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5 parenting values we can learn from children’s classics

Earlier this year I unpacked boxes of my children’s books, not seen for several years and I found many of my old favourites. A nightly ritual began – our youngest would go to bed after a picture book, and my seven-year-old would race to our little blue couch to find where we were up to in the children’s classic of my choice. What surprised me is how long ago they were written. The language in some cases is hard to follow and a lot went over my son’s head but the stories are so compelling that he never lost interest. And there are some important lessons in these books.

 

 

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1960 edition bought in Fuller’s Bookshop, Hobart (back when the apostrophe was still used)

The Magic Pudding, by Norman Lindsay written in 1918. The character names are some of my favourites. And the way Bunyip Bluegum speaks so eloquently is what eventually saves the day. What I really like in this book is the enjoyment of just going for a walk. Not walking to catch Pokemon. Not racing to be first. But the fun of getting about on foot. Plus I love that they build a tree house to live in at the end.img_6291

 

 


1932 edition with beautiful colour platesAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll, 1865

Alice is bored. Bored!? Really? Why isn’t she being entertained by her parents or an electronic device? But because she’s bored she has the most incredible adventure of any book ever. Ever! There are so many cultural references that originate in this book it feels like compulsory reading for every child. So, let your kids get bored. And maybe they’ll have adventures too.img_6289

 

This is a reprint of the 1921 edition with colour plates

Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie, 1911
It’s so interesting re-reading this book after seeing the Disneyfied Peter Pan and Tinkerbell characters for so long. There’s a surprising amount of death in this book. And tragic stories of children with no mothers. So this one is appreciation for one’s mother. I feel so taken for granted by my children that I like to see more appreciation of mothers – and maybe they’ll feel how sad it would be not to have one.

 

 

 

The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, 1946
Now here are some kids with their heads screwed on straight. Even though they’re on holidays they can’t run off to the Enchanted Forest until they’ve done their work. Work!? Make children work? Yep, they garden and tidy their rooms and wash and mend their own clothes when they rip them. Okay that last one is maybe just the girls, but still, sensible working kids. Plus they leave no kid behind, even annoying Connie.

From the box set I was given when I was 7

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, 1950
Siblings need to stick together – though sometimes it takes a life and death situation to learn that . Mean Edmund who picks on his little sister really gets his comeuppance in this book. These four kids have no parents to watch out for them so they need to do it themselves.

 

When can you call yourself a writer?

I’ve been reflecting lately about when you can start calling yourself a children’s writer or a creator of anything. When you publish your first book? When someone pays you something for it? When you’re brave enough to say, this is what I do; maybe not full time, but hey, that doesn’t matter.

I’ve been struggling with feeling timid about telling people that I am bringing out a CD of children’s songs. It feels … presumptuous somehow. Like I should have a degree behind me, or at least some incredible expertise in playing an instrument, or an amazing singing voice. But all I have is a fascination with language, rhyme and catchy tunes.

Elizabeth Gilbert has written many things in her wonderful book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear which have strongly resonated with me. One is about having the courage to ignore the voice within you that tells you you’re being ‘self-indulgent and preposterous to do this crazy thing.’ She says living creatively is ‘living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear’. And let’s face it, there’s too much fear around. Fear people will laugh at me, won’t take me seriously, not like my work, and so on.

I know my work is not going to appeal to everyone. Some will think it’s too educational. Some will think it’s not educational enough. But that’s okay. No song or book appeals to everyone.

I could write a lot about how I’m not qualified to bring out a CD like this. But I won’t. When I say, all I have is a fascination with language, rhyme and catchy tunes, that’s not telling the whole story. I’ve been working on becoming a better writer for more than three years. I’ve taken workshops and courses in song writing, creative writing and children’s writing. I’ve gone to writing conferences and paid for manuscript critiques. I’ve joined online forums and critique groups and submitted my work for others’ review. I’ve entered competitions. I’ve attended a conference for Australian teachers of Indonesian to get teachers’ perspectives, I’ve asked for feedback from teachers and musicians. I’ve sung and played music throughout. And I’ve continued to write and revise and write and revise.

And each time I heard the voice inside me saying, there’s no point in doing this, you may as well give up now, I stubbornly persisted.

As Elizabeth Gilbert writes: You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life. Life’s so short so just get on with what you want to do and stop worrying about what other people think.

Also, your art doesn’t need to change the world. So true! I certainly didn’t write songs with the aim of more children learning Indonesian or having an appreciation for Indonesian life. I wrote them for me and for my children and because these are the kinds of songs I love.

All this is to say I don’t know what will happen in the future but that I’m extremely proud to have a CD that I’ll be launching next month. And sometimes it’s just about finishing one project so you can move onto the next!

For details of the launch on 28 October 2016, visit the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

Ayo to the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival!

First the exciting news. Ayo! Let’s Go! Songs for children in Indonesian and English is going to be in the children’s program for the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival UWRFheaderthis year. I’m just thrilled about this! It’s such a wonderful festival and the children’s program is fantastic. And free! I’m looking forward to coming back to Bali and launching the CD in the place where it all began.

The festival is on between 26 and 30 October 2016 with heaps of amazing writers coming from all over the world. I’m especially excited that Magda Szubanski is coming. I’ve seen her on comedy shows on TV for years and now she is gaining fame as a memoirist.

For anyone planning to come, the early bird tickets are still on sale. Don’t delay! Sometime in August they finish and the price goes up by 20%. For people with a KITAS the price is a bargain.

And for those of who planning to come with kids, the launch of Ayo! Let’s Go! is the perfect event for children aged between 3 and 9 who like music. The fantastically talented pianist Thomas Aro Zebua will be playing and the incredible singers Mita, Wisma and Olga Spoelstra will be performing some of the songs they recorded on the CD. We will be playing games, doing yoga and getting the children up and dancing and singing along with us.

Have monkeys ever stolen your hat? Do you like tropical fruit but hate mosquitos? Then this is the show for you!

I’m also planning to have prizes and something for every child to take home. Watch this space to find out when and where, or check the children’s program of the UWRF.

 

 

10 tips for recording children’s songs

Ayo! Let's Go! demo coverThe most exciting thing coming up for me in 2016 is that I have a collection of children’s songs recorded and ready to be released (Ayo! Let’s Go!). I’m so excited about this because it represents a lot of work I did while living in Bali. Just before I left Indonesia in December, I was able to book a music studio, get singers and a pianist together and finally record 11 songs.

I was recently asked for some tips on recording children’s songs. A friend is planning to record his original songs this year. Gee, I thought, I don’t know much – I’ve only done it once. But after reflecting, I realised I learnt an enormous amount from doing this recording. Here are some of my tips on how to prepare for a recording.

First – getting your songs ready to record

1) Revise your lyrics.

Two music teachers heard my songs in the early stages and the first thing they said was: too many words. I crammed so many words in some of my lines that it made it hard for adults, let alone children, sing. Not every song has to be Jack and Jill for rhythm and simplicity. But too many words makes it much harder to follow, especially for kids.

When it came time to prepare for recording I revised every single song. I scrutinised every word and every line. I took out innumerable ‘and’, ‘then’, ‘that’ and unnecessary conjunctions. If a word wasn’t completely necessary, I took it out. I even deleted whole verses when I decided the verse didn’t fit the pattern of previous verses, or made the song too long.

As the songwriter you have one way of singing your song. Trying to imagine how other people will approach it is much harder. Looking at your lyrics on paper as if they are poems makes this easier.

2) Be sure about the structure of the song (this might need to be step 1). It could be: intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, verse, chorus x 3 as ending. Or it could be more complicated. There is a wide range of children’s songs out there. It’s okay to do something complicated.

However, don’t be scared of repetition. Kids love that they know what is coming up next. Interaction is also fabulous. Have a think about how to include a call and answer, or some other interaction for the kids. One of my songs has an introduction that is completely different to the main song. I had actually written two bamboo songs and decided to combine them. In between the intro and the song I have a short spoken piece, and then there is counting through the song. It was fun to record, took longer of course, but because I had it very clear about who would do what, and what the accompaniment needed to do, it went very smoothly.

3) If you have time, money or friends who play more instruments, think about doing a more complicated arrangement. What instruments would be best for each song? I ended up going with a simple piano and voice arrangement for my songs, but I always thought if the songs needed it I could get other musicians to add drums, guitar or gamelan on top. Work out the basics first and then have a wish list for improving them.

4) Work out the key signature for each song. This was essential for me as I had a fantastic pianist, Thomas Zebua, creating the accompaniment. One of the first things he needed to know was the key for each song. I wasn’t singing the songs myself. In fact I had four different singers working on the album and we worked out the key for each song at the first rehearsal.

Then – have plenty of time for rehearsal

5) Phrasing, emphasis, dynamics, timing, pauses. All this gets worked out in rehearsal. If you’re the one being recorded you’ll have to record yourself over and over again. Ask yourself—and other people: Was that word clear? Should the song be slower or faster? Or should the tempo speed up? When I was rehearsing I was the one listening to the singers so it was easier for me to pick up on phrases that needed work. Pronunciation of English words was one area where we needed to go over some phrases many times. Funnily enough, even some of the Indonesian was improved upon in the studio when there were other Indonesians listening to the songs.

6) Practice the endings. I didn’t want all my songs to end the same way. I thought it would be dull if every song finished fading out, or if every song repeated the refrain three times and then finished. So I made sure some finished abruptly, some finished with piano, some faded out slowly. The same with beginnings.

Finally – what to expect in the studio

7) Book as much time as you can afford and be very prepared that that might change. I had some crazy idea that we could record 11 songs in one day. Well, we almost did, but that was only the piano. I had to book two more days in the studio after that to get the singers recorded. That was my inexperience showing up big time! Luckily I was in Bali in a small studio near my house in Sanur and the studio was available the following two days. I ended up having not just the Friday in the studio but Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday. It’s unlikely that a song will be recorded in only one take so if you’re the person who has hired everyone to be there, you have to decide when something needs to be done over and when it’s good enough. Singers only have so many takes in them and you only have so many hours in the studio.

8) Don’t forget the mixing. Most of the mixing for my songs was done in the studio straight after the recording and the engineer did a great job. That meant we both stayed in the studio for another two hours after the recording finished to make sure all the tracks were right, and I could leave with all the tracks pretty much finished. But I’ve still sent it to a friend who is a professional musician/engineer in Australia and he is working on it and getting it ready for distribution.

9) Take some photos. You might want to document this experience. It’s so much fun! I had a blast of a time in that hot little bamboo studio in Sanur. I got to listen to my songs sung over and over. And, while it was kind of stressful, worrying that we wouldn’t get it all done and wondering if the singers were getting quite the feel that I’d hoped, it was a fantastic experience.

10) And finally, get copies of all the files. Ask for every possible format that you might need. Mp3 for sure but if you want some more mixing afterwards, you’ll probably want them in a different format. Also, you might want the accompaniment by itself, with no voice over. If you’re a solo performer, suddenly you have your own backing track and you can be free to perform the song without having to play an instrument.

These are just the tips from someone who has gone through a recording experience once. Others are sure to have more.

Publishing in Indonesia: Tips from Sarita Newson

I had a chat with Sarita Newson last year about the latest children’s book she is publishing. With more than 30 years of experience in publishing in Indonesia through her company Saritaksu Editions, Sarita Newson is a wealth of interesting stories and useful information. This is part of our conversation.

How did you begin publishing children’s books?Sarita Newson

We did one way back with an Australian friend of mine Adrian Clynes who is a linguist – his thesis was on the language of Bali. He put together some of the stories that the old people used to tell. We were concerned they were getting lost as the oral tradition petered out with the arrival of TV. That book was called Grandfather’s TalesKakek Bali Bercerita. We sort of self-published it. There wasn’t any proper distribution in those days but Bali is small enough you can spread them about. It was very popular.

At that time, the early eighties, there were very few books for children in bookstores. You could only get Majala Bobo. There weren’t any of the lovely colourful picture books in Indonesian in those days. Now there are some wonderful comic books and picture books.

Tell us about your latest book Rajawali and the Children: Making the lake clean

It is the third book in the Clean Bali series of books written by Maggie Dunkle and illustrated by Margiyono. [Maggie Dunkle was a librarian and author who moved from Australia to Bali late in life and passed away in 2012.]

The book is trying to point out the wisdom of nature. How the birds know how to survive and how we should listen and observe. If the birds leave, it’s for a very good reason. There is a reason they are dying.

Rajawali cover

How long does it take to publish a children’s book?

One book can take six months to a year from taking a manuscript through translation, illustration and printing. This one has taken longer. We ran out of steam. The illustrator got busy, but I wanted to keep the same artist the same way through as I wanted them to look the same. He spent a lot of time learning about the different birds in Bali and trying to depict them accurately.

Another thing that slowed us down was that the author Maggie got very ill and passed away. She was a great force for pushing things along. She was a very grumpy old lady. I was very fond of her and we never had an argument, but she had arguments with everyone else.

Clean Bali booksHow did you find the illustrator?

The illustrator, Margiyono, was working as a stonemason. A friend saw some paintings he was doing and asked, ‘have you ever tried to illustrate anything?’ She encouraged him to do some illustrations and when they had some, they came to me. I told them there is a lot more work to do but I’d love to publish it.

All three books in the Clean Bali Series are printed in Balinese, Indonesian and English. I did the Indonesian translation with the help of my son. And Balinese author Made Taro translated the Bahasa Bali.


What are some of the practicalities of publishing in Indonesia?

It is most important to have a good printer who will be responsible for quality. Not all printers have the equipment or know-how to print books, or the ethics that are necessary, when printing mistakes happen. It is important to be clear on responsibility, and to have a good quality control. Just as with any other production, rushing orders is not a good idea, as it doesn’t allow enough time for checking and control. Storage is also important – it must be airconditioned and/or dehumidified in the tropics.

What are the steps involved in setting up a publishing company in Indonesia?

First one has to be Indonesian, and have a legal, registered, tax-paying company. Second, one needs to have a reliable and trustworthy printer. Third, a team who are willing and able to distribute and follow up with book shops and other places that sell the books.

Is it possible to self-publish?

It is possible to self-publish, but it is important to have a good editor, as few writers are capable of editing their own work. Self-publishers need to be savvy in promoting their own books, both digital and printed, as they are on their own. Preferably they should have their own network or access to buyers for selling the books, as book shops are not always keen to accept books unless recommended by established publishers. It has taken us many years to build our relationship with the bookshops.

How does the price of printing here compare to printing overseas, say in China?

We print the books in Jakarta. The printing is much cheaper and better quality than in Bali. Then we have them trucked here. It used to cost about $200 to ship a truckload of books to Bali but that has increased too.

When it comes to printing in China, importing the books is going to be a problem. In Australia you don’t have to pay duty to bring them back in but here you do. And they’ll never let on how much you’ll have to pay. They can be quite coy about it.

Clean Bali

How do you manage distribution?

We have a great relationship with the local bookshops. They’re really supportive. It may be because the industry is so unregulated. I’m sure it would have been a lot harder for me to do this in New Zealand. Book distributors charge a lot there too. But, you see, people can afford to pay more for books in Australia and New Zealand. But here, for local people, even to buy a book is a luxury. Which is why we give them away – to schools. When it comes to children’s books we give about half away and sell half. The intention is really to teach children about the environment. The first book in the Clean Bali Series has been reprinted once and 10,000 copies have been distributed. We printed 5000 copies of the second book and they have almost run out. Now I am seeking funding for the third book in the series. 

How about getting your books into the larger stores such as Gramedia and Kinokuniya? Are they open to that?

Yes we have an agent who delivers to Gramedia. Kinokuniya is more difficult, as they don’t have so many stores and their purchasing seems to be more centralized. Periplus order direct from us and we keep them informed of the release of new titles.  Rajawali spread

What are the some of the challenges you’ve faced in publishing picture books?

Picture books particularly are very challenging because it’s very unusual to find an artist here who is used to depicting stories. And the fact that the landscape behind the story should not be something completely different every time. And also being constant in depicting the characters is not always easy for the artist – they should even keep the same clothes on if the story is just continuing. All these kinds of details.

It’s a long process to understand how to create a sequence without the child’s face changing into three different children. A lot of artists are not able to reproduce the same face every time. Most of 50our artists here are autodidacts so it is a completely new idea. We had terrible trouble with the monkeys, even, looking the same [for Monkey Tales of Bali].

Sarita Newson

The Clean Bali Series of books all have a song included with the lyrics and music at the back of the book. Why did you decide to include a song with the books?

Song is how I used to love to learn things. My husband learnt his English through singing. Music resonates with children. It gives so much more. Music is very special. My son has written the songs for the first two books and is working on another for the third book now.

 

Sarita Newson first visited Bali in 1973 from New Zealand and moved here permanently in 1975. She had three children with her Balinese husband. Sarita started publishing books under the company name Saritaksu Editions in the early eighties as a sideline to her main business, a graphic design studio. Gradually the publishing took over and, as she wound back the graphics, publishing became Sarita’s fulltime job though she is now considering retiring from publishing to concentrate on writing. She has published more than 50 books including novels, pictorial art and coffee-table books, non-fiction and children’s books.

For more information contact Sarita at saritaksu.editions@gmail.com

Learning from writers at UWRF

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on workshops run by amazing writers and performance poets, held during the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. This was the second year I’ve volunteered for the festival – it’s a great festival – and the first year that I had the responsibility of organising school workshops. It had its ups and downs but the job was worth it to meet the fantastic group of writers who took part.

NEW 2015 logo black
I started off spending a few months contacting international schools in Bali and Jakarta (and even Singapore) to encourage schools to book a workshop with a visiting writer. The writers were all coming to Bali for the festival which was held from 28 October to 1 November in 2015. A school workshop meant a great opportunity for schools to have international writers visit, something that doesn’t happen
too often in Indonesia.

A few months out from the festival I had to start contacting the writers to tell them about the workshop and almost all of them were delighted to have a school visit as part of their events during the festival. I was worried to begin with, maybe some writers wouldn’t want to give up a whole morning to visit a school? But almost without exception, they did!

The hardest thing was negotiating with schools about the visits and making sure both the school and the writer were happy with what was organised. Some schools were easy. They booked one writer for one class and the time was up to us. 9.30 to 12.30? Done. All that was left was to give a list of equipment and resources needed.

Other schools were more demanding and wanted the visiting writers to work around their break times or visit the entire primary school in three hours. But, I was amazed to learn, most writers were very amenable and rose to the challenges of multiple groups, or limited time, or larger class numbers.

I also learnt that the writers visiting the festival were very hardworking. Zohab Zee Khan, for example, had seven separate events over four days, including two workshops. Another writer, Porochista Khakpour, still had to give Skype tutorials to her college classes in the US, sometimes at 3.30am, while she was at the festival.

The best thing for me was I got to meet these amazing writers, and then sit in on their workshops. I tried not to waste my time, either, and joined in as many of the writing exercises as I could. Even Sofie Laguna’s writing workshop with Grade 3’s at the Bali Island School.

In total, six schools, four in Bali and two visiting from Jakarta, had workshops with 13 visiting writers, illustrators, journalists, photographers and performance poets. There were 11 workshops in total and, with some of the writers sharing their time among two or three groups, I worked out about 342 students had the chance to be in a workshop with one of the visiting writers.

And it wasn’t just the students who enjoyed the workshops. One of the visiting journalists told me it was by far the best thing he had been involved in at the festival. Not surprisingly, the school he visited, the Australian Intercultural School, was rapt with his visit.

Next post: what I learnt from performance poets.

Learning a language is kid’s play – a review of some Indonesian resources

How exactly does your child teach themselves Indonesian? Well, ideally they’re living in Indonesia and speaking and listening to Indonesian every day. But what if your child doesn’t seem interested in using Indonesian? My now six-year-old son just didn’t want to practice any Indonesian when we first came to live in Bali. Bit by bit he has become interested in learning words and started to enjoy surprising people by using Indonesian unexpectedly. Some of these resources have also helped.

Another activity I love seeing my son involved in is anything he can do by himself (screens aside). We have countless activity books in our house – mazes, dot-to-dots, colour by numbers, colour by stickers, sticker books. You name it we probably have it.

Spanish Club by Rush Sharp and Rosi McNab, published by Collins, 2009. Perfect for starting kids as young as five or six learning Spanish.

Spanish Club by Rush Sharp and Rosi McNab, published by Collins, 2009. Perfect for starting kids as young as five or six learning Spanish.

But where are the activity books for learning Indonesian? We have a fantastic one for Spanish called Spanish Club that regularly gets pulled out and a little bit more gets filled in each time. Most of it gets done without involvement from me and the stickers have been great at giving him confidence with reading before moving on to writing.

If only there was an Indonesian Club!

Here are a few interactive resources we’ve tried out:

Indonesian for Kids Flash Cards and More Indonesian for Kids Flash Cards by Linda Hibbs, Tuttle Publishing.

Indonesian For Kids Flash CardsFlash cards don’t sound particularly exciting but my son loves them. He spreads them out and puts each one on top of its picture on the wall chart (he spreads it out on the floor). There are 64 cards, each one with a picture and printed on strong glossy card. They are very basic words and we found that both our children already knew most of them: colours, numbers especially.

Indonesian flash cardsHe likes them so much I had to buy him the second set which he now plays with as well. He recently quizzed my mother on all 128 words – she did okay. Some of the more advanced words are verbs like melihat, pergi and tutup. It’s a very useful selection of words.

Each set of flash cards is accompanied by a CD which we haven’t used much though some of the songs are good. Before the songs come on, though, there are pronunciation exercises which are not very interesting.

Each set also has a learning guide which has the potential to be a very useful resource. Unfortunately, the format lets it down. It has been printed cheaply in black and white with few images, and in a small size to fit in the box. There are some fun games described but no room for interactive activities. Published in 2009, they are aimed at ages 4–12 and beyond. This has been the best investment I’ve made into Indonesian resources for the children.

My Indonesia-English E-Book made by Earnest Creation Co.Indo-English e-book

So, it looks bright and colourful but it is mostly useless. However, I bought this from Hardy’s Supermarket with only a faint hope it might prove useful. It is mostly in English but with many simple words in Indonesian. There are also recordings and a choice between Indonesian or English language but it is not especially easy to use.

E-book pageWhen I asked my son what words he learnt from it, he said ‘biola’. Yep, not exactly high-frequency words. More like: let’s recycle the pictures for the English words and move them around a bit.

Look at the World: Sea – Lihat Sekelilingmu: Laut, text by Anna Casalis and translated into Indonesian by Gramedia

LautSurprisingly, this has been a big hit in my house. My youngest son regularly chooses it as his bedtime story. As it’s a lift-the-flap encyclopaedia-type book, there is not much story, but there is plenty of scope to read the Indonesian as well as the English words for each item in this book and quiz the kids on all the different words.

Laut pagesI don’t usually read out what is written under the flaps but it’s good practice for me as well, as the explanations are all in Indonesian and use a lot of vocabulary I’m not familiar with.

Kamus Stiker Interaktif by Alf Yogi S, published by BIP part of Gramedia

Interactive Indonesian Sticker Book DictionaryThis is another one I bought at Gramedia and I was excited to find it  (though I still didn’t get my hopes up). My kids love sticker books and I hadn’t seen a single other sticker book for Indonesian. It is all about learning vocab which isn’t a bad thing. There are 360 stickers and each one has to be matched with a word with the colour giving it a clue. The word is written in English, Indonesian and Mandarin.

Interactive Sticker book pagesThe words are in alphabetical order (by English unfortunately) and despite it being repetitive, my son was charging along with this book and maybe even learning a few words along the way. He got up to the letter P, and then the colour of the stickers stopped matching the spot on which to put them and it was all over. He abandoned it and hasn’t looked at it since. Sigh.

The Big Bali Book: Activities for all the family by Tara and Shaan Peckham, 2011

This has a lot of activities in here but not many are suitable for the 4-6 age group. They are mostly letter and word games interspersed with information about Balinese culture, history and geography.

Primary Indonesian Workbook 2 by Kathryn Methven and Lousie Robertson, Five Senses, 1999

If it had been available I would have bought Workbook 1 but I could only find this one. But judging from this workbook it probably wouldn’t have been very interesting for younger children either.

I’ve recently heard of a new book called My Awesome Bali Adventure: A travel journal for kids so look out for a review when I get my hands on a copy.