Pay or paid to publish?

As usual I’ve got myself into a fairly inarticulate state on Twitter over the Mamma Mia no-pay-to-publish thing. There’s a bit of history to it, just for context.

Marieke Hardy, of all people, kicked off on Twitter the other day at Mamma Mia founder Mia Freedman for not paying her contributors.

I was surprised at this. I thought MM was a pretty big site (Freedman claims 1.2m visitors) and I would have thought at least paying a nominal amount to say thanks is fair. 1.2m is a big number in the Australian web scene, so the site must be doing alright. Freedman does not appear short of a bob or the influence her position affords.

Now, nobody holds a gun to these people’s heads. Bern Morley and Meshel Laurie both stuck up for Freedman, saying it led to bigger and better things. I can believe that and am pleased it worked out for them.

Freedman then wrote a lengthy piece about how she employs a number of full and part-time writers and then casually dropped that she has “about a dozen” unpaid interns. Which, in raw numbers, doubles her staff, but they’re obviously  part time.

Still, this made me extremely uncomfortable.

Most of the writers laying into her are people who make a living being paid to write or are very close to doing so. Freedman’s counter-argument is that this is the sort of exposure money can’t buy and anyway, she’s not the only one.

She’s right, unless you’re Jamie Packer and you spend lots of money advertising in Fairfax papers.

I write for free and have done so for 20 years. The vast bulk of my writing in that time has been for zero dollars. Four hundred game reviews over several sites, (some that were in a position to pay, I might add), many film reviews and probably millions of words about Formula 1.

I’ve been paid less than $15,000 in 20 years of writing. I won a writing award in 1997 which paid, I was paid a nominal amount for a play to be toured by ATYP, a magazine article or two and now am paid regularly to write about cars. It’s a nice feeling.

I’d say about 95% of the money has come from writing about cars, if you’re interested. I am extraordinarily thankful for that. And 95% of that from a website with far fewer visitors than Freedman’s claimed audience and over the last 7 months.

(I’m not including the scripts and unpublished novels, by the way)

Anyway, the point is, there has to be a line somewhere. In fact, two. One must be drawn by the writer – how much are they willing to do for free, for how long and why are they doing it for free? Only the writer can decide this and it’s really nobody else’s business. Some say those who write for free undermine other writers, but I don’t think that holds any water because that’s not how business or publishing works.

The second is for the publisher: how much free labour am I going to harness before it gets a bit silly?

I’ve been both. I published a video game website for a few years that I inherited from an impressive younger bloke and had to be completely upfront about the fact that there wasn’t a red cent in it, despite being one of the most successful sites around at the time. I felt bad.

Thing is, I’m really lucky. I have a good income from other sources that keeps me better than well-fed and housed and clothed and I am extremely grateful for that. Writing is a hobby for me and I am always pleasantly surprised by the payments I do get.

But, because I’m an egomaniac, the reward for me is that my name is in lights or pixels or whatever and my thoughts are being read by others who don’t know me and never will. I get a kick out of that.

What I don’t get a kick out of is exploitation. Sites like Mamma Mia (and I am picking on them unfairly here and on Twitter) make a lot of money (if 1.2m is true, etc etc) and have a responsibility to check themselves. And not cry about it on TV.

The power, in the end, is with the writer. If you’re not prepared to do it for nothing, don’t. If you are, but are uncomfortable with Freedman et al, don’t write for them. That doesn’t pay the bills, but neither does The Punch or The Drum or whoever else.

What does pay the bills eventually is the exposure you get for judiciously choosing your targets and setting yourself a goal – “if I am not paid after n pageviews, I will say thanks, but I’m off.” Or whatever. It’s up to you.

I just wish it didn’t have to be this way and I don’t honestly think Freedman takes delight in not paying, she just thinks it’s the only way.

It isn’t, but she, and many others, are looking after their own financial interests.



I hope Kate Middleton ONLY has morning sickness

DISCLAIMER: Before I get going on this, let me be clear that I think the already over-reported Kate-Middleton-pregnant thing is rubbish. It’s so utterly tedious and while, yes, she knew what she was getting herself into, the pressure to tell the world about this stuff is tedious for us and pretty galling for her. This isn’t about Kate Middleton being sick, or to get you to understand how HG  affected us it’s about thousands of women worldwide who suffer what she is suffering today.

So yeah, I’m not here waving a Union Jack and telling you to feel sorry for her because she’s rich and posh and whatever.


Kate Middleton does not have a simple case of acute morning sickness. I hope she does. But if the papers are to be believed, she has a terrifying condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. I’ll tell you why it’s terrifying.

When a woman has hyperemesis gravidarum, she cannot function because she is constantly throwing up. It is unstoppable. She dehydrates, she can become anorexic and even when hospitalised, HG can and does lead to organ failure.

How do I know this? My wife went through it several times. She tried everything, and I mean everything.

Western medicine is largely useless when it comes to HG because the anti-nausea and anti-emetic drugs will most likely either disable or kill the foetus. Lots of baffled doctors, though, especially the women who think women with HG are bunging it on. When they realise the truth, they run, they don’t want a failure on their hands.

She tried Eastern medicine, she tried things that she knew to be mumbo-jumbo, but she tried everything in an attempt to trick her mind or body into thinking that it didn’t need to be doing this to her. All failed.

She spent months lolling on couches and beds, talking to women the world over via HG forums, a group of women desperately trying to keep themselves and each other going through this tortuous time. Some women got through it at 12 weeks, some at 28, some didn’t stop until 40 weeks. Or they lost their children either through termination or miscarriage and had to pick up the pieces and be expected to just get on with their lives.

When our son Max was born, she was still throwing up an hour after. She weighed less with him on board than she did before she fell pregnant.

Over the next few years and several pregnancies, she would spend over six months in hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, full of tubes, still throwing up because that’s what her body was doing, whether there was anything to throw up or not.

When there was no food, her stomach lining and oesophagus came up.

Her liver and kidneys both came to the point of failure in each and every pregnancy after our son was born. She could not go to the bathroom unaided because she had such low blood pressure she would faint and hit her head on the floor. There was nothing – nothing – anyone could do.

She could die, they told us, and so could our baby. Could became would and we had to terminate pregnancies to save her life. It was heartbreaking and she has never forgiven herself for what she sees as a personal failure to carry her children.

In April 2007 after 24 weeks of sheer bloody-minded determination to get through the HG, we suffered a stillbirth. I can’t tell you how painful it was for us to get that far, to feel we were turning a corner with her condition, only to lose our baby boy, who we named Gabriel.

We still have his ashes, we can’t bear to part with him and the box full of toys and clothes we bought for him. We were told a good strategy is to create hope, a future – buy things for the baby so you have something to look forward to and crash through the pain.

We still have the things her friends from the HG forum sent her, from all over the world, to say how sorry they were. A beanie to fit his tiny head still moves me to tears when I see it or think about it.

My wife, once so happy and confident, became a shell, each and every time and had to be rebuilt. Neither of our families understand what it has done to her and can’t or won’t take the time to find out. It’s too confronting. Her experience has alienated her from friends and family because she finds it difficult to cope with their inability to empathise. She doesn’t want to be that way, but she is.

She suffered post-traumatic stress, still does. She has panic and anxiety attacks.

She wants to kill pregnant women who, dressed, groomed, make-up on and otherwise okay, are standing in front of her, upright with a glass of wine in their hand telling her how sick they are.

It’s not their fault, but they don’t get it or understand her reaction. She couldn’t even wash her hair, she couldn’t cope with it. Have a shower? Forget it. Her sense of smell became hyper-sensitive, the chlorine would make her chuck.

She couldn’t leave her hospital room or our bedroom for months at a time. She went weeks without seeing our son, she couldn’t stand noise or light or the smell of sheets washed in certain powders. Every day I sat with her as she drifted in and out of consciousness or going stir-crazy, waking only to throw up or try and get some food or water down.

She had suicidal thoughts, the rolling nausea breaks down your will and your soul. She lived in a half-light, a twilight, but she so badly wanted another child. It was not to be. We called a stop to it after the fourth pregnancy, when she mercifully miscarried but still had to go through a procedure to clear her womb.

Women still die from this, some of them courtesy of some insane religious extremism relating to terminations, some of them because they refuse to give up and some of them because they are simply not believed.

It’s not fair. While it’s hilarious to stand back and laugh at the idiotic reporting of Kate Middleton’s condition, to say that it’s only being reported because she’s posh and she probably isn’t that sick, if she’s got hyperemesis she’s in deep, deep trouble.

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re Charlotte Bronte, who died at four months in a dank room in nineteenth century England, or you have the best care in Australia’s maternity hospitals or you are carrying the heir to the British throne, nobody knows why this happens or how to stop it. Anyone who says they have an answer is either deluded or a liar.

Middleton is in the same boat as my wife and only a slightly better boat than Bronte. It has nothing to do with twins, social status, diet, ethnicity, nothing at all.

William is in the same boat as me, having to stand by and watch it all unfold and being able to do nothing. Doesn’t matter he’s Prince William, today he’s a very worried husband and potential father hoping this all goes away soon.

HG is not an attention-seeking version of “acute morning sickness,” it’s so awful many sufferers are consigned to cancer wards because that’s the best place to deal with the constant vomiting and nausea.

Doctors will confidently stride in to see Middleton today and tell her she’ll be fine, in a week they’ll give up having tried everything and hand her over to another doctor who will do the same thing. It will happen to about twenty women in Australia every month, hundreds more in the US and the UK.

I genuinely hope we can go back to being snarky about Mrs Windsor at some point in the future because all of this will be a false alarm brought on by over-enthusiastic reporters and she was just a bit wobbly and needed a shot of fluids or vitamin B or something.

Because I can tell her – and you – she’d rather a bit of derision than what’s ahead of her if she truly has hyperemesis.

I Watched The Newsroom!

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and I have come to the following conclusion about Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Strap yourselves in, because I don’t think anyone else has said this about it.

Here goes. This is my opinion, and it is mine and I do not believe anyone else has expressed this.


Seriously, just that.


I’m not a West Winger, I watched precisely thirty seconds of Studio 60 and I have no predisposition in either direction about Sorkin’s talents as a writer.

Some of his dialogue is great, whip-crack sharp and delivered by a cast I quite like.

Some of The Newsroom is painfully expositional and deliriously earnest in its intent.

Sam Waterston is perfectly cast for that role, given his long history on Law & Order delivering some pretty dumb lines for the benefit of its brain-dead audience segment.

“Show don’t tell” is what I learned about writing for television and the theatre, Sorkin does and awful lot of telling, mostly via statistics that make my head spin.

The cast, as a whole (and I include Waterston) in my assessment, is terrific. Everybody plays their part well and the male characters are well developed if, in a few instances, irritating.

The women, unfortunately, are not well-written or developed. This probably makes their performances even better, struggling as they are under weightily sexist storylines.

They mostly seem to be rushing about trying to impress the men in the office and this drove me a bit nuts. They certainly weren’t confection or eye-candy afterthoughts, they just seemed to be there to support the male stories and their egos.

I suspect that Sorkin just doesn’t know how to write women who aren’t subservient AND unbearably masculine.

I think the crux of my ‘meh’-ness was that it just doesn’t entertain me on a sustainable level. The episodes are really up and down and are only lent tension by the event that they are covering.

The Osama Bin Laden Assassination episode was very good but was utterly ruined by a wave of self-indulgent, cloying do-gooder moments from various members team in the direction of peripheral cast expressly injected into the story to support those moments.

I can handle sentimentality but it was saccharine and ruined the show.

And that’s kind of where I left it. I went to watch episode 8 but thought, why? I know what’s coming, I know Sorkin’s position about the events that are unfolding in a media that is free from responsibility and I agree with him.

It’s an extended attack on the hollowness of modern (read Fox) news, but we get it from Mackenzie’s first production meeting with the new team. We get it.

News is crap, and dumbed down and often riddled with lies. We know, we have the same problem in almost every single English-speaking Western country that has bought into the news culture of the US.

I can’t keep nodding and saying, “Yes, so true,” without then asking, “Can we move on now?”

It kind of turned into Q&A without the right-wing troll. So extra boring, then.

Also, I don’t believe for a moment that Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy is a Republican, not for one second. Not because I despise Republicans in general (many of them are very sensible people) but because he talks like the Democrat that Sorkin obviously is.

And that’s all the show has turned out to be – a mouthpiece for Sorkin, masquerading as balanced rhetoric.

So yeah.


SlutWalk Means One Thing To Me

Nobody deserves to be raped.

There is no excuse for rape. There is no excuse for rape.

Her clothes are no excuse for rape. Her occupation is no excuse for rape. Her refusal to have a drink with you is no excuse for rape. Her refusal to have sex with you is no excuse for rape. It doesn’t matter if you are married or in a long-term relationship, there’s no excuse for rape.

It doesn’t matter which drugs she might have taken, if you’re a footballer, if she’s a sex worker or a nun or anything in between – there’s no excuse for rape.

It doesn’t matter what you think, what you believe, what she believes, what I believe. There’s no excuse for rape.

There just isn’t.

There’s no excuse that anyone has to have this explained to them. There’s no excuse that we’re still having to tell people that it is never the victim’s fault. Nobody wants to be raped, nobody deserves to be raped, every one on this planet holds the right to be safe from being raped.

There’s no excuse for rape. Not now, not then, not tomorrow, not ever.

You may not like the name of Slutwalk, you may not really understand why it’s called that. You will see people marching in it who don’t really get it either. But it doesn’t matter. It’s happening because there are people in this world who hate women enough to think that they were ‘asking for it.’ You may not agree with the morality of many of the people walking, you may be a Christian, a Muslim, an Atheist or nothing or everything, but the message is clear – there’s no excuse for rape and there’s no excuse for blaming the victim.

I’m a Christian and I would join this walk because everyone on SlutWalk has one common belief:

There is no excuse for rape.

That’s a good enough reason to hit the streets with people you ordinarily wouldn’t.

If you don’t agree, keep reading this post until you do. If I only knew one person who had been raped, it would be too many, but I know way more than one. And that breaks my heart and that is another reason I would join SlutWalk.

It’s very, very simple.

There is no excuse for rape.

I Watched Episode 2 of Angry Boys!

Being a proper Aussie bloke (well, actually, not really, I don’t understand sport), I like to give things a fair go. I didn’t enjoy Angry Boys last week and thought it might have been the fact it was the first episode and just needed to find its rhythm. In that spirit, I returned to the well, looking forward to maybe meeting somebody new and not just tweaked or just plain reconstituted old characters. So, we met S.Mouse.

Oh, look, he’s blacked up, but because he’s an artiste, it means it’s confronting and funny and satirical, rather than old hat.

As I said last week, Lilley’s usually strong performances save a deficit in writing. S.Mouse is a thoroughly unlikeable little turd, although I’m sure there’ll be redemption next week, but he’s so grating. Once again it was the writing that completely failed to do the performances justice, and being the writer, that’s his problem. His storyline was spectacularly lacking in invention, it was just ideas plucked from reality and a long time after they stopped being funny. Making him black was an interesting choice because white rappers are inherently funny. Their almost mandatory lameness means you can have a lot of fun. The weird collision of hip-hop novelty and troubled, rebellious child star struggled to convince.

Satire has to add a twist and so far, there’s no twist. S.Mouse’s dodgy back story notwithstanding, it’s been done before. Characters like this – Kanye West, Snoop Dogg et al – are depressingly familiar and tiring. Having Chris Lilley point out that hip-hop is un-self-conscious parody is news only to a five year-old. When someone like S.Mouse has already appeared in Law and Order or CSI or worse, The Bill, you’ve missed the boat to take you to the island where there’s a shark you can jump.

Oh, she said wanked a dog! It’s Gran again and her ‘unexpected’ potty mouth. Hilarity.

The Gran (Mr G’s mad aunt?) character doesn’t appear to be going very far and consists of her being mostly horrible and then a little bit sweet. Her storyline is also written in order to manipulate the audience to invent some sympathy for her, rather than to be thought-provoking. The suicide angle was a bit uncomfortable, but not the way I think was intended – I thought it was too much. One wonders what is in store for us to manufacture sympathy for S.Mouse. At least with the virtually irredeemable twins, there is something embedded in their story that already gives us something to chew over.

What annoys me about the story arcs of the characters is that Lilley pushes them into the gutter to haul them back out again, even if it’s only momentarily. Russell T. Davies did this with the final stories of the David Tennant-era of Doctor Who. He turned the wonderful character of the Doctor into a scary, raging egomaniac with a sense of entitlement that we’d never seen before and it left a sour taste because it was a crude device. Lilley just keeps recycling it on all four storylines we’ve seen so far.

I will say I got a laugh this time. Right at the end when the boys in the prison were in the super-hero pyjamas. It was actually the only moment where the humour was at all subtle or gentle. He can do it, he’s just chosen not to. The rest of the gags were poo, dick and bum jokes and if there were other subtle jokes, they were so subtle I missed them.

Twitter seemed slightly muted compared to last week. I checked the ratings, they had remained flat, with a fall of 20,000 (statistically irrelevant, I would say). Whether it’s the dawning realisation that it isn’t funny or the unexpectedly heavy subject matter in some of the scenes, I’m not sure. Perhaps I am projecting and I just filtered the tweets.

Which brings me to a theory I’m developing about Lilley. Many tweets from last week seemed to be the fawning stuff I see regularly for Stephen Fry on Twitter. Lilley has somehow achieved national hero status, the successes of We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High propelling him to a position of pre-eminence. Let’s face it, the only other Australian comedy series we’ve had recently was Laid and, well, you know. It’s almost like if anyone dares to criticise the show, they’ll never work in this town again. I say that from the comparative safety of a relatively anonymous blogger with a name that is the Scandanavian equivalent of John Smith.

All this talk of ‘dark and confronting’ dodges the issue that it isn’t actually very good television. The pace is ponderous, the direction heavy-handed and Lilley does not allow much from the other performers, they’re all flat, robbing the show of the depth it’s going to need to survive its long season. I get that his characters are the stars but even in Little Britain, The Peter Serafinowicz Show, The Catherine Tate Show and other character-based sketch shows, the other performers at least get a chance to be seen, to react and to engage. The only exception has been S.Mouse’s father who I thought could have been funny if he’d been given funny lines. There’s no dynamism to the main characters either, so the repetition of their hooks – their hubris, the racism, the relentless swearing and gesturing – is just boring.

I didn’t set out to hate Angry Boys, but alarm bells rang when I heard he had twelve episodes to fill and the creeping mean-spiritedness of Summer Heights High had really put me off. Angry Boys has found its rhythm, but it’s a beat I can’t learn to like.

A Community Service Message For the Smug

I hate Q and A. It fills my timeline with all sorts of tat but tonight it really got up my nose as the smugness quotient bounced off the redline. I even swore on Twitter I was so furious.

The feed was full of fundamentalist atheist nonsense. The nonsense being the tired old cliches accusing Christians of all sorts of behaviour that isn’t representative of the majority, in the same way that the vast majority of atheists aren’t unbearably smug, with nothing better to do than point-score on Twitter with inflammatory remarks that are based in ‘clear and rational thinking.’ Did I mention that these people enjoy sweeping generalisations and indulging in mindless bigotry? And yelling at dark-hued kettles?

One contributor who I used to tolerate in my feed but banished because he’s too smug for words, had this little gem:

”Will the govt allow scientists into churches seeing as churches are allowed into schools?”

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church that had a ‘no scientists’ sign on the door. In fact, my sister is a scientist and a practising Christian who, last time I looked, didn’t have to sneak in to church.

I’m also pretty sure Dr Francis Collins is allowed in to church without a single problem. I mean, he’s not that important or anything, he’s the director of the Human Genome Project. No big deal. And there are thousands, even millions of scientists like him.

Come to think of it, I don’t think the government has a policy on scientists in churches. In fact, churches let anyone in. They’re good like that.

I’m really steamed up about this. Nobody, especially in the media, really wants to know about the opinion of the average Christian on the subject of school chaplains. It’s been a tough debate so far and stunt television like Q and A becomes a platform for idiocy to triumph, and that’s on both sides. As long as it’s good television, says the ABC, we’re okay with it, screw the facts or a genuine spectrum of views.

It’s a circus, usually with a panel half-filled with nutbags like Eric Abetz who are called upon to defend people who really rather he didn’t. It shouldn’t be called Q and A it should be called Black and White, because on this weekly dumptruck full of bile there’s no room for moderates unless they drag Waleed Aly on the panel for everyone to swoon over.

…and breathe.

A friend once called me a ‘raging egalitarian’ and I like to think that people who disagree with me (and he disagrees with me quite strongly on the subject of God) can see that I am like most Christians.

We don’t scoff at the idea of atheism, as though the poor holder of that belief is mentally ill.

We don’t judge people based on the particular sins they might commit. We don’t tell someone who has confided in us that they should ‘turn or burn’ or ‘God hates fags’ (a grotesque and plainly wrong assertion) and leave it at that. To characterise the entire chaplaincy community as mindless, judgemental dunderheads, whether you agree with their presence in schools or not, is deeply unfair. Even those who work for Access are not Paddison-clones.

Like many of the chaplains who have been (undeservedly) in the firing line all week, we show compassion, empathy and try and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Sin is sin – if Christians were ‘unable to talk to people who have lifestyles they consider sinful’ we’d never talk to anybody. We couldn’t order a coffee in a cafe, form meaningful relationships with anybody or do anything ever because none of us is perfect.

What kind of witness would it be if Jesus had said, ‘And if you could not talk to people who sin, that’d be a great way to preach love and kindness’? Brush up on the story of Zuccheus, Mary Magadalene and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. And on that last one, remind yourself of how he treated those who regarded themselves as sinless (and, if you ever do run into someone who calls themselves a Christian and does fit the stereotype, that’s the way to remind them they’re in the wrong. Tell them I sent you because I sure as hell would want the same thing done to me if I ever turned into one of those). He stopped a woman from being stoned, it’s a reasonably famous story, Google it. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

If I were a chaplain and a gay teenager came and spoke to me about their troubles, I’d listen and if I could, I’d help. Christians don’t deny compassion and charity to anyone they consider ‘sinful’ or disagree with them and there’s a really important reason for that:

Most Christians consider themselves as sinful as the person they’re talking to. Which puts them in absolutely no position to judge. Some don’t take that view, but most do. I know that’s a terrible blow to the smug groupthink, but as the militants are always so keen to remind the faith-heads, letting reality get in the way of a good story just sucks.

And in that position, where I felt I couldn’t help, I would try and point them to somebody who could, with apologies for being unable to help. Like most chaplains (see that word? Most), like most people, I don’t understand the torment of somebody who is confused about their sexuality, dreading they might be gay or what else they may go through because they are. I don’t know. I’ll probably get flayed alive for ‘dreading’ but as I say, I don’t know. I get being gay is hard if only just because other people can be deeply unpleasant about it.

The incredible bigotry I see on Twitter during Q and A might just be a small, smug, subsection of the community. I hope so.

Because smugness is banal, empty and intellectually bankrupt.

I’ve already covered what I think of the school chaplaincy program here which should give you a fair idea that I’m not blindly defending the presence of chaplains in schools. I suppose I’m defending my faith and my right to have it as well as the right of others to choose not to have it.

It’d be really nice if we could all get along and actually talk stuff through instead of howling at each other…

…says the guy who’s just spent forty minutes writing a howling blog post…

I Watched Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife! (no spoilers)

Doctor Who Series 6, Episode 4: The Doctor’s Wife.

I’m not going to say too much about this but I will say this:

This story has been coming for 48 years and it’s a cracker. Written by Neil Gaiman it’s a self-contained story (like last week’s silly pirate one) but it delves into the history of the Doctor in a way we haven’t really seen since the New Series started.

It’s touching, emotional, funny and I loved it. This is one for the fans and also for the newcomers because it helps bring the new viewers up to speed on a very important part of the Doctor’s story.