John L. Murphy has completed a mammoth review of just about every book written on Bhutan. He understands the value of a book written by locals and residents. There are many more books about this amazing country than I knew of, and I'm delighted to see he rated some of my favourites highly - see Beyond the Sky and the Earth and Treasures of the Thunder Dragon. I wondered how he missed Bold Bhutan Beckons, but then I realised that, like my publisher, CopyRight Publishing is an independent publisher. I'm even more honoured, then, that Murphy found and took the time to read Dragon Bones. While it's not mentioned until about halfway through the article, it's clear that he valued the depth of experience that went into writing it. 'Like his compatriot Launsell Taudevinâ€™s With a Dzong in My Heart memoir set in 1988, Murray Gunn finds that advising the locals about Western methods clashes with rank-pulling bureaucrats, a more lackadaisical work ethic than he expected, and a series of culture clashes mixed with awe at the kingdomâ€™s beauty, Buddhist traditions, and courtly atmosphere. While Gunn repeats many of the trekking adventures others do in his account, unique to what Iâ€™ve read in other versions, he listens to his guide: â€œThis is our life. We have to come up here no matter what the weatherâ€™s like and we do the same trails over and over until our feet are sore. And we can never go anywhere else. Thereâ€™s no holiday for us.â€' I love the line he chose to quote and his reason for doing so. For me, the trek was fascinating because of the attitude and companionship of the locals who helped us on
I received a letter from the Australian Himalayan Foundation thanking me for my donation of the royalties from Dragon Bones. It confirms that the money will go entirely to the RENEW project to enable disadvantaged young girls from Bhutan to attend school. As I know some of the people involved in the project, I hope to be able to post some photos of their work in the future.
The first royalty cheque for Dragon Bones was for 502 copies sold over 6 months. That's about 10% of my big goal of 5000 sales. My main driver for selling so many copies (it is a lot for an unknown writer) was to ensure substantial support for Bhutanese organisations. To put this in perspective, my full target of 150,000 Nu was equivalent to 18 months base salary for a government employee. The recent strength of the Australian dollar makes the royalties worth far more in Ngultrum so I've decided to donate the entire first royalty cheque instead of just half. This first cheque is going to RENEW. I mentioned RENEW a number of times in Dragon Bones for its work in addressing issues relating to the treatment of women. The organisation is currently partnering with two Australians to provide assistance to girls in rural Bhutan. The money will be used to fund school books, uniforms, meals and boarding facilities as required. I would encourage others to donate to this cause. The Australian Himalayan Foundation will take donations online and, as a registered charity, can provide a tax receipt to Australian residents. Your money will help educate children who live up to two days walk from the nearest road. A$100 will support one girl for a full year. Please help out.
Could the Bhutanese belief in their Shangri-La status be naive? Bhutanese lama Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche asked this question in the Bhutan Observer on Friday. It's very similar to one of the central themes of Dragon Bones and he raises many of the points that I describe anecdotally. There's a snake in this garden of Eden. The simplest view of this analogy would be to say that the snake is the influence of the West and 'modernity'. Non-Bhutanese values including materialism and addictions to drugs and porn have arrived in recent decades as Bhutan has opened itself to the world. People buy Toyota Prados, send their children abroad to private schools and go on shopping sprees to Bangkok, notes Rinpoche, but this is just the obvious face of the real problem. The real snake is internal. It's the Bhutanese belief in their right to these luxuries that is so contrary to Bhutanese values. Rinpoche notes, as I did, that Bhutanese now think that they're above manual labour and import Indians to do such work for them. Once they've bought their Prados, they believe they have more right to the road than others and use their car's size to take right of way. I saw the government trying to fight this change of values by limiting exposure to materialism and consumer culture through, for instance, choice of television channels. Yet it was that same government, before democracy came to Bhutan, that told foreigners that if they didn't appreciate the privilege they had in sharing their personal time and money to help Bhutan they should just go home - that others would come in their place. Undoubtedly true, but the belief was counter to their efforts to
I'm very excited to say that the first copies of Dragon Bones have been shipped. This is a good time to announce that 50% of the royalties for all editions of Dragon Bones will go to Bhutanese organisations. Two years living in Bhutan convinced me that local people are best placed to identify and address the issues that the country faces. International organisations may like to think that they know what's best for a developing nation, but they're really just pushing Western values onto another culture. Following are some of the organisations I believe can help. VAST was created to provide vocational skills to Bhutanese youth. This seemed important at a time when the number of graduates was surpassing the government's capacity for employment. I wanted to help directly, but I didn't feel confident enough to try teaching a writing class at the time. I only discovered the Tarayana Foundation towards the end of my stay. Candles on sale at a market had been produced by a Tarayana community. The foundation tries to bring remote communities into the new economy by promoting artisan skills. RENEW's mission is to better the lives of victims of domestic violence, but I found it worked to resolve any kind of victimisation of minority groups. I intend to divide the donations among these and any other worthy organisations I discover. To make my donations worthwhile, I aim to sell 5000 copies of Dragon Bones. This isn't easy for a new author, so I need all your help to get the word out. Please do any of the following in your power: Share my blog using the addthis buttons below each post Like my author profile and book page on facebook
video of the opening When the woman behind the post office counter asked me what I was picking up, I said, "Books." One day in the future, it may be such a common experience that I stop there. Not this day. I knew that the small box she brought out from the back room contained my free copies. In a whisper torn between excitement and embarrassment, I said, "Twenty books actually. I just got published." There should have been drums. There should have been trumpets. Instead, so late in the afternoon, there was a post office empty of customers besides me and only one clerk. "Ooh, you clever thing," she said. It would have to do. It's been a long wait. I returned from Bhutan at the end of 2006 with a collection of anecdotes from my experiences. It then took a year to write them up, a year to edit and another two years of working through the process of getting published. That doesn't count the years I spent learning to write in the first place. So you can imagine how little time it took me, once through my front door, to tear open the box and pull the topmost book out. My name, Murray Gunn, sat discretely in the bottom corner, well below the large print declaring that the book contained DRAGON BONES. I'd never been a fan of the cover, but had been outvoted by... well, everyone who'd seen it. They were right. It looks fantastic! It's apparently on sale in Hong Kong already, but it will be another couple of months until it's available anywhere else, so the twenty in my possession are a rare commodity. It will be my pleasure
I knew when I wrote Dragon Bones that it wouldn't be loved by everyone. My collection of people's perspectives was meant to be holistic, not good or bad, but some people were bound to object. It was likely that I would never be able to return to Bhutan - that they would never issue me a visa. While I was there, I often heard the whispered stories of expats who'd been deported. Friends had been told that they'd be sent home if they didn't have their articles approved before publication. Only praise could be shared without retribution. Sonam Ongmo wrote in her latest post, "anybody who has been more than vocal on certain policy or social justice issues, or written a controversial story, has probably received that phone call or letter asking them to keep a lid on things, or to shut-up." Then, well before my book was due to be released, I got word that the Bhutanese living in Australia were upset by the description on Amazon. I've since managed to get that changed to better reflect the balanced nature of the book, but still haven't heard anything from those who were upset. More recently, I've discovered blogs by Bhutanese people who are willing to write about the reality of life in Bhutan. It's a beautiful place with wonderful people, but those people aren't all the same and they're surrounded by other people, all with their own motivations. Bhutan is a real country with real issues. It's a fascinating place that deserves to be known properly. Even better than reading these blogs was getting messages of encouragement from these Bhutanese. One wrote to me saying that she was sick of foreigners coming in to
Amazon US was scheduled to start shipping Dragon Bones this week, but it's still being printed. They sent out a message to everyone who'd pre-ordered, apologising that they hadn't been able to find the book and asking them to confirm if they still wanted Amazon to track it down. If the reader didn't confirm within one month, and if the book isn't ready to ship by then, Amazon would cancel the order. As a buyer, I think that's great customer service. As a writer, it scares me that I'm now going to lose the hundred plus readers who had already put their money up. This is a message to all of you who placed an order that the book is on its way. I'm new to the publishing process, so I don't know exactly where the hold up is, but I approved the final version a month ago after a few iterations with the editor to make sure it was word perfect. I can only think that the printer has a queue of books waiting to be printed and that one month isn't sufficient to print and ship. The good news is that I still enjoy reading Dragon Bones and if I can enjoy it even after a couple of years of edits, people who are interested in Bhutan should find it worth the wait. I'll keep this blog updated with news of delivery, but feel free to leave me a message if you have questions. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt on my publisher's website.
Dragon Bones has gone to print. Thank you to everyone who pushed and supported me along the way. A special thanks to the people who kindly offered their photos for the cover. The designer chose to use other photos, but that doesn't reflect on the photos you shared. They were all fantastic.
My publisher sent me the edited version of my manuscript last week. It came as a pdf locked with a password and the formatting all as it will appear in the final version. It looks beautiful. I'm also glad that the endless knot image I chose as a section break has stayed in the print version. It looks a little blurred on my screen, but I'm sure it will be fine in full resolution. The next step is for me to review the book in its entirety, taking note of the changes made and questions asked by the editor. I received an early warning of the edits with a nice note that my writing was good enough that few changes were required. I wasn't sure how to take that - whether to be glad that not much would be changed or worried that the editor hadn't really looked carefully. I needn't have worried. The questions are all good ones that I'll need to address. One that I'm uncertain about involves my use of Australian terms. I envisioned that the book would be marketed in Australia at first and only further afield if it sold well. I've therefore included well-known words and concepts such as Drizabone, ute, Jim Craig's hut and bloke without any description of what these are. Do I need to change these for an international audience or do they add character? Would you reach for wikipedia or would you take them in stride?