Should I quit writing?

I am distressed.

Right now I feel like never writing another book. And I’ll try to explain why as simply as I can, trying to untangle the messy political drama that is about to change the entire Australian publishing industry and how it affects me personally.

The government has proposed and recommended that Australia does two things:

  1. Introduce parallel importation
  2. Drastically reduce copyright protection to just 15 years.

(You can sign the petition to tell the government you don’t want this to happen right here.)

How does parallel importation affect me and you?

  • The first point I want to make sure you know is that our contemporaries, the USA and the UK do not have parallel importation. We would be going against them. (Which doesn’t make sense, right?)
  • The next point I want to make is that New Zealand lifted their parallel importation laws and rather than seeing cheaper books their book prices have risen to approximately $37 a book.

When I was offered my first publishing deal (after a long battle of 12 years to crack into my dream career), I was lucky enough to have three publishers offer to buy The Tea Chest. The two biggest offers came from Allen & Unwin and from Penguin (now Penguin Random House). This was a painful decision. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to be with either of these stellar publishing houses? In the end, I chose Allen & Unwin, in part because it is Australia’s largest wholly Australian owned publishing house, and because I was a total newbie to the scene and I had seen the merger of Penguin and Random House in Canada not long before, and I wasn’t sure what would happen if the same thing happened in Australia. (An aside, I have also published with Penguin Random House since then and still consider them a stellar publishing house.)

As it turns out, my very choice to choose Australian owned may come to hurt me after all.

Parallel importation of books is exceptionally complicated, but let me give you one example of how this might affect my publisher. Books are published by ‘territories’. Australia/New Zealand is one; the UK/Ireland is another; and the USA is another. What this means is that books sell into those territories, giving publishers the chance to make their money in their own territory, without having to compete with the whole world. It also means that they can acquire the rights to publish books from other territories. So Allen & Unwin, for example, has the rights to publish Harry Potter here in Australia. As you can imagine, that gives the company good cashflow. That cashflow and security is exactly what they use to reinvest in their Australian authors, and gives them the change to invest in (and take a financial chance on) new and emerging authors here in this country. With that guaranteed cashflow taken away? Well, let’s say that if I was an aspiring career author I would be losing a lot of hope of being published at all.

For me? I am lucky that I have a foot in the door, a good sales record and publishing track record. Still, my publisher is wholly Australian owned. It doesn’t have the backing of the multi-billion dollar publishing houses that are internationally owned to help it through the choppy waters of parallel importation.

  • Cheaper book prices for you? Not if New Zealand is any example to go by.
  • The market flooded with cheaper overseas books at the exclusion of our more costly Australian-written books? Highly likely.
  • A destruction of Australian literature? Highly likely.

How do changes to copyright affect me?

 

Right now, copyright laws in Australia are in alignment with the UK and USA, giving authors full rights over their work for the term of their life plus 50 years, which ensures that any royalties owing to their estate will go to the next generation.

The government has proposed and recommended reducing copyright laws to just 15 years, giving us the lowest copyright protection in the world.

The government claims that a book’s commercial life rarely extends past 5 years. They also claim that most authors aren’t motivated to write by making money, and those that do make money earn such an insubstantial amount that protecting their commercial rights is ridiculous.

Okay, firstly, I can name many Australian authors who are making good money from their writing–enough money to support themselves as a full time job, myself included. (And, dear government, we’re paying a lot of tax to you too.)

Secondly, even if we take that as a valid point (which it isn’t, just to be clear), what about our rights in intellectual property? What about our right as an artist to have ownership over the piece of art we created (generally spending years at a time to create)? What about our right to have our name attributed to our work 15 years after it was made?

What about my right to NOT have to stand by and watch someone take The Tea Chest and reprint it as their own work, make money from it AND put their own name to it?

What about my son’s right NOT to have to watch the same? Or to read his mother’s book at school with someone else’s name on it? How in any way, shape or form is this logical, ethical or fair?

What about my right not to have my heart broken by this insane treachery?

Does this all sound far fetched? It’s not. Do I sound panicked? I am.

So, yeah. This makes me not want to write anything again. Because I would far rather quit writing than to see my work end up in anyone’s hands to be done with as they please and have to sit by and watch helplessly while it’s torn apart.

Or perhaps, I should leave this beautiful country I call home to reside somewhere else that will give me intellectual property rights. And maybe all of our artists and thinkers will do the same, leaving Australia duller and with a shrinking identity because its voices have been stolen.

Please, Australia. Don’t let this happen.

Please, at least, sign this petition.

Thank you.

 

R U Ok? My life, three years on.

Three years ago, my life was very different.

Three years ago, my life was very different.

This photo recently came up on my Facebook page and it floored me. I was speechless, with my mouth actually hanging open as I stared at it. And because this week, it was R U OK day here in Australia, I thought I’d talk about why it had such an effect on me.

R U OK day is about suicide prevention, specifically, about asking us to engage with the people around us with meaningful conversations about life and how we feel about it. I don’t normally write posts like this, but this image, randomly generated by Facebook in a ‘your memories from three years ago’ way, moved me.

This is not me in the photo, it my Friend, holding my son, then three-months old. I remember that day; I remember it so clearly. I remember where we were, what we talked about, the things we said, the anger and sadness and grief we vented, and also the hope we held that the light at the end of the tunnel we were in must surely be coming.

This baby was everything and he was wonderful and I wanted everything to be perfect for him. But right on this day of this photo, I was living in an isolated town with a newborn. I had post-natal depression. I had post-traumatic stress from a birth that went badly and a litany of physical problems for myself and my baby (and what seemed like endless medical appointments and all-day trips from the country to the city) that followed. I had insane levels of sleep deprivation (quite seriously, in hindsight, I should never have been on the road, let alone driving the highway as much as we were). My husband and I had just received notice that an enormous mobile phone tower was to be built right next to our house, something we found very distressing. (We lived on six acres and our neighbour had over 100 acres but still the tower would be right outside our lounge room window.) I was in the middle of a soul-destroying, heartbreaking, messy, bitter breakdown and breakup of relationships with several women I had considered to be close friends. I was losing a significant business/life calling I had created from scratch (my first ‘baby’, with my identity all over it). I was gutted. My heart was in pieces. My world was falling apart.

And of course, I was trying to keep it together so that no one could tell how much pain I was in, especially the women with whom I was ‘breaking up’ and especially from my precious baby. I couldn’t possibly be vulnerable… I had to be strong!

As for my Friend, her life was in a very dark place as well. I won’t speak of her troubles as they are hers to share with the world if she wishes. But they were even greater, and more difficult, and more life-changing than what I was going through. I was so worried about her that day. I could see the stress and the trauma all over her face and body.

But we had tea (and hot chips and probably some cake). Many cups of tea. And we talked for hours while we sipped that tea, and I fed the baby, and we rocked the baby to sleep, and we talked some more. We could be vulnerable in that space. We were each other’s life preservers that day, holding each other’s heads above water for a bit longer so that help could come to us eventually. We trusted Light would come to us somehow. That it had to get better. It just had to.

So the other day, Facebook pulled out this photo and this sea of emotions from the technological ether washed over me. I was viscerally shocked. Why? Because my life is completely different now. And so is my Friend’s. Our lives couldn’t possibly be any more opposite than what they were that day.

And I think this is important to note: neither of us could see it coming. Neither of us could have predicted it. Neither of us had a plan.

All we were doing was getting through each hour of each day, trusting, hoping, trusting, listening, drinking tea and trusting some more.

And it happened. Now, we are both living our dream lives. Three years on.

I have my dream career that I’d worked so hard for and wonderful publishers I am blessed to call my friends. I have published three books in three years, all of them best-sellers, two of them internationally so, and I have contracts for two more. The success of these books has paid for the renovations on the seriously rundown house we took a huge chance on buying. Yes, we moved house and re-located to acreage on the Sunshine Coast, with all of our horses, which had been my childhood dream. My husband’s business has gone from strength to strength, as has our health and our level of joy, creativity and connections to wonderful people. We are happy, every day.

Now, I’m not saying the past three years hasn’t been the most intense and frantic of my life. But I could never have imagined this life on that day three years ago. So I’m thinking you don’t always need to be able to see the Light on the other side. You don’t always need a plan. You don’t always have to know the answer. I think we just need to keep talking to our friends and family, and drinking tea and hugging and laughing and crying and be able to borrow their strength when we don’t have enough for ourselves.

Sometimes, just drinking tea with your best mate (or mum, or neighbour, or aunt, or pastor, or your kid’s teacher) might be all you need to make it through the day. And you only need to make it through this day. If you look too far ahead it gets scary. So just get through this day. And take on tomorrow with fresh eyes.

Wishing you love.

The Light will come. It always does.