Month: January 2022

Book review – Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint, by Russell Davies

Title: Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint

Author: Russell Davies

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2021; RRP: $29.99

The Author

Russell Davies is a PowerPoint wizard and devotee. Early in his career he put aside writing ambitions, realising there were plenty of contemporaries with better connections into the literary world, so went into advertising instead. Now he calls himself a creative strategist, a communications guru laying claim to helping some of the biggest corporate names, the likes of Honda, Nike, and Microsoft.  The British Government and The New York Museum of Modern Art have also benefitted from his assistance in getting their messages across.

The Book

Russell has put out a cool little book that I think captures the essence and feel of PowerPoint.  The first half of the book traces Russell’s career and the development of his presentation skills using PowerPoint. He casts himself as the success story due to PowerPoint, showing how a puny shy young beginner challenged by the big time of advertising presentation was turned into something akin to a character (he wishes) from the TV series the Mad Men.

Including the story of his own career gives the whole thing a personal element, someone the reader can identify with (which is a tip for good presentations from the second half).

Russell claims not to be writing exclusively about Microsoft’s PowerPoint and that he uses the term PowerPoint much the same way the British use the term Hoover. While we might vacuum, the Brits Hoover.

The behind-the-scenes history of this popular piece of software is an entertaining read and will appeal to technophile historians. ‘While this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Russell does a decent job of holding the reader’s interests by adding little anecdotes from some major projects where PowerPoint was used with good effect.

Get to grips with presentations

@ doing presentations, by giles turnbull

The second half is all about making presentations using PowerPoint. Some of these tips are obvious especially for those used to doing presentations.  The book mimics the format of a presentation deck.  The pages open in landscape layout.  Never is there any more than one idea per page and rarely does an idea continue over the turning of a page. There are plenty of examples of PowerPoint slides.  A key message is that the hard work and detail are in the preparation ,not in the slides.

This book is a master class in communication. The common theme is about making your communication clear, precise, and easily acceptable.  If your career involves presentations, this is a must read.  I wish I had read this book twenty-something years ago!

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, December 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy supplied by the publisher

Book review – Dissolve, by Nikki Gemmell

Author: Nikki Gemmell

Title: Dissolve

Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2021; RRP $29.99

Nikki Gemmell has written 13 works of fiction and four non-fiction including the initially anonymous The Bride Stripped Bare, and is popular in Australia and internationally for the originality and honesty of her voice, for ‘saying the things that women think but do not say’. She also worked extensively in media, including writing a column for the Weekend Australian Magazine.   

In Dissolve, an autobiographical novel, an important role is played by a position she also held in real life working for a small radio station in Alice Springs.

Dissolve is also the story of a loving relationship which falters. The author is deeply infatuated with a man identified throughout simply as ‘W’. She leaves her job and the people she enjoyed working with in Alice Springs to join himm only for him to tell her barely days before their wedding that he is having doubts.

We are told this in the first chapter. At the same time the author segues neatly into what will be a parallel theme throughout the work as she struggles through the following days processing this: looking back on her own life, the relationship itself, and frequently referencing the life stories of other women writers. In the process, she uncovers how love and marriage impact on the creative life of women.

Near the beginning she writes,

‘W is at the heart of this story, as men so often are. Back then you were the sidekick. The experiment. Accessory. Muse. As women so often are. But finally you are writing this out, centring yourself in the narrative,…’  (p18) (my italics)

Dissolve moves back and forth in time from initial attraction and burgeoning passion to that fatal conversation after she leaves Alice Springs to begin living with W, who does not want to move. His is a city soul. The book’s central focus is what she discovers in the process of trying to put herself back together. Part of it is how she realises how girls learn early the power men hold over their lives – ignited by that moment when W tells her ‘he couldn’t go through with it’ – that ‘the money thing between you is too uncertain’.

The ‘money thing’ being that the author is the regular wage earner in the relationship and there had been no indication this state of affairs would not continue. Even before his bombshell this had been a lurking concern, but one she left unspoken until only days before, when she had finally brought it up.

She lets him know she is concerned about what her role in the relationship will be once they are married – her job in Alice Springs is hugely demanding and she replaces it with another equally demanding one when she moves to the city. He, on the other hand, does not have a regular job, which means she will be the breadwinner. So where in the relationship will fit  her dream of being a writer?

Thinking about it afterwards, however, still loving him and knowing absolutely that he loves her, she finds herself unable to contemplate his absence or the thought of losing their shared vision of a future home and family together.

Nikki Gemmell on quietism, in On Quiet

via hachette, 2020

In her turmoil she looks back on and liberally quotes the voices found in letters and diaries and in biographical works of a wide range of individual women writers, along with details from recorded history of other relationships between women creatives and male artists.

She explores for example the relationships of such couples as Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and our own Charmian Clift and George Johnston, through the lens of her relationship with W.  The narrative takes the form almost of a helpless pull between a deeply enamoured self torn by pain and confusion as she struggles to find her place, and a more dispassionate self reflecting on what she finds about other women’s struggles to maintain their creative life within relationships with male creative partners. Interestingly, she also includes a relationship between two women where one’s creative life is subsumed by that of her more strongly socially positioned partner.

Gemmell discovers a ‘joking’ manifesto poet Ted Hughes wrote for second wife Assia Wevill, successful in her job and an aspiring poet. His list includes: full responsibility of the care of his three children; no cooking by him; one ‘new’ meal a week; a daily log of expenses and ‘acceptance of all Hughes friends’ (p184)., No woke woman would be able to hear that list without a slight chill.

Dissolve is written in a chatty, reflective and explorative voice. The writing style is quick and entertaining, changing depending on whether she is reliving the relationship or looking back with concern, anger and grief. When describing her times with W the sentences are short, breathy, deliriously happy, almost like a conversation with the reader as a confidante over coffee. Those expressing her doubts and trying to understand what she is feeling are longer, thoughtful and of a woman totally in control of herself and her life.

Towards the end she reaches the conclusion that, despite where love might take them, in order to follow the demands of her art, a woman needs a partner who she knows will be mutually supportive. And that, she concludes wryly, includes a man ‘comfortable with ironing his own shirts’ (p199).

Dissolve to me was at its heart the story of a very real relationship and of what it costs to follow a dream.

Reviewed by: Rhonda Cotsell, December 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher


Book review – Scary Monsters, by Michelle de Kretser

Title: Scary Monsters

Author: Michelle de Kretser

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, October 2021, RRP: $32.99

Either of the two novellas in Michelle de Kretser’s Scary Monsters can be read first, so the volume has two covers

Sri Lankan-born Michelle de Kretser was educated in Melbourne and Paris. 

She has seven novels and many awards to her credit, including the Miles Franklin Literary Award twice. 

Scary Monsters is two novellas, one set in the future and one in the past. Each story begins at different ends of the book, so that in a clever metaphor for a world turned upside down, the reader must turn the book over to read the second story.


Set in the not-too-distant future, Australia is a land of heavy surveillance. Frightening Big Brother themes escalate as individuals, actions and organisations are increasingly proscribed. Practising Islam is an offence. Nervous citizens download the Whack-A-Mullah app and play it every day. As chilling attitudes to “disposables” spiral, a government with one eye on an economy perked by inheritance spending passes “the Amendment”, removing checks on assisted dying. Melbourne’s crematoriums flourish as the elderly are pressured to “take the Amendment”. 

Lyle and Chanel are names an Asian couple chose when they migrated to Australia. Both have well-paid jobs. Lyle works in a government sector and De Kretser has great tongue-in-cheek fun with his indoctrination and blinkered ignorance. The family lives in an upmarket suburb with effervescent names like Spumante Court and Brandivino Drive and send their children to private schools. Still, they must be vigilant. While the terrified adults go to extremes to fit in, their children “shake the grass”. When his university drop-out son chooses an off-the-grid lifestyle in a no-footprint commune, Lyle explodes: “…our motive in coming to Australia was to ensure that our children would never have to live in improvised shacks without proper sanitation”. Their sighing, eye-rolling drama-queen daughter has a different perspective to her parents on absolutely everything, lives in the world of Instagram and calls Australia “Loserland”. This story of people from other cultures walking a permanent tightrope to fit in without giving offence is lightened with biting irony. “Australia is an egalitarian place. The rich aren’t discriminated against and left to fend for themselves here.”

Listen to Michelle de Kretser speaks with Mel Cranenburgh about Scary Monsters

at RRR’s Backstory


Violence against women, French colonialism and classic art are recurring themes.

In 1980s France, Madame la Guillotine still casts a shadow. Twenty-two-year-old Lili, an Australian of Asian heritage, is teaching English in Montpellier, France. She struggles with the language and customs and discovers that “there is something brutal about being flung into a foreign language.” Lili’s dark skin sees her caught up in a police dragnet but her Australian passport saves her from being bundled into the gendarmes’ van with other people of colour. 

Lili admires Simone de Beauvoir. She wants to be both “Sexy Modern Woman” and “Bold Intelligent Woman”. De Kretser addresses female sexuality with uninhibited ease, with Lili fully appreciating being a woman, luxuriating in her sensuality and sexuality and, at the same time, needing to deflect the scary, unwanted attentions of Monsieur Rinaldi, her creepy neighbour.

Punk’s scruffy, second-hand aesthetic is in vogue and Lili is shocked to discover that her op-shop dressing friend Minna is really filthy rich. But is Minna really befriending Lili, or is she using her?

Scary Monsters is irresistible reading. The novellas progress via a series of vignettes. Both stories are unsettling and challenging. They include themes of migration, family, misogyny, ageism and racism. Dickensian in their ability to spice dark stories with laugh-out-loud humour, they are both hilarious and sinister, and alive with delicious original metaphors. Scary Monsters is clever, witty and inventive, a thoroughly recommended must-read.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

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