18 December 2012

Becoming a Novelist

Back in 1990, I was on a working holiday in England. Actually, it was more holiday than work, so I had a bit of time on my hands. I'd always fancied trying my hand at writing fiction, so I went out and bought myself a decent pen and a pad of foolscap paper and started writing a novel. I'd been reading a lot of Stephen King and James Herbert at the time, so I tried to write a horror story.

Well, I never finished that one. I did start typing it up when I got back to Australia, on a real typewriter, remember them? It was probably more of a horrible story than a horror.

A few years later, I'd been reading a lot of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and decided to have another go. I got a lot further into this one, but again, never finished it. Donna and her youngest daughter were both a bit annoyed that they didn't get to see how it ended, but I didn't know how it was going to end myself.

When I left my last job in September, I decided to give it another go. I'd been reading a lot of Air Law, Meteorology, Air Traffic Services, etc, so I wasn't really influenced by anything this time.

I'm happy to say, I finally finished one and here's the result.

A lot of people have asked me what it's about. Well, it's probably best described as being in the espionage genre, but it's certainly not a James Bond or a Jason Bourne. Here's the blurb from the back of the book.

"On his days off, Jason "Megsy" McGraw likes nothing better than a quiet paddle in his homemade kayak.
Harry Carter likes nothing better than not getting killed while he works. When Jason finds Harry hidden away in the mangroves his life becomes one of bad guys, dodgy packages and a mystery from the cold war."

It's now available on Amazon Kindle for US 0.99c and you can buy it by clicking here. The paperback version should be available for purchase in a couple of weeks, once I've got my copy of the proofs. It'll cost US $14.95 and will be 240 pages.

It's been a great experience writing it and I've learned a lot. For example, plan your book before you write, especially if you have a lot of plot twists, otherwise you end up confusing yourself. I had to stop half way through and ended up writing half a dozen pages of notes, just to work out what was happening. There were also a few nights, when an idea came to me while I was in bed and I had to get up and make a note of it before I forgot.

Now I just have to learn how to sell it. Oh, and get started on the sequel.

25 October 2012

Employment for Zoology Majors

Since leaving my ATC trainee job I've been taking it easy. I'm working on a novel and am in the middle of applying for another job related to ATC, but I'm not exactly overworking myself at the moment.

So when Hammy from Pelican and Seabird Rescue rang the other day looking for volunteers to help with a presentation at a local primary school, Donna and I said, "sure, we'll be glad to help".

I really shouldn't volunteer for stuff when I've had a few drinks.

We went around their place to try the costume on last night.

Actually, it wasn't too bad. All I had to do was walk into the room after Hammy and Donna finished their presentation, to the sound of "oohs" and "aahs" from twenty-odd four and five year-olds. They'd all line up for a hug from Mr Pelican and have their photo taken. Then I'd go back into the other room and wait for the next group, three groups in all. Afterwards, we were given morning tea.

Now if only I could get paid for a gig like that.

Waiting for my second performance
See, there is work out there for people with a zoology degree.

22 September 2012

My last ATC school post

Those of you that have been following my exploits at the Airservices Learning Academy will no doubt be disappointed to find out that I'm no longer an ATC trainee.

No, I haven't qualified and been posted to a tower somewhere. I've left the job and we're heading back to Brisbane.

"Whatever for?" I hear you ask.

The training at the academy is basically in two parts. The first part is all theory and, for the tower stream, goes for about three and a half months. That's the part I finished about three weeks ago. Then you start in the simulators, which takes a further six or seven months. For the toweries you start off in the TMA sim, which is basically approach and departures, using radar. If you've ever seen the movie "Pushing Tin" it's a little like that, but not as full on. You then go into the radar tower sim, which is based on Melbourne's Tullamarine airport, followed by procedural tower, based on Launceston, and finally metro D, which is based on Moorabin. There are practical exams at the end of each of these modules.

If my some miracle you manage to get through all that, then they send you out to the field, where you finally get to control real aircraft. Five or six months later you may manage to get your ATC licence at last.

Well, I fell at the first hurdle. I just couldn't keep up with the pace. I said it wasn't as full on as "Pushing Tin", but it is still full on. By the time I got the hang of certain facets of it, something new would come up and I'd be on the back foot again. The more I got behind the harder it got to make it through a run. So, last weekend, after a couple of sick days, I had a good long think about what I was going to do. I decided I'd play it by ear and see how Monday morning's sim run went. If I hadn't improved after four days R and R, then it was time to call it quits.

I got half way through the first run of the day and was making so many mistakes, I just took off my headset and told my instructor that my decision had been made. I resigned the next day and drove out of the academy carpark for the last time on Wednesday.

We're now three quarters of the way through packing to return to Brisbane next week.

So, what's in the future for me? There are some Simulator Support Officer jobs coming up in Brisbane in the next few weeks, I'll be applying for one of those. Hopefully the training I've already had will help. SSOs, or blippies, are the people who move the aircraft around on the simulator screen and pretend to be the pilots that the trainees talk to.

In the mean time, I'm taking a break to do some fiction writing and a lot of kayaking.

21 September 2012

Another ATC school post

A couple of weeks ago, as part of my ATC training, we had a field trip to Avalon Airport. There's not a lot of air traffic going into Avalon, but it's a great place to visit, especially when you get to check out the fire station and the Qantas maintenance hangar as part of your tour.

The whole idea of the visit was because of one of our theory subject, "aerodromes and other landing surfaces", but the other stuff was what made the day.

Many thanks to the ARFF guys that showed us round the fire station, and the people at Qantas that showed us around the maintenance hangars.

Avalon Tower, probably the cruisiest tower in Australia to be posted to, 11 movements a day

The view from Avalon tower

The fire station at the airport, that's truck 13 on the left

I got to sit in a fire truck, boyhood dream

Next time you're heading off on holidays and feel rumblings under your feet after the plane takes off, this is why.

Naked airliner seats in a 767.

What's under the hood.

That's the black boxes, those orange thingies.

My mate Matt, checking out the crew rest area in a 747.

15 August 2012


If you're a fan of the old TV show "The Bill", you'll know what the title of this post means.

Because I'm training as a tower controller, I have to qualify as a weather observer as well. This week several of us have been doing the observers course at the Bureau of Meteorology's training centre in Broadmeadows.

Now, there's a couple of things I should mention here. For two years running I applied for a job with the BoM as a trainee observer. I only just missed out last year, in fact the guy that let me in the door on the first day of the course on Monday, was on the interview panel last year. And yes, he did remember me and was nice enough to say I got very close to being offered the job. The other thing to mention is that when we were researching where to look for accommodation before we moved down to Melbourne, everyone said avoid Broadmeadows.

Day three of our course ended this afternoon and as I was walking up to the car, I couldn't help thinking the driver's side window looked like it was open. You know that sinking feeling you get when you just know something isn't right. Then I got closer and realised the driver's side window didn't exist anymore.

Well it did, it just happened to be spread all through the car.

What really pissed me off, was the fact that the only thing they stole was the $200 GPS stuck to the windscreen. Even though it's brand new, it's probably worth less than the window they broke to get at it. The inconvenience of having to: a) clean out the glass before driving home, b) drive home during a Melbourne winter with drizzling rain* coming in coming in the window, c) make an insurance claim, d) get the window fixed, that's what pisses me off more than the missing GPS. To top it all off, I have an exam tomorrow morning to finish off the course.

I'm sure my colleague Matt wouldn't agree, but it's some consolation that I wasn't the only one robbed. Matt was parked next to me and had his iPod and sunnies nicked. Unfortunately, the value of them was over $500, which means his insurance might not cover them for the full value.

I've got to say, the BoM staff were great in the way they helped out, what with calling the police, helping to clean out our cars, etc.

My instructor on the course said to me before I left for home, "lucky you didn't get on the trainee observer's course, you'd be parking here every day for a year".

See, there's always a silver lining. Since we've been studying clouds this week, I'll be asking him tomorrow what the code is for a cloud with silver lining.

* drizzling and rain are actually two different things, meteorologically speaking, as are showers. I'm using a bit of artistic licence here.

19 July 2012

More ATC school

We're getting close to finishing the theory part of our training at the academy now. The enroute guys (and girl) start their simulator training next week. The four of us on the tower course have a couple more weeks of theory to do before we start in the sim. Wait till I show you some pictures of the 360 degree tower simulator. Computer gamers would die of envy.

It's not all classroom work though, we sometimes have field trips, like the visit to the 737 in my last blog entry. Last week we visited the Bureau of Meteorology's headquarters in the city, to see how they do the aviation forecasts.

We've also had a few visits to the tower as well, which is right next door to the academy.

This is the first ever picture of me in a control tower. Probably because I'm usually the one with the camera.
Our second visit was on Tuesday morning, just as the sun was coming up. What better place to watch the sun rise, and get paid for it at the same time.
This is Melbourne centre, where half of Australia's airspace is controlled from. Between this one and the one in Brisbane, 11% of the world's airspace is controlled. The staff canteen is also in there, so I visit at least once every day for a cooked lunch.
The new tower. It should be in service some time next year. Not many people get to see it from this angle.
Because I'm lucky enough to get weekends off, Donna and I have started exploring the area around Melbourne a bit. The weekend before last, we took a drive down to the Great Ocean Road and Cape Otway. I like visiting lighthouses and we've been to quite a few down the New South Wales coast over the years. So I was a bit disappointed by Cape Otway lighthouse. Okay, we did get to actually go to the top of the lighthouse, which is a first for us, but it's the first one we've ever visited where we had to pay to get in - $18.50 per adult. When I say "get in", that was into the grounds. You couldn't even see it from a distance if you didn't pay. The fact that none of the tables in the cafe had been cleared and there was no one to serve us for lunch was a bit slack too.

So if you're in Melbourne and want to visit a lighthouse, I'd suggest you save yourself a bit of a drive (and money) and visit the one at Point Lonsdale instead. If you want to visit the Great Ocean Road and see a lighthouse, then go to the Split Point light.

Cape Otway Lighthouse. If you keep heading south, you'll eventually bump into Antarctica.


22 June 2012

School excursion

Remember when you were a kid and you went on a school excursion? You had to pair up and hold hands with the person next to you. Thankfully we didn't have to do that today, because there's only one girl on our course and I don't really fancy holding hands with any of the guys.

Anyway, one of the subjects we're studying at work is Principals of Flight. Part of that subject is a visit to the BAe hangar at Melbourne airport to have a look at a 737-200. The aircraft used to belong to Philippine Airlines, these days it's used to train future aircraft engineers.

So this afternoon we got to do something that not so many people get to do since 9/11, and that's sit in the pilot's seat of an airliner. Okay, it was in a hangar and didn't go anywhere, but we didn't care. One of my workmates said we were like a bunch of happy kids. That pretty much sums it up.

10 June 2012

ATC school

I feel like a bit of a fraud at the moment. After spending the last eight years getting a degree, three of those while filling shelves as a casual employee in a supermarket, I'm now getting paid to study.

I started work as an ATC trainee last Monday (two weeks ago) and spent a whole week going through the whole corporate induction thing. It's understandable that they want us to learn about the values of the company and all that, but it's so boring when you're looking forward to getting into the nitty-gritty of being an air traffic controller.

Anyway, here's a picture of my school.

The tall building in the background is the new tower, which should be operational sometime next year, and isn't part of the school. The other buildings make up part of the Airservices academy, where air traffic controllers are trained. There's a lot more to it than what's in the pic, but I'd just finished work and though I'd grab a couple of quick piccies. If you look closely, you can see my reflection in the window.

At the moment I'm studying air law, principles of flight, instruments and aids, and meteorology. Apart from air law, most of it is stuff I've studied before as a pilot, but I'm still learning a lot of stuff too, as are the other people I'm working with that have pilot's licences.

We've also been told that those of us on the tower course, like me, have to get a certificate in weather observing. I nearly got a job as a trainee weather observer with the bureau of meteorology last year. I ended up on the reserve list, meaning if someone had turned down the job, I would have got an offer. I'm actually going to get to meet the guys and girls that beat me to it, because that's where our training will be, at the BoM training school.

So you can imagine how much I'm enjoying my new job. Sometime in the next couple of months we get to crawl all over a Boeing 737, visit the museum at Essendon airport, visit Avalon airport, and visit BoM's HQ in the city. Did I mention I'm getting paid for this? It'll all end up on the blog too.

To top it all off. Back in Brisbane, most of the aircraft that flew past our backyard were 737s and A320s coming from New Zealand, New Caledonia, or Fiji, plus the daily Emirates 777 from Auckland. We get A380s flying over our place here. The picture below was shot from our backyard this afternoon.


Loving my new job at the moment.

06 May 2012


We move down to Melbourne this week for the new ATC job, so we've been packing for the past couple of weeks. The removalists are coming this afternoon and we've finally finished, apart from the stuff that's going with us in the car.

We're not taking everything with us, since my step-daughter is going to house sit while we're away. That means we could pile everything up in the garage ready to go, and yet still have furniture to sit on. We've spent a lot of time recently, maneuvering around half filled boxes and items of furniture.

We're using a backloading company for the removals. Instead of putting just your stuff in a truck and moving it, they load it into a shipping container with other stuff that's going to the same place and put it on a train. Then the container gets filled up at the other end for the trip back. Because the costs involved are so much less for the removal company, they can pass on the savings to their customers. We're paying about a third what we would have with a traditional removalist. It takes a little longer, but that's not a problem when our stuff is going into storage anyway.

Everything is going into a 3 metre by 3 metre storage unit near the airport when it gets to Melbourne, since we only have accommodation lined up for our first week (paid for by my new employer). We've got two weeks once we get there to find a rental place before I start work at the end of the month. We're treating the drive down as a holiday, since we haven't had a proper one since April, two years ago, and won't get another one till Christmas time.

A lot of people have been telling us they're jealous, especially the ones that have lived in Melbourne, so that must be a good sign. There's also the fact that this is almost a sea change for us, Donna's never lived outside of Brisbane. I think most people would love to have the opportunity to do what we're doing, but circumstances prevent them, kids at school, finding a job in the new town, etc.

It's certainly going to be an interesting next few weeks.

05 March 2012

I thought getting in was easy

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd got a new job. That was back in early November and the job starts in May. Before that, I need a class three medical certificate, and boy, hasn't that been an ordeal. I thought just getting the job was the hard bit.

Here's what I've been through in the past three and a bit months.

In mid November I went into the city to do the actual medical. When the nurse got me to read the eye chart, I did it with my glasses on. When the doc went through the paperwork, she realised that the nurse hadn't recorded the results for without the glasses. So she got me to go and do that. Now, because I'd already seen the chart with my glasses on, I knew what the symbols I'd missed were, so I got them right this time. It appeared that my eyesight was better without glasses than it was with them.

Because CASA can be so picky, the doc decided I might have trouble if they sent in the application as it stood, so I should redo that part of the medical. Unfortunately, she decided that after I'd left and there was no way I was going to drive all the way back into the city and pay a fortune to park again, just to look at an eye chart for two minutes.

I had to go and see an ophthalmologist as part of the medical, and since they know more about eyes than the nurse, it was decided that a copy of his report sent to the doc would suffice. She'd sign it off and then send in the application to CASA.

Well, the trip to the ophthalmologist a couple of weeks later went okay, so I rang CASA a couple of weeks after that to see how my application was going.

It wasn't!

They'd received the ophthalmologist's report, but not the actual application. After making a couple of calls, it turned out the report hadn't been sent to the doc as I'd requested (twice).

Then, a couple of weeks after that was all sorted, I got a letter from CASA saying my blood sugar level was a bit high and I needed to go for a glucose tolerance test, to prove I didn't have diabetes. Actually, I got four letters from them, all of them identical. I know I don't have diabetes, as I had a GTT in July last year, but it had to be within three months. So I rang my GP and organised a referral to have the GTT done again. Once I got the results of that, and the all clear, I asked them to send the results to the doc in the city, so it could be forwarded to CASA. Another couple of weeks and my status was still showing up as "delayed" on CASA's website, so I gave them another call.

They hadn't received the results.

Another couple of calls, and it turns out the doc in the city hadn't received them from my GP.

Finally after another week and a bit, my status showed up as "pass". I was over the last hurdle at last. Now all I had to do was start getting ready to move to Melbourne.

Or so I thought.

That was almost two weeks ago and my certificate still hasn't arrived in the post, so I rang CASA this morning to see what the problem was.

It turns out it hadn't come off the printer, despite the fact that Airservices, my new employer, had paid the required fee back in November. The reason; Airservices had paid for a class three, but someone at CASA had entered it into the system as being for a class two, which is what I used to have as a private pilot.

So, it should be sorted in a couple of days and I should have my certificate some time next week.

I'll believe it when I see it.