Saturday, December 28, 2013

Touched by an angel/kissed by a demon

I'm a fan of two very different television shows which feature angels: Touched by an Angel and Supernatural.

In each episode of Touched by an Angel, Monica is assigned to help someone deal with a serious personal issue. She is assisted and supported by her supervisor, Tess, and sometimes the Angel of Death who despite his name is a nice angel who escorts people to Heaven. At some point in the episode, having posed as a friend or co-worker to the person who needs help, Monica reveals herself as as angel and delivers to them a message of love and encouragement.

Touched by an Angel is classic wholesome, family viewing which tugs at the heart strings and provides inspiration and hope. It emphasizes the compassion of God for his fallen creation, and it reminds me how much God loves me.

Supernatural used to be about brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, searching for the demon who killed their mother, and killing whatever evil things they encountered along the way. Throughout various twists and turns, their mission became stopping the apocalypse, and then surviving the apocalypse...and killing whatever evil things they encountered along the way. In season four, angels were introduced to the mix when we met one called Castiel.

Supernatural is a violent and gory show which laughs at sexual promiscuity and pornography, as it emphasizes the pre eminence of man as his own saviour. It is a quintessential example of post modernist humanism. The line between good and evil is constantly blurred. It leaves me wondering why people, including myself, are so entertained by such horrible things.

I believe in angels and demons because the Bible teaches that they are real. I don't need to see them to believe in them, just as I don't need to see God to believe in Him. I don't like the angels in Supernatural and next week, I am going to explain why.

How about you? Do you believe in angels and demons? In ghosts? Have you ever seen something supernatural?  Have you ever been touched by an angel?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Lot like Me

A couple of mornings each week, I go out for a run accompanied by my iPod shuffle. Shuffle is a pretty good word to describe my style in the initial phases of the workout. It takes me a while to find a stride and I have to spend a lot of time stretching before and after. I'm always amused by how stiff and sore I feel when I start, and how I feel like I am dying throughout most of the journey around the suburban circuit. There's pain in my ankle. My knee aches. I can't breathe. My legs feel like anchors. At the end, after I've sprinted home and onto my porch to begin my warm down, I feel good, and I'm pleased that I compelled myself out onto the unforgiving bitumen and concrete. This discipline is of benefit to me: body, mind and soul.

During these self imposed torture sessions, randomly selected songs from my playlist provide impetus and sustenance. It's all rock, mostly hard, and heavy metal. Sometimes, I listen to the songs. Sometimes, I erratically move my arms and my head which really disturbs my rhythm and sometimes, I even gasp along with familiar lyrics. The music allows me to focus. My mind can run away and play in fertile fields of imagination while my body is left to suffer as a beast of burden.

These road runs are among my most creative and productive times as new ideas and possible solutions to problems are born. In the midst of the noise and the agony, while my body demands I cease the insanity, and blinds me with sweat, I can also reflect and pray. I am prone to excessive reflection. I have a propensity to think too much and to over think, but I recognize this as a gift, and I run with it- pardon the pun.

Yesterday, it was the Offspring who got me thinking with their song, A Lot Like Me, and especially these lines
                                      Where do you run?
                         Where do you go?
                         When the holes in your truth
                              are beginning to show.

When and where are you particularly creative? What is your reaction to these song lyrics?

Photo sources:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

'tis the Season

It has always interested me that the Christ in Christmas is ignored, or at best downplayed significantly, by so many Australians. There are some people of other religious faiths who naturally do not celebrate Christmas. Then there are the majority of Australians who do celebrate Christmas, but would describe themselves as not religious. The latter often use the line "I have my own beliefs".

What is particularly curious is the deliberate exclusion of Christ from Christmas. Someone recently said to me that Christmas had nothing to do with religion. She meant for her personally, but it sounded so dismissive that it made me wonder. I understand if people don't want to emphasize the religious aspect of Christmas. If they do not want to acknowledge that the birth of the single most influential person ever is personally significant; fair enough. However you can't say it is not important. To deny the poignancy of this historical event, and its subsequent, and continuing impact on billions of people seems a bit ludicrous. Whatever else it may be to people, Christmas, as the name suggests, is patently about the birth of Jesus Christ. To say otherwise, is insulting and offensive.

There are number of universal values which are associated with Christmas aside from overtly religious ones. Omitting the few Grinches who dwell among us, most people, Christian or not, recognize the Christmas season as a time for family and friends, for giving and receiving, and a time for relaxing and reflecting. We all desire peace and we wish others well. There is a spirit of generosity and hospitality, a kind of communal bonhomie which permeates life, from the workplace to the market place, to our homes and neighbourhoods. It is a happy time, and a hopeful time for most people.

Generally, people will give the same basic answer to the question, "What does Christmas mean for you?" so it makes perfect sense to me, in identifying these common values, to also acknowledge their source. Values do not originate in vacuums. Are Christmas values not also Christian values, or religious values? Or do they spring from the hearts of men, as humanists would have us believe. What is the origin of faith, and hope and love? Where do these cherished and indispensable qualities come from? Are they human or divine?

Photo sources:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Top 5 reads of 2013

I know it's only the beginning of December, and the festive season is just starting to kick into gear, but I don't want to wait until after Christmas to share with you my top five reads of 2013. 

After a bleak 2012 during which I did not read a five star book, (one day I am really going to go to town on the number of allegedly five star books in existence), 2013 brought me more joy, and a little difficulty when it came to narrowing the field to only five books. The battle for places was not as intense as I may be leading you to believe, however. I have read nineteen books altogether so far this year, and most of them were average - entertaining, interesting and definitely worth reading - but not outstanding. 

Without further ado, here are the five books I most enjoyed in 2013.

Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia

It's shocking and repulsive, intriguing and bizarre, and all gloriously factual, albeit coloured with cynicism and sarcasm.

Don Quixote (Don Quijote de la Mancha Completo)

Such a magnificent literary tome surely begs, and should quite rightly and without equivocation receive a review of such extraordinary length, virtue and perspicacity, so as to render all other book reviews of spurious consequence.

An epic saga told from three points of view, bursting with extraordinarily beautiful and powerful language, Frankenstein is a harrowing tale of two tormented souls.

Time Flies
Part mystery, part fantasy, part science fiction and all delivered with a good dose of humour.

   Time Flies is a laugh out loud collection of anecdotes about aging by a        great comedian.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Successful Failure

I was pretty optimistic as I headed off to the local market this morning. On my two previous trips I sold a few copies of my first two novels. This time, I had a third, and I raised the ante a little with the table set up and bonus offers.

It's the first day of December and Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye so I had a sign which promoted unique Christmas gifts including signed copies of my novels, original artworks by my daughter, and free gift wrapping.With each purchase of one or more of my books, I offered a choice of one other book for free: Jo Nesbo, Bill Bryson and Jayne Buxton to name but a few. On top of all that, I was there to greet people and chat about books, or anything at all.

This sunny day was matched by my disposition. An early sale of Ashmore Grief, buoyed my confidence further. I needed one more sale to cover my costs, and then it was full steam ahead to profit town.

Five hours later I was watching the clock, waiting to pack up and go
home, wondering why I had not sold anything else. Curious as to why I had less conversations and less interest than last time. Apart from the one wise lady who purchased Ashmore Grief, only one other person even picked up a display copy and read the blurbs of any of my books. You can see the multitudes streaming past my stall in the photo above, and the masses queueing to meet me and buy my books.

It was bad enough for me to pretty much decide never to return. The stall next to mine, was manned by a husband and wife, visiting this market for the first time to sell new books, and lots of them for only $5 each. Talk about competition. 

They were a lovely couple though. The guy is a web designer, the woman an editor and book reviewer for Reader's Digest. They both work from home. It was great to meet them. It was cool to meet the guy who designed a quit smoking program which he wants to publish, and another who apparently gained successive, multiple free entries into a certain Kings Cross establishment. The woman who is writing her own dictionary, and the guy who loves to read and would have bought a book if only it were written in his native Spanish.

I'm proud of my work. The lack of sales and recognition for my work is no reflection on its quality. Today's failure proves that I believe in what I do, and ultimately, by the grace of God and hopeful persistence, I will succeed.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Great Escape

The popularity of television, books and movies testifies to our desire to escape the humdrum of everyday life. Certainly, many books and television shows are watched for their educational value, but what we really want is entertainment. We want to be transported, if only in our imaginations, from where we are to some other fantastic place. From reality to fantasy. Along the way we happily gobble up debaucherous immorality: lies, sex and violence, and why not? We aren't doing it, and it isn't been done to us. Living vicariously through fictional characters is safe. It is also both amusing and instructive vis-a-vis human nature.

After many months of wondering what happened after the explosion in the final episode of season 14 of ER, and then subsequently forgetting about it when we couldn't watch it because it wasn't on TV and Leading Edge video store which supplied us with season 1 -14 didn't have season 15, we watched the final episode of the Australian police drama, Blue Heelers. Not being able to follow the trials and tribulations of the coppers at Mount Thomas was a blow, and by the time we neared the end of season 14 we were in despair. How could we go on without our much loved friends in the Victorian police department? And then, season 15 of ER appeared on the shelf at Leading Edge. Hooray!

Last night we found out what happened after the explosion at the end of season 14. *Spoiler alert. One of the main stars, a favourite character who had morphed from an annoying and narcissistic cowboy of a doctor, into the chief of the ER and everyone's best mate, appeared to have survived the explosion. He made it out of the ambulance and into hospital where it was eventually discovered that he was much more seriously injured than first presumed. Fatally injured in fact. First episode of a new season and they killed off one of the stars of the show. It was shocking, gripping, and emotionally draining, which is exactly what you want from television drama.

Dr.Greg Pratt died a horrible death. After the funeral his friends gathered at the local watering hole to eulogize him and eat deep fried mozarella sticks in honour of him. As we watched those deeply moving scenes, I felt a bit teary and I wanted to eat a deep fried mozarella stick. Then we watched another episode. Life carried on in the emergency room of County General, as it did in our home where after episode two, I brushed my teeth, went to bed and slept peacefully. Untouched. Unscathed. Safe, warm and well.

I cannot imagine a world without such entertainment. The escapism provided by the amusements of our culture is a reflection of who we are: empty, craven, and broken.The breadth of human experience, the highs and the lows, can be encapsulated in a forty minute episode, a two hour film, or a three hundred page novel. And it's all fake. Realistic? Sure, but completely counterfeit. All our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our grief, our suffering and our joy is there for us to enjoy, but how much or how little of this experience is our own?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cheer up Grumpy

I like my job. I don't love it, but I usually enjoy most aspects of it. As with all jobs there are some things about it, particular duties or particular people which diminish enjoyment: things which tarnish the shine. It's easy for me to find fault with my job because it isn't what I want to do long term. In fact, I would happily quit tomorrow to be a full time writer. I need a lot more people to buy my books before I can do that though.

I operate under the burden of an onerous reporting and regulatory system. This is necessitated by the fact that we have a government contract for the provision of language and literacy training, and governments love paperwork. The trouble with paperwork is that...well, actually there is a plethora of problems with paperwork. One of the difficulties is that it is notoriously prescriptive and inflexible. In other words, it does not always account for the blurred lines of reality. A quick example: We have a form called an IPA on which we must indicate that a client has improved in one skill indicator over the course of 100 hours of training. (Of course we have to provide physical evidence of this improvement)What happens if the client has not achieved a demonstrable increase?  They have to. But what if they haven't improved? What if they can't? What if they are 60 years old and suffering from a myriad of health problems,and they had never been inside a classroom until they arrived in Australia two months ago? What then? I already told you, they have to show demonstrable improvement. 

Leaving aside the indelectable and infuriating issues associated with paperwork, I wish to speak of another aspect of my job which sometimes makes me grumpy. Last Thursday, I had an attack of the crankies and it was caused by an impromptu after class meeting in my room. I'm a specialist English language teacher. I have post graduate qualifications and eight years experience but I am now being asked to think about supplying suggestions for the diversification and individualisation of content delivery. I know, right? I thought I was employed to teach English to adult migrants and refugees. Now, I am to think about computer courses, learn to drive courses and horticulture courses so that the individual needs of my clients can be met? It's yet another perfect example of the unnecessary complicating of life. It's like a disease, a plague. Let's make everything more complicated and difficult.

So, last Thursday I hurriedly tried to complete my paperwork, which I should have been doing instead of sulkily attending the above mentioned meeting, before closing time, because as I said I like my job but not enough to do unpaid overtime. I wasn't a happy camper when I arrived home. 

Grizzly as I was, I did not welcome the invitation to go shopping for a pair of shoes for my daughter, especially as it was not an invitation. To cut a long story short, the time spent out with my wife and daughter resulted in an unexpected recovery of good cheer, and subject matter for a blog post.

What makes you grumpy? When have you been unexpectedly rescued from grumpiness?

Photo sources:!/

Saturday, November 9, 2013

True to his word

The Tony Abbott led coalition has been in government for nearly two months now. It has been a period of bad news for many people as the new government has quickly set about doing what it said it would do: saving money by cutting spending. Jobs, benefits and bonuses...slashed.

There is a certain amount of hysteria coming from opponents of the government. I am one of those opponents but I am not surprised, and therefore not emotionally disturbed. Coalition governments don't spend, Labour governments do. We alternate between the two, with each usually lasting two to three terms, and this guarantees balance.

It's early days yet, too soon to declare disaster, but those whose jobs will be lost in the public service, including nearly a quarter of the workforce at Australia's premier scientific research organisation, will be less sanguine. Likewise, welfare recipients who will be soon forced to spend around 70% of their benefits on essentials. Proposed pay rises for very poorly paid aged care workers have been scrapped, more privatisation is planned, as are further attacks on employment conditions, and I could go on and on and on.

As I said, it's too early to see the full impact of the government's austerity program, but one thing is for sure: people will be hurt financially because in my view, Coalition governments care much more about the budget bottom line than they do about people.

Further reading:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Don Quixote

To mark the momentous occasion of me completing what is reputed to be one of the greatest works of literary fiction of all time, I thought I would share a collection of quotes from the pen of Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, the author of Don Quixote. Some wise, insightful and sometimes amusing words to consider. 
You can read my review on Goodreads

Selected quotes from Don Quixote:

"So long as they are books of honest entertainment that charm by their style and attract and interest by the invention they display..."

"What a set of absurdities thou art stringing together."

" the wicked are always ungrateful, and necessity leads to evil,  and immediate advantage overcomes all considerations of future."

"Fiction is all the better, the more it looks like truth."

"There is no happiness on earth to compare with recovering lost liberty."

"Better a blush on the cheek than a sore in the heart."

"Disordered attire is a sign of an unstable mind, unless the slovenliness and slackness is set down to craft."

"Why would you have us read that absurd stuff when it is impossible for anyone who has read the first part of the history of Don Quixote of La Mancha to take any pleasure in reading the second part?"

"For the most part, those who receive are the inferiors of those who give. Thus, God is superior to all because he is the supreme giver and the offerings of man fall short by an infinite distance."

"Thou art a blockhead!"

Which one do you like best?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Themes of the Manhattan Puzzle

The Themes of The Manhattan Puzzle
by Laurence O’Bryan

What has been hidden in Manhattan by the most powerful people on earth?

What would you do to a Manhattan banker who treated ordinary people like slaves?

What magic is buried under Manhattan that allows it to rise again from anything the world throws at it?

BXH Bank building, Manhattan, vehicle entrance visible under the arch.
Image © LP O’Bryan

These are the themes of The Manhattan Puzzle. The story sees Sean and Isabel (my characters from The Istanbul Puzzle and The Jerusalem Puzzle) reunited in Manhattan at the headquarters of one of the world’s largest banks, BXH. There’s been some grisly murders, and now the plot takes a new twist. The contents of the book they found in Istanbul are revealed.

My personal journey with this story grew out of my disgust at the financial crisis that has brought many so low. I am interested in the myths and the beliefs of those who value money above everything.
But The Manhattan Puzzle is about other things too. For instance, what would you do if your partner didn’t come home one night? And what would you think if the police turned up at your door the next day looking for him?

Relationships are under stress everywhere, because of the demands placed on us by our jobs, but few of us will face what Isabel has to face when Sean goes missing.

There is violence from the start in The Manhattan Puzzle too, but the opening has a woman inflicting it on a man. I am tired of reading about men inflicting sexual violence on women. I think it’s time for the handcuffs to swop wrists. And they certainly do in The Manhattan Puzzle. You can download the first chapter here as a pdf. 

But don’t get me wrong. I love Manhattan. It’s a city in a snow globe of dollar bills. So look in your bookstore and on your E-readers and order it too, if you want.

To order The Manhattan Puzzle click here.
Or to visit my website click here.

And thanks for reading this and for buying The Manhattan Puzzle, if you do. I hope you find it entertaining and the themes interesting.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Last night I finally watched Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby. I say finally, because I tend to resist much hyped films, and also because in this case I had to overcome anti Baz Luhrmansim. While Australia was okay, Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet are two of the worst films I have ever had to endure. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, I elected not to endure. However I digress. I liked The Great Gatsby even though I felt it was marred by excessive theatricality. The film is a tragic tale of obsession, and it got me thinking about how a person's thoughts can be dominated by a persistent idea, image or desire. And I wondered whether obsession could be a good thing, when typically it is perceived as a negative characteristic.

J. Gatsby was obsessed with a woman. Nothing new there. Men have been losing their heads over women, and vice-verca, since the Fall of Man. He built an empire via nefarious means all for the benefit of crowning the incarnation of his vision with the woman of his dreams. This one compulsion drove him through five years of struggle and intense loneliness. His ambition made him wealthy and famous, but did it deliver him the object of his obsession?

Is obsession the only way to success? In order to achieve your dreams, do you have to forego attention to everything else in order to completely focus on doing whatever it takes to get whatever it is that you want. Persistence, dedication and commitment are good qualities which the obsessed may have, but there is a tipping point. When ambition or even just excessive interest in a particular thing runs off the rails of rationality."Clinical psychologists think of obsessions as unhealthy fixations with objects, people, or activities. They are abnormal because they impair our capacity to love and work." Obsessions throw our lives out of whack. Obsession causes us to lose perspective, and to make decisions which provide instant gratification but may not be in the long term best interests of others or ourselves.

The word obsession is inextricably burdened by negative connotations, yet who could argue that the achievement of success, the realization of one's dreams, requires at least some degree of those qualities which are embodied by that very word.

What do you think? Is obsession a good or bad thing? When have you been obsessed? Personally, I am moderately obsessed with the acquisition of a vast number of devotees of my work. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment.

Further reading:
Photo source.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Night I Crossed Over

Paradoxically, the distance between belief and unbelief is a vast chasm which can be traversed by a single step. One solitary step. One moment in time. One night nearly 30 years ago, I took that step, and my life was changed forever.

Early in 1986, the year I would have graduated from High School had I not dropped out the previous year, I was at a party. It was my younger sister's fifteenth birthday party. My parents had gone out and left me in charge. At 17, I was already a seasoned binge drinker, and a convicted car thief. I had no aspirations, no ambition, no direction in life, and very little respect for myself or anyone else. I also had very little time or patience for Christians, many of whom were friends of mine: recent converts exuding zeal, nagging me about my eternal future, and refusing to drink with me. I didn't know God, nor was I interested in getting to know him, despite the fervent encouragement of some of my friends. I didn't believe there was a God, but if he did exist, then I was angry at him for stealing my mates and transforming them into wowsers. I usually told these overenthusiastic proselytizers where they could put their offer of new life. I ignored them. I closed my heart and shut my mind tight to even the possibility of the existence of an infinite and all powerful God who cared about me, who loved me.

On that night, the love I was most interested in was the love of my ex girlfriend. I allowed her to talk to me about Jesus because I liked being with her. I liked the sound of her voice, and was enchanted by the sparkle in her eyes. As much as a 17 year old can love someone, I loved her. So I drank, and she talked, and the party swelled around me without my knowledge or involvement.

It began with some gatecrashers who thought it would be amusing to go into our aviary and scare our birds. It ended with the police arriving too late to catch the offenders who had started a brawl which resulted in a broken window, and a bad gash to the head of a friend of mine. I abused the police not because they were at fault but because I felt responsible. I felt gutted by the ruination of my sister's birthday celebrations.

I remember sitting on the front steps of our house, still drinking but brutally sobered by the shocking events of the night, wondering what I would say to my parents when they arrived home. I recall questioning the value of life, the value of my life. I recollect searching for meaning, trying to find some purpose. What the hell was I doing with my life? It was my lowest point.

My ex girlfriend returned to my house while I was sitting there on the steps feeling miserable. Thankfully, she had left the party long before the proverbial kaka hit the fan. When I saw her across the street walking towards me, I couldn't believe she was there. She had come, like an angel, to comfort me. When I needed her, she was there. That was the moment I crossed over. I took that first tiny step. The largest stride I had ever taken. I finally accepted her invitation to attend a youth meeting, "fellowship" they called it, and at that meeting I became a Christian.

When have you had such a watershed moment? What happened? I'd love to hear your stories.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What do you say when your son turns 18?

Here is the speech I delivered at my son's 18th birthday party. I only nearly cried once.

"Eighteen. One Eight. One plus eight. Numbers. Just numbers. But in the context of a birthday, they hold special significance. They mark a change in status. Aged eighteen, a young person is eligible to vote, they can legally purchase and consume alcohol, they are, in the eyes of the law and in the opinion of themselves and their peers, adults.

What do you say when your son turns eighteen? When the baby you cradled, carried, fed and clothed, no longer needs you to supply those physical needs? When he prefers the company of his friends, especially his girlfriend, to our company? What do you say when he’s already been moving away from you, becoming more independent, and now the numbers one eight make the separation seem official? What do you say when your son turns eighteen?

You say Happy Birthday son, and you reminisce  a little before giving him some well chosen words of wisdom.

I recall the time I dropped James when he was a baby and he hit his head on the coffee table. I remember the extreme stress I suffered every time he went out to bat, or ran on to the footy field. I recollect the highs and lows, uncontrollable laughter on the way home from Runaway Vacation. Rocking out together at the POD/Disturbed concert. His first metal gig. (Sadly, he’s moved away a bit from metal into lullaby music.) The pain and fear of a major back injury and the surgery to correct it.

Through it all, we have loved James with a love so deep and strong that it is beyond his comprehension. We have nurtured the precious gift that God gave us. A son for whom we have prayed every day, even while he was in the womb.

My parting sage words are about success. The true measure of success in my eyes, is that a man knows himself: where he stands and what he stands for, and who he is, in God’s eyes. Our love for James is unquestionably strong and resolute, but it  pales in the light of God’s perfect love which is unconditional, unshakable and unrelenting.

Follow God all the days of your life, James. Remember that you stand, not in judgement or under condemnation, neither mired in guilt or shame, but you stand in grace. Like all of us, not perfect just forgiven.

What do you say when your son turns eighteen?

Here’s to you James, my beloved son. A work in progress upon whom we gaze and exclaim, “so far, so good.” Happy Birthday!"