Review: Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood (featuring Corinna Chapman, sizable baker of excellence)

I recently joined Goodreads and have begun to add books to my virtual shelves there. Here’s a review I wrote today – Goodreads has a nifty feature which allows one to copy the code for one’s review and drop it into a blog post. How efficient is that, grasshoppers? I’ll add these from time to time as I get the opportunity to actually say something worthwhile about what I’m reading.

Cooking the Books (Corinna Chapman, #6)Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cooking the Books is number 6 in the Corinna Chapman series by Kerry Greenwood (who also writes the Phryne Fisher ‘lady’ detective stories set in 1920s Melbourne). Corinna Chapman is a contemporary baker of ample size who loves her bakery, her partner, her cats, and most of her neighbours. She gets herself involved in various sticky situations by virtue of her own baking and social activities, and those of her partner, Daniel, a private eye who hails from Israel.

This instalment involves Corinna in catering for a reality TV series, where strange things are happening to the leading lady. Meanwhile, Corinna’s partner, Daniel, tries to solve a crime involving a somewhat iffy company, stolen bearer bonds, homeless men, and a plethora of clues in the form of nursery rhymes, quotations and snatches of poetry.

I would describe this novel as an uber-cosy. It takes the reader into the main character’s world in a very full and detailed way. Crime solving almost seems incidental at times as we get a bird’s eye view of Corinna’s wonderful life at work and at home, and with her lovely partner, Daniel. So, if you enjoy ensconcing yourself in a fictional world (full of cats, by the way, which I love) and you aren’t too worried about speedy narrative and resolution, this book may be one you’d enjoy.

Kerry Greenwood is an excellent (and prolific) writer and, having met her, I can also say, a thoroughly lovely and decent person with a great sense of humor and feel for people and their funny little ways. This becomes apparent when you read her works. I’d also recommend readers take a look at the Phryne Fisher series (there are 19 at last count). Meanwhile, check out Corinna Chapman and her delicious, delovely delights.

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Happy Christmas to Every Typing Writer – and Everyone Else

I remember seeing Jerry Lewis perform this lovely little piece when I was a child. Who knows, it may have inspired me to become a writer, and if it didn’t, well, I’m claiming it now as an antecedent.

Enjoy and remember, if you want typewriter sounds on your PC or laptop a la your old Smith-Corona, Remington or Olivetti, go to Q10 and download their text editor – it’s small and takes up hardly any room on your hard drive, and you can play with its colors and fonts to your heart’s content. Every writer of a certain age will, I am almost entirely certain, love it. Anyway, on with the show:

Happy Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Yule Cool Greetings, and so on, etc, and then some, Grasshoppers.

A Successful Social Media Campaign that features Death and Destruction – Dumb Ways to Die

I couldn’t resist spreading the word about this fantastic video from Melbourne Metro.  It’s about how to stay safe around trains, train tracks and train stations, and it’s – yes – fabulous.  You don’t actually get to the train stuff until the end, so the audience has been warmed up appropriately – rather like a good suspense novel leading us all to the big finish.

It’s been viewed over 30 million times – not bad for a choo-choo company’s marketing crew.

With any luck, kids and adults who see it will remember the tune when they get to the station and are tempted to be just plain dumb.  Enjoy, and remember, grasshopper.

Dave Brubeck – An Author’s Best Friend

Dave Brubeck has died aged 91 on December 5, a day short of his 92nd birthday.  This is a brief tribute to one of the greats of jazz and an encouragement to all writers to buy at least one of Dave’s albums and incorporate it into your daily schedule.  It will do you nothing but good.Piano Keyboard

I can’t remember when I discovered Brubeck and his quartet – some years ago – but they’ve helped me through writing a PhD, a couple of novels, any number of poems, articles and short stories, and all the associated research that goes with making art, as Seth Godin might say.

Perhaps Dave and the gang can help you, too.

Feeling a lack of support in the dim dark hours of composition?  Need a pick-me-up after lunch?  Want a dance partner when everyone is out of reach?  A chill-out session with your breakfast cuppa and oats as you rewrite the night before and wonder what you could possibly have been thinking?  How about adding a little rhythm to the sweeping, washing, cooking, cleaning in between chapters?

Attach those mp3 earbuds, or crank up the boombox and try one of these albums: The Essential Dave Brubeck, (Columbia, 2CD set), The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Best of Brubeck (1979-2004) (Telarc, 2CD set), The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Their Last Time Out (Live Concert December 26, 1967) (Columbia/Sony, 2CD set), This is Jazz 3: Dave Brubeck (Columbia).  And if you want a taste of jazz generally – and who doesn’t? – try The Best of Ken Burns Jazz (Verve Music) – it’s a compilation from Burns’s TV series Jazz – The Definitive History of Jazz, and includes people like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan, and of course, Dave, with arguably the quartet’s most famous piece, written by sax player, Paul Desmond, Take Five.  There’s a video of the group playing Take Five here on You Germany in 1966.  It’s great.  And if you want to learn more, go to the official Dave Brubeck site, where you can also listen to several tracks.   

I can vouch for all of the CDs since I’ve all but worn them out.  But there are plenty of others of equal quality that might be available where you happen to be.  You won’t regret it – and no, I’m not Dave Brubeck’s shilling niece, cousin, or love child, just a happy fan.

Engage with Dave and the Quartet – it will enhance your practice and your art and your life.  Just do it, grasshopper.

Bye, bye, Dave, and thanks for all the notes.


Cover Design Matters because Perception is Reality

The Australian Federal Government recently introduced reforms to cigarette packaging which require manufacturers to sell their cancer sticks in plain packs from December 1, 2012.  The new packaging also includes gruesome photos of body parts suffering the effects of various cancers associated with smoking.  Not an attractive item at all, really.

Why are you telling me this, Jay, I hear you ask, because I’m about to have my raisin toast and I don’t need those thoughts and images in my noggin.  Why, Jay, why?  Good question, grasshopper.  Here’s the answer: people buying their favorite brands in the new, plain packs with bad photos are reporting that the smokes taste terrible, and different, but not in a good way.  Some have even been motivated to quit.

The thing is, the tobacco inside is the same – the cigarettes are the same old, same old ones that were on sale in beautiful, colorful, suave, sophisticated, motivate-you-to-drag-harder and buy-more designs the day before December 1.  But in an article in the Brisbane Times, experts have confirmed the ‘well-established’ fact that ‘brand packaging is a powerful tool for recruiting new smokers.’  (Cigarette manufacturers fought the legislation all the way to the High Court of Australia and were rightly defeated).

Let’s rephrase that expert info:

Brand packaging is a powerful tool for recruiting new readers.

Sound reasonable, transferrable, applicable to the book industry?  I’d argue that it does.  Let’s make it really specific:

Book packaging is a powerful tool for recruiting new readers.

Perception is reality.  Your book is your brand.  When you publish a book in print or electronically, you’re telling people quite a lot about your work and yourself.  That’s how they’ll perceive you and your book and what’s inside.  Those perceptions, for better or worse, become the potential reader’s reality.  And that’s a significant reason why good cover design – a major factor in book packaging –  is so important.  You want to attract, not repel, impress not disappoint.

When I was writing Spawned Secrets, my third novel, I had no idea what the cover would be like, but my mind’s eye was full of images as I wrote scenes and visualised my hero, Garfield Fletcher, and his cohort of characters, in their various settings, and thought about their motivations and desires.  After the manuscript was complete and in its editing stages, I sat down with my partner and sketched out some rough designs.  We’re design newbies, but we had the advantage of knowing someone (John McLay) with an honors degree in Fine Arts and a skill with Photoshop that reminds me of flamenco dancers performing the Paso Doble – yes, really.  (The other big advantage is that he works for chicken burritos and watermelon – very high quality chicken burritos and watermelon, he’s a professional – a story for another day).

My point is, you need someone with skill on your side when you go out into the world with your little book.

It’s part of you and you want to present it in the best possible light.  You wouldn’t send your kid off to school in a uniform that doesn’t fit, unpolished shoes, holey socks, manky hair – you get the picture.  Your books are your children and they deserve the best.  They want to look good and fit in when they’re out with their mates – they want to both stand out in the crowd and be part of the crowd – the right crowd, of course, the crowd that creates strong and positive perceptions about itself.

So what did we do?

We designed the cover to reflect the content.  The novel is about dodgy stockbrokers with a terrible secret, stalked by a serial killer in the rainforest.  The cover incorporates ideas about money, greenery turning to reddery (spoiler alert: there are murders in Spawned Secrets – like you couldn’t guess), the purity of water (and souls) being sullied and corrupted by greed and fear after dripping so beautifully (and tearfully) from the tip of a rainforest leaf.

We picked a font that suggests class and authority and is contextually appropriateTrajan Pro designed by Carol Twombly.  By way of comparison, imagine Trajan Pro replaced by Comic Sans MS, the font world’s whipping boy. Not on, is it?

We took high resolution photos with professional equipment.  We could do this because we’re in the fortunate position (for which I am truly grateful) of having a strong interest in photography and the resources available to shoot some images that our designer could then manipulate with his Paso Doble magic.

So, the summary:

If you have the skills, go for it.  If you don’t, get a designer, by hook or by burrito.  Talk with the designer about what you want the cover to do for the book – you wrote it, you’re the expert on its characters, settings, and themes – make those work for you as you consider the best visual representation.

Research fonts – it’s fun and font people are fabulously dedicated to their craft.  Check out and go from there.  Read Simon Garfield’s great book on fonts, Just My Type.  You won’t regret it.

Create or acquire good quality images – if you don’t feel confident about doing it yourself, there are quite a lot of stock photo businesses just ready to take your dosh and give you some great photos in return.  Google ‘stock photos’, or have a browse around Shutterstock, Getty Images, or iStockphoto.  These are some of the biggest.  Or maybe you know a photographer who owes you a favor, or is interested in adding some more lines to their resume.

Finally, begin – the first step is the hardest, and after that – well, it’s like a career: an uncontrollable lurch downhill – and you’ll enjoy every swerve, loop and triple pike on the way, with or without Comic Sans.




Rosanne Fitzgibbon

Rosanne Fitzgibbon, Rosie, died a couple of weeks ago, on August 20.  She was a highly respected editor and a beloved friend and colleague to so many in the Australian literary community, and it’s beyond a certainty that she’ll be missed by everyone who knew and cared for her.

I knew Rosie for many years and we’d usually meet up at Warana Writers’ Week committee meetings or at the festival itself, or any number of associated functions.  I was lucky enough to have Rosie champion and edit my second novel, Percussion, which was published by UQP in 2004.  She was instrumental in having my first novel, A Mortality Tale, republished alongside Percussion in a spanking new edition.  We worked together on the manuscript and Rosie was generous with her time, insights and advice.  The novel was the better for it.

Thank you is a small thing to say, but I know I share the thoughts of many who knew Rosie and who have much to thank her for.  She was someone who helped writers stay the course and she did it with a quiet grace and dignity that I’ll always remember.

As Woody Allen says, “There is no question there is an unseen world:  the question is, how far is it from mid-town and how late is it open?”  Not far, I suspect, and as late as you like.  Save us a table, Rosie.

A Hero of the Decisive Moment–Lillian Hellman


In a letter dated May 19, 1952, American writer, Lillian Hellman, refused to testify against her associates after being summoned to appear on May 21 before the now infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities.

This Committee, known as HUAC, was convened by Senator Joe McCarthy to root out Communists in the US.  It was an era of fear, nascent nuclear power, and the developing Cold War between the USSR and the West, and many careers and lives were destroyed because of McCarthy and his cohort’s obsessive paranoia about Communism and its followers.

Lillian Hellman, a hero of mine, made a decision of immediate and lasting significance by refusing to dob in her mates.  On this day over half a century ago, the Committee of hate-fuelled little men were advised: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”  Her defiance saw her blacklisted by Hollywood for many years, but history has emphatically demonstrated who was on the side of justice and honour.

Let’s decide, like Lillian, not to cut our consciences, grasshoppers – but be ready for resistance, mostly from ourselves.

Heaven’s just a flicker of a decisive moment away


Rainbows are certainly a little glimpse of heaven, or else refracted light …

Have you decided yet whether or not you believe in heaven?  Did you ever contemplate making such a decision, or is your belief, one way or the other, so ingrained, so embedded like html code in the web, that you’ve never given it a second thought, you’ve never thought to re-decide your position? 

Why not think about it now as you read this Guardian interview with Stephen Hawking, Professor of Physics at Cambridge University in England (and author of the bestseller, A Brief History of Time – fairly unreadable by most people after the first few pages, I’d argue – of course, I could be in the midst of a gaggle of physics nerds, in which case, good luck to you, you stringy buggers). 

In essence, in this interview, Professor Hawking believes we’re walking computers and once our brains turn off the lights for the last time, that’s it.  Heaven, he says, is for those afraid of the dark.  So much for knowing the mind of God, as he wondered all those years ago in A Brief History …
What do you think, grasshoppers?  Heaven or no heaven?  Deal with God, or no Deal, ever?  Or would you rather fence-sit and wait to see what happens upon the last flicker?

P.S. Check out the comments in the Guardian article as well – some of them are laugh-worthy.

Leon’s Tree and Its Decisive Moments

Leon’s Tree Being Decisive

Leon’s tree, like all of us, experiences decisive moments every moment.  It’s a product of nature, like all of us, whose systems are constantly making decisions about how best to survive in its environment and weather the circadian rhythms of life.

So what better earthly creature to demonstrate that decisive moments aren’t always obvious and sometimes don’t become apparent for some time after they occur.  Sometimes, it’s never, but it can be calming to gaze upon a beautiful tree and know that, at every moment, decisions are being made that will decide its present and future. A Few More Blinks