Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The 16 books I'm going to read to inspire my creativity in 2016

I just read Danielle Duell's post on Linkedin in which she listed the 16 books she plans to read in 2016, and I thought it was a terrific idea. So here are the 16 books I have selected to read next, books that I think will especially stimulate my creativity throughout the year.

1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau - I've never read this classic of American literature, and I feel it's time.

2. One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant - I read this back in 2010 when I was travelling around Cambodia, and it had a profound effect on me. I feel it's time to re-visit it.

3. Fear Not by Carol Tice - I think it was recommended in a blog post or on a podcast, but I just feel like this might do me some good. My confidence waxes and wanes.

4. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod - I don't actually need much convincing that early rising is a great productive habit. I do need to discipline myself more, though.

5. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill - I have actually read this one a couple of times before, but not in a few years, so it's time to see what I might be able to get out if it right now.

6. The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth - You can tell I am having anxiety issues about productivity.

7. All of P.G. Wodehouse - OK, this is a bit of a big ask, but at some stage in 2016 I want to teach a course on the English comic novel, and this just has to be done.

8. All of Ian Rankin - Another mammoth project. I am working on a crime novel of my own, and everyone says that Rankin is the one to study.

9. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke - Never done it, and it is a glaring gap in anyone's library of creativity. Plus I'll be able to look my friend Stephanie Dowrick in the eye, as she wrote the book on the subject.

10. The Cruise of the Snark by Jack London - I loved Jack London novels as a boy, and I still think he is an absolute master. This is a book of his I haven't read, and hadn't even heard of it till I saw Susannah Fullerton give a lecture on the Mills & Boon company, who originally published this.

11. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

12. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr - Because I am a memoirist, and because I teach memoir writing and love the form.

13. The Art of War by Sun Tzu - I've never been able to finish it. But I'm meant to know a lot about Chinese culture, so it's kind of embarrassing.

14. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield - I love it, and this will be my third time. I always get inspired by this book.

15. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins - Because he's a nice guy and one of the thought leaders I've decided to follow closely this year.

16. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - I adore Dickens, and I am a member of the NSW Dickens Society, but I have never read this one. More gap-filling.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Todd Henry's Die Empty - a review

I don’t think I have ever endorsed a book with such a controversial title. For me it is without any import – I rather like the idea of dying empty, having used up each and every ounce of creativity and passion. But a surprising number of people react negatively to the title and the concept. I have used this book several times now teaching creativity courses, and there is always one or two people who shrink from the title.

If you are one of those, I apologise, but I also urge you to overcome you initial reaction because Todd Henry’s book is really quite exceptional and has been a major source of creative inspiration to me for some time now.

Todd Henry

In Die Empty, Todd Henry offers some indispensable advice on avoiding the aimless life and recognising the potential for happiness here and now. Henry is one of those ubiquitous modern marketing gurus in the Seth Godin mould who have sprung up in the age of podcasting and social media with a unique style of life and career advice specifically aimed at a media and technology savvy generation. He is always interesting, and never more so than in this book.

It is also quite brutal advice, encouraging people not to be self-deluded. Henry offers the example of the hapless, hopeless contestant of the TV reality talent show, the one destined for the “worst of” show who is surrounded by well-meaning mothers and friends who encourage them in their delusions. Yes, well have innate talents, but in any cases these talents require a great deal of careful discernment, and can potentially be overshadowed by externally-imposed (or confected) dreams of greatness.

Neither is success necessarily about wealth or possessions. Henry is not of the “3 Ferraris” school of motivation, with a cheque for a million dollars pasted up on one’s ceiling. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting some sort of material comfort, it is just that Henry suggests much of what fulfils us and uses our greatest talents may not necessarily be big moneyspinners. It is ultimately more important to create energising personal narratives built around more lasting motives.

Henry advises us all to take “small, calculated risks” each day in our quest to become greater and to be of greater use in this world. It is passion for our actions that drives us and makes us happy. The age of duty is perhaps over, at least for those of us living in the more privileged world. If we are not bound to take on work that will support our families and guarantee their welfare then we find our moral obligations in other places, principally in the direction of those vocations where we find ourselves belonging. Our moral duty has shifted to an obligation to make the most of our talents, and to use them in life-celebrating and fulfilling ways. To ignore these talents and focus instead on a mundane life is its own sort of sin.

It’s a challenging book, as the title indicates, and is not for readers who want to look for excuses. Henry tells us we have to acknowledge the areas of resistance in our lives (echoes of Steven Pressfield’s work here) and move on through them. Perhaps at heart we all want to be great, or at least to contribute something to the greater good of humanity reading Die Empty might make you start taking this destiny more seriously, and convince you to start planning the final years you have left. An uplifting and motivating read, this is a book I am certain to return to again. Check it out.

Monday, November 9, 2015

20 Ideas a Day

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the daily practices that has enriched my life and convinced me that I am an endlessly creative machine is the ’20 Ideas’ ritual. It is something that still excites me, and I love it so much I can’t wait to sit down and do it – on the train, at my desk, at a coffee shop and sometimes even in bed just before I go to sleep at night.

It’s a simple idea, and one which I first heard listening to one of Brian Tracy’s audio programs. Much to my shame, I can no longer remember which one, and it is one of my projects to re-listen to them so that I might be able to reference it more properly.

It is also an idea that had popped up again more recently in a book by Claudia Altucher called Become an Idea Machine – one to check out. Writing out ideas harnesses the power of intention – we make solutions seem possible, and remind ourselves of our own incredible resourcefulness. And we provide ourselves with physical evidence.

So, now to explain this radical method and how it works. Prepare yourself to take copious notes as I expound on it in intricate detail. Here it us:

Sit down at some point, every day, and write down 20 ideas about a subject that is worrying you.
Or anything at all.

That’s it.

20 numbered points, one beneath the other.

Then go and get a cup of coffee or listen to an old Chantoozies song. Your work is done for the day.
I do it every day. Beginning a project, in the middle of a project or deep in the detail of trying to make a project work. I simply sit down and think of a problem or challenge or event that is happening in my life. And then I think: “What are 20 things I could about this, 20 ways I could approach it, 20 ways to make it happen?

And then I list them. The thing is, it needs to be 20. The first 4 or so are easy. The next 5 get harder, and the last few are impossible and you start writing down crazy stuff, or consulting other resources. And that’s where the magic happens. You must make yourself write down 20 possibilities, no matter how ridiculous. Interesting things can often crop up right at the end.

Now don’t get stressed. This is not a “To Do” list. You don’t have to do anything with any of the ideas. They are there to prove a point – the point that you are an inventive, resourceful person who has a practical response to anything. And sometimes we need that proof.

Let me give you a practical example, using a real-life situation and an actual list.

Topic: I want to sell more copies of my Destination Cambodia ebook


1.    Do a blog tour

2.    Do some Facebook ads

3.    Do some more talks about Cambodia around the place

4.    Get people to review the ebook on Amazon

5.    Pay some attention to my Amazon author page to see if I can attract more readers

6.    Do a blog series on Cambodian topic with this as the call to action

7.    Review some more Cambodia-related books

8.    Take a new trip to Cambodia to give me some more material to write articles etc. and so remind people about the book

9.    Host a travel-writing workshop at the local Cambodian temple

10.    Lead a Cambodian-themed food tour through Cabramatta

11.    Teach my Cambodian history course again at adult education places

12.    Do my talk about Angkor Wat at some more places

13.    Do some more library events

[OK – these all came easily. But right here I was officially stumped. So this is when I draw upon my resources – either start dreaming or look up some ideas online or in my own notes]

14.    Lead a tour to Cambodia [having already failed to get one of these tours up it is a painful and quixiotic idea, but it is still an option and still something I’d like to do].

15.    Get some ideas for promotion from Success magazine [this from a master list I keep of things that I have done before to promote things. Success magazine is a great resource for ideas, which is why I have subscribed for years].

16.    Publish some Cambodia-related pieces on Linkedin [from Fauzia Burke’s blog post 7 Great ways to Promote Your Ebook, which I just Googled].

17.    Do some promoted posts on my Facebook Fan Page. [I’ve never actually done this before, and have no idea if it would work, but I am here to try new ideas, right?].

18.    Send a special reminder to my email list [from Denise Wakeman’s blog post 19 Ways to Promote Your Ebook, which I just discovered online. I normally don’t send such sales-ey emails, using my enewsletter to promote events, blog posts and interesting things I have discovered. I am sure my list would forgive one such].

19.    Use Canva to create some really eye-catching images for Google+ with a link in the description. [OK, I know Google+ is pretty much a spent force, but the people left on there seem really committed, and I know for a fact that most of them have never bought my book. Some might not even be aware of what I write about. This could result in a couple of sales]. 

20.    Create a list of friends, fans and supporters and approach each of them individually and ask if they would send out an email or social media message on my behalf [this from a blog post on called How to get an eBook to #1 on Amazon. I sometimes do ask friends to help spread the word, but I have never compiled a proper list as this writer suggests doing. This has worked quiet well for me in the past, and I have also recently been approached by someone to do just this, which I was more than happy to do. Some people like being asked to help].

So there you have it. 20 rather good ideas that I am actually going to take the next step with and turn into a real Campaign. But maybe more on that process in another blog post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Fabulously Creative Emily Maguire

Emily Maguire

Before I went to hear Sydney author Emily Maguire speak at Leichhardt Library last night, I dropped into Berkelouw's on Norton St. There I saw lots of copies of the new winner of the Miles Franklin Award, Sofie Laguna's The Eye of the Sheep. And who should be endorsing it right on the front cover but Emily Maguire! It was a sign. I definitely have to read this one.
The last Miles Franklin Award winner I read was Michelle De Kretser's Questions of Travel, which is simply one of the most superb Australian books ever written. I always have a soft spot for the Miles Franklin award because A) I rather like old Miles and her dabbling in Christian Science and B) Sumner Locke Elliott won it in 1963.

Walter Mason and Emily Maguire

Emily was there to talk about her most recent novel, Fishing for Tigers, a book set in Hanoi. I was fascinated to hear about her experiences as a writer in Hanoi, trying to make sense of a new culture and also of the other Westerners living there and how they lived alongside the Vietnamese. This is very much what the novel itself is about, and so I was fascinated to hear about the thoughts and experiences that lead to it.

Emily said she first had the motivation to write a Hanoi novel while sitting at Van Mieu, Hanoi’s Temple of Literature. This old Confucian university is indeed a beautiful place and, if you can catch it on a quiet day (increasingly difficult) it is a great place to reflect on matters literary. She searched for silence in Hanoi, a city she described beautifully as "overwhelmingly cacophonous." It was in this cacophony, however, that she began to write her fourth novel.

She had been in Hanoi on an Asialink fellowship, and she was working there editing English translations at the state publishing house. And while she was inspired, her central character didn't come to her till she was walking around Hanoi’s fabulously grey neo-gothic Cathedral. This district, too, is an incredibly romantic and inspiring one, and I am not surprised the muse descended there.

Emily speaks of her fascination, as well, with the expat community in Hanoi, a community she admits to spying on in the bars and restaurants that catered to them. And while at work she was learning about Vietnam's long history of female warriors and heroes, a history that spoke to her feminist convictions. She also spoke about her return to Australia when she realised that there were considerable differences in perception of and feeling towards modern Vietnam among overseas Vietnamese communities.

Emily Maguire is an ambassador for the Room to Read charity, which works in Vietnam providing books and educational facilities to disadvantaged children, with a particular focus on girls' education. She spoke about how writers can use their creative platforms as a tool to do greater things. Sometimes there is no place in our work for didacticism, but we can use our art to help us teach people about issues and ideas so that, in Emily's words, "the creative project and the project of being a decent human being can be entwined."

Most excitingly, Emily told us that she has a new book coming out in March 2016 called An Isolated Incident. I can't wait!

Friday, May 29, 2015

The craft and art of Jane Austen - Jane Austen Society of Australia, Sydney meeting, June 20, 2015, 2:00 pm

People are always unprepared for the size and scope of the Sydney Jane Austen Society meetings.

The Roseville Uniting Church hall is packed with at least 200 people every two months who come for friendship, a fascinating talk on some aspect of Austen, and a truly astounding afternoon tea - all for $4!

All are welcome - you don't need to be a member - but I advise you to come early because it fills right up. A few months ago I got there at 2.05 and I had to sit on the floor!

It really is tremendous fun, and it is so heartening to see literary societies in Sydney do so well. I think that such organisations do a lot to inspire people's creative lives, and I always encourage people to join (the Sydney Dickens Society is also a very well-attended and well-organised group that you should look into).

So the next JASA meeting is on June 20, 2015. It starts at 2 (on the dot!) and goes till 4. As well as a fascinating and in-depth talk there is also a really good book and gift stall offering all kinds of fascinating stuff for the Janeite. And even if you haven't read Austen in a while, why not come along and see for yourself this unexpected cultural phenomenon, lead by literary dynamo Susannah Fullerton (one of my own personal gurus).


 JASA Sydney meeting: The craft and art of Jane Austen
June 20 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm    | $4.00

Join us at a regular JASA Sydney meeting to hear Ruth Wilson

Date:     June 20
Time:     2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Cost:     $4.00


    Roseville Uniting Church Hall
    7 Lord Street, Roseville, NSW 2069


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Get Your Poetry Up and Out There - Free literary event in Parramatta, May 2015

It's great to have interesting arts events in Western Sydney, and Felicity Castagna's curated series of literary explorations is fantastic.

I'll be going along to this month's which concentrates on poetry, and I hope to see you there. It's also a part of the Sydney Writers' Festival:

Get Your Poetry Up and Out There

 Thursday, May 21 2015         6:30 PM - 7:30 PM         Free, no bookings
    Parramatta Artists Studios, Level Two, 68 Macquarie St, Parramatta

From taking the traditional route of magazine and book publishing to performing, blogging and YouTubing, this panel gives you all the advice you need to get your poetry out there.

Featuring some of the most innovative and prolific poets and editors in Australia right now: Elizabeth Allen (Vagabond Press), Fiona Wright (Giramondo Publishing), Michelle Cahill (Mascara Literary Review) and Ahmad Al Rady (Bankstown Poetry Slam). Come for a drink, a chat and a listen. BYO your own material for the open mic.

Supported by the University of Western Sydney and Parramatta City Council

Monday, February 9, 2015

Journal writers recommend....

I think that to lead a fully creative life some sort of journal-keeping is necessary. We need to have some way we can record our feelings, impressions and inspirations. And have some way of going back to them later for ideas and reminders.

I have been a sporadic journal-keeper since my late teens. Some years I go really hard, and other years I will only journal occasionally. I have also used Julia Cameron's Morning Pages system and have done Progoff's Journal Workshop a number of times. Whenever I am consistently keeping a journal I always see the benefits in my life, and I only ever abandon it out of sheer laziness.

Naturally, when I am travelling I journal quite seriously, many pages a day and taking an hour or so at a time to record my ideas and impressions. These are then the basis for my books.

As part of my Year of Cheer project in 2015 I have made a commitment to journal daily. As part of that process, and to give me prompts and ideas to keep my journalling fresh, I have been reading and working with a really lovely and practical book called Keeping a Journal You Love by Sheila Bender. It has been a tremendous help, and a fascinating read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

One of the things that has me captivated are the books that are referenced, both by Bender herself and by the various writers she uses as case studies. Book recommendations within books are always interesting, and I often make a note of them. I have discovered many fascinating books this way.

So I thought I would share with you some of the books that are being recommended and talked about on the pages of Keeping a Journal You Love and why. I think you will agree it makes for a most intriguing reading list:

1. In the excerpts from Denise Levertov's journal (one of my favourite parts of this book) she writes about enjoying reading Emma, which she says is better than Pride and Prejudice (an opinion, incidentally, shared by two Australian writers and Austen experts: Susannah Fullerton and Damon Young).

2. Levertov also writes about Voyage Round My Room by Xavier de Maistre. I must say that I have seen this book referred to before, but reading its description now makes it sound fascinating. I must read it.

3 Ditto for Raj by Gita Mehta, another of Levertov's readings. Gita Mehta is the author of Karma Cola, one of the most funny and insightful looks at the meeting between Western mind and Indian spirituality. I have read that book several times, so shall seek out Raj.

4. Levertov also talks about re-reading Okamura's Awakening to Prayer. I have never heard of this book before, but it has gone right to the top of my "Must Read" list.

5. Poet Maxine Kumin says that she is "keenly interested" in Sylvia Plath's journals.

6. David Mas Masumoto loves Joan Didion's very apropos essay "On Keeping a Notebook" contained in her legendary collection (much beloved of Brain Pickings) Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

7. Poet William Matthews talks about David Wagoner's edited edition of Pulitzer-prize winning poet Theodore Roethke's notebooks, Straw for Fire and how Roethke would go through his notebooks looking for inspiration for new material.

8. Fenton Johnson writes about how fragments of his letters written during his partner's death from AIDS later found their way into his novel Scissors, Paper, Rock.

9. Novelist Robert Hellenga writes about how he has been influenced by Dorothea Brande's classic book on Becoming a Writer. He is not alone there - it is still a book that inspires many. Brande was also a prominent New Thought teacher, though she is remembered now mostly for her seminal book on writing. She is utterly charming.

10.  Sheila Bender writes about how she is inspired by a passage from a book by Reginald Gibbons called Sweetbitter.

11. She says journal groups (what a lovely idea!) might benefit from working with Julia Cameron’s aforementioned The Artist's Way. I was part of an Artist's Way group this time last year, run by my friend, the talented travel writer Rosamund Burton. Doing it as a group is a great way to keep discipline and motivation up.

12. Some noteworthy book mentioned in the bibliography include: The Collected Prose of James Agee

13. The Journals of Andre Gide - these are fascinating and I still have my battered edition pulled from a junk heap on Victoria Rd in the mid 90s :-)

14. Tristine Rainer's The New Diary - a beautiful book I have also worked with in the past. Must pick it up again.

15. Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse - most people know I am NOT a Woolf fan. I have read this book several times (including studying it at university). Still none the wiser. 

Kathleen Alcala

16. And finally, one of the contributors is Kathleen Alcala who wrote an interesting collection of short fiction called Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalists.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Talk with Susannah Fullerton at Leichhardt Library - 12 February 2015

Susannah Fullerton

One of the things I always tell writers and creatives in my classes and workshops is that the best way to get excited about your own creative projects is to go and see a genuinely creative person in action. I get many of my best ideas in attending talks, classes and workshops, and find the careers, interests and habits of other writers endlessly fascinating.

If you're in Sydney in February you have the opportunity to see one of this city's most creative and energetic writers in action - and all for free! The fabulous Susannah Fullerton is really one of my teachers and mentors, and I am in awe of her energy, her commitment to writing, literature and education and her skills as a writer and speaker. I can genuinely say I am a fan boy, and I go to see her at every opportunity.

On the evening of the 12th of February Susannah is at Leichhardt Library talking about Sydney’s literary visitors, drawing from her tremendous book Brief Encounters. I'm going, and I know a lot of other people will be as well, so I really recommend you book your free spot now.


Evening Talk with Susannah Fullerton @ Leichhardt Library
12 Feb 2015
What time:
6:30 PM  - 8:00 PM
Leichhardt Library
Piazza Level -Italian Forum, 23 Norton St
Leichhardt , NSW, Australia
Event Details:
Join renowned literary lecturer Susannah Fullerton for a discussion of her popular book 'Brief Encounters : Literary Travellers in Australia'. Free event. Bookings - Online or call 9367 9266.
More information:
In Brief Encounters Susannah examines a diverse array of distinguished writers who came to Australia in the 19th and 20th centuries - Darwin, Trollope, Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, Twain, Agatha Christie, Kipling, H.G. Wells and others.

D. H. lawrence

Why did they make the long and arduous trek to Australia, what did they do when they got here, how did the Australian public react to them, and how were their future works shaped or influenced by this country?
Thursday 12 February
Leichhardt Library
Free event - All welcome - Refreshments served
Bookings - online or call 9367 9266