WHY I’M ASKING YOU TO PAY ME TO WRITE A BOOK.

When I was ten, my parents, hoping to get some culture up my brother and I, decided to take us to Europe. 

We ended spending three or so months driving through France, Italy and Germany, with another six months in England.

Up until this point, I was a kid who lived almost entirely in his imagination. I devoured collections of myths and legends that my parents bought me. I spent many long hours, nigh on catatonic, in front of the TV watching shows like Ghostbusters and Mysterious Cities of Gold. I inhaled stories, wherever I could find them. I lived in my bedroom, immersing myself in the narratives that were so much easier to understand than other people.

Once I got to Europe, everything changed. I remember taking my first steps into Notre Dame and suddenly feeling more alive than ever before. There was a rush of vitality and powerful emotion – pretty intense for a pre-teen. The fact I can still recall it clear, close to 25 years later, stands as testament to how life-changing it was.

Over the next nine months, I tried to learn everything I possibly could about these ancient and mysterious places my parents kept taking me to. I learned of the events that had taken place in these buildings, sometimes changing the course of history. I became, for a ten year old, a bit of a prodigy. My parents soon learned not to take me on guided tours, as I would correct the tour leader.

History became my passion. Instead of the myths and superhero tales that were my drug before, I started to get high on the past. Some of the greatest stories ever, all of them true! I bought every book I could scam the money out of my parents for. I kept copious notes, drawing suits of armour and weapons we came across. It was a magical time. 

We returned to Australia and I grew older. Throughout my teens, the passion never faded. I took history as one of my VCE units and learned the discipline of academic historiography. History was my major at university, focusing on the early modern period. While I hardly set the world on fire academically, there were points at which my lecturers and tutors commented on my passion. My brother imbued with this same passion, trained to become an archaeologist and went on several digs.

Then, real life intervened. Depression, a troubled relationship and the stress of juggling those two and holding down a full-time job did me in. The passion dimmed. I felt zombie-like for the better part of a decade. I didn’t feel the connection and that same sense of joy in the past that used to fill me up, the way some people experience religion. I was miserable, bereft. 

In 2009, when my troubled relationship ended, I was at a loss. I felt adrift, cast off from the world. I tried all sorts of stuff – exercise, partying, therapy – in order to reconnect with the world and feel joy again.

One day, apropos of nothing, I decided to sit down and write some stories I knew about the history of Melbourne. I remember being blown away suddenly – there was that feeling again! I quickly started a blog called ‘Macabre Melbourne’ that featured popular history articles about Melbourne’s history, lathered with black humour. I pumped out more and more articles and started to get some buzz around the site.

Soon, I was writing for Crikey, doing a regular column called ‘Lessons In History’. Each column, I’d like a past event to a current event and talk about how the former could inform how we treat the latter. I wrote about the Spanish Flu, bushrangers, the wreck of the Batavia and other cool, gnarly stuff. This grew into other gigs – I wrote about history for the ABC site, ‘The Drum‘. I also featured on Triple R a few times, talking about local history for the Breakfasters program.

Telling stories about the past, I realized, is what keeps me connected to the world. More than that, it kept the spark in my eyes. 

I’d hold onto this joy as I made some huge changes in my life. Taking a job as an English and History teacher at Stuttgart taught me so much about my profession, my attitude towards life and what I could handle. It ended up an incredible, difficult experience. I went to Germany married, now I live with my girlfriend in an exciting, ever-changing part of town. It wasn’t a smooth progression, however, and my practice of escaping by train to historical sites really did save my life in some respects.

Now, that things have settled down, I want to fully indulge my passion and create something of value. I want to take my passion and write a book that takes what I’ve learned about the history of Europe and presents in a fun, off-beat and engaging way.

I have a vision of a guidebook to Europe’s horrible history, ‘BAD EUROPE‘. I aim to highlight the ignorance, hatred and madness of Europe’s troubled past and – in a very grand guignol style – show how it led to the slightly more enlightened world we live in today.

Europe’s history is the definition of insanity – the same things happening over and over again, with different results expected. I want to play with that, to put front and centre the mad and bad patterns of history and beat people over the head with them. 

I also want to give people a good (black) laugh.

I need some help to do it, however.

Settling down here in Germany has had some huge costs, many of which have been covered by my family. Still, I’m having to clean up some financial messes from the recent past and this is a drain. This means that I’m unable to travel as much as I’d like to. I’m also working with a very temperamental lemon of a laptop and it’s hard going writing at length, without losing great chunks. Basically, I feel l am wearing boxing gloves most of the time and my inability to devote time and resources to this project is frustrating.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I in any way deserve your pity or your cash. I know there are many more deserving causes and projects out there.

I take the approach that if you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past (and there’s been plenty of it out there for free), perhaps you’d be willing to pay for some. If people have enjoyed the writing I did back in Australia, perhaps they’d pay for a high-quality, well-researched product that I would throw my blood, sweat and tears into.

I’m asking for two thousand euro. This will put me on two or three research trips into Eastern Europe  and a couple of weekenders across south-west Germany, Switzerland and France. It’ll also get me a cheap laptop that doesn’t die every five minutes.

If I get more, I’ll invest it straight into the project. If I can visit more places, I’ll produce a bigger, better product. If I can spend more on my laptop, I can use it product video and podcasts I’ll put up on a ‘BAD EUROPE‘ blog.

Since I’ve started this project, I’ve been bowled over by the support. It’s amazing to see that people value my work. With every donation, my desire to sit down and belt this thing out grows.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about something that I’m creating.

If you feel that you could spare a few bucks, head on over to my Indiegogo site and make a contribution. Don’t forget to look at the perks – there’s portraits, tacky souvenirs and all sorts of other cool stuff on offer.

For those of you who have contributed, thank you. Thank you, also for believing me.

If you haven’t donated yet, I’d ask you to seriously consider it. I’m going to make you laugh and learn something simultaneously. That’s a great result, for any price

Travel Advisory – AUSTRALIA

This is a travel warning issued to those traveling to, or considering Australia as a holiday destination. 

Australia is a land of stunning natural beauty and pristine, sun-soaked beaches. At some stage, it may make a wonderful travel destination. However, the current social and political climate makes it a dangerous proposition for the international traveler and we urge those visiting to exercise extreme caution. 

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Ars Moriendi, Ars Vivendi.

I came face to face with death over the holidays.

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No, I didn’t eat a bad doner kebab, neither did I narrowly avoid being hit by a semi-trailer ambling through town. Rather, I had death stare me in the face the old fashioned way – what they used to call a Momento MoriContinue reading

Understanding Christmas.

Now that I’ve lived in Germany for a year and a half, I think I’m finally understanding the whole Christmas thing.

I mean really understanding it. The kind of understanding that involves hunting it down, slaying it, eating it and gaining its power. A visceral, feel-it-in-your-bones kind of understanding.

The lights go out here in Stuttgart around the beginning of November. Wake at seven in the morning and you wake to a navy blue shroud thrown over everything, streelights casting golden pools in the darkness. The sun sets as you leave work and by five o’clock in the afternoon you move through an inky black.

The cold arrives shortly afterwards. At first it’s just a briskness in the morning. Then, a couple of days of rain herald the arrival of a new kind of cold, the kind that leaves its breath on grass, makes car windscreens opaque. A few flurries of snow get everybody all excited, before they depart, a dryness hits and the temperature sinks consistently below zero.

That’s when exposed flesh starts to hurt. Your hands begin to claw up if not covered with gloves for an extended period of time. Extremities are best to be covered, lest you want burning ears as soon as you step inside and a nose that leaks like a tap. Any prolonged walk outside without enough covering and you can feel the strength leeching out of you.

What really gets me, however, is the gloom. Precious few days enjoy a burst of sunlight. Most of the time the sky settles to a wan, creamy grey colour and doesn’t change for weeks. It’s a maddening light; a do-nothing, say-nothing, emotionless hue. It provides none of the life-giving sustenance that you quickly begin to associate with sunlight when Spring hits and the clouds roll back.

By now you’re probably thinking, ‘What a pussy! Can’t handle a European winter!’ and you may have a point. I was born in Australia. My memories of Christmas are inexorably wrapped up in heat. Christmas dinner is an ordeal to be endured in temperatures of forty degrees plus (that’s over one hundred degrees fahrenheit, for those of you in the US). The days before and after the big day are filled with barbeques outdoors, of relatives arriving in shorts and flip-flops, of swimming pools.

I guess I never really consciously made the connection between heat, light and this sensation of togetherness, this comfort. Living in a warm climate, it all bled into one another.

I had too much of a good thing and now it’s gone.

So that’s why I now understand Christmas. I ken the lights now. I feel the roaring fire. I see the importance gathering your loved ones around you and holding onto them as you shovel great mountains of refined carbs and greasy flesh into your mouth, bathed in rich, colourful lights. Academically, I’ve long known about the pagan traditions underpinning this time of year, the ones co-opted by the Church in the early Middle Ages, but I never really felt it. Now I do. It’s vitally important.

You need a little light to guide your way in the long, cold dark. You need to need little oases of love and warmth to make it through the hard winter months. You can’t make it on your own.

Thus, we give ourselves this time to be together and remind ourselves that we’re not alone.

* * *

Unfortunately, there’s a bunch of people out there who are alone. This Christmas, there are a bunch of people who are sleeping rough in terrible conditions. If you’re in Australia, consider throwing a few bucks to the Smith Family. If you’re in Germany, consider donating to Diakonie (Church-based, but they do a hell of a lot of good). Elsewhere? You could perhaps donate to United Way, who operate in the United States.

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