Book Review: You must be very intelligent by Ulrike Trager.

Karin Bodewits’ partly autobiographic book “You must be very intelligent – The PhD Delusion” is a revealing, tongue in cheek tale about PhD life. We first meet Karin as an idealistic, yet naïve student who wants to add to our knowledge of the world and make a difference in the science world. She jumps at the chance to do her PhD thesis at the prestigious University of Edinburgh- surely the best place to accomplish her goals. 42 chapters and three years later Karin is a different person – frustrated, disheartened and feed up with science. What happened? The realisation that working at a high-ranked university does not protect from choleric, over-enthusiastic supervisors, who change your project every five minutes before losing interest in your work; unsocial, power-mad lab mates trying to steal your publications or underfunded labs making it hard to do any meaningful experiments.

The book shows a PhD student struggling with, for academics all so familiar, bouts of feeling insufficient, lonely, anxious and the pressure to perform to your own standards and what you think others expect of you. That and the reality of science politics – authorship in publishing is rarely fair, lack of job perspectives and security – makes this book a revealing and realistic peek behind the curtain of science. This may sound like a depressing affair, but “You must be very intelligent” is full of witty anecdotes, such as professors sending virtual pets to pretty PhD-students or PostDocs blowing up hotel rooms with dry-ice, making the book a truly enjoyable, yet realistic, read.

For academics, this book will remind them of their own journey and that they are not alone in their struggles. Potential PhD students can use it to make an informed decision and not be blinded by the promise of a perfect science world. “You must be very intelligent” is full of good advice, like the importance of choosing the right PhD position. Knowing the pitfalls, you hopefully ask the right questions at your interview. But this book is not just for academics. Everyone thinking PhDs must be very intelligent can learn a lot from this book and understand scientists a bit better in the process. Indeed, that is what the author intended: “I actively chose to write it humorously and, as a friend pointed out, ‘Sex and the City and Science’ style. I do want to show that scientists are a hilarious, somehow odd bunch of perceived brainiacs, but that at the same time we are also just human beings like anyone else.“

By the end of the book, you may wonder if Karin has given up on science, or at least the way science is conducted these days. But asked if she would do it again her answer is clear: “Yes, science is great! I was naïve and unlucky and rushed my decision about which PhD programme to join. I would still choose a scientific field for my undergrad studies if I were to choose again. Scientists have been proven to be more open-minded and flexible compared to other people. At the same time, we are less sociable, more arrogant and dominant. Not surprising; it is a somewhat uncanny bunch of people and in most universities we are not punished for our strangeness. It is scientific output that counts. To a certain extent, academia seems to be a drip can of weird personalities, where everyone is welcome. It makes for a strange but interesting workplace. It is this environment, where you have the freedom of being yourself, which, despite its drawbacks, I came to love. So, I’d probably decide for a PhD again. A different PhD.”  I think this answer sums up the spirit of the book perfectly. While it is in large parts the tragic story of painful PhD experience, it is also light-hearted and full of lessons. It does not mean science is all bad. Just that there are areas that need to be worked on by the science community. And books like this will help as it starts a conversation.

9783319593210

You must be very intelligent – The PhD Delusion by Karin Bodewits’

Review by Ulrike Träger

Purchase the book here: “You must be very intelligent – The PhD Delusion”

ISBN 978-3-319-59321-0

 

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour's Baby cover

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

‘There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales’ is a collection of thrilling and mysterious short stories by Russia’s best-known and most controversial living author, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Amongst a group of writers whose work was banned from being published until the fall of the Soviet Union, Petrushevskaya uses enthralling tales to bring to life, the collapse of relationships and values in the post-war era of Soviet Russia. With a twist of course.

The book is divided into four parts, as described by the Introduction, they are: “Songs of the Eastern Slavs” –dark, surreal vignettes told in the manner of urban folk tales. “Allegories” – including two apocalyptic stories, some of Petrushevskaya’s best known, about the collapse of the social-political order. “Requiems” – an older and gentler cycle that explores human relationships under duress and after death. And finally, “Fairy Tales” or “real fairy tales”, as Petrushevskaya calls them. The introduction itself is something you should not skip past. Petrushevskaya has faced many obstacles over her career as a writer. An insight into the life of the author, her struggles and her stories (most of her work has never even appeared in English), it prepares and excites you for what you are about to experience, without spoiling the tales themselves. Continue reading

Rise of the e-Book and What it Means for the Aspiring Writer…

Getting published is difficult, I know. When I began my quest to get published, I initially focussed on the traditional publishing houses, with little success. It was when a friend suggested I try approaching some e-publishers that my labours were truly rewarded.

The aspiring author is likely to face multiple rejections and heartbreaking critiques in their quest to achieve publication. Thankfully, the trend towards the “environmentally friendly” e-book has opened a window of opportunity for those struggling, aspiring writers.

Once considered the poor cousin of the paperback, the e-book has risen in popularity. Amazon sales indicate that kindle and e-book sales now outrank paper-back sales. This has lead to a staggering increase in the number of e-publishers. This is good news on many levels for unpublished authors.

As e-publishers specialise in e-formats, their subsequent production costs are lower. This makes them much more likely to take on a new, unsigned author. Most traditional publishers prefer to take on new authors only if they are represented by a professional literary agent, or have been previously published. This is because taking on a new author is a higher risk for them, as producing a run of paperbacks is a more expensive venture than producing a pdf or other digital format. Additionally, as it costs less to run an e-publishing business, e-publishers can afford to be a lot more genre specific. There are e-publishers who specialise solely in horror, paranormal, sci-fi, erotica, romance, and fetishism. You name it, if there is a market, then there is probably an e-publisher ready to cater to it. This is liberating for the aspiring author, as it allows them to submit to a publisher that caters to their own specific genre market. This in turn gives the author a greater chance of being accepted and given a contract.

Once published by an e-publisher, the benefits seem to keep coming. Authors are often given higher percentages on royalties for e-book sales. Then, once an author has published a few times with a reputable e-publisher (there are some cowboys out there, be warned!), the author will then have a greater chance at being represented by an agent and getting a subsequent contract with a traditional publisher if they wish. It seems like a win-win situation doesn’t it? Alas, there is the flip-side to the e-book revolution. E-book piracy is a rising problem – stealing the royalties that you’ve tried so hard to earn. Competition is incredibly fierce. Advertising and self-promotion is bitter and difficult, as a large portion of the promotion is left up to the author. Additionally, your readers must have the initial money to buy the technology to access the e-books. If they don’t have a kindle, or computer, then e-books are inaccessible. This removes a percentage of your potential readership. Then there is the loss of the tactile experience that holding a book gives, the smell and touch of its pages and the joy of holding a book with your name on it.

I am lucky, my publisher produces both e-format and paperback, giving me the best of both worlds. However, for the author starting off, submitting to a reputable e-publisher is an eco-friendly and realistic option – and the most likely way to get your foot into the door of the publishing world.

Words by Nicola E. Sheridan

Outpost

Outpost is not a grand work of literary art. It’s a bloody, gory survival story that offers some kind of insight into the human soul, yet refrains from ramming its intellectual concepts down your throat. It might not be a classic, but it’s worth a read for the experience of reading an author who knows how to find meaning in a nihilistic situation. Outpost is Adam Baker’s first offering to the genre of thriller/horror and offers a present day world beset by a deadly plague with the few apparent survivors isolated in the cold Arctic Circle. Throughout the book it’s unsure which will kill them first; the freezing arctic temperatures or the infected humans heading their way.

The survivors are located on an off-shore oil rig, about to return home, when channels on their television show scenes of chaos and death before going out one by one, leaving them stranded with limited supplies and the long Arctic winter approaching. Baker’s fairly original protagonist is Jane, a morbidly obese decan that is forced into the role of hero when encounters with the infected threaten her livelihood and that of everyone else on the rig. As for the key antagonists within the tale, it’s a fairly new twist on an overdone movie monster, less Dawn of the Dead and more 28 Days Later, so expect less feeding and more maiming. The origins of the infection itself are a little vague, though an alien metallic substance seems to take over the host in strange new ways; some are even lucid which gives the reader an interesting new perspective on life after infection.

As the general plot goes it’s pretty standard end of the world fare with a couple of twists and a few murky plot points that nag the mind a bit, but don’t interfere too much with the immersion of the story. The writing is fluid and polished with no jarring sentences or awkward dialogue. In fact most, if not all of Baker’s characters are fleshed-out with real flaws and personalities which can be one of the things that make or break an apocalypse story. Sure the survivors might live, but do you really care which ones make it out alive? Overall Outpost is very enjoyable, not too pretentious and provides a fresh twist on an overdone genre.

Review by Rhiannon Emery

A Love Letter From A Stray Moon

In ‘A Love Letter from a Stray Moon’, Jay Griffiths portrays a partly fictional story of the late Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It is a tale of love and suffering, spanning from Kahlo’s work, the accident that devastated her life, and the relationship she shared with Diego Rivera, a Mexican painter who became her husband in 1929. Using the perspective of the moon to sometimes narrate the story, we learn about Frida’s struggle through being unable to have a child due to lifelong health problems and injuries caused by a traffic accident as a teenager, which left her with relapses of excessive pain for the rest of her life. Due to her inability, Kahlo found other means to experience motherhood, in caring for Rivera and via the creative processes of her art, bringing to life many pieces now described as illustrative of national and indigenous Mexican traditions.

A Love Letter Form a Stray Moon coverThis is a story that’s appeal does not lie in the plot. The plot itself is quite common, explaining aspects of Frida Kahlo that most people who are familiar with her work would know. Alternatively, the hook is in the poetry of the words, the lyrical way in which the story is told, making it so surprisingly easy to read. The passion in which Griffiths beautifully describes everything, transports the reader into Frida’s mind and body, allowing every emotion to be experienced with her. In this way, ‘A Love Letter from a Stray Moon’ acts as an ethereal boundary between Kahlo and the reader, a rare value for a book.

The only downfall with this novel, however, is its length. I found myself wanting to know more, to take more in. Even though I wanted to learn a more about the characters and places, the story is about Frida herself, her life, and her battle. The heartache and grief that Frida felt throughout her life is particularly apparent in the text, yet it is very fast paced and we learn so few details about the history behind her life. With that said, had Griffiths told us more about the surroundings, or the many people involved, it would have taken away from the beauty and anguish.

‘A Love Letter from a Stray Moon’, is an extraordinary third novel from Griffiths, a tale of love and loss, so eloquently told. With each chapter being more captivating than the last and each sentence tied together so fluently, it is almost impossible to put this book down. I do not think it is the sort of book that would generally be glanced at twice, for the blurb does not give away any hints, however I would recommend it to anyone that desired something original and consuming.

Originally Published in Metior Issue 1, 2011

Words by Kate Collier

Nicola Sheridan – Magical Gains

In an age where paranormal/ fantasy books such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series take the global box office screen by storm, there is little room for the eyes of fans to wander, especially to the somewhat quiet life of Perth mother, Nicola Sheridan, whose debut novel is soon to be hitting shelves across the country. Sheridan’s fantasy romance novel ‘Magical Gains’, explores the life of government employee Primrose and the problems she encounters in a world where magic is heavily taxed to sustain control, and magical beings are managed through leg- islation. Set in Perth suburbia, ‘Magical Gains’ is a book that allows us to discover the way in which love can be found, and lost, under strange circumstances. Metior spoke with Nicola where she talks writing, being published and changes within genre popularity we might not have known about.

At what time in your life, and how, did you become interested in paranormal fantasy and romance as a genre combination?

I decided I wanted to be an author when at high school, I’d write fantasy stories, and my friends would read them. They used to rush to be the first at school, so they’d be the first to read the next chapter. It was flattering and fun – if not a little nerdy, and certainly cemented my desire to be a published author. I pursued Archaeology and Anthropology at university so I could throw myself into the mythologies of other cultures. I think I fell in love with genre combination when I was about fifteen and saw the movie “Interview with the Vampire”. I’m sure Brad Pitt had something to do with it. I then started reading Anne Rice’s novels, and found myself wishing there was more romance between the characters.

Did you think that it would be a difficult combination of genres to compile within a book, and if at all, what difficulties did you face?

Not at all, I think there is something exceptionally alluring about mythological/magical beings and the fact that they don’t exist leaves them wide open for interpretation. I love imagining how they would fit in our modern world – how would they live? Who would they love? What would they do? Paranormal/fantasy romance is a small market in Australia, yet has begun to boom in places like America and the UK. I’m certain this is because all of the Harry Potter fan’s have grown up and want to read fantasy, but with more adult content. Hopefully Australian publishers will catch up with the trend and take on more Australian paranormal authors.

What degree of satisfaction do you think being published provides writers with?

I’m not sure. I think being published gives writers the assurance that someone out there thinks they’re good enough to have a book – and that is very satisfying. Most authors want reassurance that they’re not rubbish, and that their stories really are a decent read, being published provides that approval. For me, initially it was very satisfying, but the inherent pressure publishing entails is more exciting and challenging than satisfying. Being published has shifted the position of writing in my life. It used to be something that I did purely for the joy of it. Now, however, it has moved from something purely for me, to something I have to share with the world – which is a strange shift. 2011 is the first year both of my children will be at school full time, so now I have the option of writing full time. The strange thing is, I’m not sure if I will, because I realise now, I don’t want writing to beajob.Iwantittobewhat it always has been, my passion and favourite past time. I like working writing into my life; I don’t want it to be my life. So this year, I have many plans for writing, but also lots of plans for everything else too.

In what environment did you spend a majority of your time writing?

When I was writing “Magical Gains”, we lived in a very small house, so I wrote the whole novel in the kitchen! Now we’ve moved house, I write mostly in the study, but when the family is home, I tend to drag the laptop around the house and write where everyone else is. I don’t like locking myself away to write.

What did you learn during the process of writing magical gains?

Research wise, I’ve spent countless hours reading about mythological and magical beings. That kind of research is great fun and the internet is fantastic for finding interesting foreign beasts.

However, it’s through the editing process I’ve learned the most. There’s a lot more to a story than just writing the fun the scenes. Issues of point of view, creating believable tension, use of the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) are things I never really looked at until they were pointed out to me. Now, through this process I believe I am a much better writer.

During the writing process, did you subconsciously create strange patterns of living?

[Laughs] Not really. I’ve written a few stories within which main characters are Demon Spawn (half Incubus, half human) – and sometimes they give me nightmares! Generally though, every night as I go to sleep, I plan the next scene I want to write. I imagine what my characters are doing, how they’ll do it, where it will happen, that sort of thing it’s very relaxing.

Was there ever a point when you lost faith as a writer and wanted to give up? if so, how did you overcome it?

Actually yes, I became very disillusioned with writing when I sent a novel away to an appraisal agency (you pay appraisal agency’s to appraise your manuscript and give you a critique). I got an absolutely brutal critique. It was devastating. It was seven pages of vitriolic poison. I didn’t write again for over a year, and when I did, I decided I wouldn’t bother trying to get published again. Eventually, it was when friends who’d read “Magical Gains” told me it was great that I sent it off into some competitions. “Magical Gains” won “Highly Commended Best First Book” in the IP Picks 2009 competition. I was given mentoring with one of IP’s editors, and after that, I was inspired to send it off to publishers. It got about nine rejections. Still, I knew it had some merit otherwise it wouldn’t have got the high commendation. So I kept sending it off and in July last year, Eternal Press contracted it. (My advice to any aspiring author is to enter competitions. If you succeed in a competition, you will most likely succeed in getting published.)

in 1811, when Jane austen released her first book, it was unheard of that women be successful writers, instead their works were given the title ‘female accomplished’. Do you think this was a limiting entitlement to give to female writers of that time, and what is your perspective on women writers of today?

I think the women of today have a lot to be thankful for. Early female writers were grossly limited by the culture in which they lived, but considering the limitations placed on them, I think any acknowledgement of their success was a win. Women writers today are a lucky bunch of ladies really, I don’t feel that being female limits your writing abilities in anyway. I’m sure that particular genres have fewer women authors than others (military sagas for example, would understandably be a male dominated genre as its readership majority would probably be male.) Generally, however, I think women have branched out into all genres and that’s a good thing, it gives a different perspective on things.

Gender seems to be such a flexible thing these days, I’m not sure publishers or readers really consider it when choosing books anymore having said that, I actually know a male writer of romance who writes under a female pseudonym to get published. It’s reverse sexism really, apparently readers of romance don’t like knowing the author is male. Bizarre but true.

Originally published in Metior Issue 1, 2011
Words by Sonia Tubb

When Writing My Book

Head Hopping

Hi, my name is Nicola Sheridan, I am a contracted author currently enduring the editing process of my first published book ‘Magical Gains’, the first in a trilogy of paranormal romance novels. Throughout the process of writing my book, I have come across a number of problems that I have learnt to solve, and which I will be sharing with your through my ‘When writing my book…’ column. For this issue, I will be discussing ‘head-hopping’, a writer’s inability to plan or construct their story before writing, leaving one to guess and make up as they go along. Continue reading