What’s the catch in Catch-22?

The absolute simplicity of Catch-22

One of the advantages and pleasures of browsing in a library or bookshop with real books (hard copy) is that you can stumble across publications you might never find if you’re searching online.

Recently I came across a library copy of Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, a book originally published in the US in 1961, and which I later read as a young man, when its humour and cynicism appealed to me (before I matured, of course). The term ‘Catch-22’ has now become a fixture in the English language.

I borrowed the book this time mainly to check the authentic origin of the term, because I’ve found in my research that so-called quotes from famous people are sometimes misquoted and even misattributed, e.g. a quote originally by Thomas Edison may be attributed to Albert Einstein.

Shakespeare has contributed so many phrases to modern English that it’s not surprising his words have been twisted a bit in the 400 plus years since he penned them.

For example, the witches’ line in Macbeth, ‘Double, double toil and trouble’ has often become ‘Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble’, and in Hamlet, the eponymous lead character is often quoted as saying, ‘Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well’, whereas what Shakespeare wrotehamlet skull was ‘Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio – a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.’

So I’ve found it advisable to check back carefully before using a quote that I’ve found on the Internet.

Hence my interest in the origin of the term, ‘Catch-22’, which I found first mentioned on page 52 of this Vintage Books edition (1994).

The story is set in a frontline US Air Force squadron in World War II, and Captain John Yossarian is the chief protagonist:

‘Sure there’s a catch,’ Doc Daneeka replied. ‘Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.’

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon Catch 22 coveras he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed.

‘It’s the best there is,’ Doc Daneeka agreed.

So there it is, in the original. I don’t think ‘Catch-22’ needs any further explanation, but (as Yossarian said) Heller’s invention of the term and its meaning deserves our admiration.


If you want to be a writer, then get on and write!

During 2017 I’ve been privileged to be a member of the writers’ panel for the Queensland Writers Centre’s Writer’s Surgery, a support service for aspiring and emerging writers.


What has impressed me about the writers I’ve been working with is the dedication and passion they bring to the task, and their eagerness to make sure their book is as good as it can be.

There’s a well-known adage in writing: if you want to be a writer, then get on and write! It’s been encouraging to see newcomers taking on that challenge and developing very readable work.

Until next time

Darryl R Dymock


What writers say

He knew everything there was to know about literature, except how to enjoy it.

From Catch-22, Joseph Heller





On handwriting and Hemingway

Power of the pen

I have written in an earlier blog about how I occasionally resort to writing parts of a story by hand when it starts to become bogged down. Not so much writer’s block as uncreativity. In other words, it sounds boring.


So I was interested to see the results of a survey of 2000 people undertaken by a Deakin University (Australia) researcher in conjunction with the retail firm Officeworks, which found that those who handwrite their thoughts and feelings were two and half times more likely to experience relief from anxiety, fear and worry than those who use a keyboard for the same purpose.

I don’t know that I’ve noticed any improved emotional level in myself, but I do think that the kinaesthetics involved in writing by hand do help to stimulate my creativity (eventually anyway!).

I often find that, when handwriting, I cross out bits, put arrows up and down to show where text might best belong, and write notes or queries to myself in the margin to help guide my second effort when I go back to the keyboard. It can look pretty messy.

keyboard 2

I know that technically I could do the same things on my laptop or my tablet, but the scribbling and scrawling by hand seems to free up my thinking.

That second effort, at the keyboard, then becomes an editing process because I invariably change what I handwrote, hopefully for the better.

rowling handwritingI understand J K Rowling writes her novels by hand first. I wonder if she feels relief from anxiety, fear and worry when she’s finished? Richer in some way, at any rate 🙂


Papa Hemingway on writing

ernest-hemingway-typewriterThe American novelist Ernest Hemingway (often called ‘Papa’ by those who knew him) once said he wrote thirty different endings to A farewell to arms. He told this to a distinguished Australian journalist and war correspondent, Alan Moorehead, when the two met in Italy in 1949.

In a biography of Moorehead by Thornton McCamish (Black Inc, 2016), the Australian writer says: ‘I do not know how [Hemingway] talked to other people, but with me he talked books, always of writing, and with the humility and doubt of a writer who reads for five hours or so every day, and who writes and rewrites for as long as his brain will work, knowing that it is only by a miracle that he will ever achieve a phrase, even  a word, that will correspond to the vision in his mind.’


Fellow writers will know the feeling about getting it right. But how many of us read for five hours a day? And produce 30 different endings?

Clive JamesIn a recent critique of Hemingway’s writing (Yale University Press, 2015), the Australian-born author and literary critic, Clive James, praised the American’s early novels but suggested that Hemingway’s later work was ‘ruined’.  James said that Hemingway, ‘having noticed how the narrative charm of a seemingly objective style would put a gloss on reality automatically, he habitually stood on the accelerator instead of the brake. … He overstated even the understatements.’

Lesson: Don’t overdo it.


Until next time

Darryl Dymock


What writers say:

Finally you get to an age when a book’s power to make you think becomes the first thing you notice about it. You can practically sense that power when you pick it up.

~ Clive James, Latest readings.


Plotter or pantser? The debate continues

Are you a plotter or a pantser? I start off as a not very systematic plotter and end up as a pantser.

In case you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, these are categories of writers – plotters develop their story plan or plot in advance and then begin to write; pantsers write by the ‘seat of their pants’, making the plot up as they go along. There’s ongoing debate about which is best.

I’ve been thinking about these two approaches recently because I’ve been writing short stories to enter in competitions, and finding that the story develops as I write it, even when I have a ‘sort of plot’ in my head.

I first came across ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’ when I did the ‘Year of the Novel’ course with Kim Wilkins angel of ruinauthor Kim Wilkins at the Queensland Writers Centre about ten years ago. Kim is a keen plotter, and showed us her planning journal, in which she’d detailed information about plot and characters for every chapter of a book already published.

I was pretty impressed at the time, and I’ve tried to follow that example, but have discovered that my fiction stories seem to develop as I write.

If you’re a writer, the question of course is: does it matter which approach you take? Will being more structured initially mean a better book, a better chance of publication?

If you look at well-published writers, you’ll find there’s no easy answer to that question.

J K Rowling, probably the most well-known and most-published author in recent years, is basically a plotter. She’s been quoted as saying ‘I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.’

This suggests she’s neither one nor the other, but a look at some of her planning for Harry Potter books suggests she’s well and truly in the plotter’s camp, as in the example below.

J K Rowling planner

Rowling is joined by thriller writer John Grisham, who said, ‘I don’t start a novel until I have lived with the story for a while to the point of actually writing an outline and after a number of books I’ve learned that the more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write. And if I cheat on the outline I get in trouble with the book.’

Stephen King, on the other hand, said, ‘Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.’

And he’s also sold a few books in his time J

Siding with King is Margaret Atwood: ‘When I’m writing a novel, what comes first is anMargaret-Atwood-2 image, scene, or voice. Something fairly small. Sometimes that seed is contained in a poem I’ve already written. The structure or design gets worked out in the course of the writing. I couldn’t write the other way round, with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers.’

So, it seems, there is no agreement, even among our most published writers, about planning ahead or developing the story as they go.

I’ve discovered that I’m essentially I’m a pantser, when it comes to fiction. I now know what writers mean when they say that a character ‘takes over’ during the writing process.

Perhaps I’m a hybrid, what’s been called a plantser.

As for non-fiction, well, that’s another story…

If you’re a writer, which category do you fit into?

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

[Some quotes above are taken from a blog post on Goodreads by Hayley Igarashi.]

 For my blog about returning to the workforce, please see: confident4work.wordpress.com

What writers say

Jane Graves‘I’m cursed with not being able to see the good twists and turns of character and plot until I’m in the middle of writing the book. I can have a sense where it’s going, but absolutely nothing comes alive until the words start going down on the page. ~ Romance author Jane Graves.


Dying to be well-read

Did you know that the more you read the less likely you are to die? That’s the claim made by a writer in a recent issue of Wellbeing magazine.


An item headed ‘Better read than dead’ reported a study of the reading habits of 3635 men and women aged 50 and older over a 12-year period. With such a large sample and a longitudinal study, the results promised to be interesting for both readers and writers.

According to the Wellbeing writer, the results showed that ‘adults who read books for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 per cent less likely to die than those who did not read books…’.

Wow! That’s awesome. Reading books means you’re less likely to die?

Let me work out the implications of such a finding: If reading books for 3.5 hours a week, gives you a 17% chance of not dying, then reading books for around 18 hours a week should guarantee you immortality!

When people hear about this, there’ll be a rush for books. What a boost that’ll be for booksellers and libraries.

Later in the article, we discover what the Wellbeing writer meant to say: ‘In all, book readers survived almost two years longer than non-book readers [i.e within the 12-year period].’

In other words, this particular bit of research indicates that if you’re over 50, reading books is one way that may help you live a couple of years longer. But no amount of reading is going to make you ‘less likely to die’.

Of course, there may factors other than reading at play in promoting longevity. For example, book-reading and lifestyle might be linked.


By the way, the researchers also concluded that reading newspapers and magazines is also linked to longer life, but not nearly as much as book reading. Perhaps reading magazines and newspapers is linked to increased coffee intake …?

The ultimate message from the research is: if you want to live a bit longer, reading might help you do so. See you at the library.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock


What writers say:

In the best stories, the odyssey from complication to resolution changes the character profoundly. In fact, the resolution often results not directly from the action but from a growing enlightenment – often a sudden flash of inspiration – as the character finally realizes what he [or she] has to do to solve his [or her] problem. ~ Jon Franklin, Writing for story.

The ups and downs of publishing

Digital decline? 

Towards the end of 2016, two of my recent publishers, Hachette Australia and Xoum, sent me their annual updates on their publishing experience in the previous 12 months.

Both reported the same trend: a decline or plateauing in e-book sales. Rod Morrison at Xoum said that the global digital market ‘retreated’ to 20-25% of total sales.

Not all that long ago, there were predictions that e-book sales would swamp sales of print books, but it seems that there has actually been a very small increase in purchases of print books world-wide.

Publishers seem to be struggling to predict the trends. On the demand side I know some independent bookshops in Australia had a tough year in 2016.

Another interesting piece of news was that, after a burst of enthusiasm in 2015, and a brief bonanza for publishers, sales of adult colouring books fell away in 2016.

I’m neither surprised nor sorry to see the demise of that particular fad. It would be interesting to know how many colouring books purchased were actually coloured in by adults.

Books on the move

Whenever I travel, I’m always on the lookout for examples of writing and literature in local communities. In 2016, I came across two quite different examples:

Book crossing

In Italy, boarding a train in the small mountainside village of Santa Maria Maggiore in the north-west, I saw a collection of ‘swap’ books at the station, using the English term, ‘Book crossing’, and an explanation (I assume) in Italian below.

I know there’s are organisations (e. g. http://www.booksontherail.com/) that promotes the idea of leaving books behind on trains and buses for someone else to read, and exchanges pop up in communal rooms in hostels etc, but this was the first time I’d seen one at a railway station. Later I discovered there’s an organisation called ‘Book Crossing‘, that promotes this idea.

Blind date with a book

In Fremantle, Western Australia, Elizabeth’s, a second-hand bookshop (also in Newtown, Sydney) is selling ‘blind dates with a book’. Books are wrapped in brown paper (which was once the sign of a certain sort of book, but no longer), with just a few words on the wrapping to indicate the kind of book it is.

The idea apparently started with some libraries in Australia to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s a sophisticated version of a lucky dip for people who like surprises in what they read, but with a few clues in advance. You can find them online here.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock


What writers say

Imagery for me is of paramount importance in a text, not complex imagery that jumps up and down and demands to have its hand shaken, but a more subtle web that weaves its way throughout, often enigmatically, and knits everything together.~ Kate Atkinson



A different sort of revolutionary road

War and peace

It was 15-year-old Igor Labzin’s first day at high school and he was in trouble for walking on the neatly mown lawn.

‘Stay off the grass,’ the principal said.

‘Thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal frowned. ‘I said, “Stay off the grass”.’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t speak English, do you?’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.*

The principal was right. It was March 1962, and Igor and his family had just arrived in Brisbane from Indonesia. He could speak Indonesian, Dutch, Russian and a bit of French, but had no English.

Four years later, Igor graduated from the top class at high school, did an engineering degree, and then embarked on a successful career as a structural engineer in London, Montreal, and Canberra, and he continues to work in that profession.

The other evening my wife and I went to a launch of Igor Labzin’s book, Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

Igor Labzin

Igor’s father graduated from the St Petersburg Naval Academy in 1918, just months after the start of the Russian Revolution. He had the wonderfully Russian name of Boris Martemianovich Labzin.

The young officer decided to support the White Army rather than the Communists, and Igor’s book traces his father’s life through the ensuing turmoil of civil war and escape to Manila and Shanghai in the 1930s, Indonesia in the 1940s and 50s and finally to Australia.

We knew about the book launch because Igor and my wife Cheryl were in the same class at senior high school and we met him recently at a school reunion. He still lives in Brisbane.

Igor was off the next day to launch his book in St Petersburg, at the invitation of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. How’s that for an immediate international audience (although the book has still to be translated into Russian)?

The Australian launch was at the wonderful independent Avid Bookshop at West End, Brisbane, which is a great supporter of new and existing writers. Digital publishing may be gaining ground (and I’ve published online myself), but there’s a lot to say for the smell and feel of a bookshop like Avid, with ‘real’ books.

Igor’s introduction to his father’s life was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

The Hinkler cake

Regular readers of this blog will know of my book, Hustling Hinkler, a biography of the pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

At the abovementioned school reunion, one of my wife’s other former classmates, Narelle McTaggart, told me about a ‘Hinkler Cake’ which had apparently been devised especially for Bert Hinkler’s triumphant return to Bundaberg, Queensland, his home town, in February 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia in a single-engined biplane.

The recipe came from members of the Bundaberg Branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, an enduring community organisation that has branches in every Australian state and parallel organisations in other countries, including the Women’s Institute in Britain.

Narelle subsequently sent me the recipe, which is reproduced below. I am hoping to have a go at making a Hinkler cake, but haven’t yet got around to it.


1/4 pound self-raising flour                 2oz butter           

2 teaspoons sugar                               Pinch salt

Mix with a little milk. Roll out paste very thin, put in flat buttered tin and spread with raisins, dates and currants

Sponge mixture

2oz butter                                            2 well-beaten eggs (or 1 egg & a little milk)

½ cup sugar (beaten to a cream)       4 tablespoons of milk Eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

Beat and spread on paste and fruit. Bake in a hot oven. When cool, spread with lemon icing.

I don’t know if Bert himself ever got to sample a slice of the Hinkler Cake. If any reader wants to be the first to try out the recipe, I’d be delighted to hear about it on this site, crumbs and all…

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

* The ‘facts’ of this story are as I heard them, so this retelling may be a version of the truth.


What writers say

The true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me. Even the person who has set down the so-called facts will still get it essentially wrong. ~ Sebastian Barry





Until you know what it is to be a pea …


And the winners are…

The Queensland Writers Centre and the publisher, Hachette Australia, recently announced the successful applicants for their 2015 joint Manuscript Development Program, now in its ninth year. They are:

Patricia Holland’s literary fiction manuscript ‘Lochwall’ (QLD)
Victoria Carless’ literary fiction manuscript, ‘The Dream Walker’ (QLD)
Wendy Davies’ romance manuscript, ‘The Drover’s Rest’ (VIC)
Susan Pearson’s historical crime thriller manuscript, ‘River is a Strong Brown God’ (QLD)
Mary-Ellen Stringer’s contemporary literary fiction manuscript, ‘A Beggar’s Garden’ (QLD)
Angella Whitton’s contemporary fiction manuscript, ‘The Night River’ (NSW)
Kali Napier’s historical fiction manuscript, ‘The Songs of All Poets’ (QLD)
Susan Fox’s commercial women’s fiction manuscript, ‘Mine’ (VIC)
Imbi Neeme’s divorce lit manuscript, ‘The Hidden Drawer’ (VIC).

I remember the excitement I felt when my name appeared on that list in 2010 for my non-fiction manuscript of the story of the Australian trail-blazing aviator, Bert Hinkler, which was published by Hachette Australia three years later as Hustling Hinkler. I also remember the anxiety I felt as I realised I had to polish my work to the highest standard for publication, and then submit it to public scrutiny.

Dawn Barker's book, 'Fractured', was chosen for the Manuscript Development Workshop in 2010, and later published by Hachette

Dawn Barker’s book, ‘Fractured’, was chosen for the Manuscript Development Program in 2010, and later published by Hachette.

From the experience of writers selected for the Manuscript Development Program in the past, not all the authors on the list above will see their books published by Hachette. Some will go on to other publishers; some may not make it to the point of publication, for various reasons.

Whatever the final outcome, selection in itself is an acknowledgment that the writer stands out from the crowd, and has something special to offer. So that alone is an encouragement in an industry where ‘getting a start’ is tough.

I know a writer whose application was unsuccessful this year, and I know how much work she put into the manuscript and how she drew on professional advice to help her shape her story. Even though she missed out on selection, this author is not giving up – she has a back-up plan to seek publication in other ways.

Some of the readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite quotes about writing is from the late science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov:

‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’ Isaac_Asimov

Read, and think, and listen to silence

I’ve been reading a biography of an author who won four Miles Franklin Awards*: Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather by Karen Lamb (University of Queensland Press, 2015), and came across this advice from the distinguished Australian author, Patrick White (1912 -1990), to Astley in 1961:

‘I think you should write nothing for a bit. Read. … Read, and think, and listen to silence, shell the peas, not racing to begin the next chapter, but concentrating on the work in had until you know what it is to be a pea … Then, when you have become solid, you will write the kind of book you ought to write.’ (p. 137)

Fire on the horizon

I was recently in Adelaide, South Australia, taking to ex-Chalkies about Army Education in Papua New Guinea (see previous blogs) and couldn’t resist taking this pic of the jetty at Glenelg around 8 o’clock on a Saturday night.

Glenelg Jetty Adelaide 8pm in mid-October

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

*The Miles Franklin Award award, now worth AU$50,000, was bequeathed by the will of Australian novelist, Miles Franklin, for a ‘published novel or play portraying Australian life in any of its phases’.  All entries for the award must have been published in the previous calendar year.