Monday, March 31, 2008

Big news next week...

...which actually was, believe it or not, a headline carried once upon a time by a now defunct local newspaper in Sydney called the St George Voice. I worked on the rival newspaper, which prided itself on having news every week (twice a week, in fact). The Voice's only other claim to fame was that it had a transsexual photographer.

But I digress. There is no news in Blog Land this week, other than the alarmingly narrow margin by which the leopard skin wallpaper on the blog survived my inaugural Blog Poll. The 12-10 result in favour was much closer than I expected. I suspect Mother Blog was marshalling a few votes against the skin, as she is something of an animal rights activist and no doubt has some philosophical problems with animal pelts (even virtual) being used for decoration.

Oh, and the other news is the Zimbabwean elections, which are usually about as rigorous as a Tony Park Blog Poll (and subject to a similar amount of gerry mandering and skullduggery. I, like Comrade President, would not survive scrutiny by an independent team of election monitors).

So, the leopard skin is here to stay, though I hope Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe will soon be consigned to the history books (and, with a bit of luck, the World Court).

I'm raving, Legion of Fans (the two of you who have stuck it out this far into this boring post) because my head is crammed with my own writing and it is doing me in. I have been proof-reading the soon-to-be-released SILENT PREDATOR (get that, search engines?) and editing he as yet-unnamed Book 6.

My profound thanks go to Muriel and Hann, who shared this onerous task with me for SILENT PREDATOR, and of course to Mrs B, Mother B, and Mother-in-law B, who all took their turns reading and fixing the sex scenes.

No other news, except that the eagerly awaited results of the South African Blog Awards will be out in a couple of days' time. If I win the best travel blog category then expect to see much shameless self promotion.

If I lose, then expect to hear nothing more about the SA Blog Awards (at least for another year) and little more from me for a while as I scuttle, shamefaced, back to my editing.

So, pray for Big News, both here and in Zimbabwe.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Slide night

Peel a prawn, pop a tinnie and sit back and enjoy (or suffer, depending on your point of view), a slide show of Mr and Mrs Blog's last safari to Africa.

Finally got around to uploading these to flickr, so you can click here to view about 50 pics of Africa in all her glory. (If you double click on each pic you can read a brief caption saying where it was taken).

Thanks to all who voted for me in the SA Blog Awards. The big announcement is on April 2. If I win, I'll tell you all. If I don't, I'll pretend it never meant anything to me.

Today's hero...

...Is young Jac le Roux, previously of South Africa, now of West Australia, who donated some of his hard-earned pocket money to the SAVE the rhino foundation.

In reward for this sterling effort he has been transformed into Detective Jac le Roux, of the South African Police Service, in my sixth book.

The rhinos of southern Africa and I thank you, Jac. (and no, you don't get to shoot anyone in the book, although you do get to investigate a murder).

Good on you mate.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Of booksellers and leopard skin

Recovering, Legion of Fans (LOF), is what I'm doing this morning after a very enjoyable evening of drinking (errr... networking) with a very nice bunch of booksellers from the Collins and Book City group here in Australia.

I'm currently in Cairns, in tropical far North Queensland. Somewhere out there beyond my sunglasses is the Great Barrier Reef, but I was lucky to make it as far as breakfast this morning, let alone the natural wonders off the coast.

I spoke at the booksellers' conference last night and had a very good time after my speech, as I permitted myself a drink or two at that point. I don't mind public speaking (quite like it, in fact, as I'm a bit of a big head), but I have seen enough drunken speeches in my time to know that I need to lay off the sauce before talking.

As I told the assembled book shop people, one of the things I like about my job as a writer is getting out and meeting people. I am a sociable being, as Mrs Blog will confirm (with a slight roll of her eyeballs).

And I'm set to be more sociable as I have vague recollections of promising, hand on heart, to visit possibly every country town in Australia (Collins and Book City are very big in regional Australia).

So, I may very well be coming to a library or book shop near you in the near future.

The proof copies of my fifth book, SILENT PREDATOR (for some reason people in the publishing business always write book titles in capitals so I am following suit - plus it might just help the search engines pick it up) have been printed and were handed out to the booksellers last night. I got to sign lots of copies, exercising my right hand (as if that were needed) in preparation for my forthcoming whistle stop tour of rural Australia.

Gregory David Roberts, if you're self-googling (again), I'm sorry to say I told my SHANTARAM story again last night, as it always gets a laugh.

But back to my forthcoming book tour, which I've apparently signed myself up for.,. I'll soon be breathing the mountain air, man, crossing the desert spare, man, in travel I'm about to have my share, man, because I'm about to go everywhere.

I won't name names at this stage, for fear of backing people into keeping drunken promises, but if you're out there, Collins and Book City people (my new best friends) I am ready, willing and able to come visit you, your shops and your local libraries at any time.

Attentive readers will recall that I was in Darwin the week before last, and last week I was in the very agreeable regional town of Albury, doing some proper (ie not book-related) work.

Mrs Blog is feeling a bit left out as a result of my jetsetting (or turboprop-setting in the case of Albury) - particularly as she has a proper job and has to stay at home and work. Her aim in life is to be the wife of a rich and famous author, and as I am neither she is feeling less than content at the moment.

I, too, would like Mrs Blog to be the wife of a rich and famous author (preferably me). She envisages a future life of being chauffer driven from airports to five-star hotels, and having her toes painted in her luxury suite in preparation for shopping trips, while I exercise my right hand signing books for a queue of 400-plus loyal fans.

Me, I'll be happy to talk at a local library and get drunk with booksellers.

To close this rambling post I would like to direct you to my first ever poll, at the top left hand corner. My trusty webmeister, The Barman, has transferred the signature leopard print from my website to this blog and I want you, the people, to tell me if you like it. So vote for or against leopard skin, and while you're at it, go to the post below if you haven't already voted for me in the SA Blog Awards.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fair cop


Muriel has been talking about the questionable fairness of speeding fines on her blog, Salma-gundi. She's a very good writer (though not a particularly good judge of sex scenes in popular fiction), and you should go here and read her stuff.

Her post reminded me of some encounters I've had with policemen in Africa over the years.

The most recent was when I was caught speeding on the N4 between the Kruger National Park and Johannesburg airport. I was clocked at 148kph in a 120kph zone and unlike Muriel's case, there were no mitigating factors.

I hasten to add at this point that I was in a hire car (sorry) and not my venerable Series III Land Rover, which has a top speed of 80kph.

Anyway, this big fat African cop, direct from central casting, lumbers out from behind a tree and into my traffic lane and flags me down. He wasn't worried for his own safety. I think the small Japanese car I was driving would have crumpled, given the size of him, and he would have been left standing, though perhaps slightly dazed.

"Licence, please," said the cop. I knew I was going to be in for a rough ride as soon as he took my flashy gold plastic New South Wales licence in his meaty hand. "Ah, you are from Australia!"

"Yes," I smiled.

"You will have to accompany me to the station." Presumably this was because I was a foreigner, not a speedster.

Now, if a policeman in my home state said this to me I would start crying, because we would definitely end up in a police station and I would most likely be put in a cell with a large and lonely tattooed biker.

"No," I said to the South African policeman, followed by, "I'm not going to any police station. How much."

"Seven hundred Rand."

Mrs Blog gave a little squeal and started berating me for being so irresponsible. This was not because she thinks I'm irresponsible (well, actually she does, and I am). She was actually launching into a carefully choreographed little piece of theatre that we call the "cranky wife scene".

We've used it a few times when we've come up across obstinate customs and immigration officials, policemen and national parks officers. Generally speaking, most African cultures (and I include the whiteys here aswell) are misogynistic (did I spell that correctly Rebecca?).

Men believe they run the show and that women are subservient to them (crazy, I know). Of course, as is the case in most societies, the chicks are actually in charge and the blokes pretend it's otherwise. So when an eyebrow is lifted or a head nodded in a certain way, Mrs Blog knows it's time to bring on the "cranky wife" and let loose.

She starts by yelling at me, then directs her anger to the ridiculousness of the system (ie bureaucracy, speed limits, national park entry fees, etc). At this point I weigh in with a harsh: "ENOUGH!"

One cue, she shuts up and stares sullenly at me with a look that says: "how dare you order me to be quiet". She does this quite well.

I then look at the official in question - the traffic cop in this case - and give wry smile and an eyeball-roll that would have Groucho Marx smiling down from heaven.

"Women," my eyeballs say

The official - or cop - then smiles and nods, his gestures replying: "Ain't it the truth buddy."

Mrs Blog then sniffs a little and dabs at the corner of her eyes - as she did in this case.

"Madam, madam, don't cry," said the cop to Mrs Blog. "And do not be so angry with your husband. It will be all right."

At this point I say again, as I did with the traffic cop, "How much."

"Ah, how much do you have?"

"Well, I've got 600 on me, but I need to fill the car up at the airport and they don't take credit cards for petrol. I can probably spare R500." (about AUD$80).

Now, I must add at this point that I was in a hurry. Certainly, there was no way I was going to accompany anyone to any station, and nor was I going to pay the full fine. With time on my hands I have been known to negotiate my way completely out of a fine.

Once, in Zambia, just outside Livingstone, a traffic cop tried to fine me 50,000 Kwacha (about US$10) for not having the correct reflectors on my Zimbabwean-registered Land Rover. Apart from the fact that my vehicle was legal in Zimbabwe - which should have been sufficient for Zambia - and that I didn't have 50,000 Kwacha on me, on principle, there was no way I was going to pay this fine. I stood in the baking noonday heat, holding up a line of 20 or 3o vehicles as I negotiated.

Eventually, the copper tired of my polite obstinacy and Mrs Blog's carefully orchestrated rantings and tears and we were waved through the roadblock, not a Kwacha poorer.

If I had tried any of this back home in Australia I would have most likely been arrested and taken to said Biker's cell, or, if I lived in Victoria or Queensland, I would have probably been shot by the cop in question, who would have then planted his back-up piece on my body.

I wouldn't call the policeman who stopped me for speeding on the way to the airport corrupt - just... flexible. This is what I love about African officialdom - its bendyness.

"OK, 500," he said. "The camera does not lie, so I will write on your fine that you were doing 138kph and that way the fine will be R500. OK?"

I love African logic, aswell.

The jovial rotund officer left us with some words of advice for Mrs Blog: "Madam?"

"Yes," Mrs Blog sniffed, now drying her eyes with a Wimpy Bar serviette.

"Please do not berate your husband. He is a good man, and we are all human."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the Parky

Guess what, Legion of Fans, (pay attention, all four of you), I have been nominated for an award in the 2008 South African Blog Awards, for my contribution to the Getaway Magazine Blog.

Attention, friends, Romans (for the Italian readers out there), country men (those living in Mudgee and Eurgowra), lend my your right index fingers.

I need you all to vote for me, so that I might become (more) famous in South Africa.

Bread, circuses and free beer will be redeemable for all votes.

You'll find my nomination in the 'Best Travel Blog' section. I'm near the bottom of the list and the travel section is a fair way down as well.


Friday, March 07, 2008

The Top End survivial guide

Walk slowly and drink lots of beer.

That's the only way to survive in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory, Australia's 'Top End' - or, as I now call it, little Africa.

I've just finished three days of hard yakka (work) up here, on a gruelling series of library talks, spruiking myself, Africa and my books, thanks to my very good friends at Darwin City Council, who invited me to the the wild north.

(Actually, I had to do three talks over two days, so it wasn't THAT gruelling).

Rising early (OK, 9-ish) on my first day in the tropics, I went for a run. In Sydney, even at that late hour, there are usually a few other silly people like me out for a jog. In Darwin, I seemed to be the only person moving at a pace beyond a snail's crawl.

Odd, I thought, until my body started melting. It was already well into the thirties and by the time I reached the end of Darwin's scenically agreeable wharf I was about to die. If it had been Sydney Harbour below me I would have simply dived in.

Reinforcing my last post on the enforcement of laws (or lack thereof) in the NT, I was pleased to note that there were absolutely no safety railings along the length of the wharf, so I could have dived in at any point. However....

This is the Northern Territory, not Sydney. A dip in the water up here is not something to be undertaken lightly. Every day (or so it seems) the local newspaper, the NT News, publishes a new and scarier story about yet another crocodile attack and/or victim.

The day I arrived the headline was "Croc attack survivor killed by snake" - which I suppose is a Top End reporter's version of 'man bites dog', but the next day even the locals (who, I gather, are a bit jaded about the number of reptile stories in their local newspaper) were amazed to see the picture of a croc leaping out of the water in pursuit of a very scared-looking fisherman.

Had it not been for the world-beating photograph, and a rather interesting story about the discovery of the body of a man (minus his neatly severed genitals) in a car, then the story on me, "Big Thriller as Author Hits Town" may have been moved up from page nine (not that I was complaining, mind you, as it was a very nice story).

Anyway, after my near-death exercise experience I recovered, with the help of a passing paramedic and an ice bath in the local hosptial, and eventually summoned the strength for a short walk around town.

Darwin has changed quite a bit since the early 80s, when I first visited, though I was pleased to see some historic landmarks, such as the 'Old Vic' hotel in the mall, and the Diamond Beach Casino (where Svenno and I once, famously, lost everything in our possession on an Army trip - an experience that cured me forever since of gambling) still standing.

Surprising, though, were the number of multi storeyed buildings. I had trouble recalling anything higher than about two floors in the old days (but this could have been because I spent more than a little time face-up in the gutter). But here in the new Darwin were blocks of units; imposing government buildings; and the very agreeable Crowne Plaza Hotel, where yours truly spent many an airconditioned hour on the 20th floor.

My library talks were fun. I spoke at lunch time at Darwin City Library, to a crowd of about 30 people who laughed at the appropriate places in my speech and didn't fall asleep. For this, I was most grateful.

In the evening, I spoke at Casuarina Library, where the feature-wall-sized promotion of me and my books, and the offer of free booze and nibblies both contributed to the presence of 50-plus people!!!! So many people, in fact, Legion of Fans, that extra chairs had to be found.

My very good friends Karen and Barb from Darwin City Libraries organised these talks and my other new good friends Tony and Anna, from Angus and Robertson, sold more than a few books.

I'm pleased they made a few sales, as they were forced to sit through all of my talks, including my repetitive tale (it's quite a good one, even if I do say so myself - and very self-deprectating) of how an A & R sales girl once pooh-poohed my book, Safari, in front of me and a prospective reader, while trying to convince said customer to buy a copy of Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. That incident ended well - the customer bought my book, instead, and the sales lady retreated in shame - and my good friends at Pan Macmillan later gave me a copy of Shantaram, a weighty tome which I put to good use in Africa last year as a stand for my high lift jack when I got bogged.

But back to Darwin.

Talk three was at Palmerston City Library - quite possibly the most impressive, modern biblioteque I have ever seen. When I first visited Darwin there was no Palmerston Library - in fact there wasn't even a Palmerston. The crowd here was more 'intimate' shall we say, but it was actually a fun gathering, not least of all because the people who showed up had all read my books, so we had heaps to talk about (and there was more free grog).

I spent quite a lot of time during the question-and-answer sessions at each talk answering queries about travelling in Africa - more than about my books, in fact. I was cool with this because I'll happily talk for 24 hours straight underwater about Africa. As a result of the interest I've deced to add some travel tips - a bit of a mini safari guide - to my website, which is currently undergoing an extreme makeover.

After three very pleasant days I came to the conclusion (in fact, reinforced what I already knew) that I love Darwin, I love public libraries, I love air conditioning, and I love talking about myself.

Seriously, folks, to all who organised the trip and to everyone who took the time out of their day or evening to come and listen to me yabber on for half an hour, thank you. Thanks too, to Lois, a lovely lady who pestered the library people to invite me to Darwin. Lois and I are kindred spirits - we both like a bit of gunplay and killing early on in our books.

Top Enders, it was lovely meeting you all. Let's do it again some time (not the running bit, though).