Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Creativity: Some reading notes

Readers, I have had a rather dull and painful holiday period.

I had the flu most of December, and then in the final days of the year I had a tooth extraction which was rather traumatic and left me in horrible pain. I am still recovering from that. Rather unsurprisingly it has left me hesitant to go out at all, so I have been spending a lot of time at home, catching up on my reading and thinking about my creative life. Also, Sydney is horribly hot and humid at this time of year, so one doesn't really need an excuse to stay at home in bed with the aircon on. 

One book I have been reading for an important creative reason is Jay Baer's Youtility. I really hope to have a couple of books out in the next 18 months, and I have been thinking about how I can build their marketing into the creative process itself. Baer's book just jumped out at me as the one to really inspire me to think laterally when it comes to marketing and promotion, and so far it is absolutely filled with good advice. It's all about attracting readers (customers) by being helpful and genuinely interesting.

Travel writing has been a favourite genre of mine since I was a teenager  - I suppose that is why I became a travel writer! One travel book that I have long been fascinated with is Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence, a wonderful account of a young man visiting monasteries in Europe. I have picked it up again because I have finally decided to write another book about Vietnam (I am quite excited about this) and this is really my inspiration. It is quite a perfect little book, and if I could write something even half as good as it I would be doing well.

And on matters travel, Charles Dickens wrote two travel books quite early in his career: American Notes and, later, Pictures from Italy. These are often collected into one volume, and I am reading such a volume right now. The main reason is because these two books together represent the Book of the Year for 2019 at the NSW Dickens Society - of which I am Vice president. But even more importantly, I have to give a talk on them on Saturday June 1, 2019. It is interesting to see how seriously he took travel, making sure that, almost as soon as he arrived in America, he was off visiting institutions and educational places so that he could report back to his readers in England about them. No hanging about in the hotel room reading a book for Mr. Dickens!

Some spiritual creative sustenance for me with The Seeker's Guide by Elizabeth Lesser:

"Some hear the word spiritual and are encouraged by its whispered promises of grace; others are threatened by it, afraid of looking too deeply at their own behaviour, the unlived parts of their life, and ultimately, death." 

Another creative project I have begun researching in earnest is a book about the Ascended Masters, and to that end I have been reading an utterly fascinating book called Masters of Wisdom by Edward Abdill. Its subtitle is: "The Mahatmas, their letters and the path," and it is a brilliant read combining occult wisdom, historical gossip and some really deep-seated exploration of figures (and ideas) that very few people know about anymore.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Creative inspiration and guidance using Alana Fairchild's Rumi Oracle

I have collected tarot and oracle cards for about 10 years now, and these days I have rather an enormous cupboard full of them. Now, some of them are right up the very back and may not see the light of day for years at a time. Other decks, however, are very much more loved and used and are kept on the filing cabinet right next to my desk. Right at the very top of these sits Alana Fairchild's Rumi Oracle, with illustrations by Rassouli.

For some reason I just find that this deck feeds my creativity, and I use it in different ways according to my mood. On reflection I think I can probably break those needs down to:

1. Inspiration

2. Direction

3. Story intervention and

4. Tomorrow's work

We'll go into detail with how I do that in just a moment.

I came to this deck through sheer luck - I was actually given a copy of the deck by a publishing friend, and as soon as I opened it I realised I was in possession of something really special. I had known of Alana's work around Kuan Yin, and even had her deck and CD and DVD of that work, which I liked, so I was very interested in seeing something else she did. I couldn't know that very soon we would be thrown together professionally and that I would be lucky enough to work with her on several occasions.

As always, I began working slowly with the Rumi deck, taking it out whenever I felt like it, or noticed it in my room. Shuffling it slowly, drawing out a card and looking at it before returning it all to the box and putting it aside. I almost never launch myself into a deck, looking at every card and reading the guide book cover to cover. I want the pleasure to last longer than that!

What struck me was the occasionally enigmatic names of the cards and also the flowing, almost dancing, artwork of Rassouli. And then, wouldn't you know it, someone gave me Rassouli's book about Rumi and his book on creativity, and I was suddenly immersed in the work of this man who was responsible for the visual side of the Rumi Oracle. Rassouli, originally from Iran, is a lifelong student of Rumi whose artwork has been inspired by him since he was a young man. Alana Fairchild's profound interest in the poet and his messages found a perfect partner in Rassouli, and the two of them have put together a very powerful tool for writers, painters, mystics and all kinds of creative people.

It wasn't long till I began using this deck in my teaching work. I found that students, who I allowed to draw a card each (and keep it, meaning I went through a number of decks quite quickly), responded really well to the images and the poetic names of the cards. They also seemed to take students really deep really fast, which is always useful when you are leading a creative writing workshop.

Seeing the effect it had on my students, I became interested in using the cards with my own writing. Once again they seemed almost like the perfect companion, always providing me with an answer, a point of reflection or an action-based task that could keep me going and lead me perfectly to the next section of the novel I am currently writing.

There is nothing complex or sophisticated about the technique I use. I simply come up against a problem in my work (resistance, hopelessness, confusion, a headache...) and then I draw a card asking what Rumi has to tell me, by way of Alana Fairchild and Rassouli.

So, to go back to the little list of questioning techniques I apply in using this deck creatively, here goes:

1. Inspiration - Sometimes I am just plain stuck. I may have lost any energy to keep writing, I may be questioning my own right to even claim to be a writer, or I may be telling myself  that I am simply incapable of writing a novel. I need something, something outside of me, to give me a little nudge and offer me some hope. So I will simply pull out a card without any specific intention but to search for a metaphysical pick-me-up. And I always get one. So today I drew the "Commitment" card. I couldn't ask for a clearer message!  Commit myself to this project and to seeing it through to the end. Have some tenacity and persevere. The accompanying quote from Rumi, to be found in the guidebook that comes with the cards is really quite firm, and perfect for this message:

The awakened heart is like a lantern.
Keep it sheltered
from the turbulence
of the winds of desire.

2. Direction - Writing comes in fits and starts. Some days I know exactly where I am going, and the passage and structure of the novel seem to all be in perfect place. And then suddenly, I am being plunged down a vortex of uncertainty and feeling lost and totally in the dark. This is when I will get the deck out and ask myself: "What is my direction here? Why the hell am I doing this? What is my reason to continue?"

Asking this, I pulled the card "The Human Gift." In the image an angel of inspiration, of remembering, seems to be paying a visit to a woman in despair. When I sit with this card I realise what it means to me. I have been given a gift, and if I don't use it then what am I even doing here? My human rebirth is absolutely precious and I should make the most of it - not even wasting a single hour.

Part of the verse from Rumi that is offered in the guidebook to accompany this card reads:

Such kindness is offered by the beloved,
yet so much defiance and resistance comes from you.
Such grace is offered by the beloved,
yet so much fault and failure comes from you.

This isn't a guilt trip, and it is not about beating ourselves up and feeling even more miserable. It is about acknowledging the precious gift that we are, and the gifts that are offered us each and every day. It's about turning hopelessness into sweetness.

3. Story intervention - This is where it comes closest to actually cheating, but all writers do this in one way or another and so I am simply being honest. Sometime I reach a place in my work where I have done everything, and it is all  there, down on paper, except the spirit. I could read over it and think: "Well, that is perfect prose, but why am I so damn bored reading it?" This is where I know I need to inject  a little extra, and for me it is a sense of spirit. What might my character be thinking, or where might she be heading. What quality is at work here, or should be? If the actual text won't offer up its mysteries (and after a couple of hours it can be a stubborn beast!) I know I can open up my lovely box of Oracle cards and see what the Universe, by way of Rumi, might have to offer me. Then I can go back over the chapter I have written and make a change, or an addition. Sometimes it is the tiniest thing - just a word or two, and yet the entire piece is transformed because of it. no mystery of course. I have just allowed a greater force of spirit into my writing.

So I drew the card "I surge on the  uprising wave of love" and I almost gasp at the beauty of the idea, and of the sense of reassurance. But of course, at this moment it is not about me - it is about my character. I am applying this to her. And what do I do? I keep writing knowing that the outcome of this situation I am describing, until now unresolved, will in fact be a positive, even an inspiring, one. It will prove the love of this universe.

Alana's advice for interpreting this card reads:

"What we always have at our disposal is choice as to how we respond to these affecting movements and cycles."

My character has a choice to employ her power.

An interesting side-note: I always draw this card. It is obviously a message I need to hear over and over again.

And finally....

4. Tomorrow's work - I always like to finish somewhere tidy in my creative work - normally right at the very end of a chapter. This helps keep things organised, but one of the downsides is that I am left in a state of high excitement. How am I going to resolve all of this? What is going to happen in the next chapter and how can I possibly relate it to this one I have just finished?

My answer is often to pull a card and give me a bit of an overview as to what might be swaying things tomorrow. I will keep  this card out, propped up against my computer screen to remind me: you have a message from the Universe. make sure you keep writing.

For this one I pull "The all-encompassing hand," and even looking at the exquisite artwork helps me to understand jut what tomorrow has  to offer, and why I am engaged in creative work in the first place. I do feel led to this, and when I am really in the flow I feel exactly right - as though I am cupped in that exquisitely soft and comfortable all-encompassing hand.

When I look at the guidebook to see what channeled guidance Alana has brought through after I have gazed at this beautiful picture, I read:

"This sacred grasp pulses with love divine, and there is one hand, holding and held, one being, loving and loved, though we may appear by less ecstatic angels to be two."

Naturally, you don't have to use this deck to achieve the same results. I just wanted to use it as an example because it is one of my own most-used items of creative inspiration. Any oracle deck will do - you will know yours when you find it. But I can vouch for the efficacy - and beauty - of the Rumi Oracle. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sydney author Rosalind Bradley will be talking death at the New Church in Roseville, Friday 23 rd February 2018, 7:45pm,

One of the cornerstones of my creativity system is to go to author talks and lectures. It's incredibly stimulating for the creative mind,  you get to meet some fascinating people, and you can absorb new and interesting ideas.

I am also a really big proponent of dealing with death in a mature way, and I think it's something we really don't do very well in Australia.

So I am very excited to announce that my friend Rosalind Bradley is talking about her book A Matter of Life and Death at the New Church in Roseville in February.

I am definitely going to this event, and I think you should too - it looks fascinating:

Swedenborg Association of Australia, Friday 7:45pm, 23rd February 2018
at the New Church
4 Shirley Road, Roseville

$5 members, $7 non-members/concession

The Circle of Life

Presented by author Rosalind Bradley

Ros  talks  about her latest book for  which  she collected 60 amazing stories from a fascinating range of people from all walks of life.
Sharing their unique insights and wisdom about death and dying using  a chosen image  or  passage which best expresses death for  them,  they reveal that beyond  the  heartache
and mystery of death lay invaluable lessons on how we live our lives.

About Rosalind

After  life in  the  UK,  Ros  had an  eclectic  career from teaching in remote  Papua  New  Guinea to
freelance  marketing  in  Sydney.
She  worked for charities including  The Fred Hollows  Foundation, was Board  Member  of  The  Asylum  Seekers  Centre  of  NSW, and Eremos, a forum for exploring Australian spirituality.  Her  interfaith interest was triggered while in London during the 2005 bombings, resulting  in  her book Mosaic: Favourite  prayers  and  reflections.

Her mother’s death sparked a curiosity into death leading her to compile A  Matter  of  Life  and  Death.

A volunteer  biographer  at Sacred  Heart  Hospice  in  Sydney,  Ros also worked  with  PalliativeCare NSW and their Volunteer Program.

More SAA events info at

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The 1968 club - 30 October to 5 November, 2017

I love the blog Stuck in a Book, and I recommend you put it on your regularly checked blog list.

They often list reading challenges, though I am always hopeless at such things.

Still, I have decided to do this year's 1968 Club - a pledge to read a book published in the year 1968, and to blog about it between the 30th of October and the 5th of November.

I was going to do Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?, but I was worried that that might just be a little TOO trendy at the moment, with the new TV series and all. Anyway, I went downstairs to my fiction shelves and, while looking for Dick (yeah, they aren't in any kind of order), I stumbled upon one of my favourite childhood books: I Own the Racecourse! by Patricia Wrightson.

This is an Australian children's classic, and used to be a huge book, though it seems to have been forgotten. I recommend it to everyone, and even sent a copy of it to the wonderful author Vanessa Berry, who told me she loved it and read the whole thing in a day.

So, I will read it and see how it has dated. Patricia Wrightson is a fascinating writer, and I have been thinking about doing a talk on her for some time.

Maybe this will inspire me?

Oh, and one of my firm beliefs about creativity is that reading old books inspires you to be more creative. Even better is re-reading old books, especially books that meant something to you a long, long time ago.

What book would you select from your childhood reading to re-read today? What year was it published in?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Researching a new talk: Monsignor R. H. Benson

Sadly this subject DID prove too obscure - I have found out the talk is not going ahead :-(  But keep an eye out - I will attempt to resurrect it in some other form in the future. And I have become so absorbed I am seriously considering doing a book....

One of the ways I love best to explore my creativity, learn new things and force myself to work hard is to give public talks. On Friday I am giving a two hour talk on Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, an admittedly obscure subject, and it has been tough getting people to book in. But, as with most obscure subjects, it is absolutely fascinating, and I have been loving the research.

My research always begins at home, and not online. I have a substantial personal library which I have been building since I was 17 years old, so for almost any subject I could prepare a talk just using the resources I have on my own bookshelves. This morning I am looking up tidbits about R. H. Benson in Geoffrey Palmer and Noel Lloyd's E. F. Benson as He Was.

This is a charming book, with a smattering of facts about baby brother Hugh's life. I will see if they are sufficiently interesting to include in my presentation, or to flesh out a point I have already made in what I have written so far.

My next step is always the NSW State Library.

I love being there, for a start, and there is something about being stuck in the reading room that makes you work really hard.

My research notes from a gorgeous 70s biography of Monsignor Benson written by a nun. I didn't even know about this book until I visited the State Library of NSW

It's also handy because I can go off on a research tangent.

A list of new research directions I plan to follow up. I note these down as I discover them in other books. As you can see, I went in principally to research Monsignor Benson and ended up looking into upcoming talks about Dickens and Kenneth Grahame

I can also work on multiple projects while I am there, filling up pages in my daybook with notes and research for future projects as well as the one I am working on. I actually have to limit myself with my library visits, as I could easily spend my entire time there going down research rabbit holes.

And finally it's ebooks and the net, never my favourite place to research, though perfect for finding out essential last-minute information.

And it's also cheap and convenient. So, instead of going to abebooks and ordering an Edwardian hardcover and waiting 2-6 weeks for it to arrive from Maine or Ireland, I can get a free ebook of R. H. Benson's famous dystopia Lord of the World from Project Gutenberg and start reading and highlighting relevant sections.

I am also reading his book on Lourdes, and the brilliant and quite eccentric biography of Mary Benson, his mother, As Good as God, As Clever as the Devil.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Gay May Reading list

Seems I will be going gay for the month of May, my list being made up of books by, or about, gay men. It comes about because this month I did a talk about E. F. Benson, and I am in about the fourth month of a Denton Welch obsession, courtesy of a previous Barbara Pym obsession. So, here is my Queer Lit. reading list for May (from the top):

The Challoners by E. F. Benson - I don't think I have ever truly enjoyed Benson's non-Lucia fiction - it is all very much of its time. But I am going to give it another go and try this one, written in 1904.

Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau - Oh, I didn't mention my Jean Cocteau obsession as well. I am going to France in September so looking forward to visiting all of the Cocteau spots. I am also, slowly, piecing together a talk about him which I haven't pitched to anyone yet. If you want me to come and give it, let me know.

The Journals of Denton Welch - Enough said, really. And do listen to the podcast about Denton Welch on Backlisted.

Lucia Victrix and Lucia Rising by E. F. Benson - These are compendium editions which contain all six novels between them. Because I deserve it.

A Voice Through a Cloud and Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch

Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady - I have twice given a talk on Beaton in Sydney and it has been surprisingly very popular with big attendances each time. re-reading this diary of his time making the movie of My Fair Lady and considering doing the talk again somewhere else.

Three Extraordinary Ambassadors by Harold Acton - Acton is one of my favourite writers and should be better known. His books always enchant me.

Lucia in London by E. F. Benson - This means I will be reading this book twice in May, but why not? It's my favourite of the Lucia novels, and I read it at least once year. He lets Lucia get truly horrible in this one, and it's great.

As We Are by E. F. Benson, this work of memoir written late in his life is just beautiful, and at times very funny. Right up there with the Lucia books in terms of entertainment value.

Jean Cocteau by Claude Arnaud - Yep, I have to bite the bullet. I know I will love it, but gosh it's huge!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My cultural 2017 in lists

This is a fabulous idea I have blatantly stolen from the fabulous Andy Quan.

I have long kept a record (in a special journal) of my reading, but I love Andy's idea of listing the other stuff I have seen. This list will be maintained throughout the year, as a record of how I found creative inspiration and where I went to find it.



Lectures and Author Talks

Neil McDonald talking about his Chester Wilmot book at both State Library of NSW and Ashfield Library Feb. 2017

Jo Henwood on the Icelandic Sagas at Ashfield Library  Feb 2017

Collins Hemingway on the Napoleonic wars in the time of Jane Austen at the Jane Austen society of Australia, Feb 2017


Beyond Words - calligraphy exhibition at AGNSW, January 2017

Margaret Olley exhibition at S H Ervin Gallery, February 2017


Ransacking Paris by  Patti Miller

Coffinman by Shinmon Aoki

Tales of Wonder by Huston Smith

The Way of the Traveler by Joseph Dispenza

55 Keys by Alana Fairchild 

The Memoir Book by Patti Miller 

Kali: the Mother by Sister Nivedita 


How Green Was My Valley


Narcos Series 1 and 2

Real Housewives of Melbourne Seasons 1, 2 and 3