Warwick Sprawson

A writer from Melbourne, Australia

Month: January 2018

Advance Australia Where?

Are Australians really the sunburnt slackers we like to think we are? Warwick Sprawson takes to the streets with a stopwatch to find out.

Recently I bumped into a French tourist, André, while I was on holiday in southern NSW. André loved Australia – it was so different to France – not just the plants and animals but the attitude of the people. He thought Australians were gloriously relaxed and contagiously happy. He thought we had much more time than his compatriots for a chat, a joke or to help a stranger. ‘In Paris everything is so fast – go, go, go. There are too many pressures.’ While I swelled with pride on behalf of the national identity, I also felt the tiniest bit fraudulent. It seemed to me, as an inhabitant of a gritty Melbourne suburb, that Australians were not as relaxed as we were often portrayed, and definitely not as laid-back as we used to be. My sense was that 21st century life was making us increasingly rushed and rude. Salespeople were too harried to help customers and customers became tetchy after the slightest delay. The sound of car horns, once rare, was now common. Office workers pummelled lift buttons and ate lunch at their desks. Pedestrians glanced at their watches and stepped up their pace. Was André right? Or was he just buying the national myth? I decided to try and find out.

I started my research with a 2006 ‘Pace of Life’ study by Richard Wiseman, Professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. His team measured the time it took city-dwellers to walk 60 feet (18.3 metres) along a footpath in 32 cities around the world. The work built upon a 1994 study by Professor Robert Levine from the California State University, which found walking pace gave a reliable measure of a society’s pace of life, with faster cities less likely to help others and more likely to suffer heart disease. Wiseman’s study ranked the cities’ walking times (in seconds) as:

1) Singapore (Singapore): 10.55

2) Copenhagen (Denmark): 10.82

3) Madrid (Spain): 10.89

4) Guangzhou (China): 10.94

5) Dublin (Ireland): 11.03

6) Curitiba (Brazil): 11.13

7) Berlin (Germany): 11.16

8) New York (USA): 12.00

9) Utrecht (Netherlands): 12.04

10) Vienna (Austria): 12.06

11) Warsaw (Poland): 12.07

12) London (United Kingdom): 12.17

13) Zagreb (Croatia): 12.20

14) Prague (Czech Republic): 12.35

15) Wellington (New Zealand): 12.62

16) Paris (France): 12.65

17) Stockholm (Sweden): 12.75

18) Ljubljana (Slovenia): 12.76

19) Tokyo (Japan): 12.83

20) Ottawa (Canada): 13.72

21) Harare (Zimbabwe): 13.92

22) Sofia (Bulgaria): 13.96

23) Taipei (Taiwan): 14.00

24) Cairo (Egypt): 14.18

26) Bucharest (Romania): 14.36

27) Dubai (United Arab Emirates): 14.64

28) Damascus (Syria): 14.94

29) Amman (Jordan): 15.95

30) Bern (Switzerland): 17.37

31) Manama (Bahrain): 17.69

32) Blantyre (Malawi): 31.60

The study was interesting, but it didn’t help me much – Australia wasn’t among the counties included. But I was curious, would Aussies laconically lope or speedily stride?

Measuring 18.3 metres on a busy Melbourne footpath attracted a few bemused stares from passing pedestrians. The footpath I choose – a section between A’Beckett and Little Latrobe streets in the city – was flat and free from obstacles as specified in the Wiseman study. Their procedure required timing 35 men and 35 women who were unencumbered by shopping bags and not distracted by mobile phones, friends or colleagues, between 11.30 and 2 in the afternoon.

Having marked the required distance on the footpath with masking tape, I lurked on the other side of the road with my stopwatch, taking times and recording them in my notebook. When I crunched the numbers I found that Melbournians walked the distance in an average of 10.99 seconds: the fifth fastest of all the countries studied. As I had suspected, we were rushed, but were we rude? Did this pacy perambulation mean we were stressed out? Were fast nations less happy than our cruising cousins?

A 2005 World Values Survey gave me a few clues. The survey asked people from 50 nations, ‘Taking all things together, would you say you are: very happy, quite happy, not very happy, or not happy at all?’ Australia was the fifth happiest nation, behind Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Similar surveys confirmed the same thing: Australia is a very happy country.

Okay, so we’re happy – good news. But what about my gut-feeling that Australians are more stressed than they used to be? Was our happiness rising or falling?

A research paper by Ronald Inglehart, Roberto Foa, Christopher Peterson and Christian Welzel, “Social Change, Freedom and Rising Happiness” included a helpful internet appendix:

While happiness is apparently a tricky thing to measure, the graph shows a clear trend: while we’re pretty damn happy on a world scale, our happiness is decreasing. It is a trend that’s true for many other developed counties too, a phenomenon known as the ‘Easterlin Paradox’.

The Easterlin Paradox was named after Richard Easterlin, author of the seminal 1974 paper ‘Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?’. Easterlin found that each nation’s  happiness levels remain largely static over time regardless of economic growth. For prosperous, democratic and tolerant societies like Australia, happiness largely depends on the amount of time we spend with friends and family, our health and the breadth of our personal freedoms. So why does our happiness seem to be declining?

One possible explanation is the long hours our jobs often demand. A 2003 OECD study showed that Australians work more hours per year than any other surveyed nation, even more than the famously hardworking Japanese. And while working more may increase our wealth, it can impact on our health and reduce the time we spend with friends and family – things that the studies indicate make us happy.

So it seems André was right, or at least partially. Australians are happy people, but perhaps not the smiling slackers of international fame. The studies imply that we are working too hard, creating pressures that can be measured in our frantic pacing along city streets. Perhaps we have somehow become convinced that it’s the pursuit of wealth that will make us happy, rather than the ‘quality of life’ issues indicated in the studies.

All of which is just a very longwinded way to say that I’m due for another holiday – we are all due for another holiday – part of our civic duty to raise the nation’s happiness. So, a shout out to my friend André – save a wave for me.

 

This article was originally published in 21D.

Windmill Books

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

Subject: New Voices Award 2012

 

Dear Devin,

Congratulations! You are the winner of Windmill Books’ inaugural New Voices Award! Your manuscript, with its vivacious writing and vivid characterisation, beat contenders from all around Australia. Everyone here at Windmill is really excited about working with you to publish your wonderful manuscript, The Bourgeois Collective.

Would it be possible to come into our London office and meet the team? It would be good for you to meet Kathy, the editor you’ll be working with.

Thanks for choosing to entrust your manuscript with Windmill Books and congratulations again on winning the New Voices Award.

Warm regards,

George Nagelmackers

Publisher, Windmill Books

* * *

From: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

To: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: New Voices Award!

Dear George,

I can’t tell you how excited I was to receive your email! As you well know, being a writer it is a constant battle to get traction and continue your journey against the blizzard of rejections, so you can imagine how winning this award has bucked me up. I’ve been working on this book for nearly three years and it is wonderful that I will be able to share it with a wider audience.

As my letter may have indicated, I live on a bush block near Brighton but I come down to the city regularly and would be delighted to meet the Windmill team. What day/time did you have in mind?

Thanks for this great opportunity.

Warm regards,

Devin Keys

* * *

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

Subject:

 

Dear Devin,

It was great to meet you yesterday and present you with your certificate. Everyone here at Windmill really admires your work and is keen to produce this book and, who knows, perhaps future books too! We are sure you will become a significant new UK Voice.

Could you please forward us your most recent manuscript? Kathy will do a thorough read and provide the initial feedback. Obviously we want to work with you to make this book the best it can be and, as discussed, this will likely mean a bit of rewriting before publication.

It was lovely to meet you and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

Warm regards,

George Nagelmackers

Publisher, Windmill Books

* * *

From: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

CC: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: The Bourgeois Collective

 

Dear Kathy,

Just touching base; George said to contact you directly – he sounds very busy, the Frankfurt Book Fair must have been exhausting. I was wondering if you have had a chance to review the manuscript yet? I know it has only been three weeks (twenty-three days, to be exact) so please excuse my impatience, but I haven’t really worked with an editor before and am very keen to receive professional feedback.

I’m really looking forward to working together on this.

Regards,

Devin

* * *

From: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

Subject: M/s

 

Dear Devin,

Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you earlier but we had three books going to print so we were all very busy. I’ve almost finished reading the m/s but perhaps it is best that we wait until I finish it completely before I pass on my suggestions. Maybe you could drop by the office sometime next week? Say Friday 1:30pm? I will be able to provide more direction on the m/s then.

Cheers,

Kathy

Senior Editor, Windmill Books

* * *

From: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

CC: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Revisions

 

Hi Kathy,

It was interesting to read your comments on the manuscript, although some of your handwriting was a little difficult to understand and you sure seem to spill a lot of coffee. I must admit I was shocked by the scale of the revisions you’ve suggested. Do you really think the whole of Part One needs to go? It seems to me that the backstory of Frank’s relationship with Matilda is central to the narrative; if the reader doesn’t know their history then they won’t understand their actions and conversations in Part Two. I guess it is just a little confronting receiving such direct, professional – and very constructive – criticism. It’s great though. I see an editor as a helicopter surveying the whole literary landscape while the author is crouched in a cave with a pen.

I think you are probably right about the character of Jeff. He doesn’t add a lot to the story – it’s a little sad, but I’ll snuff him out.

I have taken six weeks off work (I’m an arts teacher at the local College of Further Education) so I can devote myself to fixing up the manuscript and incorporating your suggestions. I will email you my revisions when they are done. Would you like them chapter by chapter or the whole lot when it’s finished?

Regards,

Devin

* * *

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Award guy

 

Hey Kathy,

Could you ring the award guy for me. He’s been leaving messages on my phone and I don’t have time to ring him back. Let him know you’re handling it from here. Do we have a meeting today? If so it’s your turn to bring the cake.

Cheers,

George Nagelmackers

Publisher, Windmill Books

* * *

From: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Re: Award guy

 

Hi George,

Yeah, we have a meeting at five about the alien book. I’ll call Devin this afternoon and let him know re:calls. Before I do, have you talked to him about a contract? He seems to be waiting to sign something – was a contract a part of the award? Anyhow, you might have to handle that part of it. The award was something initiated before I started here so I’m not sure what to tell him.

Hope chocolate cake is okay. Don’t be late or you won’t get any.

Kathy

Senior Editor, Windmill Books

* * *

From: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

Subject: revisions

 

Hi Devin,

Thanks for your calls. Yes, I had a chance to look at the new chapters and I agree they are an improvement. As time is getting a little short, please make sure you get the rest of the m/s back to us asap. Also I notice the character Jeff appears to be in the story still, renamed Claude. Is there any difference between the old Jeff and the new Claude? I also urge you to really think about the comments I made about Frank. I think readers empathise with likeable characters and at the moment Frank comes across as a little creepy with all his staring and gnashing of teeth.

Anyhow, we’ll keep in touch.

Kathy

Senior Editor, Windmill Books

* * *

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

Subject: advance

 

Hi Devin,

Thanks for your emails and calls. I am often away on business trips and the like so it is best for Kathy to address your concerns. Although Kathy only joined us this year, she comes with many years’ experience editing fiction, including some pretty big names. As the publisher, it is not my position to provide you with feedback or a second opinion on your manuscript. I know everyone at Windmill is right behind your efforts and looking forward to the book launch in March next year.

I’m glad you finally received the cheque. The £200 is an advance on future sales.

Don’t hesitate to contact Kathy with any other concerns.

Regards,

George Nagelmackers

Publisher, Windmill Books

* * *

From: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: The friggin Bourgeois Collective

 

Hi George,

Just checking, did you get time to have a look at Devin’s revised m/s? It seems he is having a little difficulty in implementing some of the suggestions I made to improve the narrative and fix the structure. Actually, if anything, it seems to be getting worse. Which genre did you think it best fitted when you gave him the award? Comedy? (just joking)

I’d really appreciate it if you could take a look. We could get together and come up with a plan to get the book back on track, or at least make sure it doesn’t become a major embarrassment. I have five books on the go at the moment, so it is difficult to devote too much time to just one. You know how it is, it goes to print in January, which seems like ages away now, but always comes sooner than you think.

Kathy

Senior Editor, Windmill Books

* * *

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Re: The friggin Bourgeois Collective

 

Hey Kathy,

Had a quick look at ms and share your concerns. It seems very bland. I only really got as far as Chapter 2, but I can see we have some major issues to clear up. I agree that all the rocket business has to go – it is too science-fictiony. I thought that you could give the awards guy a copy of that Cormac McCarthy book, The Road. It’s got similarly bleak themes and a father-son relationship. It sold a tonne of copies and I think they made a movie too. Keep the receipt and I’ll reimburse you. You’ll have to handle all this I’m off to the Miami Book Fair tomorrow. I trust your judgement, although you might need to be a bit firmer with him.

George Nagelmackers

Publisher, Windmill Books

* * *

From: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: WTF?

 

Hi Kathy,

I must admit I was taken aback by your email. I really put a lot of work into this new draft and faithfully implemented most of your suggestions. It seems, perhaps, that these weren’t so much ‘suggestions’ as orders. Would this be right? I haven’t had much publishing experience before, but I was under the impression that a book was a partnership between the author and the publisher (and, by extension, the editor) and that the author’s opinion would carry some weight. As far as your suggestion that I use The Road to ‘inspire’ me, I think you have completely misread my work. I mean, have you even read my book? Seriously? I am writing a social commentary using scenes and situations that bring to light the flaws in our insatiable capitalist society – much as Orwell did in 1984 – not writing an ode to the end of the world. It’s been seven months since I won the award and I am concerned that your long delays in responding to my emails means that I now won’t have time to implement your latest batch of ‘suggestions’ (many of which, by the way, contradict your initial ‘suggestions’).

You want me to be more forthright in my writing? Okay, I’m extremely pissed off with you and Windmill.

Go fuck yourself.

Devin

* * *

From: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Fwd: WTF?

 

George,

I’ve forwarded an email from Devin, the award guy – he’s gone rogue. I’ve tried my hardest to be sensitive and constructive but he is not playing ball. I have to ask: how the hell did this guy win the award? Surely there must have been more polished entries?

Anyhow, we should meet to discuss this as soon as you get back, the print date is only six weeks away. Don’t bother bringing cake unless it’s rum cake.

Kathy

Senior Editor, Windmill Books

* * *

From: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Award guy

After our meeting I looked over the latest ms and agree – it is a terrible mess. The characters are boring and the plot is limp – I mean, ten pages just explaining the layout of the factory! We have to drop this guy, I’ll wear the loss of the advance. This New Voice thing seemed like a good promotional idea at the time, but I didn’t really have time to go over the entries. It was actually the work experience kid who selected the winner. Anyhow, it was obviously a mistake, so dump the guy, ring Trish in production and tell her to smooth things over with the printers. We might have to move books around in the production schedule.

George Nagelmackers

Publisher, Windmill Books

* * *

From: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

To: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

Subject: Problems in the Bourgeois Collective

 

Dear Devin,

In consideration of your recent phone calls and emails Windmill Books has exercised its right to terminate your contract for The Bourgeois Collective. We are sorry for any inconvenience or disappointment this might cause but your failure to provide adequate revisions by deadline means we have no choice.

As an act of goodwill we have decided to allow you to keep the advance.

We wish you luck on finding another publisher.

Sincerely,

Kathy

Senior Editor, Windmill Books

* * *

From: dev074@fastmail.com.uk

To: kathy@windmillbooks.com.uk

CC: publisher@windmillbooks.com.uk

Subject: Thanks for the good times

 

Dear Rotating Retards,

Are you called Windmill Books because you rotate in circles, rooted to the spot, gibbering, paralysed by the limits of your mollusc-like brains? You’ve fucked me around from go to whoa. You couldn’t run a bath, let alone a publishing company. It’s just like my cousin said when he worked there on work experience – you’re as professional as a shit in a boot. I’m glad to be rid of you: just like owning a pen doesn’t make me a writer, knowing the phone number of a printer doesn’t make you a publisher. Your office smells of moral turpitude and poorly suppressed farts.

I don’t need a publisher for my writing. Spray paint is cheap and walls are everywhere – look across the street, arseholes.

Most sincerely,

Devin

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