Insight ran an excellent series of interviews with young Aborigines living in Alice Springs last night. The kids opened up and talked about their fights, their drinking, their family problems and their hopes for a better future. If I have one regret about my book Dragon Bones, it's that the stories of the Bhutanese people are told in my words, not theirs. It's now my dream to collect the stories of Aborigines, immigrants and other minority groups in Australia and publish them (in some form) in their own words. I've recently discovered the 'Sydney Story Factory', which looks to be a great way to do that. Thousands of students attend courses and regular tuition on creative writing, with a focus on telling their own stories. All volunteers are screened for working with children so it's a comfortable environment. Unfortunately, the screenings have always clashed with my other volunteering commitments, so I'm yet to join, but it will happen this year.
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.
One person's belief is another person's superstition. This became clear during one of my classes for my anthropology degree. I've never been one to avoid black cats or walking under ladders. I do have a tendency to avoid cracks in the pavement, but that's more a mild OCD than superstition. It's been very difficult to find something that I believe that others would call superstition, but that's why my opening sentence is so true. Yesterday, my father and his wife had a combined 70th/60th birthday party with a hippy theme. Fiona and I decided to fly up so that she wouldn't lose valuable assignment-writing time on the road. We'd taken time out of our schedules to scrounge bits and pieces for our costumes and were looking forward to catching up with all my relatives. As we were waiting in line to be checked by Security, Fiona swore. We were coming back the following day so we only had carry on luggage and she'd forgotten to remove her nail scissors. Sure enough, they were taken away before we were allowed into the airport. We rushed through to our gate lounge and found that our flight wasn't listed. It had been cancelled due to fog at our destination. The airline instead gave us lunch vouchers and booked us on a flight that didn't arrive until after the party had started. "That's two," Fiona told me. "I'm not looking forward to the third problem." "There won't be a third one," I said, ever optimistic. "There will. Good things and bad things always come in threes." Even after two years in Bhutan, where I discovered the power of superstition, I scoffed at the idea. "Only if you want them
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