Book review: Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost

Less is LostLess is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer
My rating:
4 of 5 stars

I loved ‘Less’ so much that I guess four stars is a fall from five. I wasn’t opposed to a sequel to ‘Less’ but what would it bring to be new, to be engaging? I love Greer’s writing, and find it both immensely readable and at times, simply beautiful. I didn’t find the American adventures quite as compelling as his international ones. There were some fun parts that made me laugh, but I suppose I wasn’t charmed in the same way as being freshly introduced to Arthur Less. The other thing is that I loved (and was surprised) by the mystery of the narrator of the first book; losing this tension felt a bit unsatisfying. My husband hated how the narrator announced too often, ‘I’m Freddy Pelu!’ whereas I found that there were a number of odd descriptions of the race of a character, a sense that Greer wants to do right and be correct about writing in these fraught times but isn’t quite sure how to do so. One description, of an old, Black woman made me think that ‘old’ and ‘Black’ was possibly the least interesting way to say something about someone. Still, I love that Greer wrote a comic novel that was taken seriously as literature, that he was celebrated for it, and that he portrayed gay aging in a way so poignant, relatable and funny, and that goodwill carried over to reading ‘Less is Lost’.

View all my reviews

Posted in Book, Book Review, Review | 1 Comment

2023 update: Do you Vélib in life after love?

My favourite thing to do in Paris is to ride around on a Vélib, the almost free biking system. I wondered how much it had changed in seven years, as I’d heard a lot had changed. New operators. Competition from other bike schemes, more chaotically organised where people leave the bikes in random places. Electric scooters too, which I’m too afraid to try. And e-bikes. The current Vélib system has e-bikes.

It was no simple thing to figure out how to use the system regularly while in Paris. Being there a week, I reckoned I’d need two 3-day passes, which requires getting a special identity card from the metro system. Going through the payment system and putting down a large deposit each time I used one would be too cumbersome.

But when I asked the fellow at the closest metro station about a card that I needed to use the Vélib system, he said, checking with his colleague, that he’d never heard of such a thing. While it was the only time this happened this week, this has happened a number of times on previous trips to Paris. It’s a guessing game. You ask for information directly but then end up asking questions to get negative responses until you finally ask the right one. In this case, even after rewording my question, I left, dejected, but then checked the information online, and found out I needed a ‘découverte’ card. It was only EUR 5 and required photos to stick to the card. Why hadn’t I brought those extra photos I kept for just such an occasion? There are actually photo booths all over Paris, and the train stations, so I made some photos for EUR 10, went and bought the proper card from the fellow (who sort of indicated, ‘oh, that’s what you wanted’) and then discovered that you really don’t need the photos on the card, and the photo doesn’t fit in any case. I cut it down to size and stuck in on anyways.

From there, you subscribe online for a pass, and are given an ID code and a password. The ID code shows up immediately on the Vélib app, so I assumed the password would too. But when I went out to get my first Vélib, it asked for the ID code, and THEN for the password, and the password was nowhere in sight. Where, where could it be? Nowhere it seemed. If you don’t write it down the first

Seven years ago, I was so pleased to have obtained one of these, which allowed me to use the system the whole few months I was there, without renewing the pass every few days, like this trip.

time, you snooze, you lose. So, I called the helpline and the helpful person on English help reset my code and gave it to me. Hurrah. So, I rented my first Vélib bike and was surprised to see that after you enter in the ID code and the password, you then connect it to your travel card, and then don’t need to use them again! Just the card.

And then… after my first excursion, I put my bike back into one of the docking stations, and went for lunch. But then the next time I tried to use the bike, I couldn’t get one out. Sigh. I tried a few times, walked around and then took the Metro for the first (and only) time. When I got home, and called the helpline, I got the same person! Perhaps there is only one English helpdesk operator. She told me that I hadn’t docked the bike properly. Oops. She reset it for me, kindly, and soon after I received an email, in French, scolding me for being a bad Vélib user and asking me to be more careful from now on. How French, I thought.

But sorry for all these details. The experience on the bikes was as good as ever. There are more bike paths than I remember, many of them wide, and busy with cyclists (and some scooters). What surprised me was that with so many Vélibs in use at all times, the biggest problem was not finding a Vélib but finding an empty spot to put the Vélibs back at the stations. Even though they seem to have a new system where you can put a Vélib back in a station when it’s full, by locking itself to something else, the one time I needed to try it, I couldn’t figure it out.

It was exhilarating and terrifying as you are often in busy traffic and super close to the cars. But the thing is, Parisian drivers seem to be use to all this chaos, and there are so many other bikes on the road. So, you just try your best, and cars move around you, and you around cars. The only time I saw people raise their voices was to prevent accidents, when a pedestrian or car or bike were really too close and about to collide.

The bikes are in much better condition than they were seven years ago. The tires were filled. The seats were easily adjustable. There was occasionally the loud brake. Now, the ebikes are such a good idea, and there are as many ebikes as regular bikes, usually. But every time I tried to use them, I could feel an initial acceleration when I first got on, and then … nothing. Nada. I’m sad to report that it took me five days before a young colleague told me she’d had the same problem and you have to press ‘3’ on the dashboard to give it some juice, otherwise it stays in ‘1’. I only got to try a proper ebike once after that. Strangely, it was on a bike that someone had left at a station unlocked and still running (on their account), but they’d already set it on ‘3’ and what a difference it made. It was fast and quite fun.

All in all, what a week. Paris is so compact that I used the metro only one time the whole time I was there, and the rest of the time, I was on a Vélib, or walked. I even went up to Sacre Coeur twice and was definitely winded, it would have been better with a functional ebike! What also made it easy was that I had internet access on my phone. Years ago this was so, so difficult to figure out, but nowadays, Virgin mobile in Australia just allows you to roam for $5 a day (about EUR 3) and being able to access my Vélib app and Google maps was a lifesaver. Of course, I got lost a ton of times and took wrong turns, but what better city in the world to be lost but Paris?

Posted in Advice, Paris | Leave a comment

The Global Monitoring Report on Education for All

Originally published on 28 April 2015 on

I had the most amazing work opportunity and experience in the last six months. I was hired by the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) team to be the editor for their 2015 report, Education for All 2000–2015: Achievements and Challenges.

This involved working at UNESCO’s office in Paris for a few months with a dedicated and intelligent group of researchers, and to learn about the status of education around the world.

While education isn’t an area that I’m expert in, I welcomed the opportunity to learn about a new field, and I saw my role as an editor to provide an outside perspective: the report is meant to be as accessible as possible, and to be read by both experts and students, in universities and in communities.

I was shocked by what I learned: still so much illiteracy in the world, children out of school, mostly in conflict-affected areas, and kids being taught by teachers who have no more than primary education. The social justice issues that I’ve been involved seem almost a luxury when so many kids aren’t being taught to read or write.

This editorial, How We Can Make Education For All A Reality, by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, from the Huffington Post is a good overview of successes, failures and lessons.

The report was released and launched in April 2015 and is available online.

Update: While I had a break, I’m back as the structural editor for the GEM Reports, doing my editing from Australia rather than in Paris. I still love working with this team and learning about the latest developments in education. Visit the report here.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

Book Reviews on HIV and sexuality

Originally published on 26 October 2015 on

From the archives, here are two book reviews that I wrote for the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation’s (AFAO) National AIDS Bulletin.

First of all, a short book review from NAB, volume 13, no 5, 2000 on Peter A. Jackson and Gerard Sullivan (editors)’s Multicultural Queer: Australian Narratives:

An invitation (as in the words from Edward Said) to ‘break down the stereotypes and reductive categories that are so limiting to human thought and communication’.

Multicultural Queer Review

In Endangering Relations: Negotiating Sex and AIDS in Thailand, Chris Lyttleton delves into the real stories behind a country being held up as an example of how the world should respond to HIV.

Endangered Relations Review

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

An article on access to HIV drugs

Originally published on 26 October 2015 on

From the archives, here is an article that I wrote for the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation’s (AFAO) National AIDS Bulletin.

In 1999, the hot issue was how to get HIV drugs to those who needed them. One way was to find legal ways to import or produce those drugs so they would be affordable. This article on drug access appeared in NAB, volume 13, no 1, 1999:

Article in the National AIDS Bulletin on global access to HIV drugs

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

Avoiding jargon words

Originally published on 27 July 2014 on

The British Home Office has produced a style guide which recommends against a whole lot of jargon words.

It’s excellent, particularly the section on Plain English.

I have to admit to being guilty to using some of this jargon in my editing and writing work…

What about you? Guilty?

Here’s their section on Plain English excerpted:

Don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. Use ‘buy’ instead of ‘purchase’, ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’, ‘about’ instead of ‘approximately’ and ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’.

We lose trust from our users if we write government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. We can do without these words:

  • agenda (unless it’s for a meeting)
  • advancing
  • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
  • combating
  • commit/pledge (we need to be more specific – we’re either doing something or we’re not)
  • countering
  • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)
  • deploy (unless it’s military or software)
  • dialogue (we speak to people)
  • disincentivise (and incentivise)
  • empower
  • facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
  • focusing
  • foster (unless it’s children)
  • impact (as a verb)
  • initiate
  • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
  • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
  • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
  • liaise
  • overarching
  • progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)
  • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
  • robust
  • slimming down (processes don’t diet – we are probably removing x amount of paperwork etc)
  • streamline
  • strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)
  • tackling (unless it’s rugby, football or some other sport)
  • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
  • utilise

Avoid using metaphors – they don’t say what you actually mean and lead to slower comprehension of your content. For example: drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)

  • drive out (unless it’s cattle)
  • going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)
  • in order to (superfluous – don’t use it)
  • one-stop shop (we are government, not a retail outlet)
  • ring fencing

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

NTT Communications Brochure

Originally published on 7 May 2014 on

Since last year, I’ve been copywriting for NTT Communications (NTT ICT), an information, communication and technology company expanding its operations in Australia (in its entirety, the company, headquartered in Japan, is one of the world’s largest companies of its type).

I love my work with NTT ICT. The people I work with there are lovely to work with: friendly and professional. I get to work in an area that I’m not familiar with (I know a lot more about Cloud services than I did before!), and I get to make my client’s words better.

As a copywriter, I don’t necessarily need to be an expert in my client’s field. Accessible and clear writing makes sure that a broad audience can understand and engage with it. While technical or specialised language is sometimes necessary, a good copywriter and editor will still be able to make sure that the messages are clear, the grammar is correct and the text is free of mistakes.

This general brochure that I worked on with NTT ICT takes copy that I wrote for their website combined with materials they supplied, all edited up and checked over and proofread.

And then, I think it might just be the nicest looking brochure I’ve ever worked on! Check it out by clicking here: NTT Brochure. The reduced-size PDF has deleted words from the cover and slightly altered the colour scheme. Simply ‘view’ it as a PDF in your browser or download it to see its full glory. It’s BEE-you-tiful.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

A little bit of writing assistance for Sydney Dance Company

Originally posted 8 October 2015 on


What an absolute pleasure to providing copywriting and editing assistance to the Sydney Dance Company, including for their latest programme, for the amazing ‘Triptych’, a set of three works, all set to the music of Benjamin Britten.

I was able to see this show on a special Opening Night, and I was in awe over the beautiful dancing and the amazing creativity and artistry that brought these pieces to life.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

How do I need to promote my small business?

Originally posted 18 August 2020 on

I’m going to hit my 10-year anniversary in a few months of being a freelance editor, after a career change from working in the international response to HIV. It’s been an interesting journey, and very positive. How I love working for myself, and the varied, interesting work. I also enjoyed learning how to run my own business.

A key question this whole time has been: how do I need to promote my business?

The answer wasn’t clear at the beginning as I didn’t understand how my business would work, who my clients would be, and how I would get clients. And so, the answer for each small business is going to be different. However, it did become clear after a few years that I would be the type of small business that can get enough work from a few clients to manage. I tend to occasionally find new clients. Current and old clients slip away (sometimes to return). I have a few, steady clients that I provide the bulk of my work too, and the rest rotate. My main clients are UN agencies, such as UNDP, UNESCO and UN Women, and the City of Sydney, and some similar agencies that produce policy-oriented work, though I do some oddball work as well, proofreading labels for liquor companies, and editing the occasional blog for smaller businesses.

So, from this, I’ve eventually discovered that I don’t need all the things I was told to get when I started out: a business name, business cards, social media, and even this website. Having established myself, my work comes from word of mouth and referrals. In the early years, it was crucial to learn how to run a business, how to write for any client (particularly small businesses) and what my identity and unique selling points were. So, for this, it was very useful to join the business network, Business Networking International (BNI) and indeed, to go through the process of branding and business cards and a website. But I’m not sure this is the path for everyone.

I’ll probably do some more writing on this at a later time, but for now, the main point of this blog post is to note that my editing business does NOT need a Facebook page, and while it was simple enough to set up, my clients aren’t going to find me through Facebook and nor do I think they particularly care or not if I have a page. It was possibly a nice way to show my friends what I do in my professional life, but with today’s information overload, I can’t imagine anyone of them doing more than having looked at the Facebook page once, and then maybe visited this website. In the interest of a Marie Kondo clean-up, I’m deleting the page … now. I’ll record that I had 208 page likes and 198 followers and made about 50 posts since my first, on 12 September 2013. Sadly, most of my posts seem to have had 0 views and 0 reach, though a handful garnered a reach of 67, 67 and 50. As I said, it really wasn’t a way to help my business. Bye, bye, Facebook page.

2023 update:

And now, I’ve hit the point where I don’t think a website for my business is necessary. Some presence on the internet is necessary, so I’ll let LinkedIn take care of that, but I think websites are mostly for businesses or services where people visit the website to buy something, or so something, or even research something specifically. If a website is specialised enough, say, for recipes, then I think there’s still good interest, but the days of a general website for a small business are over. Large businesses would be expected to have a website, but if a business has the clients it needs, and the website isn’t generating business: bye, bye, Boldface website.

Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment

Punctuation..? (by User Design)

Originally posted 18 June 2016 on


I received a very charming book in the mail the other day.

Punctuation..? is a short, handsome book from User Design, a typesetting and illustration business based in Leicester, United Kingdom.

With 21 explanations of punctuation marks, all accompanied by fun illustrations, the book would make a nice stocking stuffer or Happy Day Surprise with the word geek in your life (e.g. editor, writer, young human with an interest in words).

I quite liked the pages on the pilcrow, was reminded of the guillemets, and learned that curly brackets are used to ‘indicate a series of equal choices’ such as when deciding between {sausage, cheese, a sandwich, pretzel}?

User_design_Books_Punctuation_p34_35A few of the uses may be regional; I wasn’t familiar with them, e.g. round parentheses to ‘indicate optional words that imply some doubt’ as in the sentence (directed at a police officer), ‘Listen mate (Bobby), you do not want to mess with me.’

And I guess that would be my only suggestion for another edition (this is in its second edition already). Styles change. Usage of punctuation changes, and is not the same in different cultures. While the book does point out some of these differences, for example, the use of double quotation marks being common in North America, and single quotation marks in the United Kingdom, a preface or introduction would be nice to set the scene.

The book is available from Waterstones and some other bookshops in the UK, as well as Amazon, but check out the book’s website for more information.


Posted in Editing & Work | Leave a comment