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The Whippet #50: No eucalyptus trees in Narnia

McKinley Valentine — 6 min read

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Good morning!

Secretly good evening because I'm in Copenhagen and it is so nice to not be wearing thermals. Instead there is summer light and summer bells and summer kids shouting from a neighbouring yard.

I grew up on fantasy books and D&D rulebooks and those big DK Eyewitness books with cross-sections of castles and paper-cut out models of medieval towns so I've always felt massively disconnected from Australian history and in love with European history (up to roughly 1600), and while obviously there's some perhaps suspect issues with, why as a kid did I only see magic as being possible in Europe, and boring everyday stuff as possible in Australia? (Australian fiction and film trended heavily towards extreme realism in the 90s, capturing exactly how real people think and talk - still does to some degree), that's the brain background I'm stuck with now. Just seeing birch trees by the side of the road on the drive from the airport was magical for me (because they're proper trees from books instead of dried-up eucalypts that do not appear anywhere in Narnia or Middle Earth.)

This is the kind of viewpoint that tends to make Australians mad at me, since it's unpatriotic. You're allowed to hate the government (obligated, even) but you're still meant to love the country.

I don't know if I'm unlucky (to have grown up in a country that wasn't represented in magical literature/TV/etc) or very lucky, since oaks and willows and snow and squirrels and wolves haven't been normalised, which I guess they would if I had grown up here. It's odd - the Harry Potter books as published in the US have all been Americanised - not just words like pavement/sidewalk but British candy changed to types of candy they have in America and stuff. It's bizarre to me because surely what people love about HP is its extreme Englishness - surely that's what Americans love about it too? They (publishers) say US readers aren't interested in stuff not set in the US, but I never wanted to read anything set in Australia - why would you bother, it's right there, you can just go outside. (Whether the publishers were right or just didn't have enough faith in US readers is a different story.)


  • I'll be in Budapest, Berlin and probably Lisbon over the next 5 weeks so if you're in any of those places and want to grab a coffee, let me know.
  • There are amazing Australian SFF writers, including many who were writing in the 90s, Garth Nix, Isobelle Carmody, Tansy Raynor Roberts etc etc, although I didn't know they were Australian at the time - I just read whatever had cool covers at the St Kilda Library
  • There are obvious political implications for some of what I'm saying here that I'm not touching - don't think I'm not aware of them. Just thinking about narratives and what we read and what we fall in love with.
  • If you buy books online, make sure not to buy UK books from the US, as you'll be getting US'd versions. I also try not to buy US-authored books from UK retailers, but the changes are much lighter-touch going the other direction.
  • The actual point of this intro was that I went to the museum and saw a bunch of cool swords and it was the best.

Night Sky Petunias

Galaxy flowers! That's the news this fortnight. Gotta keep up with the news. Up-to-the-minute updates here.

New York City tap water isn't kosher

because it's full of tiny crustaceans. Also, US sugar is often not vegan because it's filtered with charred cattle bones to make it white (in Australia, raw sugar is the norm and it would be weird for someone to offer you white sugar in your tea). I'm not trying to put you off water or sugar (my many readers who are butterflies would starve), I just think it's interesting.

Manually pixelated food

Art director Yuni Yoshida [Instagram] cut food into little cubes to make these. A ridiculous semantic debate: are these pixels (2D) or voxels (3D)? The originals are 3D cubes but the intended finished art product is only ever intended to be viewed from this one static angle. Ceci not a pipe, and all that.

Those ridiculous Amazon and eBay items are probably money laundering

MAKES SENSE WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT. I always figured they were just hoping someone would buy accidentally - like, it would only take one! But no, money laundering. Use a stolen credit card, set up a fake listing for a gibberish book (or insanely overvalued headphones), take everything except the eBay/Amazon fee and disappear into the night. (Not actually recommending you do this, despite the imperative grammar.)

Tide Jewels (Japanese mythology)

Just an extremely good magical item - a pair of jewels (kanju and manju - ebb jewel and flow jewel) that the sea god used to control the tides.[Wikipedia entry including folkloric history]

Unsolicited Advice

How to tell someone their loved one has died

This is not something I've had to do, and it's very scary, so when I read this twitter thread giving best practice, I was relieved. Now I'll be more prepared.

At the start of the conversation, say "I've got some really sad news about [Person] I'm afraid." In their minds they are already working out what it is. They do not really hear the next few lines, or only halfway.

So the next few lines are the story. Tell it chronologically and in spare details. "Your sister was admitted to hospital last night. She was very ill with a high fever. The doctors gave her antibiotics but nothing worked. At 9am today she died."

After you say "<x died>" or "whatever the bad news is", stop. Do not say anything else. If you have more information to give let them ask for it. Respond to what they say next, or remain in complete silence if they are silent. If they start to cry, just say "I'm here".

It is OK for this phonecall to be brief. Tell them how to get in touch with you (if they don't already know). If you're not the person *there*, you're probably not the person they want a long chat with at that moment.

Let them know what will happen next, if you know. Answer all the questions they have, if you know the answers. If there are questions you don't know the answer to, it's a useful thing to say that you'll find out.

If you have a number of these phonecalls to make, my advice is that it's very useful to have someone who cares about you and who didn't know the person at all (ie is not bereaved etc themselves) who you can phone in between each one to tell you you're doing a good job

I would add to all of these that if someone is just bereaved a kind thing to do is offer to make these calls for them.

A few other people added to the thread to emphasise using plain language ("x died" not passed away, etc) so there's no ambiguity (it's such shocking news that it can already be a struggle to believe it when phrased in the plainest of terms) and to check they're in an appropriate place to hear it (i.e. not driving).

Wishing us all grace and strength for when it's our turn to do this (I would like to say, "I hope it doesn't happen" but I'm pretty sure this is part of being a human).

If you want solicited advice, send questions to or just reply to this email.

Thanks for bearing with me! It was a bit rough this issue because jetlag. See you next fortnight! If you want to share:

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