The other side of the world

DSC09985It was a typical winter’s day on the harbour at Bremen, Germany on the 27th of November, 1964. There was an icy cold wind that stung any exposed skin and gnawed right through to the bone.

The ‘Flavia’ pulled out from the dock and struck a steady course towards the line of the horizon as if even the boat was keen to head to warmer climes.

Ilse Hopfengärtner stood on board the liner watching as her home country receded into the distance. She had chosen this when she had chosen her new husband, Heinz. He had arrived back in their small home town with stories of the warm wide welcoming land of Australia and his plans to return there to live. They had been married a matter of months later to secure a twin-berth on the ship, with Ilse’s parents having to give permission because she was not yet twenty-one years old. But the excitement of the adventure was tinged with trepidation as the only place where she knew the language, the culture, the lifestyle disappeared, slowly blending into the fuzzy line of the horizon. She was heading to the other side of the world.

Two years. She’d promised Heinz she’d stay for two years. He’d promised to bring her back if she really wanted to go home after that. It was four years later that they returned to Germany for a holiday and both knew by the end of it that ‘home’ was now on the either side of the world.

They lived in Melbourne, then moved to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, back when there was only one set of traffic lights in Maroochydore. They raised two Australian children. It was really no surprise when their daughter, aged nearly twenty-one headed overseas for adventure. It was ostensibly to meet all of the German relatives and it was by plane rather than boat. But it still mirrored the journey Ilse and Heinz had taken nearly thirty years earlier.

Here’s where this becomes my story. I am the sometimes-wayward child, the Australian daughter of German migrants. I grew up knowing once my education was finished, I would head over to Germany to meet my family and see where my parents came from.

Both of my parents grew up in the town of Dinkelsbühl. It is one of those picture- perfect medieval towns, with a wall around it and crooked streets of cobblestones inside. My parents had told me stories about their childhood, about growing up in a small town, surrounded by family, where everyone knew who you belonged to. Before travelling to Germany, my idea of ‘family’ consisted of my parents and a brother. I had fifteen uncles and aunts and also fifteen cousins, most of whom I met for the first time. There was so much to catch up on, two family histories to absorb.

I then travelled further afield. I ended up using Germany as a base for international travels. Despite my mother’s fears that I would find love on the other side of the world as she had, I did return home after several years, once again making the Sunshine Coast home. I settled down and started a family of my own, a second generation of Australians.

Last week, I returned to Dinkelsbühl. It’s now been over fifty years since my grandmother hugged her youngest daughter, my mother, in the lounge room of the family home and begged her not to go to the wilds of Australia. My grandparents have long since passed away but my aunt and cousin still live at Wörnitzstraße 5, where my mum grew up. It has changed surprisingly little since last century. The house itself is hundreds of years old, the bricks themselves holding on to times past and keeping the memories in. Somehow it affects me. This history is my history, memories that aren’t mine seeping out through the floorboards and creeping into my bones.

In the twenty years since I was last in Germany, I’ve become an author. My first book has been published in German as ‘Die Hatz’ now and I went there to meet my publisher and publicise the book. My uncle took me to the bookshop in Dinkelsbühl where the proprietor has run the store for decades. Aged 83 now, he peered into my eyes and back through the years, to remember my parents when they were half my age. How strange then, to sign copies of my book for him, set in Australia and translated into German.

I have always been proudly Australian, quick to point out my foreign name did not mean I wasn’t born here. But my family history is part of me. I feel an intimate connection with this town on the other side of the world.

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A foreign opportunity

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This box is waiting for me at my aunt’s house in Germany.

Exciting times. Today is my first international book release. ‘A Time To Run’ is released as ‘Die Hatz’ (The Hunt) in Germany through Piper Verlag. And it’s double the celebration. Not only is it my first foreign territory but both of my parents are German. They were nearly more excited than me when I told them the book would be published in their native language, and their brothers and sisters would be able to buy it at their local bookstores.

As I am bilingual, I decided to try to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. I have spent many hours writing content in German and trying to make some online contacts for publicity. And in about two weeks time, I am making a flying visit to Germany to meet my publisher and try to do a little publicity. I was extremely fortunate to secure a Regional Arts Development Fund grant through my local Sunshine Coast Council program, to assist with the costs. I’m also fortunate that my hubby is fully supportive of this plan and will take control of the work/kids/household juggle for a couple of weeks.

There was also a bit of a snowball effect. The book will be released in Spanish on May 17 through Ediciones B. When I told the editor at Ediciones B that I was coming to Germany, she invited me to come and visit her in Spain. So my German trip will include a side trip to Barcelona.

My head is spinning. My stomach is churning. I don’t want to stuff this up.

The thing is, writing is still a hobby for me. It must be. As a mid-list writer in Australia, it is impossible to pay the bills with proceeds from books. The population is too small. The competition for a reader’s dollar is too big. If you sell 5000 copies of your book in Australia, it is considered a bestseller. With a writer usually getting about 10% of the recommended retail price, you can quickly get an idea of what a writer’s finances look like. That’s why I’m still a police officer. The pay is much better, my family lives comfortably. But I dream of quitting, of being a writer and paying the bills as well.

Breaking into the foreign market can make a big difference for me. If the book sells well in Germany and Spain, the publishers will hopefully buy subsequent novels. Other European countries will be more likely to buy the books if they can see sales in neighbouring territories. There is a big potential here. Can I capitalise on this optimistic beginning? Will I crack book markets bigger than Australia? I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.

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Damned Police

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. The man then drives along a footpath brutally mowing people down and killing several pedestrians. The police are heavily criticised for not doing anything to stop him earlier.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by successfully shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The car however does not immediately stop – it veers out of control, onto a footpath and kills a pedestrian. Police are heavily criticised for shooting at the car in a public place because it doesn’t actually make a car stop completely.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The police officer misses because this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. One of the stray bullets ricochets and hits a pedestrian, killing her. Police are heavily criticised for shooting in a public place.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer shoots the man at the wheel, killing him. Police are heavily criticised for over-reacting because his family says he was not a bad man, he was just going through a bad patch and didn’t deserve to die. People ask why the officer didn’t just incapacitate him by shooting him in the shoulder.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to tackle the driver through the open window. The police officer is thrown off balance, falls under the wheels of the car and is killed. The man then drives off, hitting several pedestrians. Although the officer himself is hailed as a hero, the police are heavily criticised for lack of training and that nothing further was done to try to stop the man.

Real life is not like a movie. Just because Bruce Willis could do it in ‘Die Hard’ doesn’t mean it can happen in the street. As a police officer, you are thrust into a situation and you have to think on your feet. You use your human skills and best judgement on what you know at that precise moment.

Maybe you know the person you are up against. Maybe you know he is violent and unpredictable, and has been threatening to kill. Or maybe you only know what you can see. An angry man in a car. But you do know that you will be held accountable for every decision you make.

As a police officer, you rely on your training. You have the voices of your superiors ringing in your ears to show restraint and caution. You also hear the voice of your own conscience. Is this justified? Can I live with the consequences of my actions, whatever I choose? Can I forsee all the possible consequences?

No one knows the ‘right’ answer at the time. The ‘right’ answer only appears afterwards with hindsight.

As a police officer, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

J.M. Peace is a serving police officer and the author of ‘A Time To Run’ and ‘The Twisted Knot’.

Kids and social media

First published on Mamamia 31/1/2016

img_6848My son recently came home from school asking to have a look at Instagram. He told me one of his classmates had said he’d put my son’s photo up and he wanted to know if it was true. Neither of us have an account but it’s easy to create one and we quickly found the photo. It appeared innocuous. My son and two of his friends, smiling for the camera, taken after school.

BUT – the account was set to ‘public’ meaning anyone can see the pictures. Over a thousand people were following the account. My son was wearing his school uniform. With the logo visible and readable. One of the other boys in the photo had no shirt on at all. I was alarmed. Because – and here’s the unfathomable part – my son is eight years old. The owner of the public Instagram account is seven.

I was flabbergasted. Outraged. Upset. But mostly baffled.

Surely this boy’s mother either did not realise her son’s account was public? Or she did not understand the inherent risks in letting a young boy have unregulated social media accounts? As a police officer, I have seen first-hand how gullibility and inexperience can lead much older and wiser people into the dark and twisty depths of the world-wide-web.

I spoke to some of my colleagues at the police station about it and we agreed this was a matter of education. I grabbed a brochure on cyber safety and approached the boy’s mother at the school gate that afternoon. The conversation I had with her left me more baffled than I began with.

Yes, of course she knew the boy’s account was public. She set it to private, but he changed it back to public. She said it as if that was the end of that. There’s nothing you can do about your seven year old’s social media settings? Really?

Yes, she knew he had over a thousand followers. They’re all just other kids of course, she told me. Are you kidding me? Are you naïve or optimistic?

Yes, he had his own phone, data and social media accounts but she regulated it all. The photo of my son and friends had been on the account for several weeks. So you think it’s okay to post photos of other people’s topless seven year olds to public accounts? How good is your regulation?

No, she didn’t need the brochure on cyber safety, she knew all about that. If you understood cyber safety, would we be having this conversation? Do you think I’m doing this for laughs?

I didn’t say all those things to her. It was all very polite, but I walked away from it shaking my head in bewilderment.

I told the school, but knew already there was little they could do. The photo was taken outside of school hours. The boy always kept his phone in his schoolbag until after school was finished.

The whole thing led to some interesting conversations in our household – conversations I didn’t think I’d need to have for years. My kids will only be allowed to have phones and (regulated) social media accounts once they are in high school. But I’ve found out the hard way that this does not mean they may not already be affected by the issues surrounding social media.

To make things crystal clear – paedophiles use these social media sites. We know this. Police find the images along with child pornography. They use places like Instagram to ‘collect’ photos, groom children, blackmail children or in the worst case scenario, track children. They sell or trade photos of children. They attempt to engage with children – it may start with complimentary comments on photos and lead to private messages and beyond. Occasionally, they may become obsessed with a child. Depending on what information they can glean from the account, they may have the child’s name, names of family members, the school they attend, the area they live in and sports teams they play on. They can hang out in a public place, watch for the child they already have pictures of and call out the child’s name to try to lure them. This is an extreme scenario that almost never happens. But the fact that it could happen, that all this information is accessible by creepy strangers should be enough to give a parent goosebumps. Especially when the child is too young to even understand there is something they need to protect themselves from.

Parents must educate themselves before allowing their children to have social media access. If they rely on what their child is telling them, or their own best guess, they are leaving their children exposed.

Fortunately, the same internet that can pose the dangers, can also offer valuable advice. The e-version of the cyber safety brochure I gave the other mother is available on the Queensland Police website at https://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/cscp/personalSafety/children/childProtection/.

There is also loads of useful information at www.cybersmart.gov.au.

img_6848Educate yourself. Educate your children. Don’t pretend the predators aren’t lurking out there.

 

Teenagers, errors and the internet

InternetWhen I was in Year Ten in high school, we went on a school camp. It was a rustic bush-type camp. There was a single shower that everyone took turns to use. It wasn’t part of a bathroom, it was a single cubicle encased in fence palings with a bit of corrugated iron for a door. I think we had to boil water if we wanted to have a hot shower. My memory might be failing me a little – it was about 25 years ago.

But I do clearly remember the boys started a competition of sorts. The idea was to burst through the cubicle door (which had no lock) and take a photo of fellow students showering. Male and female. There was a lot of bluster and bravado, and friends posted on guard outside the cubicle door. But one particular boy got several snaps of different classmates under the shower. He duly got the film roll developed at the local chemists (remember when we used to have to wait several days before we got our photos?) and for his trouble, he got several strips of blacked out negatives. Yes, whoever developed the photos decided they were inappropriate and simply didn’t print the photos and destroyed the negative. And that was the end of it.

In the news at the moment, we’ve heard about a simply vile website where teenage boys (and men too presumably), swap indecent photos of teenage schoolgirls, often posted with personal details such as their address and phone number. As the mother of both a girl and a boy, I find this horrifying from all angles.

But it did remind me of the Year Ten boys at camp in the 1980s. Curious and reckless teenagers engaging in voyeurism.

I’m still in touch with some of these boys. For the most part, they are husbands and fathers, and generally nice blokes. If I reminded them of what their fifteen-year-old selves got up too, they might laugh or maybe be a bit embarrassed. If they had successfully obtained prints of the photos, they may have been shared around amongst friends. In all honesty, if there were any nude photos of my male classmates, I probably would have had a look too. At some point, everyone would have had their fun and the photos would have disappeared into the bottom of someone’s locker and that would have been the end of it. The victims would have been angry and embarrassed, but it would have been a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward twenty-five years. Combine instant technology with the global reach of the internet and the power of anonymity, and the same scenario – teenagers behaving inappropriately – has turned into a hideous beast that has severely impacted many lives.

Teenagers, in general, will always engage in risky and ill-considered behaviour. I think it is part of the way their brains are wired – trial and error, along with the evolutionary need for independence. But their errors shouldn’t follow them for life.

There are girls testing their burgeoning sexuality. There are boys with fake internet accounts thinking they won’t be held accountable for their actions. And lives are being destroyed.

If a seventeen year old boy is tracked down as having posted a nude photo of a fifteen year old girl, he will be charged as an adult for child pornography offences. If they fall for the excitement, the competition and peer pressure of this type of website, they can end up on the sex offenders register.

If a sixteen year old girl sends a risqué selfie to a current boyfriend she has to understand – once an image is sent anywhere, to anyone, you have given it away. It is no longer yours. You have no more control over it. With the press of a key, it can start a frightening and endless journey around the world. You can never get it back. It can follow you into adulthood and impact on you long after you realise it was an impulsive error. Neither apologies or remorse will stop it.

The police should shut the website down. Sure. Agreed. But as the website is hosted in another country with different laws, it is not that easy. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it’s reality.

The internet is part of life now. Teenage stupidity can now become a lifetime regret. I’m so glad there are no records of my early mistakes. I can only hope I know enough to steer my children through it when they reach this age of experimentation.

When can a child walk to school by themselves?

Miles pic

This has generated lots of passionate discussion on social media.

This article from Miles police appeared on social media and in the news through the week, causing enormous uproar. It cautions parents against letting their children walk to school by themselves. As a mother and a police officer, I have strong opinions on this, and judging by the commentary on social media, so do many other parents.

Firstly, I want to clarify that yes – this is a current piece of legislation in Queensland. Yes, the exact age of twelve is specified. The law considers that at this age, children are considered responsible. But importantly, this law does not immediately deem children under that age irresponsible. The key phrase in the legislation is “without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child”.

What is ‘reasonable provision’? What defines ‘an unreasonable time’? It’s open to interpretation. But if you can name even one thing that may constitute this provision, then you probably have no need to worry about this law.

Does your child walk with siblings or another child? Do they have safe ways to cross any roads? Have you walked the route with them and addressed possible problems? Have you spoken to them about what they should do if approached by someone? Will someone quickly let you know if your kids fail to turn up? Any of these are reasonable provisions.

Some parents send their five year olds off by themselves to get to school. There are ten year olds sent off to school who detour past the local skate park and never make it to classes. There are seven year olds who wander out in peak hour traffic on their way to school, trusting in the quick reactions of drivers. So these specific laws are dragged out by exasperated police when dealing with repeated situations like this.

When I was a kid, our parents were happy for my brother and I to walk to school as soon as we were old enough to attend. This was the norm. But my parents also made us ride in the boot portion of the family station wagon after we’d been to the beach so we didn’t wreck the upholstery. We live in a different world today. As much as I’d like my kids to have a childhood disappearing all day and returning home once the street lights came on, it’s just not the same. There’s been a shift in awareness.

However, I do want to raise independent and capable children who can make practical decisions. So my children, aged seven and nine, walk part of the way to school by themselves on some mornings. I have made a number of provisions and I have no fear for their safety. This is even though, as a police officer, I know the sort of people lurking around and the sorts of things that happen. By applying due diligence and common sense, I’ve minimised the risk. I accept there is always some small risk, but this is inherent in everything we do. If someone attempted to charge me simply on the basis of the ages of my children, it would be thrown out of court. I don’t believe it’s the intention of the legislation. What age you are happy to let your children do things alone is a question for your family, and not the law – providing the ‘reasonable provisions’ have been met.

I recently discussed this very piece of legislation with the detective in charge of my local Child Protection Investigation Unit. I was on the cusp of leaving my nine year old at home by herself for short periods of time. The same law applies for this as for walking to school alone. He asked whether I had made ‘reasonable provisions’ for my daughter. She knows my phone number. She knows which neighbours she can go to. She is forbidden from going to the door unless it is a short list of specific people. She knows about ‘tricky people’ as well as ‘bad people’. She has been quizzed on what she would do in numerous hypothetical scenarios. She is responsible and sensible. As a parent, I am happy to leave her alone for short periods of time.

The age of twelve is arbitrary and Queensland seems to be the only state which has set this. I personally thought high school would be the age when I would leave my children alone for longer, so they wouldn’t have to go to vacation care when I’m at work. But with high school now including Year 7 in Queensland, many kids will start at the age of eleven. So do they have to return to primary school vacation care programs until they turn twelve? Or do the ‘reasonable provisions’ extend to a full day?

It boils down to what steps you have taken to ensure your child is safe. If the worst case scenario does happen, what could you say about your actions?

I’m not sure what prompted this particular notification in Miles. But I can guarantee there is more to this story than police randomly choosing a child quietly making their way in to school. Although I think this particular notification was probably ill-advised and the interpretation that ‘kids under 12 cannot walk or ride to school alone’ is flawed, the resulting reactions show that it is clearly a topic many parents seek guidance on.

It’s certainly prompted parents to think about their views and why they hold them. And that in itself is a positive thing.

Reviews for ‘The Twisted Knot’

I have been fortunate that ‘The Twisted Knot’ has been reviewed in many places in the press as well as on several blogs and has been so well-received. Here are links to some of the things written about ‘The Twisted Knot’.

Great review here and interview here by Marcia at Book Muster Down Under.

A review in Carpe Librum here.

Starts At 60 with a review here and a Q&A here.

A review by Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling here.

Extensive review at All The Books I Can Read here.

Kind words here from Debbish.

This review here by Sam Still Reading.

A review here and Q&A here at Gabby The Blogger.

Pop.Edit.Lit with a review here and Q&A here.

An interview with Annie Gaffney on ABC Sunshine Coast Radio here.

Extract – The Twisted Knot

 

 

3793 Twisted Knot_COVERThe following is the first chapter of my second novel The Twisted Knot (available now).

Set in a fictional Queensland town, Constable Sammi Willis investigates an apparent suicide, uncovering a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town seeking vengeance.

Chapter 1

Sammi always felt a sense of relief when she saw Bob’s face in the morning at Angel’s Crossing Police Station. With him as shift supervisor, the station felt like a calmer and safer place. He kept everything running smoothly. He kept the staff in line. And her colleagues kept their manners in place when he was in the room. Mostly.

‘Morning, Sammi,’ Bob called out from the sergeant’s office as she passed by.

‘Morning, Bob.’

‘Do you want a cuppa?’ she called from the locker room as she packed her bag away.

‘Yes, thanks,’ he called back. ‘Are you going to look after the front counter for me again today?’

Sammi paused before she shut her locker door. Her utility belt lay curled up at the bottom, like a black snake in hibernation. It had been a year and a half since she had buckled it on and kitted up for a shift on the road. Each day, she looked at it. And each day she shut the locker door on it again.

‘Yep,’ she called back to Bob.

She grabbed her lunch and went into the kitchen. She put her sandwich in the fridge and filled up the kettle. One cup of tea for her, one coffee for the sergeant. Milky with two sugars, she didn’t need to ask. With these small everyday details, she settled herself into the rhythm of the day.

Bob looked up from his computer and smiled at her as she placed his coffee on the desk.

‘What would I do without you, Sammi?’

A lot of the younger staff didn’t like Sergeant Simpson. Discipline had been a lot stricter when he had come through the ranks. You did what your supervisor told you and didn’t backchat. Although attitudes had relaxed, he still expected this standard of behaviour from his junior staff. So the lazy or ineffectual officers at the station didn’t think much of him. But Sammi listened when he gave her advice and, in return, he always helped her out if she asked.

Continue reading

Online launch for ‘The Twisted Knot’

IMG_6498One year ago, I wrote a blog post celebrating the release of my debut novel, A Time To Run. It was a momentous occasion for me, signalling what I hoped would be the start of a new career. Twelve months down the track, and so much has happened. A Time To Run continues to sell well. I am represented by Curtis Brown literary agents. The novel was sold to Germany. A film producer took a short option on the book, giving them three months to raise development funding to turn it into a movie. It’s been one heck of a ride.

Somewhere amongst that, I wrote and edited the sequel to A Time To Run. This week, The Twisted Knot will be released and I take the next step towards leaving my ‘day job’ as a police officer.

The Twisted Knot follows Constable Sammi Willis as she returns to active duties at Angel’s Crossing police station and gets caught up in the investigation of a suicide where everything is not as it seems.

As I am still a bit iffy about revealing my real identity, I am having an online launch. I will be launching through Facebook on June 30th between 7:30 and 9pm EST on my FB author page JM Peace Author. You’ll have the opportunity to win a signed copy of my book just by dropping by. There’ll be competitions and a couple of special guests, Kim Lock, Sarah Ridout, and Elizabeth Kasmer (pending internet connection at the camping ground she’s holidaying at) will pop past to talk about their novels.

Everyone is welcome. Feel free to wear trakky daks and uggs. I know I will be.

 

 

 

Blog Tour – The Twisted Knot

3793 Twisted Knot_COVERMy second novel The Twisted Knot will be published next month (available June 28).

Set in a fictional Queensland town, Constable Sammi Willis investigates an apparent suicide, uncovering a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town seeking vengeance.

A marked man. A damaged cop. A town full of secrets.

After her abduction and near death at the hands of a sadistic killer, Constable Samantha Willis is back in the uniform. Despite being on desk duty, rumours reach Sammi that someone in Angel’s Crossing has been hurting little girls, and before long a mob is gathering to make sure justice is served.

So when a man is found hanging in his shed, the locals assume the pedophile has finally given in to his guilt. That is, until Sammi delves further into the death.

Over the coming weeks I will be stopping by a number of fantastic Australian book blogs to talk about the book and answer some great questions. Be sure to follow my stops along the way and join the conversation using the #thetwistedknot hashtag!

Blog tour