Cris Burne

Science writer, children's author, editor



The new Publishing: tips and advice from the Australian Society of Authors

what-do-you-mean-no-champagneThe business of writing is changing. Our publishing cheese is on the move. In fact, it may no longer be in the building.

So what to do? WritingWA invited Juliet Rogers—publishing guru and Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors—to chat about why publishing is no longer all free lunches and champagne.

Scroll down for Juliet’s tips on getting published.


The business end of business

In Australia, the business of writing means we publish 7000 new Aussie books every year (and another 14000 titles from overseas), turning over 2 billion dollars and employing 20,000 people.

“We’re the sector that underpins the cultural identity of this country,” Juliet says.

“We’ve built a book ecosystem in this country which is largely self-sustaining, but there’s still a place for government support, and this is largely absent.”

In fact, she says, the industry’s currently under attack as the Productivity Commission moves to reduce the length of copyright for creators and FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) continue their push to “make free content cool and copyright old-fashioned.”

Sign the ASA’s petition here to help protect Australia’s book industry, and with it, the diversity of stories our children will be able to read.

Juliet Rogers of the Australian Society of Authors

Are we artists? Or entrepreneurs? Or both?

“We need to get better at separating the business of writing from the craft of writing, while understanding the importance of both,” Juliet says.

“As an industry we’ve been slow, we’ve clung to the old rules for too long and have had to scramble to keep up.”

We can now choose ebooks instead of print-and-petrol product. We can have the internet as a distributor, and social media as a publicity department.

However, says Juliet, the fundamentals remain the same:

“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton

Anyone can be a writer

Anyone can make a book, and many do. This, I think, should be viewed as an asset to the industry, not a liability. Yet it does raise challenges.

Of Australia’s 3800 publishers, 60% have published just a single book. In fact, more than 70% of titles are published by only 3% of publishers, Juliet says.

“Writers no longer dream of winning Lotto; they dream of writing a title that goes viral,” she says. (Hands up if you can relate to this)(You’ve got to have a dream, right?)

Whether you’re writing, editing, self-publishing or searching for an agent or publisher, Juliet has some choice words of advice:

Juliet Rogers’ tips for getting published

Write a great book. “Your words have to be great words. They have to say something interesting or good or beautiful; most of all they have to stand out from the crowd…. Have you truly written something worth publishing? You need to be confident that it’s good enough for people you have never met to put their hands in their pockets and buy it.”

Beware ‘almost-there’. “The really good books, they stand out. You know you will move heaven and earth to publish that book. The sad ones are the ones that are nearly there. Almost there. In a tough market like this, almost isn’t going to get you there.”

Beware fraudsters and charlatans. The fake agents. The vanity publishers. The dodgy manuscript assessors who love your work but mostly love your chequebook. “When they hear, ‘we want to publish your book,’ perfectly intelligent, rational and perceptive human beings rush to sign contracts that are nothing less than criminal,” says Juliet. The answer, at least in part, is to get the ASA to check your contract before you sign.

Slow down. So, you have a publishing offer? It’s business time! “Let the excitement of imminent publication settle, and before you make any commitment, look for the red flags.” Is their website badly written? Do they make ridiculous promises without evidence or detail? “Let your head rule, not your heart. It’s not the time for emotion and passion and enthusiasm. Do you really want these people making your book?”

Read, read, read. “Read as widely as you can across your chosen genre. If you don’t understand the genre, you’re not going to succeed at it.”

Practise, practise, practise.Your first attempt is unlikely to win the Miles Franklin, but the more you write, the better you’ll become. Be prepared to listen to feedback. Learn when to take notice, and when to stand your ground.”

 “Self-publishing a shitty book doesn’t make you an author any more than singing in the shower makes you a rock star” Oliver Markus

Last words from Juliet

On diversity in publishing:There are many voices in this country that aren’t being heard in the way that they should be. I’m not entirely with Lionel, I have to say.  There’s a lot of work to be done.”

On globalisation in publishing: “The more corporatised you become, the less likely it is that you will take risks. That’s why there a lot of little companies starting up, and some are doing some interesting things.” See Text, Black Ink, Henry Scribe….

On rejection: Vodka is only a short term answer. This is a time for ruthless self-honesty. It may be that although you love writing, you simply don’t have the skill to be a published author.”

On getting published: “It is still possible. You don’t need to have won prizes, you don’t need awards. You don’t need any paraphernalia. You need a book that knocks you over.”

Now go write! The future is bright.

“New technology has begun to shift and equalise the balance of power for authors, because knowledge is power,” says Juliet.

“Great books will continue to be written, and great books will continue to be read. The future looks a pretty exciting place to me.” Juliet Rogers

“The business of writing is never easy, but there is always demand for good writing,” Juliet says.

“Wherever technology takes us, we’ll always need writers.

“Writers help us honour the past, record the present and shape the future.”

Pretty great, huh? It was an awesome night. Thanks so much to WritingWA for organising!




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How do fireworks work?

fireworksFirecrackers explode into the night, and the sky fills with starbursts.

Want to explain the science of fireworks and sparklers?


By Cristy Burne


Don’t you just love the big bangs, wild explosions and bursting colours of a firework display?

But how does a firework work?
Let’s find out.

Simple fireworks are shaped like hollow balls and filled with fuel to make them explode. More tricky fireworks have different fuels hidden between different layers. Only one layer opens at a time, kind of like “Pass the Parcel.”

Chemical starbursts
Each firework is packed with tiny stars—little packages about the size of a marble that burn to make a bright starburst in the sky. There can be hundreds of stars in just one firework.

Inside each star are chemicals called explosives, which help the star to explode, and chemicals called metal salts, which make the star a bright colour.

Burn, baby, burn
When each star explodes, the heat of the explosion makes the metal salts burn. Different types of metal salt burn with a different coloured light. Iron salts produce gold-coloured starbursts, and aluminium salts give off bright white starbursts. Ordinary table salt contains a metal called sodium, which produces bright orange starbursts when it burns.

Why do metals give off light when they get hot?
When you heat something, you give it extra energy. This energy is heat energy. Metals can change heat energy into light energy by giving off coloured light.

What about sparklers?
Sparklers are just like other fireworks. They burn iron powder to get the bright golden light. Sparklers burn slowly because they don’t have a lot of fuel. Firecrackers explode because so much furl burns all at once!

Did you know?
Fireworks contain titanium, the same stuff that some spacecraft are made out of. Titanium is included to give the big BANG sound of fireworks. When titanium is ground up like a powder, it burns really quickly, giving a huge ka-BOOM!!!

firework science.gifUp, up and away
Setting up for a big fireworks display is a huge job. Each firecracker must be loaded into a metal or plastic tube, called a mortar, which is like a small cannon. Inside the mortar, at the bottom, is an explosive powder. When you light the firecracker, the powder explodes and pushes the firework out of the mortar, blasting it into the sky.

While the firework is shooting up into the air, its fuse is still burning. The fuse is long and narrow, like a piece of string, and it burns right into the heart of the firecracker. As the cracker soars higher into the air, the fuse burns shorter, and gets closer to the fuel at the centre of the firework. Just before the cracker has reached its highest point, BANG – the fuse reaches the fuel and the firework explodes in mid-air.

This article first appeared in CSIRO’s Scientriffic magazine.
Thanks to for the terrific fireworks gif
closer encounters with puma

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Urban pumas kill more, eat less

closer encountersEver see a kangaroo hopping past your window? In parts of the United States and Canada, instead of wild grass-eating kangaroos, they have wild flesh-eating pumas. And when humans are around, these pumas kill for food more often, but eat less of each kill.

Wild pumas are known as cougars or mountain lions and roam some neighbourhoods in Canada and the U. S.

Usually, a puma can feed on the carcass of a killed deer for up to five days.

But, as humans encroach on their territory, this slow-paced luxury is one that urban pumas cannot afford.

GPS tracking in Santa Cruz Mountains
Researcher Justine Smith used GPS collars to track the hunting patterns of 30 wild pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California.

She found female pumas living close to human neighbours were changing their behaviour, spending less time eating what they kill, and killing 36% more deer each year to compensate.

“When females make a kill in a highly developed area, they spend less time at their kill site, and move farther away to bed down during the day,” says Justine.

Puma mums too busy to kill, eat and care?
But avoiding humans and missing meals can leave a big cat hungry.

With female pumas also responsible for raising kittens, Justine’s guess is that puma mums may end up exhausted.

“Killing deer takes tremendous effort… Such a dramatic increase in kill rates could have effects on reproduction,” she speculates.

I wrote this article for CSIRO’s popular science magazine: Double Helix.
Be sure to check out Justine’s youtube channel to see the big cats in action:

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Ballet bugs: designing robots using spider crickets

ballet bugs HelixWant to design the very coolest robots? Look to nature…

I wrote this article about spider crickets for CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine. Be sure to also check out the video below of the crickets in action. They really are beautiful!


Spider crickets can jump almost 60 times their body length—that’s like an adult human jumping across an Aussie rules football field.

Then the crickets land on their feet, ready to jump again. How do they do it? What if robots could move like that?

Rajat Mittal is using high-speed video cameras—able to snap 400 frames per second—to record how these wingless crickets can ‘fly’ so far.

“Watching these animals in slow motion is exactly like watching an elegant ballet,” Rajat says.

While rocketing up, the crickets streamline their six legs to maximise flight time. Once they start to fall, they spread their limbs, opening like an umbrella to stabilise them on the way back down.

“It’s kind of beautiful in a really weird way,” says Rajat’s teammate Emily Palmer.

“Ultimately, the application would be in really tiny robots.”

Jumping micro-robots could efficiently cross rocky ground, helping us to search for earthquake victims or explore other planets.

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Print your own 3D robots

Disney robotsWant to customise and 3D-print your own walking robots? Disney researcher Bernhard Thomaszewski is part of a team that invented software to let you do just that.

1) Drag and drop the skeleton
Create a virtual robot, using the drag-and-drop software to design its skeletal structure.

“So-called ‘bones’ represent the individual body parts and ‘joints’ represent the motors,” Bernhard says.

2) Decide what you want your robot to do
How will it walk? Trot? Canter? Gallop? And what you want the robot to do? Go straight? Speed up? Spin round?

Don’t worry about falling over… the software coordinates your robot’s limbs and its balance, so it can walk.

“My own favourite is the five-legged creature that we designed,” says Bernhard. “I like it because five legs are really unusual and hardly found in nature.”

3Disney robots) Press ‘print’
If you’re happy with how your virtual robot is moving, it’s time to 3D print it. A 3D printer will build the parts, typically by putting down many thin layers of a material until each shape is built.

The average robot needs 15–20 pieces of plastic, which you connect to motors using a screwdriver, and a bit of patience. Check out some of Disney’s prototypes in action below:

I wrote this article for CSIRO’s popular science magazine: Double Helix.

gold medal teeth2

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Performance-enhancing toothpaste

Want to win gold at the Olympics? You need talent, training and good teeth.

This is my short article about why flossing is so vital to Olympic glory…First published in CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine.

gold medal teethGOLD MEDAL TEETH

By Cristy Burne

It’s hard to break Olympic records when you’re suffering from toothache.

But nearly one in five Olympians at the London 2012 Games said poor oral health had impacted their performance, and only half of them had been for a dental check-up in the last 12 months.

Professor Ian Needleman surveyed 302 of London’s Olympic athletes, finding 55% of them had tooth decay, more than 75% had early stage gum disease, and 15% showed signs of periodontitis, an irreversible gum infection.

Ian says that while many elite athletes have access to the best of everything—personal coaches, specialty diets and computer-enhanced training—they’re missing out when it comes to one virtually free and entirely legal performance enhancer: It’s called brushing your teeth. Closely followed by flossing.

The oral conditions that can affect performance are all easily preventable,” Ian says.

Things like better tooth brushing techniques and higher fluoride toothpastes could prevent the toothache and associated sleeping and training difficulties that can make the crucial difference between gold and silver.

Ian says elite athletes need to spend extra time on their teeth since heavy training schedules mean that many rely on acidic, sugary drinks and regular high-energy snacks.

—-> So what are you waiting for? Go brush! And check next month’s Helix mag for more great tips on keeping your toothy pegs sparkling.


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Chillies: how to cook, eat, grow and love the red devil’s bite

Chillis3Feel like turning up the heat? Check out this article I did for Cravings magazine on the science of chillies.

They send your body wild and keep you warm at night. They leave you red-faced and panting. They’re chillies, and they’re red hot.

Spicing it up

Munch down on a chilli and you’ll do more than cause a meltdown in your mouth. Chillies can boost your metabolism, control your cholesterol, reduce fat deposits, and lower your blood pressure. And they taste great too.

Turning up the heat is a natural chemical called capsaicin, which works by aggravating pain sensors in your mouth. The pain sends your entire body into overdrive, opening blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and flooding your system with endorphins.

Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers and are also associated with that feeling of pleasure after orgasm. Regular chilli-eaters become addicted to the endorphin release, but must eat spicier chillies to trigger the rush.

Hot for healthIMG_7430

Chillies have twice the vitamin C of citrus fruits, and also contain vitamin A, vitamins B1, B2 and B3, beta-carotene, folic acid and potassium. Studies have shown that capsaicin reduces the amount of fat stored in the blood cells, reduces fat deposits in the liver, and helps you burn more calories after a meal.

Chillies have been used to treat coughs, colds, asthma and laryngitis, and creams containing capsaicin have been reported to reduce the pain associated with shingles, arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy.

Yale University School of Medicine has even devised a chilli candy to help ease mouth pain in cancer patients. There are also reports that eating chillies can assist with cold sores, cold feet, nosebleeds and varicose veins.

Turning up the heat

Not all chillies are created equal.

In 1912 a chemist named Wilbur Scoville invented a way to determine just how hot different chillis could be. The test involved a panel of tasters sipping sugared chilli juice until their tongues stopped burning. The unit for chilli spiciness, the Scoville unit, was named after this brave chap.

How hot? Ordinary capsicums rate a lacklustre zero; Jalapenos hit you with around five thousand Scoville units; Cayennes are around ten times hotter than Jalapenos, and Habaneros provide up to 350,000 Scoville units of fun. To put this in perspective, one teaspoon of Habanero chilli should be mixed with 1.75 litres of sugar water for you to avoid its heat.

Did you know? Capsaicin is used in pepper sprays, which rate around two million Scoville units. The hottest chilli in the word is rumoured to be India’s Naga Jolokia, at a fiery 855,000 Scoville units.

Hot tip: Reduce firepower by removing chilli seeds and the veins that attach them to the chilli pod.

Cooking with chillies

Beware! Chillis may put a love-buzz on your tongue, but they cause deep regret when near your eyes. Always wash your hands, chopping boards, knives, and immediate vicinity after handling chillis.

Hot tip: Need protection? Wear gloves or coat your hands with cooking oil before handling chillis.

Overdosing on chillis won’t kill you, but if the pain is all too much, try a nice glass of red. Capsaicin will wash away in fats, oils or alcohol. A glass of iced water won’t make any difference because capsaicin won’t dissolve in water.

The seeds of love

Want to grow your own? The secret is a good soil: “Lots of sheep and cow manure,” says chilli connoisseur Claude Micale of Herbs R Us. “Also full sun, a weekly feed of seaweed solution, and an organic fertilizer…high potash will help them fruit more”.

“Chillis need to be outdoors, especially in our climate, and they won’t grow through winter. You can pick them while they’re green, or wait till they go red. If you pick them regularly they’ll flower and fruit through spring, summer and autumn.”

“I’m not a hot chilli person so I go for the anchos and the anaheims. Big Jim is an Anaheim-type chilli that grows about a foot long and 3-4 inches wide, excellent for stuffing and then roasting.”

Claude’s chilli tip: “Leave chillies in the sun until they’re crunchy dry, then put them in a bag and roll them with a rolling pin. You can also put them in a coffee grinder or food processor; it’s better a bit coarse than too powdery.”

IMG_7428What to look for

There’s more to chillies than heat. Start to explore the sunny colours and sparkling flavours, and you’ll find a whole garden of tastes just gasping to get on the plate.

Fresh chillies should have a shiny smooth skin; dried chillies should be flexible enough to bend without breaking.

Scrumptious chillies to look out for include:

  • Anchos: Just a whisper of heat and a sweet mellow flavour, these chillies are great in mole sauces to add body and texture.
  • Anaheims: Large, mild, and perfect for stuffing or roasting, they make delicious stews and sauces; usually eaten green.
  • Arbols: Add some zing by popping one of these punchy numbers into an entire soup or stew; don’t forget to remove before serving.
  • Birds Eyes: Great in Thai and Asian cooking; super-hot so use sparingly.
  • Black Princes: Some say these look too good to eat; black fruits that mature to red with a mild, crisp flavour.
  • Cayenne peppers: Hot, sweet and best eaten red, they are great in Hungarian and Mexican cuisine, or can be used whole in Szechwan cooking.
  • Habaneros: Proceed with caution, these may be the world’s hottest chillies; best fresh rather than dried.
  • Jalapenos: Small, fleshy and packed with attitude, these old favourites are great raw in salsas or salads, or cooked in sauces and soups.
  • Serranos: Similar to Jalapenos but with more bite, these meaty chillies also suit salads and salsas, and are also delicious when roasted.

Hot cooking tips: Oven roasted chillis are easier to peel if you leave them to cool in a closed bag for ten minutes after roasting. Peel from the tip to the stem. Escape any threat of exploding chillis by stabbing a small hole into the side of each chilli before roasting.