Archive for June, 2010

Book review: new edition of a popular bird field guide

Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia 8th edition

Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia 8th edition

Many of my readers here possibly do not know that I am a passionate birder. In fact, I write a very popular birding blog called Trevor’s Birding (click here). It is one of the most popular of its type with many hundreds of daily visitors. Heaps of photos too.

One of the essential tools of every birder (bird watcher) is a reliable field guide. These books illustrate each of the bird species found in a particular country or region. I have about 10 such books covering Australia, south east Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Europe.

In Australia we are blessed with a number of great field guides. With over 500,000 copies sold since the first edition in 1984, the Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia has proved to be one of the successful guides. Today sees the publication of a new, fully revised and updated 8th edition.

I’ve written an extensive review of this guide on my birding blog here.

The guide has been published by Penguin Books Australia.

Book Review: “Treasure Hunters” by Allan Baillie

Treasure Hunters

Treasure Hunters

A few weeks ago I finished reading the novel for teenagers called Treasure Hunters written by Australian author Allan Baillie. What an entertaining read it proved to be.

I’d read some of Allan’s books before but I forget which ones. On checking his website I found out how truly prolific his writing career has been. His list of published books is indeed daunting. The list of prizes and awards he has won for his books is truly amazing. Reading his autobiographical notes on his web site is also amazing. He has led a life that can only be described as full-on adventure – including once being arrested on the suspicion of spying!

Treasure Hunters is best described as a thriller. Sure, there is adventure there too, but the narrative carries the reader on up to the exciting climax. Masterful storytelling indeed.

The main character Pat joins his father on a quest to find the world’s richest shipwreck off the coast of an Indonesian island riddled with political and social turmoil. The dangers of diving to great depths adds yet another layer of danger and Baillie casts an exciting net over the action.

I’m not into diving and have very little knowledge in the field, but Baillie weaves in enough information along the way to help even the most ignorant reader understand what is happening, and the dangers faced by the characters.

It is a thrilling read and highly recommended.

It is also worth reading the author’s autobiographical notes on his web page here.


  • Baillie, A 2002, Treasure hunters. Camberwell, Victoria, Penguin Australia.
  • Allan Baillie web-page, accessed 26th June 2010.

Using the apostrophe

If anything gets my family riled up, it has to be the misuse of the humble apostrophe.

My daughter, an English teacher, calls herself  “The Apostrophe Nazi”. She delights in correcting errors wherever and whenever. My son even uses an apostrophe to abbreviate his name – Simon has become Sim’. It also annoys me when I see this poorly understood form of punctuation abused.

Imagine my horror, then, in reading  this sentence in an email from a bookshop recently:

“Xxxx Booksellers would like to thank its’ regular and new clients for their support.”

That is a shocker!

I should be fair though; the humble apostrophe is probably the most misunderstood and misused form of punctuation in our language.  Furthermore, the meaning of the sentence is still quite clear, so I’ll just let it rest. I make mistakes too – plenty of them.

Further reading:


Review: Nights in the asylum

Nights in the asylum

Book review: Nights in the asylum by Carol Lefevre

It was suggested by my supervising lecturer that I read this novel. Last week we had the author as the guest speaker at our regular fortnightly seminar. These are usually critiquing sessions where we try to help each other with the novels we are each writing for our Masters of Arts. Carol, a quietly spoken author talked to us for nearly two hours, going into details of how she went about the writing of this and her subsequent novel. I found her discussion on the inspiration of each work to be very interesting, and a  major work can stem from a simple thing such as a photograph. Interestingly, my own idea for my current novel came from a photograph.

The word “asylum” in the title has great significance. All three main characters in the story are seeking a different form of asylum, mirroring the differing meanings of the word. Miri, the main character, is seeking sanctuary from the turmoil of a failed marriage and the death of a teenage daughter. Aziz, on the run after escaping from a detention centre, is seeking political asylum. Suzette and her baby are seeking refuge from an abusive, violent husband. All three are thrown together by circumstances into the same house in an unnamed mining town in outback Australia.

One of the most intriguing elements of this novel is the constantly shifting point of view. Each section or chapter (some are short, others quite long) is headed with a name of one of the characters, mostly the major three (but sometimes even minor characters for a few pages). Each section has the story told from the point of view of the character named in the title of the section. It sounds like a complicated way of writing, but it is wonderfully effective. By dipping into the heads of each character in depth like this we get a much deeper understanding of the particular mental turmoil and physical torments faced by that character. We also gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for how they perceive other characters in the story. A very clever technique and masterfully handled by the author. It is a technique I initially grappled with and rejected when writing my novel. I knew the pitfalls and knew my skills were not equal to the task. (Read more here.)

Another major element of the story worth mentioning here is a device known as the flashback. Many writers love this technique and it can be overused and used poorly. This author has used flashback to great effect, filling in details from the past and helping the reader to more fully understand each character’s strengths and weaknesses.

There are many other wonderful aspects of this novel and I can only touch on some briefly.

  • The powerful mining town mentality of the townspeople comes through strongly.
  • It is worth reading just for the beautiful use of language.
  • The sense of isolation for all three main characters is a brooding presence throughout.
  • A sense of the inevitability of the ending carries the reader along – not wanting it to happen, but resigned to the fact that it must end that way.

Overall, a brilliantly written work, told with compassion and finesse. And it’s an entertaining read as well.


Lefevre, Carol, 2007, Nights in the asylum, Random House Australia, North Sydney

Can writers make a living from writing?

It is certainly true to say that many writers around the world make a good living from their craft.  Vastly greater numbers make enough to pay some bills, but must supplement their writing income by having a day job. I was like that until I retired from classroom teaching.

It is probably also true to say that the vast majority of people who call themselves writers make little or no money from their carefully fashioned words. I make a little from my blogging but nowhere near enough to live on. Like many writers I live with the dream that this may change sometime. The Big Breakthrough. The sudden Best Seller. The rise to Fame and, hopefully, fortune.

Only a very few writers are truly wealthy from their writing. I’ve just read an article called “The 5 wealthiest authors in the world“. There are no surprises in this list, especially with J.K. Rowling at the top. She has made an unbelievable $4.5 billion over the last twelve years.  Some might think she was an overnight success. This is far from the truth; she struggled with her writing for many years before her first book was published. What her story does is illustrate that we can all – no matter what our circumstances – live in the hope that our novel will become the next big seller.

Her story, and that of all the other wealthy writers on the list, illustrates again that there is not short cut to success. All wrote for many years honing their skills. All continue to work hard. Successful writers are persistent writers.

There is another large group of writers who do it just for the joy of putting words together. For them money is not the objective. They are just content to write for the sheer joy of using words. More power to them I say.

Reference: “The 5 wealthiest authors in the world” (click here to read it).