Cheeseburger Gothic

Learning to take a beating

Posted September 4, 2018 into Writing by John Birmingham

Jason Lambright has published an interesting (and for me very useful) chat with his old CO, Lt Col Howard Pearce, whom he describes as "a good guy and proven combat veteran". They sat down a little while ago and talked through a few things. Jason's published three of the six part interview so far, with the rest to come at his blog The Interstellar Valley. Worth a read on its own merits, but in my case, with a whole raft of military sci fi novels on the go, it's got some very useful insights, often puncturing the received wisdom or establshed narrative about how professional militaries operate. Below is a short extract from their discussion about an escape and evasion training course:

“When you show up for SERE School it’s a gentlemen’s course, everyone is in the classroom to eventually you get to the point where you’re in the prison camp. It’s one of the few Army schools where you sign a form saying that they are going to hit you. You are going to be struck, you are going to be injured, and you sign a form saying that you understand that.”

“You go through interrogations. Without going to in-depth about it, let me say that they were professional and they explained everything that they did- to include that at the end you sat down for at least an hour with one of your interrogators. He would walk you through your interrogation, what you were thinking…how you reacted, where you started going wrong.”

Howard thought he went wrong when the “hitter” came in. The interrogator disabused him of that notion. “No, no, you went wrong before we called in the hitter…”

As an aside, the Army has people who are specially qualified and trained to beat people in these schools without causing permanent damage. Still, the experience is unpleasant at best.

2 Responses to ‘Learning to take a beating’

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 5, 2018
of as the great Al Swearengen of Deadwood once said "Pain or damage don’t end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back."

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted September 6, 2018
We can still learn so much from Al.

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Pour one out for Peter Corris. And for Cliff

Posted August 31, 2018 into Writing by John Birmingham

Hang up that .38 and leave the keys to the Falcon on the kitchen table, Cliff Hardy has closed his last case.
I was genuinely saddened to learn last night that Peter Corris had passed away. I didn't see any media reports or mentions on Twitter, but I was scrolling through Facebook when a post from one of his daughters popped up, announcing his passing.
I was a big fan of Pete's writing, especially the Cliff Hardy private detective novels, which I loved without reserve. I spoke to Peter a couple of times over the years, occasionally for work, and sometimes at writers festivals. He was a lovely bloke, very gentle and funny; no more so than when he once compared himself to Cliff, probably his greatest creation. I remember him doing so when I interviewed him for a review essay in The Australian, a long feature looking at his anthology of boxing stories. Hardy had been an amateur boxer, as well as a soldier, and it stood him in good stead as he moved through Sydney's underworld. Corris told me he'd had one fight as an amateur boxer, a skinny teenager, and he had cried the first time he got punched in the face. He was honest about writing Hardy is the sort of male character he'd wanted to be, but could only ever imagine.


I still remember reading my first Hardy novel, The Dying Trade, and then The Empty Beach which was later turned into a film starring Bryan Brown. It was a bit of it dud film, which was disappointing because Brown was a great pick to play the lead role. The book, However, I recall fondly. More than that. I remember it going off inside my head like a word grenade. Peter Corris made me want to write like that. I was immediately hooked on the narrator's point of view and I eventually bought every Cliff Hardy novel and short story collection that Corris released.
The very last title in the Hardy series, Win, Lose or Draw, sits unread on my bedside table. I picked it up a year ago, and felt a bit ashamed because I hadn't set aside time to read it. I bought the trade paperback at full price, because I liked to support Peter's work, but my eyes are going and I just don't read as much print media as I once did.
I have conflicted feelings about that now. I am desperately grateful that I have one more Cliff Hardy adventure to read, but also incredibly sad knowing that as every page turns I get closer to having to say goodbye.
I will pour one out for Peter Corris tonight. And another one for Cliff, too. I feel like I have lost an old friend. My sympathies to his family and friends.

8 Responses to ‘Pour one out for Peter Corris. And for Cliff’

sibeen has opinions thus...

Posted August 31, 2018
John, I saw the news come up on the ABC newsite yesterday afternoon and like you was saddened at the news. I had a look and realised that I haven't read the last two Cliff Hardy novels, so I'll have to go out and rectify that.

A funny thing about the novels and keeping things straight within them. Cliff has a godson, the son of his best mate and a women who used to share a house with Cliff. The godson never actually appears as a character in any of the novels and is only referred to. Funny thing is that his name changed at some stage during the series of books. I was having a reread binge of the series a few years ago and it stuck out like dogs balls. Annoyed me a bit as well, and I have no idea why, as it had absolutely no relevance to the story. Just thought it was lazy editing.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted August 31, 2018
Thats exactly what it was. A copyeditor should have picked that up.

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Bondiboy66 is gonna tell you...

Posted August 31, 2018
I too was saddened to read this news recenty. I got a start on the Cliff Hardy books a few years back whilst mooching around the local library, and I found the story that is set around Bondi (can't recall the title), anyway I was hooked and read every title the library owned. He gave meaning to the expression 'hard boiled' for sure! I'm no fan of crime/detective books usually, but these were great. He'll be sorely missed.

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DarrenBloomfield ducks in to say...

Posted August 31, 2018
Yeah , I came late to these novels (saw them referenced here as a matterof fact) and then binge read one after the other. I too noticed the godson went from being named Cliff to Peter. Still. That happens.

Might even have happened here at the Burger - wasn't the novel that was made into the Bryan Brown film "The Empty Beach" not "The Dying Trade"?

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted August 31, 2018
Yes! But in my defence I have a terrible migraine and have self medicated with codeine and red wine. Cliff would approve.

DarrenBloomfield reckons...

Posted August 31, 2018
Indeed he would!

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Therbs is gonna tell you...

Posted August 31, 2018
Was sad to hear about Corris. Got into a bit of Cliff whilst going through RGB's Les Norton stuff. Luckily for me I've still about a third of the Cliff Hardy books to nab and consume.

As Darren points out, I think it was in "The Empty Beach" that Brown played Hardy. Also, Robert G Barrett had a bit part as one of the bad guy's goons..

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happy buddha is gonna tell you...

Posted September 1, 2018
I''ll miss Corris, and Cliff. Good writer, great books.
I got into the Cliff Hardy books when I first moved to Sydney. Even did a bit of a tour of the Glebe and Redfern pubs he mentioned.
Cheers to them both.

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Routines

Posted August 29, 2018 into Writing by John Birmingham

And while I'm on the King, he famously sits his arse down everyday and cranks out ten pages. At least I think it's ten pages. Maybe it's 2000 words. Whatevs. He has a routine. That's the secret of writing, just turn up every day and do it.

Frankly, this is a terrible writing space.

My routine is slightly different. It's time-based. I try to do four hours of uninterrupted keyboard mashing every day. (Unfortunately the latest version of Dragon is so borked I don't much use it for book writing anymore). I'm still working the pomodoro method, but with a tweak. When I'm writing a book I break the day up into four sessions of 55 minutes each. When I'm doing anything shorter I tend to default to the classic 25 minute pomo.

I can't always rely on smashing out a set number of words. There are days like yesterday when I spend a lot of time just thinking shit through. Even this morning, my first hour was just me stalking around the office asking myself questions abut three new characters. But there are days when the afterburners kick in and I'll put three- or 4000 words down.

In the end it probably doesn't matter what routine you settle on, as long as you settle on some routine. With that in mind, I'm going to try very hard to write something here every weekday for a month. I let the Burger lie fallow while I was dealing with my Dad's passing, and then the need to spin up my writing engine again. But I feel like I've got that big wheel turning again, so I'd like to attend to this one next.

2 Responses to ‘Routines’

Leftarc would have you know...

Posted August 30, 2018
Routines are important. They are often the result of hard work; the intentional creating of habits that evolve into routines. They are an anchor to oneself, and a window for other people. To watch, and if you are lucky, learn.
And we all can't be Hunter S Thompson.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted August 30, 2018
Yeah, I don't even think of my routine as writing anymore. It's just red dots. I have filing cards where I track my progress. Every hour of honest work gets a red dot. I try to do four a day. It is surprisingly difficult. So I'd best get back to it.

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So close

Posted June 28, 2018 into Writing by John Birmingham

I am so fucking close to finishing the first draft of THE GOLDEN MINUTE that it's taking all my focus to stay on the mission. This close, with the end in sight, the devil on your shoulder is screaming, "Take a break, it won't hurt. Just a little break. A drinky poo, perhaps. And a movie. Maybe some XBox. What does it matter, JB? You're close. This close. Go on. Give yourself a break."

This was my break.

And now I go back to the grindstone.

6 Responses to ‘So close’

Bondiboy66 mumbles...

Posted June 28, 2018
One part of me would like to crack the whip! Sensible me says 'take your time, pace yourself, do your best!'. Just don't go all George R.R. Martin on us, ok?

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Rob is gonna tell you...

Posted June 28, 2018
Looking forward to it. My wife keeps saying things like, maybe you should put down the Gulag Archipelago and read something cheery like the Dave? Golden Compass will do. One thing about the Golden Compass that I like is that it reminds me of Alan Moore's time twister stories in the 2000ad comic. The twists on alternate earths and trying to reconcile it with reality. Plus it could be the New Buffy, 'you hear that Netflix, I said the new Buffy'

Rob mutters...

Posted June 28, 2018
Minute not compass. But then the golden compass is a film too.

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Leftarc is gonna tell you...

Posted June 29, 2018
Type Monkey boy, Type!


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jason mutters...

Posted June 29, 2018
Get typing JB. Struggling to find something to hold my attention at the moment and I need content. Clearly my need to read trumps your need for mental health, sleep, happiness, family etc. etc.

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Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 2, 2018
As a lazy man I recommend you take those breaks. As a reader I say get back to fkn work.

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Robbing the Dead

Posted April 20, 2018 into Writing by John Birmingham

Every now and then I let one out from behind the pay wall. Felt like todays bit on the banking royal commission needed to run free. As a companion piece, Michael Pascoe (recently let go by Fairfax and immediately snapped up by The New Daily) has a really good column on the exclusive club which runs corporate Australia.

But I do swear more:

Sheesh. It used to be that the only two certainties in life were death and taxes, and the former freed you from the burden of latter. But it turns out that even in death there’s no escape, at least not from the big banks or AMP, because those greedy motherfucking crooks will crawl into the grave with you for one last chance to go through your pockets. It’s no surprise that racketeers and bottom feeders are attracted to the money business, but after this week’s raging karmageddon at the banking Royal Commission colour me faintly dumbstruck that there seem to be so many fuckin’ corpse robbers trousering performance bonuses for shaking down the dead.

I’m a little less surprised that the government is claiming credit for an inquiry they tried to strangle in the crib. They have no choice. It wasn’t just the ALP and Greens demanding for years that the banks be dragged into the town square and given a solid kicking. Apostate backbench Nats like George Christensen and Barry O’Sullivan were even more vocal. But former banker turned impotent chuffnut Malcolm Turnbull and his grinning scab collector Scott Morrison, did not just resist but actively and aggressively trashed the idea of an inquiry for years.

Morrison ignored the demands from his own right flank, preferring to shitcan Bill Shorten as a Leninist bomb thrower imperilling the economy with his political opportunism and callous disregard for the feelings of everyone who was ever paid millions of dollars a year for running a bank.

Again, not surprising, because the Liberal Party is nothing if not a hand-tooled Louis Vuitton clutch of apologists and pimp daddies for corporate malfeasance. But it has been fun watching them trying to recast their long history of cock-blocking any threat to the banks as somehow leading the peasant revolt which now threatens to turn Martin Place into a mass grave. It’s like they’re standing in front of the whole country, wearing only novelty plastic Viking helmets, and power wanking while singing ‘The Ride Of The Valkyries’… but they’re telling us it’s the best version of Wagner’s Ring Cycle you’ll ever see outside of the legendary 1937 performance at Berlin’s Haus Vaterland featuring the massed Choir of the Waffen-SS with a rare cameo by Hermann Goerring as Wotan.

Good luck with that, lads.

In just one week of what is currently scheduled as a year long investigation, we learned that AMP lied to ASIC the corporate regulator more than twenty times about charging customers for services they never received. The company then ratfucked an independent report into their ratfucking of ASIC. The Commonwealth Bank made millions from the same scam, but found a way to squeeze even more money out of their victims, by charging the accounts of dead customers, in some cases for years. And Westpac’s money managers are industry leaders at managing to turn your life savings into a small, charred pile of ashes and tears.

One week.

AMP’s chief executive, Craig Meller, announced he was stepping down this morning. He was paid $8.3M last year, which is probably less than AMP stole from their customers, so in one sense he was a bargain. The Board will be sorry to see him go, but a generous multi-million dollar severance package will almost certainly ease the pain of parting.

2 Responses to ‘Robbing the Dead’

FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted April 20, 2018
I (cough) used to work in this (cough) sector. I was hired to help them clean up their act. It would scare the pants off of you how loose rules were around things like investments and super were. And this was for three companies in a row. I gave it up and now live in the country working on a vege patch. I've read these apocalypse books! :)

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Dave W mutters...

Posted April 24, 2018
In one of my previous lives I interacted tangentially with a different regulator. Industry pays money to fund the regulator, usually based on a bunch of sliding scales of risk and number of interactions with the regulator.

The major banks thought this was a bit unnecessary and convoluted. So like a bunch of good chaps who knew that good chaps such as themselves could be relied upon to know what's best, they told the regulator that they'd just much prefer to divide the bill by 4 and be done with it. Like splitting the bill down at the local indian, they didn't want to have to worry about who had the starters, and that the other chap drank all the wine. What's a lazy few mill each to avoid such unpleasantness?

The regulator did what they were told and split the bill 4 ways.

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JB's day off the tweets

Posted February 28, 2018 into Writing by John Birmingham

I had a day off Twitter today. I have days and even whole weeks away from Facebook without thinking about it. I even quit the thing for a couple of years until the need to advertise my own ebooks drove me back there.
But Twitter I've always stayed with and mostly loved, even when I hated it, and there's been so much to hate the last few years.
However, I've been trying to re-engineer my work day (I know, I know, it's like painting the Harbour Bridge) and having had some success with increasing focus by removing the social apps from my phone, I thought I might get a little more hard core about cutting myself off.
I've been reading a book by a guy called Cal Newport, a computer science professor. Mostly he codes, teaches and thinks about coding and teaching, but he's also done some interesting work on... er, work.
His latest title, Deep Work, explores the difficulties of doing deep, focussed, super intense knowledge work in a world full of shiny distractions.

I'm still reading the later chapters, and I'll write something more specific when I'm done, but long story short, this guy really fucking speaks to me.
And one of the things he's been telling me is to get off the Twitterz. It's not the genial little private club it once was. It's largely useless as an advertising platform. And then theres the Nazis... both left and right. Ugh.
So I started to look at my Twitter habit, which used to be worse but is still pretty bad. It wasn't the main thing getting in the way of all the writing I have to do this year. But it was a juicy, low hanging piece of fruit on the ol' productivity tree.
So today, I just, didn't log on.
I did post one tweet early in the evening, via Buffer. But otherwise I stayed away.
There were times I felt myself reaching for my phone like a robot zombie with fear of missing out, but not while I was working. And I resisted the urge anyway.
Gotta say, I feel a lot less head fucked at the end of the day. And I even felt like writing a post for the Burger!

The link below goes to the paperback, but the Kindle version is massively cheaper, if you're so inclined.

8 Responses to ‘JB's day off the tweets’

Surtac reckons...

Posted March 1, 2018
I did wonder what you were up to. I assumed in the end it was deadline pressure of some sort.

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Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted March 1, 2018
Never done Twunter myself. Wifey is a fan, particularly with her addiction to Cycling (the lycra wearing kind). When the big grand tours are on, esp the Tour de France, she has an extended array of folks with whom she communicates. So I suppose for something focussed like that its still good....rest of the time I dunno.

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Murphy_of_Missouri would have you know...

Posted March 1, 2018
Twitter is where I go to indulge in a very little bit of guilt free trolling.

Otherwise, it is an open sewer of useless crap.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon has opinions thus...

Posted March 1, 2018
I tried this as well . . . but then i created an instagram account . . man, that is a shallow oily pool of reflective shit. One guy followed me who had some pretty pictures but clipped himself climbing on the holocaust memorial complete with the "we must remember history" sentence. I pointed out to him the insincerity of his profile picture and post and he unfollowed (hahahahaha). I used to like twitter for the science twitter group but even that has lost its shine. When everyone you follow has had their likes turned into retweets its bloody tedious.

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Halwes mumbles...

Posted March 3, 2018
G'day John, I've never been on Facebook or twitter. I'm more interested in working on mechanical things and I really value my privacy. I really don't think that I've missed much. I have noticed friends that were really connected into all the social media stuff are starting to use it a lot less frequently. Some were totally immersed for years and some still are. As trends go though it has certainly outlasted most that I've seen. My sister rang me up and told me that a girl, that I pursued non stop at high school without any success at all, was looking for me on facebook. I told her to tell her that I was an alcoholic who lived in the bush with blackfellas. Funny. I never heard from her again.

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NBlob mumbles...

Posted March 3, 2018
My blood pressure dropped by several mm/Hg when I de-twittered. Iam still shockingly unproductive and easily distrac hey a shiny pretty

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Rob is gonna tell you...

Posted March 4, 2018
Twitter is so polarised. Its like the binary opposition storm took hold of twitter and wouldn't let go. Watching the Americans lurch from hard right to a weirdly Marxist left is very strange. Then the ultra rich Americans trying to appear as social justice warriors when they have more in common with Trump than without him is odd too. I do like the comic book artists and writers on there, that's pretty cool. Instagram is probably my favourite at the moment, so much art, some of the kid's on there and their work is amazing. 16 year olds who wipe the floor with apparently mature artists. And they use Instagram as a compare and contrast tool, pushing themselves forward to create more and better work. Really good stuff.

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tqft reckons...

Posted March 4, 2018
I wouldn't make it to the end of the day without some twitter.

I need a short distraction that keeps me active between things at work. Let's me reset my head between radically different tasks.


Also gets me out of my little bubble, Which I need very much, to help stop me screwing up.

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