December, 2018

Joanna Atherfold Finn’s long road to book success

Coastal vision: Joanna Atherfold Finn, with her first book. Picture: Marina Neil“I think that any one who tells you they don’t write from life experience is lying to you.”Joanna Atherfold Finn is straightforward about it: you’ve got to live life to write about it.
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But that’s only a starting point for a writer. Finn’s journey to success has been a long ride, but worth every turn. Considering her achievement in the modern world of literature –a first-time book comprising fictional short stories published by a major international book publisher, Simon & Schuster, without major change to the content or style –her humility is admirable.

The Port Stephens-based writer, who will launch herbook,Watermark, on April 7 at the Newcastle Writers Festival in the company of esteemed Australian writer Robert Drewe, came to writing much later than planned. Perhaps, greater powers meant for it turn out that way, as the book is full of rich characters and places who have faced turmoil, immersed themselves in life, taken detours and made hard calls.

When Finn graduated from high school in the northern suburbs of Sydney, she deferred entry into Macquarie University, where she was going to study communications, for a year.

She never got there.

Watermark: Finn’s first book, a series of short stories, published by Simon & Schuster, will be launched at the Newcastle Writers Festival.

Instead, she travelled abroad in her gap year, then had a child and moved to Newcastle when her then-partner was transferred to the area.

“My 20s were a very transitional time, a very challenging time,” she says.

“Writing wasn’t really on the cards. Work was purely to earn an income.

“I had deferred uni at a young age. I had a young child. I came to the area in what I think were quite unique and difficult circumstances.”

Finn ended up finding work in theemployment services industry, where sheworked for over 15 years, and eventually entered the University of Newcastleas a mature age student.

Despite the unplanned route of her life, that small seed of an idea about writing and communications stayed alive in her mind. “I knew it was in me somewhere,” she says.

“My circumstances altered after a gap year,” she says.

“I would haveenrolled at Macquarie Uni in communications, Iwould never had moved to Newcastle. The sliding doors moment would have never occurred. So Ithink I alwayswanted to get back to that path, so as a mature age student I enrolled in a communications degree at Newcastle University. I took creative writing as an elective because there were night classes and they fitted in with my work. I could do it on my way home to PortStephens.

“I loved the creative writing.It was a release, it felt real, an exploration of other people’sworlds, other people’s stories, and it was somethingthat I’d always had an interest in as a young child, reading and writing.”

After completing her communications degree, she was offered a scholarship to study for her doctorate.“I resisted, which seems silly,” she says.“They pay you to write. It was a really valuable opportunity.”

Her hesitation was based on her belief that doing research for the doctorate would be a distraction from her creativity (writing). But that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Most of the stories inWatermarkcame from the three-and-a-half years she spent getting her doctorate.

“The great thing about it, was being allowed to write and giventhespace to write,” Finn says.“Not trying to fit it in around everythingelse andnot having to steal moments to write …”

With children and a husband at home in Port Stephens, time was always going to be a valuable commodity.

“I have certainly spent a lot of time writing in my head, and I think writers can look a bit mad, always talkingtothemselves, in thecar…to sit down and say,‘this is my work, I’m not rushing off to anotherjob’, validated it Isuppose. It gave me the space andfreedom.”

The 11 stories in the book explore intergenerational and personal relationships in coastal communities. There is plenty of dialogue, and kids are integral.

While Finn admits to her own real fear of the ocean, she’s always been drawn to it, from a childhood where trips to the northern beaches of Sydney were a treat, to her present life where she frequently walks on One Mile Beach, to her husband Greg’s occupation as an abalone diver, the coast is an intrinsic part of her world.

Finn considersherself an“observer”of beach culture.

“As an outsider [growing up], then moving into that culture, maybe that’s why Ifeel observant about the coastal environment,” she says.“When Idid move from suburbsto thecoast, it felt unstableand foreign to me …”

Her parents were teachers and it was their dream to be transferred to a beachside suburb, and that’s what happened. But it wasn’t that easy for Finn.

“It was hard for me, my grandparentswere close to me, but they were left behind [in the suburbs]. I felt removed, and then removed to Newcastle,” she says.“It hasn’t alwaysbeena desired relocation, hence the uncertainty …

“People associate thecoast with freedom, lack of inhibition, a place to relax, a place to shed layers, an equalling…beneath all of that, the margin betweenland and seais alwayschanging, in fluxand chaos. It is that dualitythat interests me, it comes through in characters. They are thrown into confronting situations…

“To me, the coast isnever just a setting. It is part of the story, like a character …”

As a writer, she knows what she wants, and what she doesn’t want.

There is only one mention of social media in the short stories in Watermark–she deliberately avoided it.

She does not like characters who are polished or perfect.“They don’t interest me as people and they don’t particularly interest me as a characters,” she says.

“If Iwas at a dinner party and there was JamesBond in one corner and Rake in the other, I’d make a beeline for Rake,”she laughs.“I really like to know what makes people tick. I think a certain level of uncertainty and dysfunction and instability are really endearing traits …”

Joanna Atherfold Finn

Spending the last two decades working and raising a familyin Newcastle and Port Stephens has kept her grounded.“I found people in Newcastle pretty salt of the earth, pretty down to earth,” she says.

As for characters and real life comparisons, there is truth and there are limits.

“Some of the stories have been inspired by people Iknow,” Finn says“Some of the stories have been inspired by experiences I’ve had myself. But at some point in the story, you go from the impetus to a fictional situation, the original impetus fades away and the fiction takes over. So Ino longer see any of the characters in those stories as people Ionce knew, but as characterswith their own unique personalitiesand their own unique take on things.”

Finn loves holding on to characters, developing them, and that helps explain how the stories inWatermarkare interwoven–characters reappear.

“I guess a lot of them are about transitional times,” she says of the stories.“So many of them deal with events that may have occurred during someone’s childhood, events that have had some sort of ripple effect, later in life.

“As you read through thecollection, you will note manyof the stories are interlinked. Look at a 12-year-oldand a 40-year-old, and see how those initial events have unfolded in their lives, and how it has resulted in the character they now are and their reaction to different circumstances.”

The format allows the reader asense of resolution with the stories–as Finn says:“Ithink you have to have a certain level of satisfaction at the end of a story”.

It also makes for an intriguing book–short stories that are linked, more like a novel, but not a novel.

Finn is working on a novel now, about the NSW abalone industry. She has a good working knowledge of the subject, but promises the book will be fiction. Characters and the coast meet again.


Peru show class in defeat of Iceland

Peru’s 3-1 defeat of Iceland shows what Australia face in the group stage of the World Cup.Peru and France have underlined the task facing the Socceroos at June’s World Cup by recording 3-1 defeats in friendly action on Wednesday (AEDT).
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Australia’s two group stage opponents in Russia impressed with defeats of Iceland and the host nation.

Les Bleus were strong winners over an ill-disciplined Russian outfit.

Kylian Mbappe scored goals either side of a Paul Pogba strike, with Fyodor Smolov netting a consolation in St Petersburg.

Peru backed up their impressive 2-0 defeat of Croatia on Saturday (AEDT) by claiming another European scalp on American soil.

Renato Tapia opened the scoring in New Jersey after two minutes before Jon Guoni Fjoluson equalised before halftime.

After the break, Peru forwards Raul Ruidiaz and Jefferson Farfan found goals to keep the minnows on track to make an impact in Russia.

Denmark, the Socceroos’ third opponent, shared the same result as Australia, recording a goalless draw with Chile.

It’s one of the reasons that Michael Bridges, a commentator with World Cup broadcaster Optus, believes the South Americans will be a trickier opponent than the Europeans.

“They’re a very hard, aggressive pressing team and like to win the ball high,” he said.

“They don’t absorb and invite pressure. They like to go out and win the game and I like them. They could be a team to watch, a real wildcard for the tournament.”

Bridges’ view is Denmark, which Australia will play after the opener with France, are beatable should the Socceroos contain key man Christian Eriksen.

“When I look at the group, Denamrk are a very well-structured team and that was very evident against Chile this morning,” he said.

“They have two midfielders screening the back four and Eriksen playing in a free role.

“We were organised about Colombia and if we can do that against Denmark we’re a real chance.”

The Socceroos rode their luck in a 0-0 result in London against Colombia, an improvement on last week’s 4-1 drubbing by Norway.


Russia 1-3 FRANCE – St Petersburg, Russia

DENMARK 0-0 Chile – Aalborg, Denmark

Iceland 1-3 PERU – New Jersey, USA

AUSTRALIA 0-0 Colombia – London, UK

Australian Associated Press


NSW police chief’s post-Lindt siege pledge

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and Lindt cafe siege survivor Louisa Hope.Lindt Cafe siege survivor Louisa Hope and NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller experienced the 2014 attack from vastly different perspectives but share a desire to harvest good from unspeakable evil.
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As one now focuses her energy on raising money for nurses through her own charity, the other has his sights set on reforming the police force, promising to act much sooner during a similar attack.

Ms Hope, one of 18 hostages entrapped by Man Haron Monis in December 2014, feared for her life for 17 excruciating hours before cafe manager Tori Johnson was executed and barrister Katrina Dawson was killed during the siege’s bloody conclusion.

More than three years on, she has found a “happy place” after creating the Louisa Hope Fund for Nurses to benefit nursing staff at the Prince of Wales Hospital, where she spent three months recovering.

“It’s such a privilege for me,” Ms Hope said at a fundraising lunch in Sydney on Wednesday.

“To find opportunity to remind people to be hopeful and keep focused on progressing our world forward.

“I live a blessed life.”

Ms Hope describes a “natural synergy” with Mr Fuller, having endured the ordeal together.

Mr Fuller, then-assistant commissioner and one of the first commanders on scene, helped establish the police response and recalls having never been more exhausted in his life.

The commissioner on Wednesday reflected on changes implemented following the siege and as a result of a long-running inquiry, which wrapped up in May 2017.

“I give this assurance to everyone … we won’t wait 17 hours again,” Mr Fuller said.

“I wish I could say that lives won’t be lost but nevertheless from my perspective we will maintain control and it will be an early engagement strategy with a view of minimising loss of life.”

It’s not the first time Mr Fuller has admitted police should have stormed the cafe sooner. The inquest itself concluded tactical officers waited 10 minutes too long during a critical window.

He’s now revealed a simple card containing a message of reassurance from Ms Hope was slipped to him after his first day of a “ferocious” grilling by lawyers at the inquest.

“That gave me strength to come back the next day and the next day,” he said.

Ms Hope has a “post-siege list” of concerns she is working through – not only to do with police but “many other aspects of our society”.

She said she was feeling “happy and well in my heart”, with a focus on the future.

Her charity has raised about $180,000 to support projects initiated by nurses.

She says while many involved in the siege have moved on, it’s important to pause and reflect.

“Any one of us could have been in that cafe that day,” Ms Hope said.

“It could have been you, or any one of your family or someone that you love.”

Australian Associated Press


Brexit ‘used data mined from Facebook’

Chris Wylie believes the breach exceeded the 50 million Facebook users reported earlier.The computer expert who alleges a trove of Facebook data was improperly used to help Donald Trump’s White House bid says that he strongly believes the information was also used by the Brexit movement that persuaded Britain to quit the European Union.
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In a three-hour hearing, Chris Wylie told the House of Commons media committee that he believes the breach exceeded the 50 million Facebook users reported earlier – though he didn’t give an exact figure.

And he said the data compiled by the political consulting business Cambridge Analytica was available to other firms with links to it.

“All kinds of people had access to the data,” said Wylie, who helped develop Cambridge Analytica’s methods for using the information to target and persuade voters. “It was everywhere.”

Among the companies that had access to the data was AggregateIQ, a Canadian political consultant that did work for Vote Leave, the official campaign backing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, Wylie said.

Wylie described Cambridge Analytica as just one arm of a global company, SCL Group, that gets most of its income from military contracts but is also a political gun-for-hire, often in countries where democratic institutions are weak. He suggested the company combines computer algorithms and dirty tricks to help candidates win regardless of the cost.

The 28-year-old Canadian with a swath of pink hair says he helped set up Cambridge Analytica in 2013. He left the next year.

Wylie has previously alleged that Cambridge Analytica used personal data improperly collected from Facebook users to help Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Cambridge Analytica said none of the Facebook data was used in its work on the Trump campaign. It denies any wrongdoing.

Australian Associated Press


Dirty secrets of rubber duckies revealed

The murky liquid released when ducks are squeezed contains “potentially pathogenic bacteria.Scientists have the dirt on the rubber ducky: Those cute yellow bath-time toys are, as some parents have long suspected, a haven for nasty bugs.
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Swiss and American researchers counted the microbes swimming inside the toys and say the murky liquid released when ducks were squeezed contained “potentially pathogenic bacteria” in four out of the five toys studied.

The bacteria found included Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that is “often implicated in hospital-acquired infections,” the authors said in a statement.

The study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, ETH Zurich and the University of Illinois was published Tuesday in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes. It is billed as one of the first in-depth scientific examinations of its kind.

They turned up a strikingly high volume – up to 75 million cells per square centimetre – and variety of bacteria and fungus in the ducks.

Tap water doesn’t usually foster the growth of bacteria, the scientists said, but low-quality polymers in the plastic materials give them the nutrients they need. Bodily fluids – like urine and sweat – as well as contaminants and even soap in bathwater add microbes and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus and create balmy brine for bacteria.

“We’ve found very big differences between different bath animals,” said microbiologist and lead study author Lisa Neu, alluding to other types of bath toys – like rubber crocodiles – that also were examined.

“One of the reasons was the material, because it releases carbon that can serve as food for the bacteria.”

While certain amounts of bacteria can help strengthen children’s immune systems, they can also lead to eye, ear and intestinal infections, the researchers said.

The scientists said using higher-quality polymers to make the ducks could prevent bacterial and fungal growth.

Australian Associated Press