids a fun and fascinating understanding of the key concepts underlying the theory of evolution, using REAL science. It’s perfect for parents who want to inspire a love of science in children (7-11 year olds) or to start a child’s science education early. It’s especially useful for parents who would like their kids to have more female role models in science.

Definitely on board with that, I say (tucking my B App Sci into my back pocket with a happy sigh).

Author Jordan Bell

Author Jordan Bell

Welcome, Jordan, and thanks for speaking with me on this episode of Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us a bit more about you and your books?

Jordan: As a nerdy mama to a curious primary-schooler who always wants to understand the “why?” of life, I have had lots of experience in putting complicated ideas into words that little brains can understand.

So what is Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution?

It’s not just another boring bedtime story! It’s a science adventure into the ancient past that makes learning about the basics of evolution fun and engaging, and uses words and concepts that are right for kids in middle and upper primary school. For anyone new to science, my Aunt Jodie’s Guides also include an easy-to-read glossary, explaining the scientific terms used in the book and how to pronounce them.

Sounds great. Now let’s find out a bit more about you. What was your favourite book as a child?

My favourite book as a child was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Not only is it an amazing tale about the power of stories, but also such a spell-binding title to a child who constantly begged for yet another trip to the library – a book that never ended? Sign me up! My dad bought me a really beautiful hardback edition when it was first released in English, which was printed in red and green ink with illustrated chapter initials. That exact copy was lost to the mists of time but my husband tracked down a copy for me a few years ago and I treasure it. I’ll be reading it to my daughter this year!

A book that deserves to be a lifetime favourite! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

I’m most productive when I have a morning to myself and I can take my laptop to my favourite café, fuel up on french toast and tea, and write for 3-4 hours. They are used to me doing this now and top up my teapot without asking. I can write anywhere as long as I have half an hour and a computer, but that’s my preferred routine.

That sounds like the perfect writing space, and writers should always have a ready supply of French toast and tea. How do you feel about reviews?

I love them! I would really like some more! Having said that, if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t appreciated my book, they haven’t chosen to share those thoughts with me, so my experiences have all been positive at this stage. I might feel differently after some critical feedback!

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

The greatest review I ever got was from the son of a friend:
“I thought the book was fantastic. I learnt lots, I never got bored and never wanted to stop reading it, it was very clear and it’s also a very fun way to put it. I would rate this book 5 stars and I normally pick out every single fault.”

But I’ve had lots of people excited about the idea of a book about evolution for children, it seems like a book that is needed out there in the world!

Aunt Jodies Guide_Cover Print

Yes indeed! What kind of reader would like your books?

I write Aunt Jodie’s Guides for primary-school aged kids, to help them get their heads around big scientific ideas that will have an impact on their life. I started with explaining evolution, because I think that’s the kind of idea that — if you can understand it as you are growing and learning — will change the way you view the world. We desperately need future citizens who are well-informed about the science that underpins our natural and technological worlds, and I think kids are a capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for, if we explain it properly.

Hear, hear! Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?

Anyone who searches Aunt Jodie’s Guide should find my online store pretty easily, and the bookshops that have stocked me so far have been very generous about displaying my book face out so hopefully a few people have stumbled across it that way!

That’s great, let’s hope for more stumbles. What would be a dream come true for you?

I’d love to have my book picked up as a series by a publisher with the scope to share these ideas worldwide and maybe even in other languages! I’m currently working on Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Climate Change, and I have strong ideas for more books in the series as Aunt Jodie explains the human body, space science, and computers!

All books that I think need to be in the world as soon as possible. Please keep writing! And thank you so much for sharing with me today.

 

Aunt Jodie’s links:

https://www.facebook.com/AuntJodiesGuides/

www.auntjodiesguide.com

Twitter:  @AuntJodiesGuide

Best online buying link: www.gumroad.com/jordanbell

 

Seven tiny steps towards a future

I just wrote a long paragraph about the bushfires that are rampaging across Australia, but I deleted it. Nobody can be unaware. Everyone can see the destruction and count the cost. The better question is: what can we do about it?

An intransigence of climate-change sceptics deny any connection between this disaster and humanity’s actions. It keeps them busy, I guess. I see no hope of winning that argument. Instead of bashing my head against the stoutly defended walls of Big Money, I’m regretfully abandoning them as impossible to save.

In my quest to remain hopeful and positive – because humans do have children who deserve a future – I’m seeking new ways to support the Earth. Plus there are only so many pictures of mummified wallabies I can carry in my heart. Fund raising and physical help (money, goods, offers of accommodation and assistance) will continue years into the future as we strive to recover, so there will be no shortage of actions to take after the event (so big and so new it doesn’t yet have a name). Yet I don’t want to just sit and watch, so…

Here’s a starting list of seven tiny things I can do right now:

  1. Something that I’ve only just heard of: Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees
  2. Plus a new blogger to follow: InspireCreateEducate
  3. Check out The New Joneses for tips on living a big life with a little footprint
  4. Grow your love of retro every day: make Buy Nothing New a permanent resolution
  5. Share hopeful images to help nurture mental health, like the dog playpen on HMAS Choules
  6. Step outside and observe your world: the air, the birds, the plants, the locals, and think about how much you love them all
  7. Tell your people you love them

I’m certain I will find more and stronger actions as time progresses. We really have no choice but to do so. The future is coming. Let’s try to make it one we can live in.

Crisis Interruptis

I interrupt the regular run of Last Word of the Week with an explanatory story about Australian dystopian fiction and bushfires.

Apologies to anyone looking for my Middle Child post – that’s been rescheduled to next week. The national bushfire emergency is too high a priority.

I wish I’d never written that book

As the climate emergency continues, I’m forced to reflect on my writing. One social media post I saw described a bookshop as moving its post-apocalyptic fiction books to the current affairs section.

I feel the same.

The Chronicles of the Pale started with a dream – or nightmare – in which desperate refugees were shut out of a fenced compound, and those of us inside were prevented from bringing them in to safety. This dream arose from Australia’s harsh treatment of refugees, a policy condemned by the UN. Scott Morrison as the Minister for Immigration at the time introduced Operation Sovereign Borders, and his lack of empathy, his inhumanity, his stubborn conviction that he and only he was right, inspired the cruel characters who rule inside my fictional policosmos, the Pale. Jason the Senior Forecaster and Élin the Regent care only for themselves.

If Australia had been a more compassionate country, I would never have written The Pale. I truly wish that was the case – better a world with care for refugees than a world with one more dystopian novel in it. I wish I had never had to write that book.

ruins pale

And I wish I’d never written the next one

In Book 2, Broad Plain Darkening, it’s the discriminatory practices of the Settlement that come under the most scrutiny. It is no surprise to me, now, to reflect that this novel was written during the bitter gay marriage referendum debate that occupied Australians at the time. I was also extremely distressed by the live export controversy, and got nowhere with my communication to the then Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce. Profit above all, no matter who or what suffers.

I can see my rejection of this every time one of my favourite characters acts in a compassionate way, every time they work against discrimination and cruelty. It’s sad to think that my fictional folk – humans and animals – have more heart than many of my fellow Australians. Brettin, the outrageously upright Lady of the Temple, represents all that distresses me about religion and prejudice. And that’s saying something.

Now that the current Federal Government is pushing through its religious ‘tolerance’ bill, allowing many acts of bigotry to flourish unchecked in the spurious name of religious freedom (ie freedom to discriminate against the LGBTI+ community), I’m sad that Book 2 also had to be written. A better world would never have the need for such a story.

BPD horses

If only I hadn’t written the third book!

And so we get to the climate.

The Chronicles of the Pale 3, The Ruined Land, is about my fictional world falling apart under the feet of all the communities that depend on it. Here’s what happens:

Volcanoes destroy the Shaking Land – and yes I did write that before White Island erupted just off the New Zealand coast.

Unchecked fires rage through the Broken Ranges and send smoke across the entire continent, with displaced and starving ursini (bear creatures) invading Broad Plain because their habitat is gone – yes I did write that before Australia burst into unprecedented flame.

Water floods the land as the temperature rises and the ice caps melt back into the sea … and I wrote that before Australia patted the Pacific islands on the head and told them not to panic. Does any of this sound familiar?

In my story, there is even a child – Jasper Valkirrasson – who does his best, at great personal cost, to warn the crusty old misanthropes at the old Settlement about the coming danger. I wrote Jasper’s courage and his big heart before I had even heard of Greta Thunberg, but if I hadn’t , she would certainly have been my model.

The Ruined Land was written at a time when – again and again – Australia turned its back on environmental reform in the name of money, and held the position that Australia had no desire or mandate to be a world leader in this field. True, our overall effect may be comparatively small, but we are also one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. We should care more. Many of us do, and we take the small steps we can, because we can’t keep on pretending that how we live has no effect on the planet.

TRL fire

I hope to never write dystopia again

I would like to live in an Australia that was compassionate, ethical, and environmentally responsible. I would like us to spend our money on resettlement of refugees, on bushfire mitigation strategies and equipment, on sensible use of water, on transitioning away from live export, on responsible waste treatment, on public transport, on the preservation of wildlife habitat, and so much more. People will shout about the cost, but our current policies are just as costly in dollars, and much more costly in long-term damage to the Earth and its inhabitants, of all species.

I have to say that unfortunately I’m planning to have The Chronicles of the Pale #4 ready for late 2021.

This post is, and isn’t, about writing. Writing, for me, can’t be divorced from who I am and what I believe. All the same, the books can simply be read as a story. I’m just so sad that so much of it has come true.

Next week, current affairs permitting, I’ll be back to plain old talk about books!

 

Sue Paritt, writer with feeling!

Ardent Australian author Sue Parritt (who was born in England) has penned an impressive collection of novels across genres: future dystopia, WWII history, and contemporary fiction for a start. Sue’s writing is all about humanity and how we interact with each other. Providing great characters, detailed settings and fascinating plots, Sue Parritt is a writer to follow wherever she leads.

Author Sue Parritt

Author Sue Parritt

Welcome, Sue. I’m thrilled to be able to speak with you today. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Sue: I am a feisty sixty-nine-year-old, passionate about peace and social justice issues. My goal as a fiction writer is to continue writing novels that address topics such as climate change, the effects of war, the harsh treatment of refugees, feminism and racism.  I intend to keep on writing for as long as possible, believing the extensive life experiences of older writers can be employed to engage readers of all ages.

I’m totally with you, Sue! Writers must write, and from the heart. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

The scene in my fourth novel, ‘Chrysalis’ p.311 where my protagonist, Jane leaves the comforting cocoon of her sixty-year life to face an unknown future.

“Water seeped into Jane’s shoes as she disembarked at Heathrow central bus station. Stepping away from the puddle, she waited impatiently for luggage to emerge from bus bowels. At least the rain had stopped and grey clouds parted to reveal a washed-out sky of palest blue. She tilted her face, felt a hint of warmth to come. The perpetual promise of spring, new life, new growth and in this her sixty-first year, an opportunity for complete renewal. In an instant she had unzipped, cast-off, dashed over to a nearby rubbish bin and tossed her old jacket inside.

            And there was a butterfly underneath, damp wings trembling in straw-coloured sunlight as she prepared to take flight.”

This scene reflects my feelings on taking early retirement eleven years ago to concentrate on creative writing.  I took a risk giving up paid work but have no regrets. Like Jane in the final sentence of ‘Chrysalis,’ “today I know for certain true freedom lies within and I alone can birth its endless possibilities.”

How wonderful! How brave! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Sannah the Storyteller, protagonist ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’  “As a storyteller I am familiar with the imaginary. An articulate speaker, I employ both voice and body to weave a spell around my audiences, make them believe whatever the government dictates. But never forget that in my clandestine role of Truth-Teller, I share the truth about Earth’s degradation with readers and other characters to evoke essential action.”

Sannah is a great character, very brave, compassionate and intelligent. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I have always read widely, however some of my preferred authors are:  Helen Garner, Margaret Drabble, Mary Wesley, Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, Kate Grenville, Anita Shreve, Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Jolley.

From my days as a sickly child reading Dickens in my grandparents’ kitchen, I have found inspiration in fiction. Each narrative presents a microcosm of lives and worlds, providing for me not only a rich reading tapestry but also the stimulus to create my own stories.

We share some favourite authors too. I just knew it would be fun to speak with you! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Have faith in your writing, learn your craft and never give up no matter how many rejections you receive.

Great advice. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Back to the future for my eighth novel, working title ‘The Doorkeeper.’ Set in Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula in 2100, this novel will deal with overpopulation and extended life expectancy in an increasingly climate-challenged world and the inhumane solutions adopted by a government determined to rid Australia of unproductive citizens. My protagonist will be forced to take up a position as a Doorkeeper, one of the hated individuals that choose who will be granted a continued lifespan or be euthanised.

Yikes, that sounds all too scarily possible. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be ‘Jo’ in ‘Little Women’ – the tomboy, the writer, the one that isn’t afraid to flout the conventions of a society that seeks to confine her.

Dear Jo! What a role model! Thank you so much for talking with me, Sue, and all the best for your future writings!

 

Sue’s Links:

Sue’s website is at www.sueparritt.com

You can find her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SueParrittAuthor/

Fantasy and science fiction

Science-fiction, cli-fi, dystopian speculative fiction or even hope punk. However you label it, readers are drawn to Clare Rhoden’s rollicking plots, characters with depth, and insightful ponderings on what it means to live a good life.

In 2014 the literary mag, Overland, published Clare’s short adventure story that was prompted by asylum seeker policies, climate change and human-animal relationships. Current events portend an interesting future…

These ideas were expanded in Clare’s dystopian science fiction novel, The Pale, published by Odyssey Books in 2017. The Pale is the first book in the Chronicles of the Pale series. The sequel, Broad Plain Darkening, came out in 2018, and the final instalment The Ruined Land hits bookshelves soon. Enter the Pale.