Facebook, the Australian Government and Me

“Thank you for reaching out. In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted. We are working on restoring any pages that have been restricted in error.”

That was the email I got yesterday from Facebook’s help centre after Facebook put a blanket ban on Australians accessing news on their platform. They acted in advance of the Australian government’s proposed legislation or new media code requiring that Facebook pay for news content after the Australian branch of the Rupert Murdoch empire News corp kicked up a stink over lost advertising revenue. The government chose to include a very broad definition of ‘media’ to include any and all publications. Facebook then took that definition and went ahead with the ban.

We can’t see any news at all on Facebook. Not only Australian news, but all international news as well. My newsfeed is now so incredibly dull I can scarcely be bothered scrolling.

Without any warning, Australians woke up to discover their Facebook pages had been removed or their page content wiped. Emergency services and health advice pages were quickly restored when it became apparent Facebook had overreached. But for authors like me who have a website where they showcase their books and reviews and more, the ban is still in place.

My Facebook page has been wiped of all content and I cannot post there any more. I unable to share a link to my website on my Facebook profile, and I cannot share it in any Facebook group. Neither can any other Australian. If I get an overseas friend to post my website link in one of my Facebook groups or anywhere on Facebook, I and no other Australian can see the post. All because my author website has been deemed an Australian publication.

It feels so extreme. This sudden and dramatic action by Facebook brings home how vulnerable ordinary citizens are. We rely on tech giants in a vast array of ways. And the landscape can change with the flick of a switch and suddenly, what we treated as a basic human right of sorts, has gone.

What really gets me riled is this situation that ordinary Australians are in is entirely the result of an advertising-revenue battle between the Murdoch empire, our rather bullish and myopic government, and a tech giant majoring in zero empathy. We are just collateral.

The Transformative Process of Writing Fiction

Benefits for Readers

When reading, the suspension of ordinary awareness through engagement in a story world has enormous benefits of itself. Empathy, theory of mind and critical thinking are all enhanced. Reading relaxes you, de-stresses, takes you out of yourself and improves vocabulary and memory.

Then there is the enrichment that comes with engagement. Other views are expressed. Moral dilemmas confronted, insights into human nature given. We learn stuff! Tons has been written by psychologists and educators about how fiction benefits readers. What about the benefits for writers?

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Benefits for Writers

I’ve been writing fiction for over a decade and I often reflect on how the process has changed me for the better. One thing I found early on is that writing fiction might be a solitary act but the writer is never really alone. They have for company the imaginary world they have created and that world can be all-consuming.

Creative writing is multifaceted. Everyone surely knows composing good fiction requires and develops the imagination. But I think it does a whole lot more than that.

The act of creating sentences in a story is a form of meditation in which the writer’s own sense of self is temporarily suspended as they enter the flow. There are therapeutic benefits embedded in the act. Self-forgetfulness is a release from all of the worries and preoccupations of daily life. A soothing, centring, focusing takes place, and the more the writer practices the craft, the stronger, the more complete this self-forgetting becomes. All art and craft does this, including and even especially knitting and needlework, anything that brings the mind to a single point of focus beyond the self. Writing goes the extra mile as it replaces the self-forgetting with an imaginary world of the writer’s own making. There is nothing more thrilling than watching all those sentences come together into chapters as the story grows and grows.

The various elements of the craft of writing require different skillsets and position the writer differently.

Action scenes bring the writer very close to the story in a process of imaginative embodiment. I find action the hardest element of storytelling to write, only because, for me at least, an action scene cannot be written in one hit. There are layers to build and each sentence requires a lot of crafting and altering to make sure the reader is right there with the writer, living the action. Good action writing disappears from view as the reader engages with the story. Any tiny thing that jars and brings the reader back to the realisation that they are reading rather than actually living the story is to be avoided. A lot of fine judgements have to be made to get everything sitting right and pacing is crucial. I daresay some writers find writing action natural and easy. I’m a little envious! I think my failing is that I am inclined to rush.

Description is built out of blocks of sensory observation, pieced together like a work of impressionist art, the writer standing back, just as the painter stands back to observe the canvas. I find writing description rewarding. I enjoy shunting around phrases, making sure a descriptive passage flows well and is very much embedded in the story through the eyes of the narrator and/or protagonist. It’s important not to overdo it. Sometimes, two words are enough to describe something. As ever with writing, description involves lots of fine judgements and a dollop of style.

Dialogue, for me at least, is like channelling voices. I write dialogue stream of consciousness style and figure out the attributions and tightening and styling afterwards. Dialogue can be ideas-driven, sometimes intuitive, or it can simply be a shorthand way to progress the story. I find dialogue easy to write and very pleasurable but I know other writers don’t. I seem to have an internal editor that cuts out most of the fat before the words appear on the page. The trick with dialogue is to pare things down to a minimum so that a conversation appears to be natural and lively but is not at all how real people speak. The art of writing dialogue also develops a kind of inner poise.

Reflective passages require the writer to enter the mind of their protagonist or character via the narrator who is in charge of the voice or tone of the work. Empathy is required and is also developed through this extraordinary process of giving voice to the thoughts and feelings of the imaginary other. For me, reflection is the best part of the writing process. It just seems to land on the page fully formed. But it is a kind of brainstorm and the better you are at brainstorming the easier reflective writing will be. Stands to reason, then, that this element of creative writing develops our critical thinking skills and expands the higher mind.

Telling a story through combining the elements of action, description, dialogue and reflection requires another skillset. The writer needs an idea or premise and a plot and they need to follow the conventions of genre and storytelling. Above all, the writer needs to embody a story, bit by bit and make it whole. A story is a synthesis of its parts. Once the first draft is written and the story is told, the writer holds that entirety in their mind as they tinker with all those parts. This process is expansive and stretches the mind of the reader. It’s a visioning thing.

All creative arts offer the potential of a pathway to wholeness. I have found over the past decade that writing fiction full time has enriched my life in ways I could not have thought possible. There’s the satisfaction side when others tell you your story is pretty good. But that is only a small part of the gains. Imagination, intuition, empathy, poise, focus, concentration – all these attributes and qualities have grown in me through writing fiction. And I have managed to lay to rest a whole heap of junk in my life. I’ve developed a sense of humour and proportion. Above all, I am a lot more detached about the hard stuff that happens to me as it does to all of us. And I have a fabulous way to work through the things that bother me.

I might have developed the habit of solitude to the detriment of other areas of my life. I might have lost interest in other pursuits like cooking. But I am contented, satisfied, the happiest I have ever been. If anyone questions why writers write, I hope I’ve provided a few insights to offer up in our defence. I firmly believe creative writing is an excellent way to grow as a person.

Do Something to Make a Difference

Climate Change: The Australian Apocalypse

These last weeks and months I have been caught up in the horror show that is the Australian bushfire season and the insane heatwave. Not to mention the dust storms and our bone dry interior rendering scores of communities WITH NO WATER. What is unfolding here is well beyond Day Zero. It’s time all of us faced the reality we have been wilfully ignoring for decades.

With fires blazing out of control all over the continent, lives lost, homes lost, wildlife incinerated, it has been impossible for me to write creatively. Book promo, which is the usual undertaking for authors during these weeks in the hope of Christmas sales, has seemed to me in very poor taste, for me personally, that is. I have been unable to detach from the apocalyptic reality. I’ve felt the grief of those who have lost loved ones and homes and livelihoods. I have listened to the fire chiefs describing these new kinds of fire, ferocious fires that create their own weather. Fires that are too big and too erratic to be controlled. Each morning, I read the headlines and I can’t repress the tears.

Fire in NSW, 20 Dec 2020

I have read with alarm countless articles on climate change and it is fast sinking in that what we are going through right now in Australia, or indeed during the whole of 2019 around the world, is the ‘new normal’. How will we cope? How will we cope lurching from disaster to disaster? What lies ahead for us? This situation – while it goes on first here then there and everywhere else can ignore it – is a global state of emergency and someone needs to declare it.

Where Are Our Leaders?

Meanwhile, our governments, and especially the Australian government, are choosing to do nothing to mitigate climate change and everything to make this disastrous situation worse. Their myopia has as much to do with vested self-interest as it does the pressures exerted on them by powerful lobby groups of the fossil fuel industry. Not to mention kid bro Australia has to be seen to be kowtowing in lickspittle fashion to the mega-power coming out of the US.

In the absence of effective leadership, we need to take the matter into our own hands, as has been exemplified by our retired fire chiefs who have banded together to hold a bush fire/climate change summit in 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/17/hugely-disappointed-emergency-chiefs-to-hold-bushfire-summit-with-or-without-pm These fire chiefs give me hope. They are standing firm and they are firmly situated in mainstream Australia. They cannot be sidelined as fringe dwellers.

Voices of Negativity

I have had to put down my pen and focus my attention on this cataclysmic situation, because I am well aware we need to make change happen fast.

We need to understand that the scale and intensity of the bushfires now raging throughout Australia is entirely the result of climate change. Some are countering this reality by talking about fuel loads and blaming the ‘greenies’, the ‘environmentalists’ – two dirty words thanks to a decades long smear campaign – for limiting fuel-reduction burns. Fuel loads have little to nothing to do with these fires as has been stated by our fire chiefs.

We need to sidestep the arguments over whether Greta Thunberg should be in school, questions over who is funding her, and suspicions over their agenda. Put the word ‘Green’ in anything and the blinkered clarion conspiracy or some such nonsense. Greta Thunberg is who she is and she’s doing a grand job.

Others complain about how annoying Extinction Rebellion is, and ‘those people should not be allowed to disrupt our lives’. What an absurd complaint! They are taking action because the rest of us do-nothings haven’t.

We need to step outside of our own habituated thinking patterns and face the situation. Inertia is going to kill us.

Then there are the deniers. Frankly, climate change denial is an idiotic position in the face of irrefutable truth. Those who perpetuate the lies should be held accountable. Those who believe them need therapy. As many are saying, we need an international court for Climate Crimes Against Humanity. That will mop up the fossil fuel giants behind the misinformation campaign.

Do Something to Make a Difference

The first question we should all be asking ourselves, the first thought we should have at the beginning of each day is this: What Am I Doing to Make a Difference? Just about every one of us can do something. It isn’t hard. We really should be doing everything to make a difference, but something is a good start. To do nothing in the face of this reality is not only astonishingly selfish, it is astonishing self-destructive. I acknowledge those who cannot act to mitigate climate change for various legitimate reasons. The rest of us must double our efforts to compensate. We cannot wait around for our governments to do all the heavy lifting. We cannot be complacent. Here are a few things you can do: https://isobelblackthorn.com/2019/11/24/authors-have-a-moral-duty-to-help-save-the-planet/

I have taken a stand. I have a huge solar system on my roof and I feed in more power than I use. I have no car and am not much of a consumer of anything. These are the things I have been able to do. I mention them because I do not want to be considered a hypocrite. I have been concerned about climate change since the mid 1980s. I am now declaring myself a climate activist. I’ll do as much as I can.

Somehow or other, I will also continue to write books, but existential stress undermines creativity, so it won’t be easy.

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes gripping mysteries, dark psychological thrillers and historical fiction. She is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey.